Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2019

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Monday List: 40 at 40, a look at the Las Vegas Hilton on a landmark anniversary

The Man with a Plan

Kerkor “Kirk” Kerkorian stands in front of the future International Hotel in 1969, which later became the Las Vegas Hilton. Kerkorian is known as the “father of the mega resort,” building the MGM Grand, which set a new standard for size and luxury.

Las Vegas Hilton turns 40

John Katsilometes interviews long-time Hilton employees about their experiences with Elvis for the hotel's 40th anniversary on July 2, 2009.

One of the Best

The Las Vegas Sun named the Las Vegas Hilton Sports Book one of the best sports books in the area.

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Elvis Presley is shown at the International Hotel shortly after he made his first public stage appearance in nine years on July 26, 1969.

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Janie Steele hugs Elvis Presley in this 1960s photo. Steele has retired after nearly 30 years at the Hilton, where she worked in photography and bookkeeping.

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Barry Manilow's show at the Hilton has undergone a makeover and been renamed "Ultimate Manilow: The Hits," but fan interaction and a focus on hits remain.

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Reba McEntire.

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Tony Montana, formerly of Great White, sings during a performance of "Monster Circus" at the Hilton Theatre inside the Las Vegas Hilton Thursday, March 26, 2009.

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Bettors take in basketball games at the LVH Superbook.

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Earl Turner and Lani Misalucha perform in the Golden Rainbow's 23rd Annual "Ribbon of Life" show at the Las Vegas Hilton on Sunday.

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Cheap Trick will be performing Sgt. Pepper Live at the Las Vegas Hilton in September.

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The LV Hilton enjoys the splendor of its star attraction.

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Jay Kornegay, pretending to study a betting sheet so I can take a photo of him.

The Las Vegas Hilton turned 40 last week, on Thursday, marking its birthday relatively quietly with a few discounts and a 1969-themed celebration in the EDR (Employee Dining Room, as I learned that day). One of the first mega-resorts, the Hilton opened as the International on July 2, 1969. Not allowing the benchmark to go totally unrecorded, we offer today’s list: 40 Things to Know About the LV Hilton/International As It Turns 40:

1. Delisco, the winner of “The Entertainer” contest show, who performed with Wayne Newton for a few weeks at the Hilton Theater four years ago, then had his own show at the Shimmer Cabaret, then left our airspace (the most recent Delisco appearances I could find were from a tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” this year).

2. The late, great Le Montrachet restaurant, where a British bloke named Johnny worked as a waiter known to entertain diners with colorful tales of his homeland.

3. The fact that, in a rarity, Elvis wore a hard hat at the under-construction site of the International in 1967 to sign his performance contract with the hotel.

4. The unverified episode in which a local limo driver says that Barry Manilow once lit him up after Manilow mentioned the name of Michael Buble, and the driver asked, “Who’s that?”

5. The guys who made off with a reported $500,000 from the Super Book in October, who have not yet been apprehended.

6. The possible movie starring George Clooney, Don Cheadle and Brad Pitt that might be made as a result of No. 5.

7. Janie Steele, who worked at the Hilton for 30 years and was one of Elvis' closest friends at the hotel.

8. The Hilton Super Book, where the first week of the NFL season is met with the same glee as Christmas morning.

9. The heavy-duty, bronzed Elvis Presley statue out front, which, each year on Jan. 8 (The King’s birthday) is said to whisper the lyrics to “My Way.”

10. The late, great production show “Dragapella,” which was a little too risqué for the hotel’s clientele.

11. The ever-loyal “Fanilows,” a peaceful and fun-loving bunch until Barry is besmirched.

12. The Star Trek Experience, which thrilled Trekkies (and those not afflicted) for more than a decade in what was one of the city’s more inspired hotel-attraction partnerships.

13. Quarks, the Star Trek Experience’s themed restaurant, where you could await your Photon Torpedo sandwich by conversing with a guy dressed as a fully outfitted Ferengi.

14. The Borg, Quarks’ signature drink, which was 10 shots of booze and five straws. Or maybe it was five shots and 10 straws, but in any case, it steamed with dry ice and could get a table full of Trekkies fully, set-phasers-on-stun loaded.

15. Reba McEntire, a former headliner who came in with high expectations but departed sooner than anticipated, claiming she needed to get back to her sitcom and not for all those unoccupied seats.

16. The Las Vegas Monorail, which has a stop at the hotel and is actually used by some staffers for transportation along the east side of the Strip.

17. Mosaic, the Las Vegas Tenors, the orchestral performance of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Buddy,” the Buddy Holly musical, a few of the Hilton Theater’s more memorable one-out shows.

18. Earl Turner & Lani Misalucha, stars of “Voices” at the Shimmer, who, if fame depended solely on effort, would be known around the globe.

19. Barbra Streisand who (not Elvis) actually opened the hotel on July 2, 1969 (Peggy Lee played the lounge that night).

20. Hotel exec Rick White’s dazzling Hawaiian shirts.

21. “Monster Circus,” featuring Dee Snider and starring a lineup of heavy-metal vets (bassist Rudy Sarzo, vocalist John Corabi, drummer Fred Coury and guitarist Fred Coury), a good idea doomed by financial upheaval and whatever else dooms high-octane rock production shows.

22. Cheap Trick, which is performing a live, full-scale cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at the Hilton Theater in September. I once had the distinct opportunity to dine at the same table as Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. One of our tablemates, brimming with alcohol-fueled bluster, kept shouting of “hookers and blow!” When this person left the room for a moment, probably to stop the spins, Nielsen looked at me across the table and announced, “That guy has been over-served -- a lot!” Good call.

23. Ira.

24. David.

25. Sternberg.

26. The unseemly dustup with’s entourage (wait, that’s Perez Hilton).

27. Manilow’s rendition of “Mandy,” in which he powerfully (and sort of spookily) duets with a mid-1970s clip of himself on “The Midnight Special.”

28. The 1978 heavyweight title bout, in which Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali in a 15-round decision.

29. Lorena Peril, the scorching ringleader of “Sin City Bad Girls” at the Shimmer. You see her walking through the casino, and you know she’s somebody.

30. $300,000, Liberace’s record-breaking weekly salary when he signed his contract with the hotel in 1972.

31. “Leapin’ Lizards it’s Liberace,” the 1978 TV special taped at the Las Vegas Hilton Theater, featuring guest stars Debbie Reynolds and Phyllis Diller.

32. Colony Capital, which owns 60 percent of the Hilton (through its affiliate Colony Resorts), which also bailed out Michael Jackson’s loan on Neverland Ranch for $25 million last year and now owns the place. If that all makes sense.

33. The numbing series “The Simple Life” and famously widely reviewed sex tape of five years ago (wait, that’s Paris Hilton).

34. Elvis’ version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” from “Elvis Viva Las Vegas,” recorded live from 1970-1972 at the Hilton Theater.

35. The classic joke from Murray Langston, as The Unknown Comic: “Next week I’ll be appearing at the fabulous International! … House of Pancakes …”

36. Kirk Kerkorian, the hotel’s original owner, whose belief in gigantic resorts helped lead to today’s mega-resorts.

37. Super Bowl Sunday at the packed Hilton Theater, where those who bet on the safety at 7-to-1 and won can celebrate en masse.

38. The Tempo Lounge, which is tucked-away and intimate, yet just a cartwheel from the Super Book and casino pit.

39. Sports Book director Jay Kornegay, who can muster up a weird prop line in five minutes (Example: LeBron James’ total points against the Pistons vs. Super Bowl total, plus the total goals scored by Manchester United, subtracted by the temperature in Celsius at kickoff).

39. Room 3,000 on the 30th floor, where Elvis lived in velvet luxury when playing Vegas.

40. “Let’s Make a Deal,” which was staged at the Hilton Theater in its final season, 1976-’77.

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