THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist
Monday, May 31, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
El Rancho Vegas: First Strip Casino
When you think of old Las Vegas, two casinos always pop up: Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo and the El Rancho Vegas because of its history. On April 23, 1941, the $25,000 western-themed El Rancho Vegas opened on 66,000 acres. It was the first hotel on what would become the Las Vegas Strip.
I went into the army at 15 years old and got discharged at 17. The year was 1949, just two years after Bugsy Siegel was murdered. One of the biggest U.S. singing sensations was Frankie Laine who was appearing at the El Rancho while I was stationed in Las Vegas. Frankie was on every jukebox in the country.
Well, I was from Chicago and Frankie hailed from the windy city too, so I decided to introduce myself to him. I got a lift from Las Vegas Air Force Base (now Nellis) 15 miles away to meet my idol. I saw Frankie talking with some people and I walked over to shake his hand. Instead of brushing me off, Frankie realized I was just a homesick kid and befriended me.
Frankie was appearing at the El Rancho with his longtime friend and pianist, Carl Fisher. One lucky day, Frankie invited me to go with him and Carl Fisher to visit Las Vegas High School. At the time it was the only high school in Las Vegas. Here I was 17, in uniform and hanging out with one of the biggest entertainers of the time. I broke a lot of young girl’s hearts.
Other entertainers appearing at the El Rancho were Pearl Bailey, Milton Berle, Ben Blue, Billy Daniels, Lena Horne, Joe E. Lewis, Kay Starr and Betty Grable along with her husband, Harry James. Young folks probably never heard of any of them.
The resort hosted the weddings of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (who at one time worked as a United Nations interpreter), and also Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
In 1960, I heard from close friends that fearsome Outfit enforcer, Marshall Caifano, burnt the El Rancho down because he was kicked out. But who knows? The first to notice the flames was none other than Betty Grable who ran outside with husband Harry James. El Rancho owner at the time, Beldon Katleman, didn’t get too upset since he collected a nice insurance settlement on the place. The El Rancho Vegas was losing money due to the opening of the Sahara across the street. An empty lot is all that remains of the legendary resort.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Slick and I were talking the other day about the old Devonshire and Berkshire hotels. (Pictured at right and below.) Back in the 1950s they were headquarters for the Chicago mob. He lived there for a while with his friend, Bob Mauro, who was connected. Slick said,
"Everyone has heard of Rush Street, a famous area in downtown Chicago known for its sensational restaurants and nightclubs. But how many have heard of Ohio Street, mob headquarters?"
In our book, THIEF!, Slick describes this colorful neighborhood and it's zany characters:
On the first floor of the Devonshire, a coffee shop occupied one side. Across from the coffee shop was a bar loaded with prostitutes. The Berkshire next door resembled the Devonshire except, on the left, it had an Italian restaurant called Valentino's, on the right a bar loaded with prostitutes. A little guy, Davie Fuch, made tough decisions as the doorman at Valentino's. If he didn't know you or you weren't okayed by someone important, you didn't get in, period.
It was Valentino's where the mob-run Rush Street nightclubs like the Chez Paree, Mr. Kelly's and The Living Room quietly dropped off the nights' receipts in brown paper bags to Jimmy "the Monk" Allegretti. The balding, round-shouldered mob soldier ran the place for the Outfit. He had the say about what went on at the two hotels. When Jimmy barked, all the dogs jumped. He left most of the barking to his underlings like Big Joe Arnold, his bodyguard-enforcer-collector. The last table in the narrow, well-lit Valentino's was permanently reserved for Jimmy and Joe to conduct business...
A lot of goofy things went on around the neighborhood. Living there certainly had its perks. Every morning a guy who worked for city hall would systematically collect all the parking tickets on the cars in front of the two hotels and have them fixed. In the summer Handsome Joe, a four-foot-tall ex-fighter with his nose plastered all over his face, drove a carload of strippers out to Calumet City to turn some tricks. It was sort of a "shopping center" for hookers."
Slick went on to say,
Well, all that's gone and the Devonshire's now a cheap joint called the Tokyo Hotel. (Pictured below.) Wonder what Tony Montana would say?
[The above excerpt is taken from THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist. All rights are reserved by the authors.]
Friday, May 14, 2010
Slick recalled the following when he learned of Lena Horne's passing on May 9 of this year:
Monday, May 10, 2010
84-Year Old Ike Atkinson Challenges
So-Called “American Gangster” Frank Lucas to a Dialogue About the Truth
Behind the Asian Heroin Connection