Las Vegas Sun

March 20, 2019

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At Madame Tussaud’s, celebrity worship is real, even if the celebrities aren’t

"They're dripping in the hallways, they're starting to secrete; they're pouring out the pores, they're shrinking on the spot; someone take a photograph -- get 'em while they're hot." -- Steve Taylor's "Meltdown at Madame Tussaud's."

Stare at it long enough and it unspools like a Vincent Price hallucination channeled by Mary Hart:

People posing, pointing, touching, flirting, snuggling, pinching, pawing, shmoozing ... with globs of wax.

And not just any globs, mind you. Not the globs of the average slob. No, these are The Globs of the Rich and Famous -- baked, chiseled and sculpted into a celebration of celebrity -- at Madame Tussaud's at the Venetian hotel-casino, where waxy yellow buildup is a Hollywood status symbol.

Certainly there's a perverse pleasure in ogling the taut cheeks, pert noses and collagen-injected lips of celebrities molded by wax sculptors who based their duplicates on the taut cheeks, pert noses and collagen-injected lips molded by celebrities' plastic surgeons.

Dead sexpots pout (Marilyn) while live sexpots vogue (Madonna) and the convenient suspension of reality (and therefore, propriety) encourages stolen glances down waxy cleavage. The common man's troubadour (Springsteen) and The Wizard of Odd (The Jackson They Call Michael) gaze across a room at each other, the former inviting sexually-charged sighs, the latter eliciting the kind of detached curiosity that might greet a school science project.

There's an icon of class (Sinatra) and the sultan of crass (Springer).

This is one kooky cocktail party.

And oh, the "Picture of Dorian Gray"-ness of it all. "I'll get older and the figure will stay the same," says magician Lance Burton, whose eerily exact likeness, sporting a deck of cards fanned out in his trademark flourish, resides in this weird, wax-to-the-max universe. "If we could figure out a way for the statue to get older and I stay younger, that would be ideal."

That seems perfectly sane on this peculiar plane of existence, nestled, quite appropriately, amid the surreal sights of the Strip. No, it's not an original -- what on the Strip really is? -- but an offshoot of the London attraction, with a very Vegas-centric (i.e., entertainment) theme. And in a culture crazed over celebrity -- especially in a city that trades in celebrity -- what better match than a sort of celebrity mausoleum?

"Americans, especially, are so entranced by celebrities and celebrity images," says Madame Tussaud's general manager, Wyatt Foley. "That's the attraction, especially in Las Vegas."

With its dual embrace of fakery and fame, Madame Tussaud's says T-H-E S-T-R-I-P better than any nausea-worthy roller-coaster or belt-loosening buffet.

And when it comes to the Wax Factor, give the Tussaud troupe its tribute: These facsimiles of the famous are (with a few exceptions, soon to be noted) unnervingly on target. "The celebrities say it's spooky," Foley says, "because you never get the chance to see yourself as three-dimensional. You never see yourself from the side or back, the way others actually view you."

Care to learn the wax of life? Without further ado, let's view:

Our first stop is God's gift to trailer park divorce lawyers, Jerry Springer (known to most of us as JE-RRY! JE-RRY!) Why do his eyes look so, well, gentle? How can a man whose show is arguably TV's most pathetic look so ... empathetic? Clearly the sculptors were kind. How else to explain that the actual photograph near the model shows Springer resembling a young Buddy Hackett, his eyes nearly crossed as if staring down a fly on the bridge of his schnozz?

"He's one of our" -- OH, NO, PLEASE DON'T SAY IT! -- "most popular portraits," says portrait maintenance manager Kristin Mayberry, who oversees a staff of touch-up artists -- wig masters, painters, wardrobe fixer-uppers -- who swoop in daily after fans finish their daily grope.

"We find Jerry takes a lot of maintenance. He has his hand extended, so people will pose with him by putting their hand in his. They wrap their arms around his shoulder, so his jacket takes a lot of damage. They touch his face, so he gets grimy from the oil from people's hands." Grimy? Certainly sounds Springerish. (People Who Sleep With Their Wax Dummies, Then Never Call -- On The Next Springer!)

Hey, there's ragin' Nic Cage in a beefcake pose worthy of a USDA sticker. Leather pants, shirt partially unbuttoned, chest hairs protruding like a splotch of Brill-O. And two women are stroking his chest ... slowly ... sensuously ... erotically ... Um, would you three like some privacy? Maybe the Venetian's got a room.

"Nicolas Cage is one that people like to touch and get close to," Mayberry understates. "He tends to take quite a bit of damage." Too bad he's not here to enjoy it.

Facing each other, their backs arched in mock surprise, Elle MacPherson and Elton John form human parentheses. Eyeing each other as if Joan Rivers just dissed their designer duds, she is stunning in a midriff-baring beige number, but he, 'natch, is sporting the more outrageous ensemble: flame-orange suit and day-glo checkerboard tie. Elton's fashion sense notwithstanding, at least Elle is safer up on the Vegas Strip than in the Land Down Under:

Dateline -- Madame Tussaud's, Melbourne, Australia (Indian Express Newspapers): "After only three months in a Melbourne display, Madame Tussaud's has been forced to give supermodel Elle MacPherson a much needed holiday and wash because fans couldn't keep their hands off a wax replica of the Australian supermodel ... Since the exhibition opened, thousands have posed with Elle for souvenir pictures, rubbing off her skin coloring, scratching her arms and leaving a greasy residue from sweaty palms on her scant clothing."

Where's Jerry? No, not that Jerry -- the "Hey, Laaady" Jerry. This is Vegas, isn't it? Jerry Lewis lives here, doesn't he? He's a legend, no? He just signed a 2,000-year-or-whenever-he-drops/whichever-comes-first contract with the Orleans, right? Come on, just think of the possibilities: Plop him next to a female comedians exhibit. Of course, the only thing left of him the next day might be ear wax.

"We haven't done a sitting with Jerry Lewis," GM Foley says. "We're considering who we want to add in future years, and his name has popped up. He's very much Las Vegas."

Where's Bill Clinton? Sure, his mailbox is in Washington, but who embodies the spirit of Vegas more than The Prez?

Dateline -- Sydney, Australia (The Hightowner Lowdown): "Madame Tussaud's, eager to avoid a Clinton sex scandal, had to sew up the trouser zipper of the wax copy of the world leader on display ... 'The figures are very accessible and people tend to get up close to get their photograph taken,' said the exhibitor's general manager, Vicky Brown. 'We were finding that every time we went past Bill Clinton, the zipper was undone.' "

Luciano Pavarotti. White tie and tails. Tres elegant. Only he could be mistaken for Nathan Lane on a Twinkie binge ... Brad Pitt. Eyes glazed over. Peach-fuzz goatee. Accompanying photo looks like a mug shot after a 7-Eleven hold-up. This guy is sexy? Must be a female thing ... Eddie Murphy, in a brown velour suit. Looks like he belongs on the "Sgt. Pepper" album cover. How did he get Arsenio Hall's cheekbones? ... Jodie Foster: Even in wax, this chick's a lady ... Cybill Shepherd. Hey, Cyb, is that a wax WonderBra? ... Babs Streisand. Proudly pronounced cleavage. Famed honker at eagle profile. But Babsie, if the luckiest people are people who need people, why are you sitting by your lonesome?

Tussaud Trivia 101: Our late hostess, Madame Tussaud (1761-1850), was born Marie Grosholtz, in Strasbourg. Mentored by wax artist Philippe Curtius, she perfected her craft while making death masks of executed nobles during the French Revolution (whatever pays the bills). Today, celebrities need not submit to the guillotine, merely the glop.

"I put my hands in this bucket with this special mixture, the stuff dentists use to make molds of your teeth, a real rubbery, fast-drying compound," Burton remembers. "Once it dried, they said, 'Now we're going to try to get your hands out of the bucket.' I said, 'Whadday mean, TRY?' "

Ah, Sinatra! Wearin' that ring-a-ding hat on that cuckoo bandstand, baby. Uh, Frank, why do you resemble ... a cool Danny Kaye? (How about a little "The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true, do-bee, do-bee, do"?) And isn't it slightly surreal to have your own room from the Sands re-created in a museum in the Venetian that was built on the rubble of the Sands?

"We find that people think his costume is memorabilia, so his cufflinks disappear" Mayberry says, but notes that the Sinatra sizzle burns both ways. "They also leave souvenirs. The other day we found a box of matches from the Sands in his pocket." Awwwww.

Gerard Depardieu looks skinnier in wax. Follow that dietary logic and Calista Flockhart would amount to an incense candle ... Cher looks almost ... virginal? Where is that sexually rapacious glint, that eye of the tigress, that man-eater aura, that "Moonstruck" mojo? HEY, SNAP OUT OF IT! ... Meryl Streep? All narrowed eyes and woman-scorned smirk, as if she just heard that she lost a role to Jennifer Love Hewitt ... Schwarzenegger looks peeved. The slab-of-beef hands bulging from the tree-trunk arms are hooked angrily against his chiseled hips, as if he just saw the grosses for "End of Days" ... At first glance, Bob Hope looks like Bob Hope. At second glance he looks like Gerald Ford ... Michael Jackson. Flowing mane of shimmery black hair. Lips, eyes, nose, cheekbones, all made of wax. Insert your own joke.

"He has actually had more than one portrait made," Foley says of Wax Jax. We're not surprised.

Marilyn. Oh, Lordie. They've reproduced perfection: the hot-orange frock, the sleek black gloves, the luscious red lips, the come-hither gaze. the S-E-X oozing from every exquisitely curvaceous curve. Where's a subway grate and an upward breeze when you need one?

Pay no mind. Just taking a fantasy out for a stroll. And is that not the point of these artfully rendered sacks of wax?

The figures are fake. The fame is real.

They're gonna live forever.