On this day in 1946, mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel opens The Pink Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada at a total cost of $6 million. The 40-acre facility wasn’t complete and Siegel was hoping to raise some revenue with the grand opening.
Well-known singer and comedian Jimmy Durante headlined the entertainment, with music by Cuban band leader Xavier Cugat. Some of Siegel’s Hollywood friends, including actors George Raft, George Sanders, Sonny Tufts and George Jessel were in attendance. The grand opening, however, was a flop. Bad weather kept many other Hollywood guests from arriving. And because gamblers had no rooms at the hotel, they took their winnings and gambled elsewhere. The casino lost $300,000 in the first week of operation.
Siegel and his New York “partners” had invested $1 million in a property already under construction by Billy Wilkerson, owner of the Hollywood Reporter as well as some very popular nightclubs in the Sunset Strip. Wilkerson had wanted to recreate the Sunset Strip in Las Vegas, with a European style hotel with luxuious rooms, a spa, health club, showroom, golf course, nightclub and upscale restaurant. But he soon ran out of money due to the high cost of materials immediately after the war. Siegel, who held a largest interest in the racing publication Trans America Wire, was drawn to Las Vegas in 1945 by his interest in legalized gambling and off-track betting. He purchased The El Cortez hotel for $600,000 and later sold it for a $166,000 profit.
Siegel and his organized crime buddies used the profits to influence Wilkerson to accept new partners. Siegel took over the project and supervised the building, naming it after his girlfriend Virginia Hill, whose nickname was “The Flamingo” because of her red hair and long legs. Two weeks after the grand opening, the Flamingo closed down. It re-opened March 1, 1947, as The Fabulous Flamingo. Siegel forced Wilkerson out in April, and by May, the resort reported a profit, but it wasn’t enough to save Siegel. Convinced that Siegel wasn’t giving them a “square count,” it is widely believed that his partners in organized crime had him killed while he was reading the paper June 20, 1947, at Hill’s Beverly Hills mansion. Hill was in Paris, having flown the coop after a fight with Siegel 10 days prior. The crime remains unsolved to this day.
Surviving a series of name and ownership changes, the hotel is known today as The Flamingo Las Vegas, owned and operated by Harrah’s Entertainment. The property offers 3,626 hotel rooms and a 77,000-square-foot casino.
On this day in 1962, WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES released THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. Directed by BLAKE EDWARDS from a screenplay by J. P. MILLER, this amazingly performed story of a prosperous young couple’s descent into alcoholism is an incredible portrait of its time. The cast was headlined by JACK LEMMON and LEE REMICK with great supporting help from CHARLES BICKFORD, JACK KLUGMAN and JACK ALBERTSON. Fans of TV’s hit series MAD MEN would do well to check this out.
On this day in 1977, 20TH CENTURY FOX released HIGH ANXIETY. Directed and written by MEL BROOKS, this riotous ‘homage’ to the films of ALFRED HITCHCOCK was the hit of the season. BROOKS milked every laugh out of every situation he could, with send-ups of everything from VERTIGO to THE BIRDS. The all-star cast included BROOKS and his pals MADELINE KAHN, CLORIS LEACHMAN, HARVEY KORMAN, RON CAREY, HOWARD MORRIS, DICK VAN PATTON, JACK RILEY, CHARLIE CALLAS and RON CLARK (who co-wrote the script with BROOKS). A timeless classic.
On this day in 1995, actor and singer Dean Martin dies at the age of 78. Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1917. After working as a prizefighter and a steelworker, Martin started a nightclub act. In 1946, he teamed up with comedian Jerry Lewis, and they became one of the most successful comedy duos of all time. A hit with live audiences and on television, Lewis and Martin made 16 movies together over 10 years, starting with My Friend Irma in 1949. After the duo split up, Martin launched his own TV variety show, which ran from 1965 to 1974. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martin teamed up with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop to perform in Las Vegas. The group, known as the Rat Pack, made several movies together in the early 1960s, including Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Sergeants Three (1962), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).
On this day in 1964, WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES released MY FAIR LADY. Directed by the legendary GEORGE CUKOR from the hit Broadway play by LERNER & LOWE, this was the musical version of GEORGE BERNARD SHAW’s PYGMALIAN. REX HARRISON repeated his role as the misogynistic professor who wagers he can make a street-urchin, flower girl presentable in high society. AUDREY HEPBURN took the titular role, replacing JULIE ANDREWS (who originated it on Broadway). Also in the cast are STANLEY HOLLOWAY, WILFRED HYDE WHITE, GLADYS COOPER, JEREMY BRETT and THEODORE BIKEL. A great musical treat.