Saturday, June 11, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The legacy of entertainment at the Riviera lives on throughout Las Vegas, and even beyond. Undeniably, one of the hotel’s foremost ambassadors and spokesmen has been a hot lady named Frank Marino.
For 23 years, Marino held steady the rudder as MC of “An Evening at La Cage,” portraying Joan Rivers and introducing the production’s parade of men impersonating female superstars.
The Riv is soon part of Las Vegas history, of course. The hotel is to be imploded in two stages beginning with the 24-story Monaco Tower at 2 a.m. Tuesday. The Monte Carlo Tower is to be leveled in August.
Opening in 1955, the Riv was home to many famous superstars and productions, most notably Liberace, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand and George Burns. Its most famous stage shows were “Splash,” “Crazy Girls” and “La Cage.”
Marino began his run in that latter production in September 1985. The 23-year run was among the longest for a Strip production. Marino still stars in the current adaptation of the show, “Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas” at the Linq Showroom.
This week, Marino and I held a “Riviera Summit” over the phone to chart some of his favorite memories. Following is the hot list of Marino’s 23 favorite memories about the Riv:
23: The hotel was the first on the Strip with two proper showrooms: Versailles Theater and La Cage Theater. The former has already been disassembled; the latter was home to Marino’s show.
22: The show’s opening night drew Liberace, Redd Foxx and Rip Taylor.
21: Taylor’s advice that night: “Save every penny, you never know when the curtain is going down.” As Marino says, “I follow it to this day.”
20: Welcoming Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli — among many other stars — to the show in its early years.
19: Opening-night ticket: $6.95 “with a prime rib dinner included.”
18: Closing-night ticket: $100 “and you got nothing, not even a burger.”
17: The first network TV special, “Milton Berle Joins ‘Evening at La Cage,’ ” was taped in 1985.
16: Marino was served legal papers onstage from an attorney representing Joan Rivers in 1986. Marino, who was onstage at the time portraying Rivers in his opening monologue, was being sued for $5 million for copyright infringement for allegedly using Rivers’ jokes in his show. The two soon settled out of court and became friends.
15: When Dolly Parton visited the show in the late 1980s, the show’s Dolly Parton impersonator put his earrings on the real Dolly.
14: In the early 1990s, the real Cher met the show’s Cher.
13: The first of two stars dedicated to Marino on the Las Vegas Walk of Fame was issued during his run at the Riv in 2006 (the other was soon after the show closed at the hotel, in 2010).
12: He counted his first $1 million at the Riv after the show had been running for five years.
11: He bought his first Bob Mackie design in 1990, costing $5,000, and he still wears the red-and-black gown in the show.
10: He underwent 10 surgical procedures in the run, beginning with cheek implants.
9: His image was embossed on Riv casino chips in 2000, $25 and $5 values. “One side was me as a boy, one side as a girl.”
8: Scenes from film “Casino” were filmed at the Riv.
7: The gangster in the movie based on Frank Cullotta and played by Frank Vincent was named Frank Marino. “I had people calling me for weeks asking if he was based on me.”
6: Fans still get Frankie Moreno and him confused. “I know he has had people show up and say, ‘I saw you at the Riv! And sometimes people think I have a show where I play the piano.”
5: He once tried to use puppets in the show. “We had a Diana Ross and The Supremes number and used these Muppet-type characters behind our Diana. We stopped after about six months. It was awful. It was my first real faux pas in the show.”
4: The show’s running salary in 1985 was $50,000 a week, with an “override” payment whenever the show’s paid attendance exceeded 5,000 visitors.
3: There were 10 stage shows on the Strip when “La Cage” opened. There were more than 90 when it closed.
2: The original “La Cage” schedule: Three shows a night seven nights a week. Times: 7, 9 and 11 p.m.
1: When Marino started his run portraying Rivers, he was just 19 years old. “It is sickening to see it being imploded because I grew up there,” he says. “I loved that hotel, and they treated me very well, and I miss those times. You can say the Riviera was never a drag for me.”
With its glass, star-lit exterior, visitors can't miss the Riviera when driving down the Strip. As the first high-rise to open on the Las Vegas Strip, featuring a nine-story hotel, the Riviera has seen more than 50 years as an entertainment destination in Las Vegas. Top bill acts like Liberace, Dean Martin and the long-running Splash revue (closed in 2006) have graced its showrooms over time.
The Riviera still offers its share of entertainment options with topless revue "Crazy Girls," a comedy club and "Illusions," starring Jan Rouven.
The 100,000-square foot casino has been featured in many films like "Casino," "Austin Powers" and "21." Although the hotel has passed through a long list of owners over the years it has always held on to it's unique theme (for Las Vegas) in that it lacks any particular theme. It also features a William Hill Race & Sports Book walk-up betting window right off the sidewalk on the Strip.
The Riviera has dining options well covered, from seafood and steaks at R Steak and Seafood, a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner fare at Banana Leaf Café to an international cuisine at the R Buffet.