Club Bingo

Club Bingo

In 1920, the first airplane to land in Vegas, piloted by Jack Beckley, landed at Rockwell Field which was located on this property.

In the mid-1930s, Robert Brooks, owner of the Nevada Biltmore, and Howard Hughes used to race their planes from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. When they would arrive in Vegas, they would land on this property and then take off to race back to Los Angeles.

Club Bingo

Club Bingo opened on this property on April 8, 1947 (some say July 24, 1947), on Highway 91, ideally and advantageously, right across the street from the Strip's first hotel resort, El Rancho Vegas. The land that Club Bingo occupied was owned separately but Milton Prell, a native of Montana/Los Angeles jeweler, and the founder of the Lucky Strike Club and The Mint Hotel & Casino downtown owned Club Bingo. The 300 seat bingo parlor was its main attraction run by Frank Schivo, but the club offered all the other casino games as well. Club Bingo's phone number was 2456. Herb McDonald ran the bingo games, was in charge of marketing as well as all-around host, and MC.

B/W Club Bingo

On opening night Club Bingo raffled off a new Cadillac. A gentleman who owned a hamburger stand off of Fremont Street won. The next day McDonald drove the Cadillac to the winner.

When Club Bingo first opened, it had a rough couple of months.

"We only had about $800 in the casino cage the time Walter Melrose from Southern California beat us badly against our own shills and we were in trouble. We simply could not pay him off. So, I searched for somebody who knew Melrose and subsequently discovered that he just loved to sip Old Rarity Scotch and listen to the tune, Mexicali Rose. Well, when I found that out, I dragged the combo that had been playing the casino over to the table where Melrose was playing and had them play Mexicali Rose over and over again. I also made sure that he was supplied with all the Old Rarity he could drink. As a result, Melrose soon wound up owing us $17,000 instead of the other way around. That amount of money in those days was enough to keep us going for a long while. In fact, that $17,000 really turned the Club's financial picture around from failure to that of a huge success." - Chuck Bennett, Club Bingo Shift Manager

1949 Ad
Newspaper Ad 1949
Donated by Dolores (Dee) Alwes

1952 Club Bingo Card

The club was also a step ahead of most of its competitors in offering noteworthy talent in its showroom, but remained a small club.

Dorothy Dandridge
Dandridge practicing at Club

Academy award nominee, Dorothy Dandridge, brought in crowds as one of the main entertainers at the Club Bingo.

Other entertainers who appeared at the Club was Rex Dale/Marty Allen, Jackie Coon & His Trio, Charlotte Dewey, Four Rounders, Michels & Hickey, Phyllis Inez, comedian Stan Irwin, Robin Jewell, Martinettes, Yvonne Moray, Frankie Rapp, Diana Robinson, Slick Slavin, Larry Sockwell and His Trio, Mickey Terry Trio, The Tune-Toppers, and Mike Werner and his orchestra. The Trenier made their Strip debut at the Club.

The motto of Club Bingo was "It's always Club Bingo for Fine Food." It advertised continuous dancing with two bands until 5:00am. Their midnight breakfast was served until 5:00am and the price range was $.49 to $1.00.

Stan Irwin
Stan Irwin
Donated by Dee Alwes

In October of 1948, it was noted that Howard Hughes was visiting the club when he and his partner danced until 3:30am to his buddy Ray Whitaker's music.

In 1949, comedian Stan Irwin was booked for 11 days and appeared for eight months. After just four days into his venue, McDonald asked Irwin if he would like to manage the Bonanza Room of which he accepted. Later, he was promoted to Public Relations and Promotions.

Club Bingo was known for "Rounders". Irwin explained that rounders was a word originating in the 1920's emphasized during Prohibition, for people who had a reverse lifestyle - nightowls - having dinner when everyone else was having breakfast.

McDonald stated that the Davis family played at the Club Bingo for $100 a week, including son Sammy, Jr. McDonald offered Sammy Davis, Jr., the sum of $200 a week if he would perform solo. Davis declined the offer stating that he would break his father's heart if he went solo. Other stars to have played at the Club was Kay Thomas, and the Williams Brothers including brother Andy.

Apparently, this is an old joke told at the Club Bingo:

"A gamer lost all of his money and walked out to the desert pool area, where he took out a gun and started to raise it to his head. Suddenly a voice whispered "'Put the gun down . . walk back three paces . . .look on the ground.' The loser did as he was told and spotted a hundred dollar bill. The voice said 'Go back to the casino and put it all on the roulette wheel - number 24.' The loser followed directions and the number hit. The whisper continued to lead him into a winning streak, and the money continued to ride into a fortune. When the chips were stacked so high, he could barely see over them, he was told to put all of it on 20. The entire casino was motionless as all eyes watched the spinning wheel and the ball bounced into 20, then flipped out of it to land on 17. All action was frozen and the loser-turned-winner-turned-loser just stared at the fortune crumbling before him. Then, once again, the voice whispered to the loser 'Go back . . . and get the gun!' - Comedian George Kirby, 1973 interview

In 1950, Eppy Pearson was the entertainment and publicity director of the club. It was noted that Pearson wore a different tie every day. The ties were made by Pearson's wife Kay, who cut up Pearson's old ones, restyled them and, lo and behold, a Western tie, known as "Gambler's Sytle" was born.

Club Bingo Sign
"Club Bingo Marquee 1949-1950 - Across the street is the white fence of the El Rancho. In the distance under the ladder is the Thunderbird marquee" - Steve Nash

In July of 2003, Stan Irwin told me that when the El Rancho was built it didn't have a fence surrounding the property, then a western themed fence was added. The formal fence wasn't built until 1950. The reason for this fence was because of Stan. He was doing a great business at the Club Bingo and everyone wanted to see the shows. People who were at the El Rancho would cross over the property to catch his shows. The El Rancho was not too happy that the people were leaving them and to make it harder for them to cross the property, they built the fence as a barrier. People would then have to walk around the property to get to the Club Bingo and they were hoping in that case, they would stay at the El Rancho instead of walking the extra distance. ------ By the way, it didn't work.

I guess the Frontier must've felt the same way. Dee Alwes, a showgirl who appeared at the Frontier in 1949, told me that right after they would finish their show all the girls would race over to the Club Bingo to see his show where many times the El Rancho's showgirls were there and they would party after the show for the rest of the night with Stan and the rest of the Club Bingo performers - Deanna

It was noted that on Sunday, June 25, 1960, Jack Cortez, owner/editor/publisher of the Fabulous Las Vegas Magazine married his "Princess", Etta Barton. There was a surprise reception held at the Club Bingo:

"Sunday morning, June 25, the city of Las Vegas was awakened from its quiet, peaceful slumbers by what, at first, was thought to be an EARTHQUAKE. Then the news came to light. That awful thunderous noise, seemingly heard by all, was just the heart beat of "YE EDITOR." His intended bride was arriving by airplane, from New York City, and at 5:00pm in Judge McNamee's chambers, he was to be married.

This lovely romance has been going on for three years, and if Jack Cortez has been walking around in a sort of a stupor, with a silly grin, and that expression of the cat who just ate the canary, it is because Miss ETTA BARTON finally said yes.

The writing staff on the magazine thought all the preoccupied manner of the boss, this past two weeks was due to the confusion of moving the office. Jack has answered questions, and the phone, as if he was floating on a cloud, and apparently thought he was being the quiet one by not coming out with the announcement.

Finally, in a very off hand and casual manner (as casual as a guy in love can be), Jack tells a couple of his close friends, 'My fiancee, Etta, is flying into Las Vegas this coming Sunday and we are going to be married in the afternoon." EPPY PEARSON HEART THE NEWS, and like a whirlwind, the whole party was gotten under way.

If you think this funny guy PEARSON is the kind of a fellow to allow things to be half done, you just do not know EPPY. He not only goes into action himself . . . he corners MILTON PRELL . . . he drags in his poor little wife . . . he grabs any one else who looked for the moment as if they were not running a dead heat to a fire, and before you could draw your second breath, a wedding reception was in the making . . . to be held in the BONANZA ROOM at the CLUB BINGO.

The news flash was received by this column Saturday morning. Rush . . . rush . . . hurry . . . hurry . . . oh, joy . . . an excuse for a new gown. Call the hairdresser right away . . . hey, wait a minute, just who is getting married anyway?

The wedding was very simple and lovely. Jack was as calm and quiet as a whirling dervish. His bride, a tall, graceful blonde, was dressed in a flowered print chiffon, of soft pastel colors, which complimented her wonderful coloring and natural beauty. After the ceremony the young couple was practically kidnapped, and taken to the wedding reception, which was a complete surprise to them, where Jack beamed as he introduced his bride to his LAS VEGAS friends.

Mr. and Mrs. Prell, as host and hostess, served a wonderful buffet supper, and the following is just a few of the 200 guests who came to wish the bride and groom happiness: Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Clark, Mr. and Mrs. Hank Greenspun, Mr. Mod Sedway, Miss Maxine Lewis, Mr. Abe Schiller, Mr. and Mrs. Ira Goldring, Mr. Arthur Rozen, Mr. Victor Hall, Miss Patti Moore, Mr. Ben Lessy, Miss Mitzi Green, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Mr. and Mrs. Max Goot, Tutor Scherer, and many, many more.

The telegrams of good wishes showered on the happy couple read like a who's who of the entertainment world. Jack's many friends fell in love with his bride, her charming personality is a great asset to a city studded with charm. This column wants to wish them years, and years of happiness . . . and, Jack, I like the new BOSS." - Audrey Lee, Fabulous Las Vegas Magazine

In December of 1950, Club Bingo advertised that she was open daily from 12 noon, continuous dancing and entertainment from 8:00pm to 5:00am. There were four shows nightly 9:00pm, 11:00pm, 1:00am, and 3:00am. Midnight breakfast 12 to 6:00am, $.49 to $1.00.

In 1950, Club Bingo showcased Dusty Brooks Sextette/Juanita Brown; Chuck Burgess Trio; Joe Cappo; Martha Davis/Scat Man; Phyllis Inez; Martha Davis/Cal Ponder; Michels & Hickey; Moonmists; Eppy Pearson; Larry Sockwell Trio; Terry True Dancers; Jerry Wallace/Red Coffey; and Mike Werner Orchestra.

On August 23, 1951, Debbie and Milton Prell celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary and patrons and locals joined in the Bonanza Room to toast the couple.

It was also announced in August of 1951 that Bobby Gordon was in charge of the casino. It was stated that Prell was extremely busy traveling to and from Los Angeles conferring with architects, and considering plans for the erection of a hotel and no longer had time to watch over the casino. Therefore, he appointed Gordon to take care of the casino.

In September of 1951, it was reported that her new show hours were 10:00 to 11:30pm, and 1:00 to 3:00am. She also advertised service of lunch, dinner, and a la carte. Famous 49ers and Silver Dollar late snacks for rounders after midnight. Open 12:00m to 5:00am. Dancing from 9:00pm to 4:00am.

In 1951, Club Bingo showcased Joe Cappo/The Knightingales; Gloria Gray; Ish Kabbible/Michael Douglas; Mitzi Meade Foursome; stripper Countee Richkova; Tune Toppers; Weilder Brothers; Mike Werner Orchestra/Larry Sockwell.

In 1952, the land was sold to Milton Prell, Al Winter, and a group from Portland, Oregon, to buy 160 acres further up the Strip to build the Desert Rose and Lone Palm Motels. In January of 2004 I asked Stan Irwin if the "Mob" was in any way connected with this resort. He said definitely not. The "group from Portland" were at one time running numbers, got caught, and stopped but they were just a group of men trying to score a few extra dollars the "Mob" way, and failed in their first attempt. They went back to doing what they did best, invest.

I have been told by a few people including Herb McDonald, that the theme and name of the resort came from Stan Irwin. Stan told me in July of 2003, that the theme and name of the resort was the idea of owner Milton Prell. However, he said he named and created all the rooms including the Congo Room, Caravan, Casbar, and later on, The House of Lords Restaurant, to name a few.

Albert ParvinCee Davidson

Prell had the financial backing of A. Pollard Simon, a financial titan from Dallas. Contractor Del Webb was given a 20% interest in lieu of payment for his company's work. The architect was Max Maltzmann, and the designer was Albert Parvin, both from Los Angeles. Cee Davidson was hired as the Musical Director. Frank Schivo who following Milton Prell to Vegas in 1947, became General Manager of the Club Bingo. When the Sahara opened he became Casino Manager.

Maltzmann

Sahara Announcement

In June of 1952 Sahara took out an ad claiming it was going to open in the summer. She claimed 240 deluxe rooms, 500 seat dining room, coffee shop, swimming pool, tennis courts, cabanas, and a complete shopping center.

In looking through documents of that period, I noticed that the Club Bingo was advertising almost to the Sahara's opening. Stan Irwin explained to me in June of 2003, that Club Bingo had paid for ads and therefore, their ads still appeared even though the Club Bingo had closed down. The main building was still there as it became the coffee shop for the Sahara but it was closed during construction.

Sahara announcement

On August 16, 1952, Sahara took out an ad in the Fabulous Las Vegas Magazine calling attention to the soon-to-be born sixth lady on the Strip. A statement in the magazine stated that when it opened, it would have dining, dancing, swimming, and casino. The phone number was 6800. Stan Irwin stayed at the resort. His father was flown from New York to take up the post of Chief Steward but passed away just three months after his arrival. Ralph Greco left his position at the Desert Inn to be the maitre d'.

Stan Irwin was asked about the delay in the opening and the opening date in June of 2003. He stated that the opening was delayed due to normal construction problems. He wanted the resort to open as soon as possible because of the appropriate document filings. No matter when a casino would open it would have to pay for the entire year. Sands opened in December of 1952 but yet had to pay for all of 1952. Irwin wanted a lucky number to set the course and the number chosen was 7.

On September 18, 1952, the Nevada Gaming Commission granted the application of Milton Prell, Al Winter and Barney Morris granted a gaming license for the Sahara. It was noted that the actual license granting was a routine move only as all three has held previous state gambling licenses and all passed the Comissions investigations.

In October 7, 1952, the $5,500,000 Sahara Hotel & Casino, called "The Jewel of the Desert" by Prell, opened with an expanded casino and 240 rooms sitting on 20 acres of land. Opening night entertainment was provided by the famous scarecrow from "Wizard of Oz", singer/dancer/comedian Ray Bolger, and singer Lisa Kirk. Opening night was so great, that money was rushed straight from the cash boxes underneath the tables to the casino cage at a frantic pace so that guests could continue to cash in their winnings. Ray Bolger was paid $22,500 a week after the opening.

Irwin wanted Bolger for opening night but was told by Bolger's agent that he "does not do nightclubs." Irwin asked the agent who was the influencing person in Bolger's life and was told it was his wife. Irwin then called Bolger's wife asking about the entertainer performing on opening night. Bolger's wife stated he "does not do nightclubs." Irwin then went on to explain the elaborate showroom of the Sahara explaining that it wasn't a nightclub. Bolger's wife finally agreed.

Jack Cortez

"The floodlights ushered in a gala opening for the Hotel Sahara, last Tuesday. Across the plush carpets of this fabulous bistro, trod more celebrities than could be named. The gathering saw the finest display of softly expensive furs and flittering jewels. The general consensus of opinion was that the women looked as though they had stepped out of Vogue magazine. Their bouffant gowns had tremendous eye-appeal and their escorts actually wore ties; an amazing concession on the part of men who generally refuse to surrender their usual sport garb. We honestly felt as though the Hotel Sahara was transported to the center of a gigantic metropolis. The place was so completely filled with people, an ant wouldn't have been able to work its way into a vacant spot. It seemed as though everyone and his kinfolk was present. The congratulatory bouquets and floral pieces were breathtaking. All of the well-wishers couldn't find enough adjectives to describe the beauty of the interior. October 7 certainly proved a successful opening for Milton Press and his associates the night will long remain in the memory of those who participated in the celebration.

Time out for a special salute for Stan Irwin. The lad succeeded in doing a highly commendable job with the entertainment and publicity for the Hotel Sahara. When Ray Bolger called him onstage for a deserving round of applause, poor Stan walked out in a sport outfit that he had donned early that morning. He was so completely rushed with his chores at the hotel, he couldn't take time out to change. Here's one fellow who devotes his every energy to his chosen task and won't even grab a snack if his presence is needed backstage. Now that the hotel has finally opened for business, his lovely Ruth and son, Lanny, just might get a glimpse of Dad, once in a while." Jack Cortez, October 1952

Pop Squires

"We who have known Milton Prell for the past several years years as a kindly, friendly, yet very efficient gentleman, must now change our estimate and add the element of greatness to our appraisal of this gentleman's fine qualities. I have been among the many casual acquaintances of Mr. Prell since he bought the barny looking, half finished building which had been standing a long time just outside the city limits on the strip, its high, upward-expanding feature looking forlorn as it implored somebody to come and take pity.

It did seem just too bad that so pleasant a man as Mr. Prell should get stuck with the unfinished, sprawling shack but, oh well! I suppose it's his own affair. So without protest or any attempt to save Mr. Prell from disaster by giving him good advice, we just let him go his reckless way and spend his money as he pleased. Whatever happened, it was good money spent in Las Vegas anyhow!

And so one day that upward expanding wedge-shaped thing that had been sorrowfully beckoning at the passersby for a year or more blossomed into brilliance, with an operating 'Bingo' card bingoing with lights once every minute and the attractively designed sign 'Club Bingo." As Ray Bolger said in his opening remarks of his opening act Tuesday night: 'Just a few years ago, desert! All of a sudden, BINGO!'

And there it was, full of life and lights and activity - a lovely club, with fine foods and all the attractive features of a great Club, including the pleasant Bingo room and Mr. Prell pleasantly greeting his friends.

Then, a year ago, a greater ambition was burning in the Prell heart. A new hotel was proposed for the site. Club Bingo was to be demolished and the new enterprise was to give us another great Strip hotel, excelled in size, beauty, novel design and beauty by no other hotel on our world-famous 'Strip.' 'It will take us a year to build it,' said Mr. Prell. and then some of us looking forward to the inevitable troubles and delays and heart-breaking disappointments such an enterprise always carries with it, really had sorrow in our hearts as we saw the beautiful Club Bingo destroyed and great piles of building materials scattered over a large area about the site. Somehow it gave some of us a feeling of futility and disappointment, for how could Mr. Prell with all his genius and energy give us anything more pleasant than the old 'Club Bingo'?

Tuesday night we had our answer when 'Hotel Sahara' had its opening. There is no use for me to try to describe it. Others have done that better than I possibly could do it. Besides if I really tried to describe the new Sahara in any detail it would require several issues to contain it without any of the life saving advertisements Jack Cortez must depend upon to keep it going and growing."

But I cannot resist the temptation to dwell very briefly on a few of the features that most pleased and impressed me. The first, and probably most important feature of any similar enterprise, is the friendly and kindly sentiment of those who operate Hotel Sahara and are responsible for the pleasure of its guests. First of these in importance, so far as Delphine and I are concerned, is the clever Stan Irwin, director of entertainment, who put together for the opening a program which it would be difficult to excel on any occasion.

Knowing that first nights, especially opening night celebrations, may easily be flops because of the worry and confusion of last moment preparations, we were delighted that Stan's presentations were just about the most pleasant and appropriate that could be chosen to adorn such an important occasion as Hotel Sahara's opening. Then - my, oh my! What am I letting myself in for! I will just subdue my enthusiasm and let other pages of Jack's Fabulous Las Vegas tell you all about it better than I possibly could. From the creator and supreme manager, Milton Prell, down through all the stage of management and operation the results are great. And, instead of being competition for the other great Strip hotels, the Sahara is an adjunct, bringing to Las Vegas more patronage for all.

Las Vegas today is a greater and more prosperous city than she ever had been prior to Tuesday evening. And there goes the urge again! Did you ever see a more perfect miracle than the wide reaching green lawns about the great swimming pool, where just yesterday, it seems, was only the sand and dust of the desert?

Sahara! We of Las Vegas salute you! A sentiment in which, I notice, Wilbur Clark and his Desert Inn and all the other great Strip hotels - El Rancho Vegas, which the genius of Tommy Hull and his sister Sally created some 12 years ago: Hotel Last Frontier, the Thunderbird, The Sands, The Flamingo (built on the 40 acres of worthless desert Delphine and I owned for about 25 years) and all the downtown casinos and hotels heartily join!" - Charles P. "Pop" Squires, October, 1952

Johnny Uhlman

"Of course, the whole topic of conversation this past week has been the opening of the sensational new Hotel Sahara with favorable and unfavorable comments coming from all sides. However, it seems that most everyone agrees that the new edifice is the most beautiful to date." - Johnny Uhlman, October, 1952

Floral Arrangement
Opening night floral arrangement

Lady Michael

"The Sahara opening made it's expected big splash, sans kleig lights (praise de Lawd), with a tremendous turn-out of cinema celebrities, important localities, avid first-niters and curiosity seekers. The special press plane from Los Angeles did make it on time, although by a mere wing and a prayer. Flash bulbs popped continuously as local photogs Dave Lees and Don English had a field day - but from the 8th onward, the field will belong to Russell shaped (we're speaking of Lillian, not Jane) Billie Geller, whose hubby Phil will do the dark room developing faster than you can say trevishgiddia gay.

The usual tiny delays and mishaps occurred, which are synonymous with all openings. Our chuckle of the evening came when a blonde, complete with you-all drawl, novitiate in the field of cocktail girl returned to our table with the statement that they couldn't locate the Vereve Cliquot, but would Calso do? (When in the mood for toasting with the grape, mineral water is strictly for washing purposes!)

George Moro out-did himself in gowning and staging a glittering production number. Ray Bolger, that master craftsman of the cinema and legit theatre, proved he's 'at home' on a night club stage. Despite the fact that Tricia Herst belongs to the El Rancho, her tray of sparklers for Ray Bolger and kiss of luck in front of de good Lawd and everyone, was a neat final touch.

The floral tributes were magnificent, the quality of the minks on the scene not restrained, luscious Lucius Beebe never looked more impeccable, the food was grade A, and the most charming couple were Mr. and Mrs. Charles "Pop" Squires. He is a co-pillarist on 'the magazine' and we were touched as he gently handed his be-orchided 'best date' into a waiting taxi." - Lady Michael (Michael Neale), October, 1952

"The $5,500,000 Sahara opened its sumptuous doors to the public. Its casino is larger than anybody else's, its swimming pool is the biggest in Las Vegas so far. Its theater-restaurant has greater seating capacity than any other theater-restaurant in town. Its stage is full Broadway musical-comedy size, the most spacious on the Strip." - Katharine Best/Katharine Hillyer

KaycoBrinigs
Others who greeted the new resort was Kayco Manufacturers Stationers and The Brinigs

entertainment notice
Sahara joined the other resorts in advertising their shows

"The Sahara, which Variety terms 'Vegas' $5,500,000 Desert Song,' opened on the night of October 7, 1952, with all the hoopla that by then had become traditional on such occasions. Its launching, however, had become traditional on such occasions. Its launching, however, had one novel feature: While the opening-night play at its tables was brisk and the bets high, luck ran consistently against the house and the casino ended its first 24 hours some $50,000 in the red. Ironically, the major part of that loss went into the pockets, not of the corps of distinguished invited guests from out of town, but of the owners and managers of rival houses along the Strip. It has long been de rigueur in top Nevada gambling circles for casino proprietors and their lieutenants, when they attended the inaugural ceremonies of a new house, to bring along substantial rums to be spent at its tables. This custom, known in the profession as "courtesy play," is designed to swell the new establishment's opening-night profits and so get it off to a flying start.

At the Sahara's debut, however, although protocol was rigidly followed, the cards and dice refused to co-operate and the courtesy players carried away not only the stakes they had intended to lose but much more besides." - Oscar Lewis

[From Deanna - when I read this article in March of 2003, I was surprised as I knew that the well-wishers ended up owning the Thunderbird on her opening night, I never heard about the Sahara experiencing the same situation. I immediately called Stan Irwin to get verification of this article. Stan told me Lewis was correct from his vantage point. He was not "behind the scenes" and it was not as drastic as he made it. Stan stated that principal owner, Milton Prell, knew this could happen and he was prepared. He kept $5,000 of his own money aside and contacted the rest of the investors telling them a situation could happen where the Sahara loses money. He devised a plan, and the investors agreed, that each of them would have $5,000 ready to wire upon Prell's call that the Sahara was losing money. When it was evident the Sahara was being extra generous to her patrons, Prell made the call as well as submitting his own $5,000 and it was more than enough to keep the Sahara afloat. By the following Monday, the Sahara was making a profit and Prell immediately reimbursed all investors their $5,000 "emergency money".

The resort had plastic statues of camels standing as sentinels in front of the hotel, and Arabs lounging outside and inside the Congo Room.

Sentinels

The Casbar Lounge and Caravan Room looked over the Olympic sized pool. Architecturally it followed the same pattern of the Flamingo, Desert Inn and the Thunderbird.

Sahara grounds

Sahara Pool

Caravan Roon

The Caravan Room boasted enclosed glass for viewing the swimming area and the Garden of Allah. She stated she had "excellent preparation of prime foods."

Sahara featured a tall brick pylon at the entry anchoring low wings that spun outward from its center like a pinwheel.

Irwin, McDonald, showgirl

(The resorts would use employees instead of paying models to pose. This particular postcard has Herb McDonald's wife and Stan Irwin playing the happy couple with one of the showgirls playing the celebrity guest)

SaharaFront Porte CocherePorte Cochere Porte Cochere

LobbyLobbyCasino

The hotel itself was a low main building with lobby and casino standing in front. The restaurants in the rear looked out on a manicured lawn ringed by two story motel units consisting of 206 rooms with balconies and patios.

Aerial
1952 Aerial of the resort across the street of the El Rancho Las Vegas

Diners at the resort paid $1.50 for the dinner buffet. In addition, sherbet was $.15 and a cup of coffee was $.10. At the restaurants at the resort, the waitresses mixed the Caesar salads at the table.


Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding, Edger Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, and Guy Madison taken at the resorts in the 1950s

 Sahara

1952 Christmas
Christmas 1952

In February of 1953, Stan Irwin brought in Sugar Ray Robinson to perform and he surprised everyone with his tap dancing ability.

In 1953, Sahara gave out souvenir guides. The guide stated "Nestled by the foliage of the Garden of Allah is Las Vegas' largest swimming pool, built to meet official Olympic Standards. The pool contained over 200,000 gallons of water."

CongoCasbar
The resort contained the Congo Room and the Casbar Lounge

During this time Sahara advertised the Casbar stating "we know it's spelled wrong."

Room

The rooms had private baths and individual thermaostatic temperature controls. Many had private sun patios and all were connected directly to the entertainment areas within the hotel.

Gift ShopMen's shopTobacco ShopNina Clark's Shop
It boasted the Gift Shop, Men's Shop, Tobacco Shop, and Nina Clark's Shop

"This is a family-type hotel. For instance, when I went back to my dressing room last night after the performance, there were 60 kids waiting for my autograph. Real family stuff you see. Though I must admit it flashed through my mind that this type of fan couldn't afford to lose very much in the casino." - Ray Bolger

Bob Miller was the very single Resident Manager of the Sahara. It was noted that whenever Miller dated a girl he would introduce her as his "grandmother." Of course everyone knew it was a gag but the joke was on him when in November, 1952, Miller escorted a girlfriend in celebration of her birthday. He had the orchestra leader announce the following tune was for "Grandmother's birthday." When the words were spoken, six girls in various part of the room rose in recognition of the title. Oops!!!

After the Sands opened, it became apparent that Jack "Smilin' Jack" Entratter was bringing in the top named stars. Even though Stan Irwin was doing a great job, it became apparent that he was known more as an entertainer than a producer. This fact was proven when Irwin asked Danny Thomas to appear at the Sahara. Thomas replied that he knew Irwin as a fellow entertainer and friend but he knew Entratter as a producer. Irwin decided Sahara needed a well-known producer to compete with Entratter. It was at that time that Irwin suggested and Sahara hired famed entertainer/producer/agent Bill Miller to obtain entertainment for the resort.

Miller started as a dancer in the 1920s and had worked on the same bill at New York's Hudson Theatre with Strip veteran Sonny King's dad, Georgie, and his uncle Joe, who performed as the King Brothers. During World War II, Miller owned and operated the Riviera nightclub in New Jersey, where Frank Sinatra and other top stars performed. By 1928 Miller left the stage and became an agent. His credentials proved a formidable competitor to Entratter and the Sands.

In 1952, Sahara showcased Seven Ashtons, Cee Davidson Orchestrea; Beverly Dennis, Moro-Landis Sa-Haren Dancers featuring Gene Nash; Jan Murray.

Jan MurraySeven Ashtons

Skelton/Greta ThysunShriner/'Alberghetti/Damon

In July of 1953, the resort hosted Red Skelton's birthday party. In attendance was Greta Thysun - Miss Denmark of 1952, and Herb Shringer, Anna Maria Alberghetti and Vic Damone.

It was also reported during this year that Skelton was the only person in Vegas who wore long underwear in the desert heat. His wife explained that the lightweight longies were necessary to control the perspiration factor as Red performed on stage. Skelton had said that Vegas was the best thing that ever happened to entertainers. Skelton also stated about the resort's air conditioning: "If you lose too much at the crap table, you can always go to your room, turn up the switch and freeze to death."

Milton Prell's daughter Sheila went up to ask Art Linkletter for his autograph. He noted a "Mae" among the celebrities. Asking Sheila if it was Mae West, she replied no, that was Mae, the attendant in the powder room.

On September 21, 1953, Lowell Landrum died in Los Angeles' Cedars Sinai Hospital after a short illness. It was stated that Landum was a native of Oklahoma and was a WWII veteran. He went to Reno and opened Landrum's Drive-In. He was connected with the Northshore Club and the Palace but at the time of his death he had an interest in the Sahara.

In October of 1953, Prell hired Joe Pittman as Bar Manager. Pittman was the bartender at the Club Bingo for three years. Before that Pittman worked as a bartender at the Monte Carlo Club for seven years.

On October 26, 1953, Sahara was the host of the Las Vegas Press Club benefit:

"One boisterous night in the spring of 1950, a bunch of the boys (and some of the gals) were locked in serious discussion of world politics, religion and the right to work, when a new member, who didn't know that the Press Club was organized so the male members could play poker all night, suggested that the organization should have some money-making project. Several worthy suggestions were vigorously debated until Truman Hinkle came up with the first idea to meet with general agreement by suggesting a dinner patterned after the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C.

A committee of brave members approached the Strip Hotels only to be told that the idea was amateurish and impossible. However, Hal Braudis of the Thunderbird offered to go along with the Press Club, seeing possibilities beyond the wildest dreams of the members.

The skeptical ones who frowned on the first affair are now ready to admit that the show is a polished production and cannot be considered an amateur, home-town play. A look at the present production costs including director, full band, light and sound men, costumes, make-up, and all the incidentals would have staggered the imaginations of the brave souls who produced the first show. Production costs, excluding the cost of the food run close to $3,000.

Profits from the show are earmaked for the Las Vegas Press Club scholarship fund. Each year a scholarship of $800 is given a worthy student graduating from Las Vegas High School, whose intent is to pursue a journalist career. At present the Press Club is proud of three scholarship winners who are attending the University of Nevada: Romaine Roth, Sandra Mitts and Henry Rilling. The Las Vegas Little Theater, whose members are star performers in the show, receives $500 for participating.

Each year as Branding Iron time approaches, officers and members meet to settle the weightiest of all problems. Who will get to see the show? Tickets are at such a premium that it becomes a major diplomatic problem to judge how to allocate them to persons desiring to attend. In order to meet rising production costs and food expense, the cost per ticket has been set at $15.00 per person for the 1953 affair, to be held at Hotel Sahara on October 26th. Bill Willard, whose direction in the past has been a key factor in giving the show its professional air, will again be director. Committee chairmen include: Vern Willis - dance line, Dave McCoig - script, Ray Germain, Ed Hyland, Art Force - tickets; Norm White, Bill Wright, Herb McDonald, Mike Cole - negotiating committee, Helen Belz - lobby displays, Ruth Deskin, Ed Hyland, Bill Wright, Billie Roerig, Bob Belz, Art Force, Ray Germain, George Von Tobel, Mike Cole - watchdog committee." - Author Unknown 1953

Pictures from that benefit

So Fairy Dancers
"'So-Fairy' dancers produced by George Moro. Curvacious chorines included Bill Kozloff, John Yoxen, Harry Lahr, Tecumseh McCall, Don Thomas, Wayne Marshall, Jay Fischer, Ike Housells, Vaughn Harris, Dr. Robert Robinson, Mike Hines & Syd Sheppard"

Beauty Contest
"Jeanne Roberts is chosen first in the beauty contest by Stan Irwin, MC of the show, while a bevy of hopeful beauties look on with disdain"

To Sue Not To Sue
"Tabbed by Dinnergoers as the funniest skit in the history of the Branding Iron Dinners was the 1952 fiasco depicting Hank Greenspun as troubled Hamlet - To Sue Or Not To Sue. The cast starred Bernie Door as Hamlet Greenspun, Tom Taney as King McCarran, Jerry Becker as the Ghost of Drew Pearson, Walter Correll as Queen Blitz, Buz Barton as John Q. Peasant, and George Franklin at Ophelia Dalitz"

Christine Jorgensen

"Before coming to Las Vegas, I, along with most people, heard fantastic stories about fabulous Las Vegas. As the plane approached the famous oasis, I could see the color of lights of the world-renowned Strip. It looked like something taken from Hans Christian Andersen or the Arabian Nights.

As I alighted from the plane, Mr. Bill Miller stepped forward and I had my first contact with the Sahara Hotel. Mr. Miller was the first of the many new acquaintances I was to make here. I was rushed into my suite of rooms at the Sahara and plans were made to greet the press the following morning.

Opening night was a never-to-be-forgotten episode in my theatrical life. The audiences were all wonderful and it made my heart swell to feel their response. I received flowers daily from a very dear friend and by some strange means the press got wind of it. Then came the deluge - photographers and conversation and even TV. It left me in a strange position because I am not engaged and yet everyone looks to me for some startling revelations.

I also received an invitation from Jeanette MacDonald to join her for tea. By this time my cigar-smoking cousin, Lona, from Denmark had arrived. So off we went for a very charming afternoon with Miss MacDonald.

I'll always remember my wonderful engagement at the Sahara. My closing thought is - 'Just when can I come back to this fabulous Las Vegas'". - Christine Jorgensen, 1953

Stan Irwin took a chance and hired Marlene Dietrich for $30,000 a week. News stories and pictures were focused on Dietrich's peek-a-boo costume. Dietrich would always complain that the Sahara didn't treat her right and she would joke with Larry Sloan about not having a red carpet out for her to walk on. (Eventually Dietrich would go over to the Sands, only to return to the Sahara stating that the Sands didn't treat her right.)

Sa-Harem showgirls

In 1953, Sahara showcased Eddie Arnold; Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy; Ray Bolger; Francis Brunn; The Cathalas; Angelene Collins; Condos & Brandow; Nanci Crompton; The Dagenham Girl Pipers; Alan Dale; Criss Cross; Cee Davidson Orchestra; Dickens Sisters; Marlene Dietrich; Delage & Shirley; Nelson Eddy; Elsa & Waldo; Horace Heidt & his Orchestra/Revue; Honey Brothers; Christine Jorgensen/Myles Bell; Jeanette MacDonald; Goetschis unicycle performers; Lauritz Melchior Company w/George Roth/Angelen Collins; Moro-Landis Sa-Harem Dancers; Moro-Landis Sa-Harem Dancers featuring Skylarks; Jan Murray; Maria Neglia; Helen O'Connell; Martha Ray; Sugar Ray Robinson; George Roth; Harvey Stone; The Vagabonds; and Eileen Wilson. The Casbar showcased Cy Coleman Trio; Al Day Trio; Sandra Deems; Sandra Deems' Three Majors; Sonny Kendis; Joe Loco & his Mombo Group; Three Majors & Al Day-Tempo Trios; Three Suns; Mike Werner; and Mary Wood Trio.

Alan Dale Lauritz Melchoir
Bergen/Dietrich Arnold/Murray ad

There were so many patrons who were unable to see Laurtiz Melchoir Company, that they besieged the management for a return engagement. Stan Irwin performed quite a bit of string-pulling and many long distance phone calls and managed to book the Company back to the Sahara to satisfy their many fans.

Prima/Smith/Group

Stan Irwin stated June, 2003, that during this time period, Louis Prima and Keely Smith were under Beldon Katleman's contract at the El Rancho Vegas. Bill Miller had seen their potential and bought out their contract so they perform in the Casbar Lounge. At that time they were low on money and the Sahara bought Prima new clothing so he would look presentable in the lounge.

In the early part of 1954, Irwin helped Flamingo's Abe Schiller emcee the benefit show for the Henderson Youth Center.

It was noted that Ray Bolger always came to town a couple of days before his scheduled appearance on stage to brush up on gags.

"These locals are so savvy, that if you can amuse them on opening night, you know you've got an act." - Ray Bolger

In March of 1954, it was noted that patrons were praising pit boss Oakey Townsend and part owner John Hughes. Both men worked the same shift and were highly respected for the consideration they doled out to patrons and employees alike. They're just "Aces High" in everyone's estimation. (Other part owners of the resort during this time were Milton Hyatt, Sam Boyd, Charles Rusden, and Barney Morris).

In July of 1954, Nevada Commission granted William Miller 3% interest in the resort.

Mae West
Mae West performing at Sahara

In 1954, Congo Room showcased Ames Brothers; Amin Brothers; Ray Bolger/Anna Maria Alberghetti; Judy Canova; Cee Davidson Orchestra; Al Day; Dennis Day; Sando Deems; Marlene Dietrich/Bernard Brothers/Mary Raye & Naldi; George Gobel; Kathryn Grayson; Kovach & Rabovsky; Liberace/Billy Daniels; Donald O'Connor/Esther Williams; Sonja Henie & her Ice Revue; Nita & Peppi; Martha Raye; Bud & Cece Robinson; Mae West/George Eiferman; Esther Williams; Paul Winchell; Moro-Landis Saharem Dancers.

The Casbah showcased La Playa Sextette.

Cee DavidsonLiberace/Billy DanielsEsther WilliamsO'ConnorBolger/Alberghetti

It was during this time period that Bill Miller left the Sahara to become a part owner of the Royal Nevada which opened in 1955, and later to be a part owner in the Frontier in 1959. Stan Irwin then returned to his previous position at the resort showing himself to be a formidable competitor in the producer field obtaining top talent.

House of Lords

Resorts started opening upscale restaurants. Stan Irwin created "The House of Lords" restaurant for the Sahara in 1954 or 1955. Mrs. Prell didn't like the name as there was a liquor with the same name. Irwin explained that The House of Lords would be for people to be treated like royalty and the motif showed that with deep reds and a regal showing. Mrs. Prell then agreed with the name.

In 1955, Prell brought back in Herb McDonald, who had moved on to the El Rancho Las Vegas, and Hotel Last Frontier, as well as being the former head of the Chamber of Commerce as the Hotel's Executive Director of Advertising, Publicity and Promotion.

In January of 1955, Stan Irwin had double duty, having been elected Assemblyman; and Prell was studying ways to enlarge the Casbar stage.

In February of 1955, Prell's wife Debbie hosted a baby shower for Stan Irwin's wife, Ruth, at Prell's house; Fred Waring hosted President Eisenhower's brother and sister-in-law Lucy and Ed Eisenhower, at the resort; The Prells loaned their mansion to Gwen O'Connor and Dan Dailey for their wedding; Nina Clark hosted a benefit fashion show at the resort with the proceeds going to the YMCA Building Fund (In August, 1955 Clark would marry Sahara co-owner Charles Rusden); and the resort hosted the 6th wedding anniversary of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Hoffman, the Chief of Staff at Los Angeles' Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.

In March of 1955, Keely Smith gave birth to Toni Elizabeth, and Ruth Irwin gave birth to Jody Pam. Keely Smith and Louis Prima returned to the Casbar on December 13, 1955; and resort co-owner Milton Hyatt admitted he was a numismatist.

In April of 1955, patrons were surprised to see gossip queen Hedda Hopper at the resort, without one of her famous hats; and Ray Bolger was such a hit he was held over for two extra weeks.

Utilizing Lake Mead, the resort hosted the Sahara Unlimited Hydroplane races.

In May of 1955, Sahara bartender Jack Evans wanted his ailing mother to see the Helldorado Parade but she was bedridden. A friend turned over his room at the Apache Hotel to them which was better than a front row seat.

Also during this month Prell offered Variety Club Tent No. 39 permanent headquarters at the Sahara. All utilities were supplied free of charge, with the club paying $1.00 yearly for rent. Prell also offered to donate the club's sign, signifying its new location.

Also in May of 1955, Mrs. & Mrs. Sam Boyd (he is co-owner of the Sahara) were happy to see son Bill return from Germany, bearing his Army honorable discharge papers and his blushing bride.

In June of 1955, the Tax Commission granted the gaming license of Charles J. Rusden for 6% of the resort for $240,000.

In July of 1955, Irwin went back to his show biz roots when he accepted Jack Entratter's invitation to appear at the Dunes in the hopes of bringing people to the resort; Larry's Shoe Store was a little more than surprised when the entire Sahara dancers showed up at once to replenish their shoe supplies; and Debbie Prell was commended for her parties as being exciting, interesting and was on everyone's want to be invited to list.

In August of 1955, patrons were shocked to see Howard Hughes dressed like a bum at the gaming tables with a beautiful woman at his side. When he lost several rounds, he ordered the woman to leave him alone, declaring her a jinx.

On September 6, 1955, Debbie Prell threw a surprise birthday party for husband Milton at the resort, during Jose Greco's opening night. Shortly thereafter, Greco became a dad of a little girl.

Also in September of 1955, Martha Raye stopped off at the hotel for a ten day vacation. The management surprised her with a birthday party at 2:00am and all "Strip" entertainers attended.

In October of 1955, Horseshoe Club owner Joe W. Brown bought 50 entries in the Turtle Derby held by the Variety Club Tent No. 17. He won none other than a week's vacation at the Sahara. Brown gave his prize to someone who wasn't familiar with the Strip or resort so they could enjoy the experience; patrons were praising Host Sonny Heath for overextending himself to make visitors happy; Fabulous Las Vegas magazine editor Jack Cortez was suffering from the flue and Bronchitis. Martin Black of the Moulin Rouge and Sahara's Stan Irwin stepped in and wrote articles for the magazine until Cortez felt better; Bill Miller quit the Sahara to own and operate the Royal Nevada as well as produce the Colgate Comedy TV Hour. Stan Irwin resumed his previous role. Irwin promptly left for the East Coast to audition lounge groups for the Casbar and acts for the Congo Room.

In November of 1955, Earl Churchill was busy, handling the Jennings machine, in state-wide distribution. Newest off the assembly line was the "four-reeler buckaroo" which was displayed first at the Sahara.

"Stan Irwin, a dapper and superenergized ex-actor and presently state assemblyman, is possibly the suavest publicist of all the Strip's big-name droppers. When he doesn't have a practically naked Dietrich to promote, he still manages to get the name of the Sahara before the public. Once, just for the hell of it, he talked of the hotel's headliners, an acrobat named Karl Carsony, into doing a one-arm hand-stand on a cane on top of Sahara's fifty-foot tower sign outside the hotel. He insured the fellow with Lloyd's of London for $100,000, enticed all photographers within telephone range to bring their cameras along, and watched smugly as Mr. Carsony balanced himself against a wild desert wind on a cane atop the tower for ten seconds. The stunt cost Sahara $400 and was worth some $10,000 in free newspaper space.

Nor is Stan Irwin one to overestimate a headliner's power with the press. Once, when Red Skelton and Anna Maria Alberghetti were playing in his Congo Room, he ordered a miniature replica of the Sahara's Garden of Allah swimming pool constructed into a gargantuan billboard at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Doheny Drive near Los Angeles. It wasn't enough to fill this roadside swimming pool with water that glistened and high-lighted the names of Skelton and Alberghetti. No indeed. He hired eight beautiful girl swimmers whose jobs were to leap and cavort around the pool for eight hours a day in shifts of four hours each. The stunt cost $30,000, resulted in $1,000,000 worth of publicity, and brought only the Bureau of Internal Revenue knows how many paying customers from the City of the Angeles, but that isn't all that makes Mr. Irwin happy. The billboard won commendations for 'originality' from advertising men all over the country.

Irwin at one time seriously considered filling the 220,000 gallon pool at the Sahara with Martinis and little bright-colored straws sticking out, and only abandoned the idea when he learned that more vodka than gin was drunk in Vegas. 'It would've have been fair to the public.' was his cryptic remark on this occasion." - Katherine Best/Katherine Hillyer, 1954 or 1955

During this time, Sahara witnessed first-hand about racial prejudice. Larry Sloan, associated with the Sahara's publicity staff, was contacted by a reporter for Ebony magazine who asked to interview black movie star Louise Beavers when she was appearing in the hotel's show. Sloan was happy to get an interview going, but when he started making plans for accommodations and the customary press seat at the show, Sloan learned from older personnel that these things were out of the question. "Hell," one of them said, "the guy probably won't even be able to get a taxi driver to bring him here.

"Fortunately, the reporter was a gentleman. We met him at the airport and explained. He came on in, caught the show from the wings, interviewed Miss Beavers, and left on the next plane out." - Larry Sloan

In June of 2003, Stan Irwin related to us that during this time period African Americans stayed in trailers located on the Sahara's property. These trailers were similar to what actors stay in during filming of movies. In his opinion it was Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey, then Sammy Davis, Jr., and Nat King Cole who broke the color barrier for the resorts.

The best we can tell, the following pictures were taken in 1955. They are: Ann-Margret/George Burns performing in the Congo Room; Milton Prell, Edward G. Robinson, and Spencer Tracy visiting George Burns back stage; Jack Benny surprising Burns on stage at the Congo Room; Grace Kelly, Ray Bolger and Mr. & Mrs. Cary Grant chatting on Sahara's property; Grants, Kelly & Bolger laughing it up; Bolger taking a picture of Grace Kelly and the Cary Grants; and Joel Grey & Ray Bolger playing on the Sahara's grounds

Margret/Burns Prell/Burns/Robinson/TraceyBenny/BurnsMrs. Grant/Bolger/Grant/KellyGrants Kelly BolgerGrants/Kelly/BolgerJoel Grey/Ray Bolger

In 1955 Sahara showcased Ray Bolger; Teresa Brewer; Jean Carroll; Mindy Carson; Imogene Coca; Dennis Day; Cee Davidson Orchestra; Marlene Dietrich; Sherman Edwards; Jose Grego; Muriel Landers/Jack Prince & his Paupers; Andy May/Pansy the Horse; Vaughn Monroe; Donald O'Connor; Saharem Dancers; Dick Shawn/Katherine Dunham Dancers; Kirby Stone Four; Fred Waring Show w/The Pennsylvanians/The Glee Club/the Soloists. The Casbar Lounge showcased Herbie Fields/Ann McCormack; Tommy Gumina Quartet; Lennie Herman; Sonny King; Pipers; Leon Prima (Louis Prima's brother); Keely Smith/Louis Prima; and Kirby Stone Four. Ann McCormack was the ex-wife of child actor/Aadams Family "Uncle Fester" Jackie Coogan.

Katherine Dunham Dancers/Dick Shawn

It was noted that when Dick Shawn first appeared in Vegas, his salary was $2,000 a week. His contract with the Sahara in 1955 was $11,000 a week; People were amazed at Paul Haakon, one of Jose Greco's dancers, who told people he was 50 years old. His waistline was a slim as a teenager's and his agility defied time.

Paul Haakon, one of the dancers with Jose Greco was astounding folks with his age (50). His waistline was as slim as a teenager and his agility defied Old Man Time.

In December 1955, the following individuals were connected with the resort: Ralph Greco - Maitre d'; Ted Lawrence - Assistant Maitre 'd; Shirley Belz - Reservation Hostess; Captains Henry Torres/Douglas Garland/JackErdman/Larry LaPenta/Charles Ruggeri/Mike Venturelli/Arturo Triplerti/Water Strubelt; Nick Vara - Parking; Sonny Heath - Host.

Copyright1999 - , Deanna DeMatteo - All rights reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced, translated, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission of the owner! Printed into a book August 2002.