In January of 1955, it was learned that Sophie Tucker took one of her paychecks to the Vegas March of Dimes Fund for a donation. A bash was held at the resort for Tucker on January 13 to celebrate her 67th birthday. Dr. Margaret Chung flew in for the party. Chung was a eminent surgeon in San Francisco.

In 1955, Lili showcased "Wedding in Monaco" at the resort. Another photographer asked if he could take pictures during her act. When Katleman asked the audience if they minded if Lili posed while on stage for photos, they wholeheartedly agreed. Some of the following are pictures from that show.

Lili Monaco 1 Lili Monaco 2 Lili Monaco 3 Lili Monaco 4 Lili Monaco 5 Lili Monaco 6 Lili Monaco 7

St. Cyr/Jordan

On February 23, 1955, it was reported that 33 year old Lili St. Cyr and 28 year old Ted Jordan, actor and nephew of Bandleader Ted Lewis, were married by District Judge Frank McNamee at the resort. St. Cyr stated it would be a short honeymoon as she was to appear at the resort beginning March 2nd. St. Cyr was divorced from New York restauranteur Amando Orsini in 1954. Beldon and Mildred Katleman presented the bride with a necklace and earnings valued at $11,000.

In March of 1955, the ladies went to see Lili St. Cyr/Myron Cohen including Toni Clark, Tiny Krausnick and Marge Mendote.

On August 15, 1955, an unexplained fire broke out at the resort resulting in $250,000 in damage. It was reported that a waiter noticed that two people who were at the bar did not come out. He rushed into the resort and pulled them to safety. The waiter was then overcome by smoke and was taken to the hospital. Dancer Billy Daniels averted a wave of panic by casually ushing patrons from the resort during the fire. Instead of informing them of the seriousness of the situation, Daniels merely stated that some steaks had burned, creating all the smoke. The fire did begin in the kitchen and the flames spread quickly into the attic above the Opera House.

"Poor Lewis (Joe E.) - he owed the El Rancho all the time because of his gambling. He was a degenerate craps shooter. Sophie Tucker appeared at the El Rancho several times a year. Her shows were always packed. Up to 1950, you could get a free beer and see her and there was no cover charge." - Jack Dixon, El Rancho dice dealer

In 1955, Katleman brought in Broadway Producer George White, famed for his girl shows of the 1930s. White formed a musical comedy without using props or scenery.

In September of 1955 Trumpeter for the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra, Gene Barringer, learned his daughter was in a serious auto accident on the east coast. He was frantic due to a shortage of funds. Stage Manager Bill Burke and all the dancers chipped in for his transportation. The band musicians donated the money they had been paid for playing a recent fashion show.

In October of 1955 Embree Drake sold the two hotels he purchased in Elko and decided on a lengthy vacation at the El Rancho Vegas.

Also in October of 1955, Graveyard Pit Boxx Hank Culley suffered a stroke while gardening and it was not clear if he would be able to go back to work.

In November of 1955, it was announced that Billy Daniels married Perette Cameron in a surprise ceremony in Juarez, Mexico.

It was also stated that whenever Katleman left the city the man in charge of the resort was Dusty Peters.

In December of 1955, it was noted that Lisa Kirk will be singing while taking a cold shower on stage. This added up to 14 stage showers per week.

Also showcased during this year were Lilli St. Cyr; Geogine D'Arcy; Billy Daniels; El Rancho Girls; Monty Gunty; Lenny Kent; Eartha Kitt; Julius LaRosa; Joe E. Lewis; Lillian Roth; Austin Mack; Gordon McRae; Ted Fio Rito & his Orchestra; Wanda Smith & Her Cover Girls; Sophie Tucker; George White Revue. The Lounge showcased Ralph Gari; Lenny Kent. In November of 1955, Gari received an invitation to appear on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town.

Joe E. Lewis Ad Lisa Kirk Lillian Roth

In December 1955, the following individuals were connected with the resort: Hy Portnoy - Casino; Hank Culley/Syl Petricciani/Jimmy Brown/Harry Elizarde/Roger Anderson/John Schaffer/Tommy Mulgrew/Phil Long; Albert Miranda - Maitre d.

Marquez/Del Rio in Garden
Taken in El Rancho gardens
Performing at El Rancho
Peforming at El Rancho

In January of 1956, the talk of the town was Alicia Marquez and Jack Del Rio who were "packing them in" at the El Rancho. It was stated ". . . with all the fizz and fire of the bubbly stuff, is Alicia Marquez, an explosive, 'give-'em-hell' dancer. She was discovered in the Golies Bergere by Beldon Katleman.

In February, 1956, a report was published regarding the entertainment of Las Vegas stating that Vegas pays for the customers, not the entertainment and why costs are so high for the resorts. Beldon Katleman was quoted for the report: "Aside from the entertainment cost, food and labor are enormous. Nevada grows no produce, it must come from California, Utah and Arizona. It's hard enough to get and keep good restaurant help in a normal town, but when they're exposed to temptations 24 hours a day, its murder." Katleman went on to state that he favors "100% acts, tried and true like Joe E. Lewis, Sophie Tucker, Eartha Kitt, etc."


On February 18, 1956, Hal March, emcee of TV's $64,000 Question married Candy Torme. The wedding took place in the honeymoon cottage of Beldon Katleman with a reception for over 300 following at the El Rancho's Opera House. Bob and Beverly Sweeney were best man and matron of honor. Ten years before, March acted in the same capacity at their wedding (Sweeney and March was a comedy team in the early days of radio).

Among the celebrities who attended the wedding included Betty Grable and Harry James, Howard Keel and wife, Peter Leeds and his wife, Dan Dailey and his wife, Gwen, Louis Prima and Keeley Smith, and Hank Henry.

The wedding cake weight 200 pounds, six tiers high, and was pale pink with darker pink stripes vertically like a candy cane. On the bottom tier dozens of little candy cane figures promenaded to give the effect of a Candy March. Roy Quenzer, popular local culinary arts of Swiss Arts Bakery designed and baked the cake especially for the event.

The bride's dress was a Maxwell Shieff original of champagne lace over champagne silk chiffon with a full floating skirt. Her accessories included neutral shoes of champagne satin and a plain pill box hat with champagne veil. After a two day honeymoon at the El Rancho, the couple left so March could resume his job on the $64,000 Question.


On March 14, 1956, El Rancho announced another first Betty Grable and Harry James appearing at the resort.

It was advertised that this was the first time that Grable and James (husband and wife) performed as a team in a nightclub. Their act contained about 7 minutes of reprise of their movie successes but the remainder was entirely new material.

Once before about two years prior in Chicago, they tried a couple of weeks at the Chicago Theatre on a personal appearance but nightclubs was never tried. When they finally decided to give in, Katleman was right there with a contract. Grable spent two months on her dances alone. When that was down pat, she decided to come forth with something startling in costumes. Vegas was used to splash and glimmer, and she wanted to out-glimmer the best of them. The following two pictures are taken from the show.

Grable James on stageGable w/dancing menGrable/James

With a total outlay of $47,000 for a four week engagement, Grable hit town with a wardrobe designed especially for her by Hollywood's William Travilla. Her sophisticated gowns ranked with the best, emphasizing soft blues and muted pinks, her favorite colors. When she let go with the terpsichore, she was wearing less than ever thought of - all of it strategically and most attractive placed. Her opening effort was accomplished in about one-fourth yard of silk net, 70 sequins and 64 real, genuine, authentic, American cut-diamonds. Assisting her were the Jack Cole Dancers.

Not to be outdone, James bought seven new tuxedos. James also brought nine of his most important sidemen on this first and they augment the El Rancho house band of Ted Fio Rito. With Buddy Rich on drums, Jack Costanzo on bongos, Juan Tizol on volve trombone and other luminaries of "le jazz hot", it was a great success.

In 1956, El Rancho showcased Lili St. Cyr, Carter & Gloria DeHaven, Ted Fio Rito & his Orchestra, Helen Grayco, Morty Gunty, Harry James/Betty Grable, Lisa Kirk/Buddy Pepper at the piano, Eartha Kitt/Myron Cohen, Joe E. Lewis, Austin Mack, The Renee Molnar Dancers, Ernie Richman & the Mannequins; Dick Rice & His Orchestra, Ted Fio Rito & His Orchestra; Sophie Tucker. Maxine Lewis was the director of entertainment, and Geri Nolan was the publicist. El Rancho also had permanent residents at the time including Judge Frank McNamee.

Carter/Gloria De Haven Joe E. Lewis

Aerial of El Rancho/Sahara
El Rancho. As you can see, she goes just past the Thunderbird to the Sahara.

In the theme of Valentine's Day, on February 12, 1957, the resort presented Zsa Zsa Gabor, giving advice on the subject of love and marriage, and looked on young couples as they wed. In keeping with the theme, Matt Dennis, who authored the tune My Funny Valentine also appeared.

In March of 1957, it was reported that Las Vegas money won over Hollywood money when Zsa Zsa Gabor chose the El Rancho over a movie. Gabor was scheduled to have her head shaved for her role as Stalin's mistress in Girls of the Kremlin. Kathleman stated that she needed to appear at the resort on April 17, 1957, with a head full of hair. Universal-International was paying Gabor $100,000 to appear in the movie but Katleman countered for an undisclosed amount but it was much more than Universal was offering. Gabor, in her normal joking mode stated "Vot could I do? Las Vegas said if I do not cut my hair they would hold me over for anozzer five weeks. So far, I'm keeping my hair. Besides, my mother was on the telephone saying she would disown me if I got the shave."

On July 20, 1957, it was reported that virtually every performer in Vegas headed for the Joe E. Lewis/Roberta Sherwood/Nejla Ates 2:30am performance. Tourists and localities swelled the audience to full capacity. Katleman picked up the tab for everyone.

"Last Sunday evening Jack Kogan introduced his "Meet The People" panel show over K-SHOW-TV, Channel 13. It proved to be highly intersting for localites. Guasts on the show challenged the panel to guess the identity of well-known people in Vegas. Jack's panel helped him to create of the nicest, releaxed Vegas shows, we have witnessed. Panel members are Forrest Duke (of the Morning Sun), Harriet Cohen (Of Kozloff-Cohen Insurance Co.), Jack Florian Mitchell (of the Douglass Studios) and our little Doll, Etta Cortez, of Fabulous Las Vegas Magazine (Of course she's the boss! What a silly quesiton!) . . ." - Jack Cortez, August 10, 1957

Also during this month it was announed that Beldon Katleman appointed Charles R. Kahn as Director of Sales Promotions and Covnention at what was known at Katleman's Korner (El Rancho's nickname). Kahn left Vegas on August 15, 1957 for the first of a series of good-will tours publicizing the virtues of Las Vegas and the El Rancho.

Much publicity was given to the movie The Joker is Wild at the resort when it opened in Vegas in July of 1957. The movie was based on the life of Joe E. Lewis starring Frank Sinatra as Lewis. Silver Slipper star Hank Henry was featured in a supporting role, along with fellow localite Jimmy Cavanaugh.

On October 25, 1957, it was noted that Channel 13-K-SHO-TV began its MGM Parade of hit pictures. The studio was located at the resort where the stables were converted to accommodate the equipment and artists.


"The El Rancho, 1957, The Vagabonds with Atillo Risso, the accordionist, far rt. He was so famous for his dumb, stupid countenance and they were TV hot comedy act in the '50s. A regular act on Arthur Godfrey from Miami, Fl." - Sam Melchionne, March, 2004 (Picture donated by Sam)


The above was donated by Sam Melchionne. This is part of a contract he signed to play at the El Rancho in 1957 for $86.62 per night as a relief band.

On December 7, 1957, Rancho hosted auditions conducted by Barry Ashton for dancers in his upcoming shows.

During 1957, El Rancho showcased Nejla Ates; Milton Berle & Company; Ben Blue/Helene Stanton; John Carroll; Myron Cohen; Lili St. Cyr; Hal Loman & His Playmates; Zsa Zsa Gablor/Joe E. Lewis; Eddie Gorme; Joe E. Lewis/Austin Mack; The Renee Molnar Dancers; Dick Rice & His Orchestra; Roberta Sherwood. The Lounge showcased Eddie "Mr. Domingo" Gomez; and Glen Thompson Trio.

Joe E. Lewis John Carroll Roberta Sherwood


On December 29, 1957, Eydie Gorme married Steve Lawrence at the resort.


On January 29, 1958, 33 year old Paul Newman and 27 year old Joanne Woodward were married at the home of Beldon Katleman.

In April of 1958, people drinking in the lounge was ready for AA when they saw a huge white animal table hopping and sniffing drinks. After a quick double take it was discovered it was only Eartha Kitt's pet poodle. Everyone joked with her that nobody minded the pink elephants but white poodles was definitely a horse of another color.

During this time, Barry Ashton gave an interview about his new Joe E. Lewis Show. The Barry Ashton dancers was going to do a take-off on the chemise, sack and balloon dresses, which should delight the non-enthusiasts of the new styles. If everything went as planned, a runway was going to be built which would give the patrons a better look at the clothes and the dazzling models. The blues number in the current Eartha Kitt show received such a wonderful response that Ashton was going to keep it in for the Lewis show.

April 10-12, 1958 went down in Eddie "Mr. Domingo" Gomez' member book as three of the most eventful day sin his life. April 10th Gomez married Raven Facaros who was one of El Rancho's waitress for two years. Katleman presented the pair "with a wedding party in true El Rancho style." April 11th marked Gomez' birthday, and on April 12th Gomez celebrated his first year in the Nugget Nell Lounge of the El Rancho.

Barry Ashton

In April of 1958 Barry Ashton had some fun when he appeared in an ad dressed up as a rowdy biker.

In July of 1958, so many people showed up at the Milton Berle Revue that patrons were standing three to five deep in line that extended as far as the eye could see.

Also in July of 1958, Rock Hudson was seen in the audience of Marilyn Maxwell's show. After the show it was noted that Hudson was beseiged by autograph seekers but didn't flinch an eye and stayed put until all the fans were satisfied.

On July 30, 1958, what the pressed terms "Bosom Battle" took place. It began when El Rancho Entertainment Director Barry Ashton announced that his new show would feature girls dressed in "hats and shoes. Period." Catholic clergymen in Reno received copies of a pastorial letter from Bishop Robert J. Dwyer, Bishop of Reno, in which the "immorality" of some Las Vegas resort shows were bitterly assailed. In the letter, attended to be read at all masses held, Dwyer wrote that the upsurge of nudity has created a serious moral situation in Nevada. The letter stated that all Catholics were "strictly forbidden" by the Divine law itself to have any part in the entertainment which is of its nature indecent or suggestive. "No Catholic was permitted under pain of grave sin, to participate in the management, direction, or production or event the advertising of such entertainment." It also stated that Catholic "visitors" were under the same rule as "There is no vacation from the ten commandments." It was noted that to date the Dunes, El Rancho, and Stardust were the culprits. Ashton responded: "Bare chests are the coming thing. It is what the public wants and we are giving it to them."

Show producers at the Sands, Tropicana, and Sahara stated in a joint response that they would "never turn to that type of entertainment" and they intend to keep their shows "family type."

In late August/early September, the clergy won, at least as far as the El Rancho was concerned when El Rancho President Beldon Katleman promised that future shows would be free of complete nudity and expressed hope that the action "will be followed by others." In a letter Katleman stated "please accept my personal assurance that it was at no time the intention of the El Rancho to offend the public conscience or moral standards with our show presentations. If the clergy is in agreement that such entertainment policy conflicts with their expressed ideas it behooves every person connected with entertainment to reconsider his standards of show production."

However, officials at all three resorts reported "sensational" business since the nudity issue gained the wide publicity. The Stardust reported it had received letters from all over the country endorsing their show and contending it "was in good taste."

The clergy complained to District Attorney George Dickerson but he responded that under present laws, he had no control over the production of nude shows on the resort stages. He suggested that the clergy take the matter up with legislation.

In late August/beginning of September, 1958, El Rancho held a Celebrity Show to pay tribute to Joe E. Lewis and say hello to Myron Cohen. It was noted that Maitre d' Arturo had his hands full greeting celebrities at the Opera House door. Guests included Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny, Carol Channing & hubby Charles Loewe, Dolores Hawkins & manager Don Seat, Miami's Fontainbleau owner Ben Novak, songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen, Jerry Fielding, Jack Russell, and Sahara's Stan Irwin escorting Betty Hutton. The following night almost all the same celebrities were seen at Flamingo's Driftwood Lounge to see the Ritz Brother and Harry James.

Art Carney

On October 31, 1958, Fred Carson from North Hollywood, CA, went to Lili St. Cyr's bungalow at the El Rancho at 3:00am, to take her to dinner after she rested from her shows and no one answered. He broke the door open and found St. Cyr lying on the floor with a bottle of pills next to her. She was immediately taken to Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital. The doctors stated it was an overdose of sleeping pills and if she had waited just a short while longer, she would've been dead. The hospital listed this incident as an attempted suicide.

On November 29, 1958, El Rancho put out an ad for its Channel 13, located behind the resort, of its Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf special.

Norma Calderon who played with the Eddie "Mr. Domingo" Gomez Group was the daughter of Xavier Cugat's drummer who played with Cugat for more than 20 years. Calderon received her trianing with Cugat where she was featured soloist for almost two years.

Showcased in 1958 were Morey Amsterdam; Barry Ashton Dancers; Candy Barr; Milton Berle & Company/The Dunhills; Kay Brown; Myron Cohen; Marion Colby; Jill Corey; Vic Damone; Stan Fisher; Jacqueline Fontaine; Jimmy Harris; Mary Kaye Trio; Lisa Kirk/Jimmy Brooks; Eartha Kitt; Joe E. Lewis/Mary Kaye Trio; Joe E. Lewis/Austin Mack; Joe E. Lewis/Rita Moreno; Sammy Liner at the Piano; Hal Loman & his Playmates; Marilyn Maxwell; Metropolitan Sextet; Rita Moreno; Dick Rice & His Orchestra; Jerry Rush & Scooter Teague; Jane Russell; Lili St. Cyr; The Vagabonds; and June Valli. The Lounge showcased Lord Buckley; Eddie Gomez/Norma Calderon; Clare Harte; Charlie Kahn; Ralph Pollak Trio; and Bill Selden.

Candy Barr Lily St. Cyr Corey Joe E. Lewis Marquee Morey Amsterdam Domingo/Calderon

In January of 1959, El Rancho threw a surprise birthday party for Joe E. Lewis beginning at 2:00am. It was reported that everyone who was anyone was in attendance.

Also in January, it was noted that Albert Henderson Farrell Pegram worked at the front desk. He was the grandson of Judge A.S. Henderson. Albert was on crutches because he and his wife Wendy were involved in a car accident on December 15, 1958. He stated he started working at the resort on December 16, 1958, the day after the accident.

On February 16, 1959, Benjamin Aronoff of Toledo, Ohio filed a $398,369 against the El Rancho stating that in 1958 he invested $500,000 into the resort on April 1, 1958. Under the agreement, he was to receive repayment of the money plus 1/2 share of the profits. Aronoff obtained a court order attaching the hotel's cash on hand, including the money held in the slot machines and cashiers at the gambing tables.

On February 17, 1959, 56 year old Aronoff, who listed himself as a partner to Katleman denied all of Katleman's charges which followed the seizure by sheriffs of the gaming equipment, furniture and cash at the resort under a writ of attachment. Concerning Katleman's statement that one of the real issues was that Aronoff was bringing in undesireable partners on the original deal, Aronoff responded "was a figment of his own imagination." Aronoff stated that in January of 1958, he was convinced the El Rancho was losing approximately $2,000 a day and he wanted out of the enterprise. Upon filing of the writ, Katleman rushed from his Palm Springs, CA, home and lashed out at Aronoff stating "I will not be intimidated by Aronoff or any of his alleged connections. From the beginning, El Rancho has been a clean and free operation [referring that it was mob-free] and it will continue to be as long as I am at the helm."

On February 19, 1959, the resort was in full operation again. Judge George E. Marshall lifted the attachment after being told by attorneys that a settlement had been reached between Katleman and Aronoff. The writ was lifted only moments before the 5:00pm deadline for filing documents with the court. The settlement terms were not disclosed.

In March of 1959, Gus D'Amato announced that boxer Floyd Patterson would be fighting Brian London of England in late April, 1959, in Las Vegas. This battle was being held as the second production at the new semi-open Convention Center (the first was the International Convention of Variety Clubs on April 1, 1959. When sportswriter Harry Grayson went to Vegas in March to do a story on the fight, he was surprised to learn that "there wasn't a stickman, croupier, or anybody else on the Strip who had heard of the fight coming up. Some of them hadn't even heard of London, England, let alone Brian London. Las Vegas is such a provincial town." Grayson had heard that Joe E. Lewis had a hand in setting up the fight so Grayson went over to the El Rancho to interview Lewis. Lewis wasn't there but he saw Katleman in the casino and questioned him. Katleman responded "Yes, I understand we've got a fight. Joe E. Lewis told me so." Katleman stated that fight investor Cecil Rhodes, Jr., called him stating he was a friend of Lewis and would he be interested in investing the fight. Katleman responded that that neither the El Rancho, nor himself as an individual was interested in investing. Katleman went on to state "But Rhodes called again to tell me that the broadcasting company company had upped the television money to where it was comparable to Patterson's guarantee. Would we be interested in helping with the remainder of the financing. We would." Grayson had stated that at that time, the only person in Vegas who appeared to know about the fight was Katleman.

On April 7, 1959, the fight was switched to Indianapolis. Katleman, who seemed to be the person in the know was contacted as to the reason. Katleman stated that Rhodes wanted leading hotels to put up a money guarantee and become part of the promotion. The hotelmen turned him down. They would furnish press facilities and training quarters, but no more. Manager of the convention center, George Albright, was rightly upset because the Los Angeles Shriners reserved the center for that night but Albright took a lot of talking to get them to relinquish it. Albright had arranged for a double shift to get the Center ready for the Shriners the following day.

In May, 1959, Sun columnist Murray Hertz married Diane Millunchik and the reception was held at the resort.

The resort suffered a blow when Captain of the Flamingo Room Louis Vanderhook and his wife who was a food server at the El Rancho Las Vegas endured the death of their 2-1/2 year old daughter Jean, and injured brothers Rickey, 8 years, and Stephen, 5 years. The tragedy was not described but the loss was felt throughout both resorts.

Bonnie Walker

One of the shows that El Rancho and Sans Souci had in common was the famous Mermaid in the Pool. One of the first mermaids was 20 year old Bonnie Walker.

On July 10 1959, comedian Bud Abbott's daughter Vici married Donald Wheeler. Mr. and Mrs. Katleman hosted the reception at the resort.

Mary Becker was one of the photographers at the resort. In July of 1959, El Rancho allowed Becker to own the photo concession at the resort and she promptly installed all new equipment to keep up with the demand of being the only photographer.

On August 2, 1959 Captain Bob Reilly of the Sheriff's Department married Jackie Winters at the resort.

In 1959, El Rancho showcased Milton Berle & his Revue starring Betty George/Stan Fisher/Metropolitan Sextet/George Tapps & his Dancers/Sam Liner at the Piano. Also showcased were Nejla Ates; Joe Cappo/The Flairs; Johnny Conrad & his Dancers; Lili St. Cyr; Joe Friend Trio featuring Herbie Tepper; Eydie Gorme; Tomma Jean; Mary Kaye Trio; Eartha Kitt; La Nu Eve starring Myron Cohen/Robert Clary; Les Girls de Paree w/Janine Caire; Joe E. Lewis/Austin Mack at the Piano; Hal Loman & His Playmates; Los Churumbeles de Espana; Mickey Marlow; Renee Molnar Dancers; Dick Rice & his Orchestra; Joe Sante Quartet/Irene Keller; Roberta Sherwood; Margo & Julio Torres; and The Mr. Vagabond Trio. In July of 1959, the resort showcased An Evening in Paris with Joe E. Lewis and 60 Parisian Beauties.

The Lounge showcased Luis Castellanos, and Pollak Brothers/Paula Richards.

Milton Berle Joe E. Lewis

Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt
Donated by Sam Melchionne

Pictures were taken of Eartha Kitt in her dressing room at the resort as well as while performing.

El Rancho showgirls performing

The Nugget Nell Lounge showcased Luis Castellanos Group, Eddie "Mr. Domingo" Gomez, Gracita Lynn, Pollack Brothers Trio with Paula Richards, and Tomma Jean.

Porte Cochere

During Berle's show, Betty George fainted as she exited the stage. George was carried to Berle's room. Berle ran off stage, chased everyone from the room, grabbed an oxygen tank and administered oxygen to George reviving her. George was sick but was able to participated in all shows with rest when not performing.

Eddie Fisher had a bad virus, laryngitis, and a fever of 104 degrees and had to bow out of the Tropicana. El Rancho sent Joe E. Lewis and Austin Mack to substitute for Fisher for the Monday night opening.

Ed Parham was the Publicity Chief, Mary Becker was the Photo Girl, Jean Vanderhook was a food server, and Arturo Petterino was Maitre'd.

Sketch Book

In early 1960, the Opera House showcased Monte Proser presents Russell Patterson's Sketch Book w/Jane Kean/Marty Engles/Louis O'Brien/Tim Herbert/Chele Graham/Special Guest Star John Carroll. (Critics gave such a bad review to the show that it closed shortly after the opening); El Rancho Baby Dolls w/Jane Kean;Lili St. Cyr; Elaine Dunn; Betty Grable, Eartha Kitt, Joe E. Lewis w/Austin Mack; Dick Rice & His Orchestra.

The Nuggett Nell Cocktail Lounge showcased Dave Burton; Pollack Brothers; Louis Castellanos Group w/Renoir; Lout & Donna Too; Pollack Brothers/Paula Richards; Georgie Tapps.

Porte Cochere

On the evening of June 17, 1960, Betty Grable and her husband, band leader Harry James, were on the stage in the cocktail lounge in an ad lib comedy routine when a blaze erupted. Grable, who was earning $17,500 a week, spotted the flames, gasped and ran out with her husband through a side door. It was just a little over 4 years since they made their debut at the resort.


"It was 5:30am and I had just finished working. I was going to stay and rehearse, but I decided to go up the block to the Sands and have a cocktail. I was there drinking when a guy came up to me and said, 'I don't want to bother you Dave, but the El Rancho is on fire.' I jumped in my car and tore on down there. I wanted to get my instruments out. The band room was right in front and I wanted the firemen to let me get them. But they said no, it was burning too fast." - Dave Burton, King of the Lounges

Eventually Burton did recover his saxophone, but it had melted from the intense heat. As of 1993, the blackened instrument sat in a prominent place in Burton's living room, mounted on a piece of scorched mahogany.

Burton stated he remembers a number of "ladies of the evening" trying to get inside because their cash was locked in the safe. He also remembered Red Skelton in his pajamas, taking photographs. Owner Beldon Katleman was overheard saying to the fire caption, "Please, can you save the place for me one more time?"

Katleman stated about $500,000 was in the casino cage and huge vault. He said he dashed into the vault to try to get it, but was driven back by flames and smoke when he got within 20 feet of the money. A great deal of the money was recovered after the fire which included burnt and melted chips from other hotels and clubs which had been accepted by the El Rancho in accordance with Las Vegas custom.

Chorus girls employed at the resort and living in cottages on the grounds were awakened by the sirens. Some ran toward the blazing casino hoping to save gowns and personal effects but were forced away from the fire by sheriff's deputies who were concerned about collapse of the buildings.

Rita Blanka, who was 24 years old at the time, was working at the resort for just three weeks had burst into tears and exclaimed "All my wardrobe! All my wardrobe!" and fainted.

Red Skelton, who was starring at the Sands Hotel, joined press photographers on the fire line and was allowed to shoot pictures after telling firemen: "I'm an amateur photographer. This is my hobby. Fire fighting is your business."

"There were 40 mile-an-hour winds blowing down the Strip. It was a perfect fire. The El Rancho Vegas burned to the ground and not a life was lost." - Jack Dixon, El Rancho dice dealer.

Guests of the resort were not affected by the fire since the hotel rooms and cottages were in separate buildings several hundred feet from the fire area.

No one was injured in the evacuation. However, telephone switchboard operator, Vira Ritchy, became momentarily trapped when she tried to telephone the Fire Department and flames sealed off the casino's phone exchange office. She was dragged to safety by 21 dealer, David Winestine.

Pearl Bailey was a guest star on Jack Kogan's TV show at Channel 13, located behind the resort. Kogan received a call to advise people to stay away because the resort was on fire. Bailey knew her husband, Louie Bellson, was at the hotel and ran out of the studio mid-show to find her husband who turned out to be fine.


As noted above, the building was constructed of wood in the frontier theme that was Hull's dream. The fire spread throughout the structure within 20 minutes after it was noticed, sending flames 100 feet into the sky.

A symbol is gone

Gamblers on the Strip thronged to the scene by the hundreds and stood awestricken at the leaping and huge billowing clouds of smoke, coming to the realization that the resort that started it all, the Matriarch of the Strip, was being destroyed in front of their eyes. The crowd was silent as the windmill that became the symbol for the Strip, went crashing into the fire. It was rumored that both locals and visitors were shedding tears at the ultimate collapse they just witnessed.

All that was left of the central building after more than two hours of burning was a charred shell. Damage was estimated at $5,000,000.

Pool Area Debris
Porte Cochere Katleman

One of the firefighters who responded to this fire was Roy Parrish. Little did he know as he was fighting this fire on June 17, 1960, that on November 21, 1980, as Clark Country Fire Chief, that he would respond to another fire and become a major figure in the tragic aftermath, that of the MGM Grand Hotel.


Sheriff's deputies launched an investigation for possible arson after receiving information from hotel officials that an unidentified man "had been talking about fire" with casino executives just three hours before the blaze.

Apparently that night Katleman told a certain Chicago-based wiseguy not to set foot in the El Rancho again. He even went so far as to have the mobster tossed onto the street. Rumors spread that the fire was set by this gentleman. The rumors went on to state that the start of the fire was in an area not meant to kill anyone. The Chicagoan did not mean to burn the place to the ground, just to teach a lesson.

However, in July of 1960, the possibility of arson had been discounted. Two sheriff's deputies on the scene believe the fire started in the dressing rooms close to the kitchen and spread from there, possibly from costumes hanging too close to the stove's burners.

Also in July of 1960, Katleman had promised that he would replace the existing resort with an ultra-modern concrete building. Hen stated that he plans to have a six story 1,000 room resort built on the property and had been conferring with architects. The opening of the resort was scheduled for January 1, 1964. Katleman's dream was never built. Katleman took his insurance money to Los Angeles and bought a parking lot next to Chavez Ravine. He never returned to the casino business. Beldon Richard Katleman who was born on July 15, 1914, in Iowa, died on September 28, 1988 in Los Angeles.

I have been able to ascertain very little on Katleman between the day the El Rancho burned down and his death. I learned the following tidbits: In April of 1961 his father Maurice Katleman died at age 72 of a heart attack. Maurice was a pioneer major parking lot operator in Vegas and he was President of the Pershing Square Garage. On April 9, 1961, he was given a plaque for his contributions during two years as President of the Jewish Home for the Aged.

"The sympathy of all FLVites went out to Millie and Beldon Katleman and all employees thrown out of work when the Hotel El Rancho Vegas was reduced to ashes early Friday morning (June 17). Standing there, watching the holocaust, part of our lives seemed to be dying in the embers. This is the oldest landmark in our fabulous city. We are happy to inform our readers that plans are being made to begin rebuilding the El Rancho, compe September. . . . Due to the conflagration that razed his Hotel El Rancho Vegas, Beldon Katleman has bestowed his blessings upon the Flamingo Hotel's signing of Joe E. Lewis." - Jack Cortez, June 25, 1960

"The Rancho Vegas will be rebuilt, Beldon Katleman assures, and the hotel operation, untouched by the flames, will continue to accommodate guests. Worst hit by the disaster were the employees of the casino (nearly 400) who are now jobless. Tropicana's Shecky Greene may have gotten off the best gag apropos the Rancho Vegas devastation. Shecky claims to have gone into the men's shop and purchased a characoal suit . . . made of real charcoal! Pearl Bailey got a lungful of smoke and was just a little huskier-voiced during her weekend shows at the Flamingo. Phil Hines and Mimi Ford, part of the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana, just did escape the suffocating smoke that billowed out over the parking lot in back of the hotel. This disaster put Dave Burton, Pollack, and Louis Castellanos out of work." - The Rounder, June 1960


In July of 1962, Beldon Katleman was one of the pall bearers at the funeral of Nevada Lt. Gov. Rex Bell, 58 years old, after he suffered a fatal heart attack on July 4th after an appearance to bolster his candidacy for governor on the Republican ticket. Another pall bearer was Dawn Wells' (Maryann of Gilligan's Island) dad, Joe Wells. Bell was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA.

On July 17, 1964, Thomas E. Hull passed away of a heart attack. At the time of his death he had operated the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood since 1934, and the El Rancho in Sacramento since 1939. His wife was Lynn Starr Hull.

In July of 1965, it was noted that Dr. William Clark was living at the El Rancho Motor Inn but he moved into larger quarters at 2125 Paradise Road.

In 1968, an ad was placed in a local newspaper/magazine advertising the El Rancho Vegas Motel, with Ray D. Warren as Manager.

Howard Hughes purchased 60 acres of the land for $10,000,000, in May or June, or 1970, outbidding Sahara Hotel owner Milton Prell, and had remained an asset of Summa Corporation until all acreage was purchased by Bill Bennett.

Howard Hughes

Bill Bennett

"When I first came to Las Vegas in 1978, the town was so much smaller than it is now, to be honest I really miss the way it used to be here. One of the things I remember is that across the Strip from the Sahara Hotel in the desert lot, there were about ten bungalows up on blocks, and I used to wonder why they were there. I learned from the people at the Sahara that they were the bungalows that people would stay in when they would visit the El Rancho Vegas. They were there for many years later, but eventually they were all moved or destroyed because they had become an eye-sore and a fire hazard." - Jeff Cross, 2001

"I do know that one of the bungalows reside in Pahrump as a tourist attraction. I saw a note on the Internet about it. I did a search for El Rancho Vegas on Yahoo and that info came up." - Dave DelVal, 2001

In 1978, the wrecker's ball destroyed the remains of the main building creating the vacant lot.

Gone but still active in the acting community. The property was used in the 2000 film I Dare You - The Ultimate Challenge.

In 1980 West World opened but less then 2 years later changed to Old Vegas to coincide with the company's other amusement park in Arizona, named Old Tucson. Old Vegas Theme Park and Casino, was a Hollywood styled reconstruction of an old west town that offered make-believe gunfights, saloon brawls, running steam train and stagecoach, Texas-sized hot dogs and western style trinkets. All inside a make-believe western fort. Old Vegas closed in 1986 and was torn down in 1996. It was reported that Old Vegas also housed two buildings from the El Rancho. They were moved on to the site to be used as part of the feel of the "Old West" theme. I cannot determine if this story is true or if the buildings were torn down with the rest of the amusement park.

It was rumored that Bennett's ultimate dream for this property was to create an extension of the Sahara with a walkway connecting the "old" Sahara to the "new" over Las Vegas Boulevard.. Unfortunately, when he met with all the contractors, etc., it was realized that the Sahara was in such bad condition that it would take much more money than anticipated to bring her to her former glorious self. Therefore, the plans for the new structure were forgotten and everything Bennett had was put into the Sahara.

In May of 2000, Hilton Hotels Corporation placed a 10 acre land parcel under contract. This parcel is part of the 39 acre tract that Bill Bennett currently owns.

At one point this property was to be developed into a 2,000 room hotel casino. Bennett signed a deal to sell the land in 1998 to a group headed by developer Barry Schlesinger of Beverly Hills, California. The Schlesinger group included Billy Bob Barnett, owner of the Cat's Meow restaurant in New Orleans, and Barnett had plans to incorporate a Billy Bob's Western nightclub into the casino complex. These plans fell apart in December of 1999.

"There was a failure to get financing by the group putting the project together. It was a very ambitious project, and they were unable to get financing." - John McManus, General Counsel, Sahara

In addition to the Hilton parcel, another three acres have also been placed under contract but the buyer has not been identified. A total of 26 acres remain available for sale.

"It was just a matter of time before the major companies came here with the time share concept, like Hilton Grand Vacations. It is my understanding that Hilton is doing another one on the north side of the Strip." - David Atwell, Resort Properties of America

In August, 2000, it was announced that visionary Bob Stupak, along with two other prospective buyers, were attempting to purchase 26 acres of the property from Bennett for $65 million with the hopes of building a replica of the Titanic. The reproduction of the Titanic would include an iceberg casino and time-share condos in fake smokestacks. Stupak previously tried to build this resort further north on the Strip but the City Council nixed the project on the grounds that it was too close to a residential area and that the smokestacks would be offensive.

In July of 2001, I saw that Hilton was building their 1,200 unit Hilton Grand Vacation Club time-share on part of the El Rancho property. Below is the sign and the beginning of the building. Speculation is that the time-share will be 33 stories, and resemble the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for a total cost of $450 million.


building timeshare

In February of 2003, I took a picture of the progress of the timeshare.

Hilton 1 Sign Hilton 3

When I went to Vegas in February of 2004, the Hilton timeshare was open and operating.

New Tower New Tower

In April of 2005, I took these pictures of the new wing being constructed.

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