Herbert Cobb McDonald was born on March 15, 1919, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and moved to Washington state when he was a child, and then to Pasadena, California where he attended Pasadena Junior College, and then Stanford University. He was in the military until he was 26 years old, serving as Lieutenant in the Naval Air Corps in WWII. Then he went to Las Vegas with friend Chris Wilkerson (of La Rue's/Sands and Flamingo fame). In his public relations/ad/sales director capacity he helped open Club Bingo in the late 1940s.
When McDonald was Assistant General Manager at El Rancho Vegas, he met Siegel through Billy Wilkerson. For a short time, McDonald knew Siegel only as a casino man.
"We played gin rummy, and I won 28 bucks. When I saw Ben Siegel again, he asked me when I was going to give him a chance to win some of his money back. I said, 'Any time you think you're good enough.' " - Herb McDonald
McDonald then found out who Siegel was and his involvement in Murder Inc.
"My knees buckled. Had I known that, I would have lost it." - Herb McDonald
MacDonald worked as Assistant General Manager of publicity, advertising, sales and entertainment for the six year old El Rancho Las Vegas. He moved on to the Nevada Biltmore, and returned to the El Rancho. In 1951, as general manager, he opened the Last Frontier Village.
"A verbal bouquet to Mr. Herb McDonald, managing director of the Last Frontier Village, who treats his employees as friends, not as subordinates. No wonder he is so well liked." - Jack Cortez, 1953
The following years saw a number of regional and small national conventions arranged by McDonald which drew new visitors to the city. The city's movers and shakers wanted to use his expertise on a larger scale.
"I was drafted by the resort and gaming industry to serve as general manager for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce." - Herb McDonald
McDonald married "Phyllis" and had daughter Cheryl and son Greg. They subsequently divorced.
In 1964, McDonald assisted in having the Beatles play at the resort. This was a gamble in itself since the Beatles attracted people who couldn't gamble - teenagers. The Flamingo was the first resort that was offered the opportunity to host the Beatles and turned it down. Irwin decided it was worth the gamble. When I asked Irwin what made him go for it he said "I just had a feeling." McDonald was in favor of Irwin's decision, and along with Del Webb, history was made.
In 1964, he was named the Man of the Year by the Los Angeles and San Francisco Chapters Sales Promotion Executives Association and was runner-up in the National contest.
During his stint in Vegas, he helped establish the Better Business Bureau and the AAA Club. He assisted in the creation of the Highway 66 Association billboard campaign which persuaded thousands of vacationers to travel to Los Angeles via Vegas, rather than by the more direct highway running through Kingman, Arizona.
McDonald then accepted a position at the Sahara Hotel. He stayed on as a vice president with Del Webb and ramrodded PR and ad activities for casinos that Del Webb was building or buying.
McDonald had gone to Hawaii for Del Webb, at Webb's Kuilima, which is now owned by Hilton and is called Turtle Bay, and ran it before returning to Vegas and overseeing the construction and operation of of the Las Vegas Convention Center. While in Hawaii, McDonald married entertainer Masako (Darlene Yoshimoto) in 1966. Their one daughter Kimberly was born at 5:00am, on July 10, 1970.
In 1970, he belonged to the Sales Promotion Executives Association (L.A. Chapter), the Los Angeles Press Club, Las Vegas Press Club, Las Vegas Greater Chamber of Commerce, and the Executive Lions Club of Las Vegas.
In 1983, McDonald co-founded Las Vegas Events, a private, nonprofit organization that attracted and presents special events that promote tourism and create awareness of the city.
In 1984, McDonald assisted in bringing the National Finals Rodeo to the Thomas & Mack Center after Las Vegas Events outbid representatives from the event's former host, Oklahoma City.
Through his company Herb McDonald Consultants, Inc., he worked extensively with the Bing Crosby family for the Bing Crosby Open, the Nabisco/Dinah Shore Open, the J&B Scotch tournament and the now inactive Jack Nicklaus GA tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
In August of 1998, 54 year old Darlene was killed in Utah, when she stopped to aid a stranded motorist while on a hiking vacation and was hit by a truck driver who didn't see her on the side of the road. The scene of the crash was on a currve at the top of a mountain slope, and the driver of the truck didn't see her.
"Darlene Yoshimoto McDonald never passed up a chance to help someone. She was always giving, and I know God is taking good care of her. She helped to start a middle school (Meadows School) in Las Vegas that is now a full high school. At Christmas she'd always be buying extra Christmas trees and gifts to help less fortunate people." - Herb McDonald
McDonald had related a story about when his wife was performing in Hawaii:
"There were a lot of stars there, and Bob Hope's on stage, and he says, 'Darlene, where are you?' He then asks her to do the honor of singing 'Hawaiian Wedding Song.'"" - Herb McDonald
"Darlene was so an asset of Herb's ..... most congenial..... can't forget her..... what a couple." - Sam Melchionne, July 12, 2002
The following is from a Fabulous Las Vegas magazine:
"'Young man on the run' is an accurate description of Vice President of the Del Webb Hotel Division and Vice Prexy of the Sahara-Nevada Corp. This is Herbert (Herb) McDonald.
He is so sold on Las Vegas and Nevada that he moved me to this land of sunshine when he was head of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, about 12 years ago, sending us literature and a personal letter.
Herb, as he is known and called by most, has been with the Hotel Sahara since 1957, and a Las Vegas resident since 1946 . . . . McDonald has scored an impressive list of 'firsts' for the hotels and Southern Nevada.
McDonald resigned his position as west coast director of publicity for Music Corporation of America in 1946, to become show producer for the El Rancho Vegas. His promotion talents were immediately evident when he instituted the $1.00 buffet at the hotel. The plan was so successful, it was later adopted by all other Strip hotels in Chuck Wagon form.
McDonald brought stars like Peggy Lee, Gordon MacRae, Sammy Davis, Jr., Kay Thompson, Jackie Miles and Dick Contino . . . 'we got 'em for peanuts.'
In 1947, McDonald began his association with Milton Prell, Executive Director of Hotel Sahara, by joining Prell's Club Bingo. While at the Bingo, McDonald brought in Stan Irwin as a comedian and Master of Ceremonies.
In 1954, McDonald became Managing Director of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, spearheading five key projects during his tenure. At that time, he helped organize a special census, the Better Business Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Development, and began work on the Convention Center.
McDonald instituted the Sahara Pro Amateur Golf Tournament (now the $77,777.77 Sahara Invitational) . . . The Sahara-Colt's National Open Walk and Draw Fast Championship. . . The World Airline Employees' Christmas Party. . . . In addition, McDonald is responsible for a veritable flow of conventions to Hotel Sahara and established the famous Sahara Safari and Sahara Caravan package vacations, which have attracted tourists from all over the nation.
Ten years ago, Herb's favorite saying about Las Vegas was: 'You ain't seen nothing yet.' The other day, he repeated the same statement for the next ten years.
He is kind and considerate to everyone - especially the porters, waiters and busboys: 'Who knows they may be my boss someday.'
He is well dressed but happiest when he wears slacks and a sweater to match.
He is an honest man. His word is his bond.
He maintains personal loyalties with friends and has been known to become involved in business projects simply because a friend was involved.
He has the advantage of being able to eat anything without gaining more than a few pounds over the course of a few years . . . Nevertheless, he does 50 sit-ups a day.
Basically, he is a shy and modest person . . . but can be curt and outspoken . . . I've yet to hear an unkind word of Herb McDonald" - Percy Villa, February, 1966
Herb McDonald died on Saturday, July 6, 2002."Herb was a 'run-silent-run-deep' force for Las Vegas......... took the background and moved mountains. The Sahara Invitational Golf Tournament and the LPGA held here were of his efforts among the large conventions that now has nestled in Las Vegas and a national grandeur scale...... the obstacle being convincing 'clean-cut', so to speak, corporations that they would reap a better attendance harvest as opposed to tarnishing their images........ Look at some of those images in today's news......
He was always ahead of his time........ innovative..... inspiring ..... productive... and the Guru many went to to air-out projects that were still just in someone's imagination. He made things real and made them happen." - Sam Melchionne, July 12, 2002
"Probably the best memory I have of Herb from a personal standpoint was the time he called me about a problem he had regarding the National Finals Rodeo. I believe it was the second or third year of the event. He called asking if I could mount a huge number of photographs for display at the NFR. The event was opening the following day, and there were a couple of hundred large photos that had to be mounted. This job would ordinarily take a week to do, but somehow I performed the task in less than 12 hours. Herb supplied me with the motto I now use on my business card.....'The difficult immediately....The impossible takes a little longer.' I will never forget that comment. He was one of the most positive influences in my life. Kind, understanding, compassionate are just scratching the surface of Herb's persona. He will be missed by all...... - Mike Christ, July 17, 2002
"Herb McDonald was another one of the real people that made the wonderful city of Las Vegas. When class really ruled...even in the asphalt jungle... class is class everywhere. - Nelson Sardelli, October, 2002
"I many times would call Stan Irwin, then Herb. I was having fun with the relays they used to do to me. I would be talking to Stan and ask him a question and he would say 'Oh, that Herb's area. Ask him.' At the end of the conversation he would say 'Are you going to call Herb now?' I would say yes and they he would give me a message to Herb, whether it being whether he was going to be playing golf on Saturday, or attending a function, etc. I would talk with Herb and ask him and he would answer the question and give me a message to give to Stan. This would go on and I thought they were just so funny doing this."
One time last year I asked Herb about all the tournaments he was in charge of. This man, decades after the event, would tell me the name of each tournament, the year, the winner, the prize monies, the favorite to win, and the weather conditions on that particular day. I asked him if he was reading this information to me and he said 'Oh no, I just remember everything I was in charge of. It makes it easier for me when someone asks a question, rather than me taking the time to look it up.' I told him I can't remember what I did that morning, and he replied, 'That's because you didn't take months creating it, getting it together, hoping it goes through without hitch, and being prepared for any mishap in case it doesn't.'
In reading Mr. Villa's profile on Herb, it dawned on me that Herb was essentially the same person he was 36 years ago and if I had to write a profile on Herb in the year 2002, it would be exactly the same. A gentleman's gentleman. I wish I had talked with him more. I'm going to miss him." - Deanna DeMatteo, 2002
On May 1, 2011, Herb and Stan Irwin were inducted into the Las Vegas Rock Reunion Hall of Fame for bringing the Beatles to Las Vegas in 1964.
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