Friday, Jan. 28, 2005 | 8:43 a.m.
This week Jack Eglash reflected on talk show host Johnny Carson, who died Sunday of emphysema.
"It started off as a business relationship, but then we became friends," said the 74-year-old Eglash, reached by telephone at his home in Everett, Wash., 25 miles north of Seattle.
Eglash also suffers from emphysema -- and is receiving chemotherapy for colon cancer.
"It's tough trying to breathe while taking the chemo," he said. "This thing has taken its toll. I have no energy."
Eglash's career roots run deep in Las Vegas, where he arrived in 1950 as a 19-year-old musician and quickly rose through the ranks to become a conductor and, eventually, vice president of entertainment for the Sahara, which at the time was owned by Del Webb Corp.
"I hired (Carson) initially," Eglash recalled. "I was lucky enough to grab him."
Carson headlined at the Sahara, off and on, from 1964 until 1980.
"He would come up and work weekends," Eglash said. "We sent a plane to pick him up in Burbank -- he finished taping his show at 5 p.m. on Friday, the plane would pick him up after the show and bring him to Vegas and he would perform one show on Friday, one on Saturday and two on Sunday, and then we would fly him back."
When the corporation fired Eglash from his executive position in 1982, a cost-saving move, Carson reacted by firing off a telegram saying he would never again work at the hotel.
"It didn't bother me as much as it bothered him," said Eglash, who continued to be the Sahara's conductor.
After his friend of almost two decades had been fired (and after he failed in a bid to buy the Aladdin), Carson shunned Vegas, though he did a show at a corporate event in 1984 at the New Frontier.
Eglash moved to Washington six years ago. He had never been to Everett before he moved there. Never heard of the place.
"It was a fluke," he said. "My kid was job hunting. My wife and I were looking to get out of Vegas. She came up here with our daughter and they never came back, so I sold the house down there and came up here."
He loves his new home, away from the bright lights of Las Vegas.
"The weather is gorgeous," Eglash said. "I finally get to see the stars at night. There is no smog up here."
His last performance in Vegas was in 2000 at the Orleans, conducting a 30-piece orchestra for his close friend Jerry Lewis (Eglash worked on Lewis' Labor Day telethons as a conductor for more than 30 years).
Eglash can't recall the last time he saw Carson. It had been several years.
"We drifted apart," Eglash said. "We lived in two different worlds. I never even met his current wife, but I knew all three of his other ones."
Eglash said Carson called him four or five years ago.
"He wanted me to come over and play poker," he said. "But I couldn't make it. I was busy, and I was in a different state."
Eglash was shocked to hear of Carson's death.
"I had no idea he was that sick," he said. "I was absolutely shocked."
Carson has been described as cool and aloof, standoffish.
But to Eglash, "He was a very warm person."
After Carson began performing at the Sahara he and Eglash became close friends.
"It took a while for him to trust people, any person," Eglash said. "He was insecure with people, but once he found out about you and learned to trust you, he was a friend for life."
Eglash traveled with Carson for seven years as his musical conductor, performing at venues around the country when Carson took time off from his TV show.
"Phyllis McGuire and Doc Severinsen would open his show and I would conduct," Eglash recalled. "There would be a half-hour intermission and then Johnny would come out for an hour or an hour and a half."
When they traveled, Carson stayed in private homes.
"He didn't like hotels too much," Eglash said. "He had a couple of people who found houses for celebrities -- they would find out what their requirements were and then find a house to rent.
"Johnny wanted three or four bedrooms, a tennis court and a swimming pool. The couple would fill the house with everything he, and whoever was staying with him, wanted."
Eglash said four or five of the touring entourage usually stayed in the homes.
"It would be Johnny, me, maybe his attorney Henry Bushkin, Phyllis McGuire and her manager at the time, Stan Irwin," Eglash recalled. "But it usually ended up with just Johnny and I -- Henry had an allergy, Stan was always at the theater."
He and Carson conversed for hours.
"He was very pleasant," Eglash said. "And a very smart, very sharp guy -- not just about comedy, but about a lot of subjects. He had an amazing memory.
"I had some wonderful times with the guy. I can't find any fault with him at all."
He said Carson was not in awe of many people, except for the legendary drummer Buddy Rich, who performed on Carson's show several times before he died in 1987.
"He was in awe of Buddy Rich," Eglash said. "It was the funniest thing in the world -- Johnny loved to play the drums. He would have traded places with Buddy, and Buddy would have been glad to trade places with Johnny."
Eglash has been watching the news about Carson's death.
"The thing that irritates you," he said, "is that a lot of stars are being interviewed who had no relationship with him. He could have cared less about them -- but I guess they're thinking they're going to renew their careers."
Vital, a former performer with Cirque du Soleil, pronounces his name "vee-tahl."
Fans who once saw him on bungee cords in "Mystere" can see him from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday with paint brushes and canvas at the Art de Vignettes gallery inside Fashion Show mall. He will be painting and greeting art enthusiasts.
Some of Vital's work is on display at the gallery and is available for sale.
"My art is eclectic," said Vital, who was born in Belgium and grew up there and in London. "My multicultural background reflects in my work. I don't like to be classified as any one thing."
His favorite artists are Picasso and Salvador Dali.
"I like the combination," the 40-year-old Vital said.
Once upon a time the former acrobat was a rising young star in the stable of Cirque du Soleil performers, an acrobat who for five years was a part of the cast of "Mystere" in Las Vegas and of the road show "Quidam."
And then in 1998 he broke his right leg and ankle.
"It happened in 'Quidam,' just before I was to go on," Vital, a Vegas resident since 1993, recalled. "We were in Washington, D.C. I was warming up, doing some flips -- I was training to be a principal character -- I did a flip with a twist."
And then he was rushed by ambulance to a hospital.
It wasn't his first injury -- he once broke his left ankle on a trampoline while performing in "Mystere" -- but it was his most serious.
"As an athlete you know your body very well," Vital said. "The first time, when I broke my left ankle, I thought I would be back in a couple of weeks. I was out for three.
"This one I knew was serious. I was taken to to the hospital immediately, and in the ambulance I began to evaluate what is next.
"I panicked. I was confused. You don't really know what to do. You're not prepared for the next step. I accelerated my analysis of 'What am I going to do, where am I going to do it?' -- I hadn't prepared for premature retirement."
He had, only he didn't realize it during the ambulance ride.
"As a child I always appreciated all of the arts, all different forms," he said. "I had been quite a good art student, but I never pursued it seriously."
When it was confirmed his was a career-ending injury, Vital turned to visual art instead of performing art for his livelihood.
"I always painted as a hobby," Vital said. "I took art classes at UNLV, but I had no intention of pursuing painting professionally -- but it is a challenge to myself to do the best I can at whatever I do."
He said deciding to become a professional artist took some time.
"The first year after the injury was a year of emptiness," he said. "I was drifting. I had no motivation, no inspiration.
"But then I turned the negative into the positive and I threw all of my passion and expression into painting."
Passion and expression have driven him his entire life.
"I left Belgium to go to New York, to become a dancer in the theater," he said. "I had not heard of Cirque du Soleil."
At the time Vital was making the audition rounds in 1993, Cirque was looking for performers for "Mystere" in Las Vegas. He tried out and was selected.
He liked the idea that they were looking for performers who were passionate and could express themselves.
"I like to believe I have a free spirit," Vital said. "My mission in life is to express my passion, my emotions. As a performer you are expressing it through movement; as an actor through words; and as painter through paint."
Becoming a professional painter took some time, but now he is gaining national and international recognition.
"It was a slow process," Vital said. "The first person to buy one of my paintings was one of the performers in 'Mystere.' "
He admits to missing performing.
"I miss the athleticism," Vital said. "But I am still in very good shape. It was such a huge part of my life -- I automatically need to be as physical as I can be.
"And I still have a hand in performing arts. I choreograph shows for corporate events, so my five years with Cirque didn't go to waste."
As if by magic
After eight years as the afternoon headliner at the Tropicana, magician Rick Thomas will be premiering at the Stardust on March 25.
His shows will be at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
During an earlier interview with the Sun, when rumors about the move first surfaced, Thomas said his relationship with the Tropicana had been "awesome."
Amid discussion of his future, Thomas expressed gratitude toward the Tropicana.
"My allegiance to the Tropicana is unquestionable," he said.
But, with the Tropicana said to begin some major renovations, Thomas needed new digs.
He will have them in the 900-seat Wayne Newton Theater, space he will share with "Havana Night Club -- The Show" and a host of headliners, including Newton, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Don Rickles, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Joan Rivers, Chicago, George Carlin, Ann-Margret, B.B. King and Bill Engvall.
"We're tremendously excited about adding Rick to our family of superstars," Anthony Taeubel, vice president and general manager of the Stardust, said in a prepared statement. "He's established himself as the most popular daytime star in Las Vegas history. When Rick joins us, the amount of top-quality entertainment we'll be presenting will rival that of any resort in the world."
Ringside for Manilow
Premium ringside seats are available for Barry Manilow's show, "Music and Passion," premiering at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Las Vegas Hilton Theater.
The seats, about as close as you can get to Manilow without sitting at the piano with him, are $225, compared to $145 for main orchestra seats, $115 for rear orchestra and $85 balcony.
There are 60 premium seats available.
"These special seats will offer an unforgettable up-close-and-personal experience to fans of Barry Manilow," Ira David Sternberg, Hilton's vice president of communications, said. "There are some surprises planned for the area where these seats are located."
Manilow begins a 24-week engagement at the Hilton, with five shows per week spread throughout 2005 and into 2006.
The Imperial Palace has signed an agreement with On-Q Productions, which will be producing Sunday's celebrity karaoke contest (to be held in the showroom) as a five-week television program to be featured on the soon-to-be launched Vegas Network.
On-Q is best known for its work on Party Tyme Karaoke, a program featured on the E! Entertainment network.
The Imperial Palace contest will be a Saturday night program for the Vegas Network when it launches later this month. The contest is free and open to the public.
Plans for Le Bistro Theatre at the Riviera are beginning to unfold. For the past three years the 200-seat former lounge has been leased to Marlene Ricci, who sublet the space to a variety of entertainers in various four-wall arrangements.
The last shows will be this weekend, and then the room becomes an "ultra-mini-lounge," with "bevertainer" hosts and music provided by DJs. Admission is $20. A booth is $100. The room will open at 10 nightly.
Vegas has a closer connection with the film "The Aviator" than just the subject of the story -- Howard Hughes -- says Jack Wishna, the local wheeler-dealer who put Donald Trump and New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin together for the Trump International Hotel project.
Sandy Climan, one of four producers of the film (which has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture), has bought two super-luxury condos in the future Trump tower.
Wishna said Climan will live in one condo (part-time) and have the other as an investment.
The four stars of "Forever Plaid," now at the Gold Coast, were among those who performed Sunday at the annual Nevada Ballet Theatre's Black & White Ball, which this year honored Ann-Margret as its Woman of the Year.
Others who performed for the event, held at the Palace Ballroom at Caesars Palace, included Robert Goulet, Frankie Randall and Bill Acosta, backed by the Vincent Falcone Orchestra.
"Forever Plaid's" stars sang "Crazy 'bout Ya Baby."
Past honorees at the annual fundraiser for NBT have included Debbie Reynolds, Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, and, in 2004, Celine Dion.