Saturday, August 21, 2010

Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas

The Las Vegas I knew in August 1977 was a far different place than it is today. The hotels were smaller, and although it was a ‘family’ town, it was most certainly a much different kind of family.

I was part of a production team to shoot a TV special called Viva Las Vegas for Spain and South America. Our ‘star’ was Donn Arden’s Hallelujah Hollywood spectacular at the Bally’s Grand. It was truly an amazing show that involved hundreds of performers, and brilliant production values… starting off with the fuselage of a 737 jet on stage surrounded by 100 near naked showgirls. Ah, Las Vegas.

So, with the full help of the hotel’s VP of Entertainment Bill DeAngelis and his staff, we set about to lock in the various performers and acts. The first job was to watch the show and figure out how many ‘acts’ and dancers we needed. There were some amazing production numbers along with a magician, a dancing Elephant and a world famous ‘Frisbee thrower’ and juggler.

We sat in Bill’s office high above the stage watching the show. He had a remote control video camera that he could zoom in to watch the show or in most cases the showgirls. While the audience was overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle on stage; in Bill’s office we were watching the dancers in the last row who were just standing there talking to each other. Then the ‘world famous’ Frisbee thrower comes out and starts hurling Frisbees into the audience like a boomerang. That first night he hit 38 people in their seats.

We had to rehearse during the days, because they did two shows a night. The biggest challenge was getting everyone scheduled and rehearsed. Bill introduced us to the lady who really ran show, Fluff LaCoque (rhymes with La Rock, got it?). She was great. A real pro. Only in Las Vegas could someone have a name like that.

We spent the next 5 days working 20 hour days. We had a few special performers who flew in from Spain, and we had booked a number of stars from the other hotels, including the co-hostess Dionne Warwick. Even though this was a show that was to air in Spain and South America, the contracts and approvals were more complicated that a normal domestic network show. In 1977 cable television was still pretty new in the markets we were going to be broadcasting in. Getting all the right’s issues resolved was very complicated.

We’re a day away from taping and the rehearsals are going fine. There must have been 20 different acts and performers on the show including Dionne Warwick, Cat Stevens, and the dancers from Hallelujah Hollywood. We had EVERY act signed and confirmed.

Except one.

It seems that one of the show’s ‘stars’ had an agent, and they were in the middle of contract negotiation. They were using the show as leverage.

So, one hour from show time the producer walked into the office and with a pretty straight face said “The Elephant won’t do cable’.

We all started to laugh. And we kept laughing…that kind of laugh that only comes in the absurdity of the moment. It’s not that it was that important, or that the damn elephant was that good, it was just funny.

And today more than 30 years later, it still makes me laugh.


  1. Wonderful story Rusty! Bill DeAngelis was my grandfather and he passed when I was only 13. However, I have tons of fond memories of him and lots of stories I hear from others. It is amazing in our day and age that I can google search his name and find something like what you just wrote. Amazing! Thank you for sharing. You've got an outstanding blog.

  2. What a great story! :) And one Ive heard bits and pieces of before. I'd love to know more about this time period, and especially about Bill DeAngelis. Do you by chance have any more stories about him?

    Best wishes!