Broadway To Vegas
REVIEWS INTERVIEWS COMMENTARY NEWS
Copyright: August 10, 1998
By: Laura Deni
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Debbie Reynolds put on a brave face as she and
her son prepared for the forced auction.
Photo By: Laura Deni
Debbie's son Todd Fisher has been his mother's
emotional spine Photo By: Laura Deni
Fighting back tears, Debbie Reynolds watched as her Las Vegas Hotel was sold to the highest
bidder, for a paultry $9 million. The new owners, The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) plan to
turn the place into a "wrestling arena and themed hotel."
Prior to the auction Debbie put on a brave face. Immaculate in a black dress with a red jacket, she
pulled several pairs of earrings from her jacket pocket. "I didn't know which ones to put on," she
told me. "So, I brought them all."
She complimented her son, Todd Fisher, for "giving up his career to help me." She also called
him "the only man who has never left me."
Ironically, the man who, allegedly, is responsible for Debbie having gotten herself into the hotel
financial debacle, third ex-husband Richard Hamlett, showed up.
Debbie checks the time. The auction began at
noon. Photo By: Laura Deni
Her voice cracking Debbie told the crowd "Inever
meant tohurt anybody. This isn't my fault." Photo By: Laura Deni
Fisher specifically blamed Hamlett for causing his mother's financial problems.
Many whispered that Hamlett's appearance was a cruel insult to the talented woman who has
been through so much. Several participants questioned, if he felt he needed to know what was
transpiring, why didn't he send his attorney or a representative? To show up in person, on what
had to have been one of the most difficult days in Debbie' life - to put it as politely as possible -
Hamlett was accompanied by his good friend, Las Vegas producer Harry Seybold. Later, Seybold
called members of the press informing them that in an upcoming issue of The National
Enquirer he has an article in which Hamlett "trashes Debbie and gives his side of the
An angry Fisher blamed his mother's third
ex-husband, Richard Hamlett, for her financial woes. Hamlett set in the hotel lobby during the
auction. Photo By: Laura Deni
When Debbie was contacted by telephone and asked for a comment, she replied that she preferred
to handle the situation in as ladylike a manner as possible and didn't wish to comment about an
article that hasn't yet been printed.
However, when Hamlett indicated he wanted to go on Las Vegas television and talk about
Debbie, the star had her representative contact the station and indicate that Debbie would love to
be on the telephone while her ex-husband was on the air, and participate in a three-way
conversation. The television interview never took place.
Debbie and Todd head into the casino where the
auction took place. Photo By: Laura Deni
Reynolds bought the 193-room hotel at a 1992 auction for $3 million, because Hamlett told her
to sign the contract.
It was plagued by a weak cash flow from day one.
Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in July 1997.
Debbie was forced to file personal bankruptcy.
A few days before the auction Debbie didn't think she would be able to cope with actually
attending the event. She planned to meet the press before the auction, read a statement and
then leave. At the last second, she decided to remain because she "wanted to see how much she
Only six people deposited the required $500,000 to bid and the bidding was
so low that the money needed to repay all creditors wasn't reached. In fact, the bankruptcy judge put a
strangle hold on the sale, so the WWF increased their offer to $10 million.
Debbie stood solemn faced, trying to hide her
tears, as people bid on hjer beloved hotel. Photo By: Laura Deni
A distraught Debbie Reynolds towered her head
and choked back tears as her dreams ended with bang of an auctioneer's gavel. Photo By: Laura
Until the gavel came down Debbie was desperately hoping that the new owner would keep the
status quo - license the Debbie Reynolds name from her and hire her to perform in the showroom
she once owned.
It wasn't to be.
The World Wrestling Federation will close the hotel approximately two
weeks after the bankruptcy court approves the sale.
They'll renovate the property into a
wrestling match arena. Debbie Reynolds replaced by Hulk Hogan.
The plucky lady, who has already completed her third movie this year and crisscrosses the
country performing in nightclubs, tried to give the best possible spin.
"This is my 50th
year in show business. I'm 66 years old. This isn't what I had planned. If the new owners have no need
for me, I'll move on. Like the song says; There are good times and bum times. I've seen them all.
But, my dear, I'm still here."
HE SURVIVED BEING
Singer Julius La Rosa, who opens Friday at Boulder Station in Las Vegas, Nevada has the
dubious distinction of being the only performer ever fired on live, national television.
I spoke with Julius in a telephone interview from his home in Irvington, N.Y. He's a gracious
person open to discussing a variety of topics. Obviously, one of which has to be that firing.
It was what historians call The Golden Age of Television. A man named Arthur Godfrey had a
daily radio and a weekly television program. Documented as egomaniacal, he was incredibly
powerful. CBS gave him his own network vice-president, who served as Godfrey's personal
flunky. Even the network president, William Paley, deferred to Godfrey. La Rosa was a kid fresh
out of the Navy. Born in Brooklyn of Italian immigrant parents, La Rosa had entered the Navy in
1944 becoming an electronics technician, and as he put it "using my voice to get myself out of
various kind of boring duty." He joined the Navy Band.
In 1950 La Rosa was stationed in Pensacola, Florida and Godfrey was visiting. Somebody slipped
a note under Godfrey's door telling him he ought to hear this kid from Brooklyn sing. So he did.
"I sang for him at the enlisted men's club -The Song Is You and Don't Take
Your Love From Me.
La Rosa beginning his career
Godfrey invited him to appear on his radio show and then on his television show. "He told me
that when I got out I'd have a job. I think he recognized that this unprofessional,
unshowbusiness-like, totally unfinished product - with the natural manner and the innate shyness
- was a perfect foil to his personality. Ten days after I got out, I started on the radio show,"
recalled La Rosa. That was November 19, 1951. Six months later he started doing the television
His signature song was E Cumpare,a silly, feel good song. People of all ages knew the
words and sang along. "It was a Sicilian song that I sang as a kid," said La Rosa. "It's a
kind of Old Mcdonald Had a Farm, with instruments instead of animals."
Within a few months La Rosa's popularity had skyrocketed. He was receiving 7,000 fan
letters a week, then considered an unheard of sum. Even today 7,000 letters a week is nothing
to sneeze at.
Then things turned sour.
It was the fall of 1953. A notice had been put on the bulletin board that the cast of the TV show
was to take dancing lessons. La Rosa had a family emergency. He asked to be excused and was.
When he returned he was informed he would be punished for missing the lesson.
"Perhaps I had become a little smart ass," admitted La Rosa. "I was getting all these letters a
week and I was only twenty-three. But, it was a red flag to me to be treated arbitrarily, so I got
myself an agent, Tommy Rockwell of General Artists - which was strictly against the Godfrey
house rules." As to ego, La Rosa related, "Every performer has an ego. You have to have an ego
just to walk out on the stage."
On October 4, 1953, La Rosa had been waiting an hour and fifteen minutes to do his song on
the television show. He was going to sing Manhattan. When he finished, Godfrey
on camera fired him, explaining that the kid from Brooklyn had lost his humility.
Considering what young superstars get away with today, the unwritten "humility" clause
which Godfrey suddenly injected into La Rosa's contract, smacks as arbitrary and
The firing hit America in the heartland - it was a public firing based not upon ability but because
of a personality clash. The kick to the curb was meant not only to cause unemployment, but to
publicly humiliate in the process.
Viewers weren't too sure whose ego got in the way. Insiders and former co-workers say Godfrey
bragged that he never went more than two days with sex, no matter what it took to get
His I-made-you-I can-break-you attitude in firing La Rosa caused Godfrey's popularity to take
a hit. If Godfrey's image had a bruise, it was La Rosa's pocketbook that received the punch.
Many booking agents didn't want to offend Godfrey, fearing that the television icon
would retaliate by not booking their clients on his show.
The firing has followed La Rosa his entire life. "The Godfrey experience was central to my life. It
still follows me. I'm the man Arthur Godfrey fired, the man who lost his humility."
While La Rosa may have been fired, he's never stopped being hard working. He was in Neil
Simon's first Broadway success Come Blow Your Horn, Panetta's Kiss Mama,
Bob Randall's 6 Rms Riv Vu.
He performed in Kiss Me Kate, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story,
Stalag 17, and Billy Bigelow in summer theater productions of Carousel.
He did an irregular stint on the NBC soap opera Another World playing the happy go
lucky waiter, Renaldo. La Rosa spent eight successful years as D.J. for New York's
He performs in "singer's clubs" like Michael's Pub and Chiati's Italian Restaurant in New York.
Julius La Rosa turned his firing into a success story. Today, at 68, he's still in demand. He'll
open Friday at the Boulder Station Resort in Las Vegas.
Along the way he married Perry Como's secretary, Rosemary "Rory" Meyer. They've been
married for 43 years and have two children, son Chris and daughter, Maria.
Asked the secret of a happy marriage, Julius kiddingly replied, "I tell people we've been married
43 years, five of them happy. You show me a couple who has been married any length of time and
say they never had a fight and I'll show you two liars. The secret of any marriage is to work at
Last October Julius became a first time grandfather, thanks to his daughter, Maria, a Fordham
University graduate, who gave birth to a healthy boy. Julius mentions the boy in his nightclub
act, and quite frankly looks forward to spoiling the child. The one thing La Rosa wouldn't discuss
was the boy's name. "I won't tell you his name because I mention it in the nightclub act and if you
print it then the thing I do is spoiled." No problem.
As for Las Vegas, he debunks the myth of the dry Vegas climate being rough on a singer's
throat. "The ones who keep saying that are using the climate as an excuse. They're the ones up
partying all night long."
Julius hasn't lost any of his singing ability. Neither have; Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Jack Jones,
Jerry Vale. They're all of a certain generation where male singers got on stage wearing a tuxedo
and sang songs with music people remember and lyrics that could be understood. "They all
took care of themselves. They didn't abuse their bodies or their voices," the boyish looking
baritone said matter-of-factly.
As for the younger singers whose voices are shot before middle age, La Rosa places the blame on
lifestyle. He feels that there isn't any reason most singers can't continue until 80.
"People who are 80 don't have trouble speaking," he explained. "If they are singers and took care of
themselves, they are going to still have most of their power, "continued the singer who is noted
for his long connective single notes, and a cheerfulness in his self-effacing vibrato.
He credits Tony Bennett, 72, for the resurgence of popular music.
"Before, nobody was
recording," said La Rosa referring to what used to be called middle-of-the-road easy listening songs. "Now,
we're back to recording," continued LaRosa. His latest CD on the Avalon label is Better Than
Ever. It's a title that aptly describes Julius La Rosa.
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RUB A DUB DUB
Brian Setzer, the former lead singer-guitarist of Stray Cats, re-invented himself four years ago as
the front man of the Brian Setzer Orchestra, a classy, brassy, swingin' 17-member band that
opens tonight at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas.
He started a trend and paved the way for others. It's the hottest musical trend going. Blending
50s swing with rock and jump blues he's got fans of all ages taking to the dance floor.
The secret of his success? Clean hands. He won't play his guitar if his hands aren't clean. And, we
mean really clean. He says he washes them about ten times. Guys in the band joke about
how many times their leader will wash his hands after touching different objects - eating a piece of
chicken merits five hand washings. If he was ordinary or poor, people might say he was a bit
phobic - you know how the talk shows love to discuss compulsive hand washing. Since he's an
innovative, successful star, we won't say that. We'll just suggest that the Hard Rock put more
soap in his room.
Buddy Ebsen Photo By: Laura Deni
Get well soon to 90 year old Buddy Ebsen, who was released from a California hospital last
week. He's now recovering at his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
The actor, who starred as
Jud Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, suffered a bout of severe bronchitis.
have installed a heart pacemaker and replaced Ebsen's vocal chords.
Ebsen started in show business in 1928 when he jumped from soda jerk to Broadway dancer in
Ziegfeld's Whoopee. After several years on Broadway and as part of a dance act with his
sister, Vilma, Ebsen headed to Hollywood.
Christmas Cheer by Buddy Ebsen
At the age of 84 he put together a new song and dance act performing in Branson, MO, and Las
He also recorded a cassette Wellll Doggies! composed of original songs written
and sung by Ebsen, including The Ballad of Jed Clampett.
Ebsen is also an accomplished
painter who has had showings on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and recently in New York.
We know he's getting a lot of TLC because Buddy's wife, Dorothy, is a registered nurse.
Samantha Ivy, the 23-year-old daughter of jazz legend Nancy Wilson, was recently married to
Naeem Majied, in an outdoor ceremony attended by 300 friends. The bride's uncle, Elder Todd
Davis, officiated at the double ring ceremony, held in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. The bride is a
singer and her groom is a recording engineer.
The illustrious Marilyn Horne has been tapped to kick off The Omaha Nebraska Symphony's 78th
season in a one-night performance.
Opera Omaha celebrates their 40th anniversary season with the world premiere of Eric
Hermannson's Soul sung in English on November 11.
The Omaha Broadway Theatre Season at the Music Hall begins August 18th with Chicago.
ELVIS IS IN THE
Elvis - The Concert,, a production that reunites former Elvis Presley bandmates live on
stage with the singer via video finally makes it's way to Las Vegas, a city where the King of
Rock and Roll reigned supreme for nearly a decade.
Following a successful two-week preview tour last March, including three sold out performances
at Radio City Music Hall in New York, the production opens tomorrow night, Aug. 11, at the
Las Vegas Hilton for an eight-show engagement running through Sunday.
The show's concept is to incorporate live musicians with Presley on video. Concert footage of
Elvis performing from the 1973 television special Aloha from Hawaii (Via Satellite), from
the MGM concert films Elvis, That's the Way It Is, (1970) and Elvis on Tour
(1972), along with the out takes from these two films as seen in Elvis, The Lost
Performances (1992) was selected.
These performances were recorded on multi track, thus there exists a track with sound from
Presley's microphone isolated from the other sound.
The producers edited a collection of
performances, dropped all sound from the footage, then returned Presley's isolated vocal to
On stage, a 16-piece orchestra and a cast of former bandmates all perform live with the Presley
video. All music heard in the concert production is performed live except for Presley, because
contrary to all of those rumors and sightings, the guy is dead.
Never-the-less, the production creates an atmosphere that lends audiences to feel as though
Presley is back in the building and that they are experiencing him live in concert.
The historical Orpheum theater in Memphis has undergone an $8.5 million stage expansion and
renovation to accommodate such productions as Phantom of the Opera and other touring
The theater was build in 1890 as the opulent Grand Opera House. The original building burned in
1923 and was rebuilt in 1928. It became part of the nationwide Orpheum theater chain after the
turn of the century.
Slated to appear in the renovated theater are Peter Pan opening Nov. 10. Rent
follows Dec. 22. On Feb. 9 Victor/Victoria opens. Footloose steps on stage March
2. The wonderful Johnny Mathis performs March 23-24 with Miss Saigon tentatively
slated to open April 19.
Elvis Week began Aug. 8 in Memphis. The week long event attracts fans from around
the world to pay homage to Presley on the Aug. 16 anniversary of his death. Activities include
the annual candlelight vigil starting at 9 p.m. on Aug. 15.
The Memphis College of Art and the Animal Protection Association of Memphis discovered how
to rake in oodles of dollars. Dogs and Elvis. An Elvis impersonator posed with pets for Polaroid
pictures. Pet parents were given a choice. One picture was $5, or $3 for $10.The events raised
Recently, the sexual antics of New York's finest have been fodder for comedians. On Aug. 24 a
former cop shows off his comedic talents at Dangerfield's in New York. Justin McKinney was
a cop in his hometown of Kittery, ME. He traded in his night stick for a microphone and bases
much of his material from his experiences on the police force.
Sharing the bill with McKinney will be comedian Nancy Redman who had her own experience
with the law. An alumnus of the New York School for the Performing Arts, she was called a
heroine when she helped calm passengers trapped in a New York subway train.
She gave an
impromptu comedy performance until police rescued them. Nancy is a member of the Friar's
Club, often called upon to participate in their "roasts."She also won a $10,000 first prize on
ABC-TV's America's Funniest People.
NON-STOP TO THE
If you don't like the airline schedules, form your own airline. That's what two major hotels in Las
Vegas have done. Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. and Rio Hotel & Casino have each kicked in $15
million to form a Las Vegas-based air carrier, National Airlines, that will service East Coast
markets by early next year.
Mike Conway was co-founder and CEO of America West Airlines. He'll serve as president and
CEO of the new airline company. National Airlines, using a fleet of Boeing 757s will have daily
non-stop flights to New York, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Speaking of airlines - I was one of approximately 15 extras that Creative Talent sent over to
participate in a commercial for Japan Airlines. JAL is now flying nonstop to Las Vegas. Governor
Bob Miller personally invited the airline to come to Las Vegas and film a commercial. We all had
a ball doing the shoot, in which a JAL plane will be superimposed flying low over our
New York public relations man Jim Baldassare needed a
vacation. Darned if he didn't take one. He picked Toronto, a placed he'd never visited. He came
back impressed and so worn out from having a good time he needs a vacation. "I was impressed
by their entire city," related Baldassare. "I was surprised that this city which is "an hour in the air"
from New York City was so unknown to me. I wonder if Toronto's Chamber of Commerce (does
Canada have Chamber of ?) does much to promote that fact that it is so close to New
York City, for other world travelers in addition to New Yorkers?" questioned Baldassare.
We couldn't recall seeing anything from a Toronto Board of Tourism. We were also puzzled.
Being the super sleuths and nosey types that we are, we investigated.
For the past few weeks Toronto has been trying to keep everything under control. All because of
Caribana, the annual event that makes New York parades seem like small potatoes. Caribana is
one of North America's largest cultural festivals, lasting 18 days.
The festivity kicked off June 17, and culminated Aug lst with over 700,000 people participating in
and watching the parade. It was estimated that 25 per cent of the merrymakers were from
There were 10,000 masqueraders who took an average of four hours to dance the entire parade
length of 3.6 kilometers. That turns into a 10-hour street party, with the average speed of 4.8
Cost of the biggest band was $80,000. The size of the biggest mas band 700 people. The favorite
calypso song for Caribana' 98 was David Rudder's "High Mas."
It took 162 volunteers from the mas camp of the Louis Saldnah Mas-K Club to sew on the beads,
feather and finery for their ornate costumes which won three out of the four prizes.
It took 66 hours to make the winning King of the Bands costume, which was composed of 30,000
sequins and weighed 30 pounds. We'll guess that the King of the Bands could use a
chiropractor. We can only wonder if all those hand maidens with the sewing needles went blind
before they could revel at their winning costume.
A Caribana party was even held at police headquarters. We believe them when they say that
Caribana 98 is the biggest event of the year for Toronto police.Thousands of officers were
brought in from virtually all police divisions to work the parade.
While everyone was concentrating on Caribana 98 somebody went and changed a theatre.
gulped when they realized that the Harbourfront's du Maurier Theatre Centre, the Soulpepper
Theatre, is now a theatre-in-the-round, about to stage Don Carlos and The
Misanthrope. The theatre- in-the-round stage is relatively rare in Canada.
Circle In The Square in New York City and the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. are two of
several permanent professional theatres-in-the -round in America.
Proscenium arch theatres in Toronto are the Royal Alexandra and the St. Lawrence Centre's
Bluma Appel. Platform thrust stages can be found at Stratford's Festival Theatre and the Tom
There's even whispers that the Stratford is the next to convert to theatre-in-the-round.
In other Toronto theatre news; Fosse; A Celebration In Song and Dance opened Sunday,
Aug. 9 with performances to Aug. 29th at the Ford Centre.
Les Miserables has been extended at The Princess of Wales Theatre through Nov. 29 and
2 Pianos 4Hands runs through Sept. 5 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
WHEN PIGS FLY the delightful,
award winning off-Broadway musical
will close its engagement at the Fairbanks Theater on Aug. 15 - the day after its second
anniversary debut. The production will have played for 840 regular and 15 preview
BETTY BUCKLEY will be saying
Sing Out Louise to Deborah Gibson. The Tony-winning Buckley will portray Mama Rose, the mother of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, in the
Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Gypsy. The musical opens Sept. 9 at the Milburn, N.J.
theater with Deborah Gibson in the title role.
HOUSE the new play by Terrence
McNally and Jon Robbie Baitz opens Saturday at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theater.
JOEL GREY Joel Grey makes his
West End debut next Monday in the London production of Chicago.
SYLVIA MILLS is also in
London where she will return to the stage. She'll star in They Offered Bob & Wilma Cash a piece Steven
Froelich wrote for Sylvia. The production opens in September.
CATHY RIGBY heads up the
cast of Peter Pan which opens Nov. 23 at the Marquis Theater.
TONY RANDALL'S National
Actor's Theater kicks off the 98-99 season in December with a revival of
Emlyn Williams' 1935 thriller Night Must Fall,about a murderer who puts his victims'
severed heads in hat boxes.
LESLIE UGGAMS the Tony
Award-winning actress, who began singing professionally at Harlem's
Apollo Theater at age seven, will co-star in the limited run of John Henry Redwood's The Old
Settler at the Primary Stages Theater Oct 7 to Jan. 3. Set in Harlem in 1943, The Old
Settler is the story of two sisters search for love.
THIS AND THAT
Sinatra, Jr. secured a restraining order Wednesday, August 5, in Los Angeles
Superior Court baring Columbia Pictures from paying three men convicted of kidnapping the
singer in 1963, for the movie rights to the story.
According to Sinatra lawyer, Jim Walsworth, lawyers for Columbia Pictures opposed the restraining order, forcefully arguing on several
grounds, including a claim that the 1986 California law that prevents felons from profiting
from their original criminal activity, is unconstitutional.
They were over-ruled by the judge, who sided
WHEN HUEY LEWIS' DRUMMER wanted some R&R away from the maddening crowds, he
decided last Saturday to check into the Lake Lure Inn at Lake Lure, North Carolina. He thought
no one would know he was there. He wasn't counting on our own roving North Carolina
reporter, Trudy Knight-Peek, being on the scene. Trudy says the scenery is gorgeous and she
hopes he had a nice week-end. So do we.
Next column August 17, 1998
Copyright: August 10, 1998 All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary,
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