SWIMMING WITH GANGSTERS


300px-Ella-fitzgerald-lullabies-of-birdland

Ella blew out tunes like a smoke stack and with each soulful sound, her face drew more sweat. By the second song, the sweat was pouring down her face and into that gorge like cleavage that heaved with each breath.  I didn’t understand the emotions that distorted her eyes and mouth. Ella, crowned by a sizzling hot spot light overhead, transmitted every flaw and feeling on her face.   I hadn’t seen a singer suffer before. I looked up at my mother and started crying.

“ What’s wrong sweetheart?”

“ I’m afraid she’s going to die.”

My mother whispered assurances that Ella was not going to die.  I kept crying. She then excused us from our table and I followed her into the Powder Room.  She sat me on a chaise lounge, and wiped my tears.  The expansiveness of the Powder room compared to the ones today, was like being in someone’s bedroom. Soft cushioned chairs, a long dressing table speckled with ashtrays, perfumes, and miniature toiletries. We stayed there until Ella finished her show. Mom didn’t show her disappointment, she rarely showed despairing emotions, or caused me to feel ashamed of my behavior. Looking back fifty years later, I’m reminded of my mother’s selflessness, and how a legend can drop down into your path, and you don’t even know it.

Again looking back fifty years later, my succession of travel diaries, dim by comparison to the Vegas memories.  Swirling amongst the élan of prohibition era abandonment, gangsters were the Rothchilds, the royalty of the scene, and the non-members loved it. That’s why the woman behaved  roaring twenties ZaZu Pitts and Louise Brooks emancipated. Everyone was free of their wrappings, an0287_0019(small) ENTRATTER & SINATRAd responsibilities. They were partying with the men who they’d first met on screen played by Bogart, Robinson, and Cagney. I remember them now as being childlike. The outsiders may have been living the childhood that was stolen by WWII, and the depression. Their veiled heroes were gangsters who’d been breaking rules since being ripped from their mother’s breast.

Then one day the in 1963 the Rat Pack landed in Vegas, wearing black Tuxedos and intercepted the public’s fancy imitations of living vicariously.  Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra invited Vegas to drink, make love, and gamble. And they did. If you find anyone over seventy in Vegas today, ask them about the Rat Pack, Johnny Roselli, or Jack Entratter, and you’ll know I’m not exaggerating. Vegas was the time of their lives. The drugs were minor, an upper or a downer to sleep, but no one came to Vegas to OD or commit suicide.  The deaths were in the desert, between the gangsters’. This was al before Tony Spilotro got wheels on his greed and went speeding into his own death.  TO BE CONTINUEDAT THE COPA ROOM

AT THE COPA ROOM

SWIMMING WITH GANGSTERS-VEGAS 1960s


Lullabies of Birdland

Lullabies of Birdland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photograph of Dean Martin with celebrities sta...

Photograph of Dean Martin with celebrities stage-side, Las Vegas, March 6, 1957 (Photo credit: UNLV Libraries Digital Collections)

PART THREE

THE CROWD TWITCHED IN ANTICIPATION, except for overly sensitive children, (OSC) without a prescription. My heart beat like a wild Pinto running from the rope as the doors to the Copa Room closed, and the lights dimmed. Streams of Parliament and Marlboro smoke desensitized the spring scent of Shalimar, Aramis cologne, and steaks grilling close by. The horizon of necks seen from the stage must have looked like a display at Tiffany’s.

Photograph of the Rat Pack performing together...

Photograph of the Rat Pack performing together in the Copa Room, Las Vegas, 1960 (Photo credit: UNLV Libraries Digital Collections)

We were in the front row of tables, two steps from the stage, so I had to raise my head vertically to see Ella.

I sat transfixed by this sensory tsunami at a table with a group of Uncles; Uncle Joey, (Joey Adonis, or Joey Fusco, or Joey whomever) Nick the Greek, Chuckie Del Monico (son of Charlie the Blade. I still squint when I read about him) and Uncle Charlie, (The Babe Baron) who enlisted or service in WW11 in Canada because the United State denied his application due an arrest record. Charlie was a stiff suited Four Star General under the hand of *General Curtis LeMay when he wasn’t managing the Riviera. Someone put that in “Vegas” the new television series.

The men and women composed a landscape of histories, though their costume like wardrobes were similar, except for the gangsters, who dressed according to Johnny Roselli standards. The women wore spaghetti strap cocktail dresses and strapless full length gowns, like a spring bouquet of color, transparency, and glitter. They, (I mean most of them that I met) were in a state of unconsciousness; shifting from cocktails, sun, lovemaking, gambling, and entertainment. Mad Women in the desert enjoyed their decorations of diamonds, fox fur wraps, and pointy spiked patent leather heels. Cocktail trays flew by in succession, because their husbands were not watching them. What was all the fuss about?

I could feel their panting exuberance before we even walked in the Copa Room. I felt it when we walked through the lobby, and everyone scampered before they knew where they were headed. It looked like an off stage performance; jittery anticipatory gestures that made any girl even without OSC dizzy. I was inside this swirl of liberation from the age of six to about twelve. We went to Vegas three or four times a year that I can recall. It was before I started my journal so the memories are part substance and part reflection.   TO BE CONTINUED

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SWIMMING WITH GANGSTERS IN LAS VEGAS


1961

I held my mother’s hand, as she led me through the casino, stopping to accept embraces, cheek kisses, and an occasional wink, before opening the door to our suite. The patio view to the pool was a kaleidoscope of flashing jewelry because back then women wore their jewelry everywhere. Umbrellas, stacks of white towels, shiny Ban de Soliel arms and legs, silver platters of cheeseburgers, dripping with blood, because back then rare was bleeding, and little toy poodles, that men smoking Cuban cigars and wearing Gucci loafers held up for the world to see. A bit of Mad Men in the desert, only the men were gamblers, celebrities or gangsters, who’d invite their wives to soften the martini’s and manage the children.

Ben Siegel

Ben Siegel


To be continued.