Friday, November 09, 2007

Clooney vs. Fabio

Yesterday Norm Clark reported on the dust-up between actor George Clooney and the big-haired, pectorally gifted Fabio. Clooney is one of Las Vegas’ favorite celebrities, mostly because of the Ocean’s movies. There's also his pretty Las Vegas girlfriend, the failed Las Ramblas, and his friendship with Randy Gerber. (Gerber is supermodel Cindy Crawford’s husband and a successful businessman – although if you Google him, you’d think his only achievement in life was marrying Crawford.) Norm Clark thoughtfully keeps Las Vegas up-to-date on Clooney sightings.

Las Vegas loves her stars, but over the years, the tone of her relationship with celebrities has changed. In the Old Vegas, you were more likely to meet a celebrity than you were to read he’d been in a fist fight. Remember, we used be a pretty small place, and that whole “what happens here stays here” thing was more true. Celebrities were a part of the city, not just occasional visitors. Yes, I know, Celine Dion lives at Lake Las Vegas, but it’s not the same. Stardom was different in that prior age. Packs of paparazzi weren’t stalking people. Fame didn’t involve international cable television, reality shows, or relentless media exposure.

When I was a kid, everyone knew someone famous, or once removed from famous. In my childhood neighborhood at Charleston and Eastern (a neighborhood now casualty of urban decay), we lived across the street from Fritz and Mary, probably my parent’s best neighbor-friends. Fritz was a piano player for the Mills Brothers. We used to get to watch their house when they were out of town; I learned to swim in their pool. Fats Domino was another friend of my parents, and although I was too small to remember the days when Mom helped him fix his wrinkled feather ties (according to the story, sofa cushions worked best), I do remember being backstage to watch Fats perform. When I was about 11, Doyle Brunson moved into a huge house about five blocks away from mine. His daughter and I became friends after a playground scuffle over a four-square game.

When James Garner was in town filming an episode of The Rockford Files, my dad met the actor at the Aladdin. At that time, Dad was the bar manager at the Aladdin. I had the world’s largest crush on James Gardner, so my dad took me to the hotel one day while they were filming. I just wanted to watch my idol from afar, but Dad had other ideas. He waved to Gardner, who recognized Dad and walked over to say hello. Dad motioned me over so I could say hello. I pretended I didn’t see him. I ducked and dodged hand signals and Dad’s growing aggravation to avoid having to say hello. Despite my contortions I was still involuntarily introduced to James Gardner. Somewhere, I have his autograph.

In the 80s, Johnny Carson owned Channel 5 here in town, where my mom was the controller. She told me that the picture taken of her and Johnny at a work function propelled her into virtual stardom in her Texas hometown.

Dad was really concerned about me either becoming a musician or dating one. At my house we had a whole rack of autographed records from big names. Dad’s hearing loss was primarily a result of working at service bars too close to live entertainment. In hindsight, I suppose I can understand his concern. I had to endure an entire lecture on the unreliability of work as a musician before he would allow me to take guitar lessons.

From time to time you still meet people from the shows; but now it’s the shows that are famous, not the individual performers. My son’s newest karate coach is a former Cirque du Soleil KA performer. A few years ago, a Splash performer lived down the street. Talk about the pectorally gifted. My good friend Merina almost crashed her car one day as she was oogling Mr. Splash, who was doing shirtless yard work. After she regained control of her car, she immediately called me so I could run into my front yard to see this fabulous sight just three houses down the street. Sadly, Mr. Splash was back inside by the time I got within oogling distance.

Which brings me back to Fabio and George Clooney. In the New Vegas, celebrities are one more fabulous prop in a city filled with world-class distractions for everyone. If they know how to do anything down there, the casinos know how to entertain, to dazzle, to manufacture awe. It seems to be working well, judging from the 90% room occupancy and the thousands of new hotel rooms slated to be built.

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