Las Vegas Sun

December 16, 2018

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Dancer was there on opening night


May 28 - 30, 2005

Carrie Adams Pollard was the captain of the Moulin Rouge showgirls, the city's first black chorus line, the night Las Vegas' first integrated resort opened 50 years ago -- a night she describes as dreamlike.

"It was like being in a fairy tale," said Pollard, who performed in shows in the 1950s and '60s.

"When you first hit that door you saw the mix of people having a good time. It was like living in a dream, the way you would think Las Vegas should be."

But the harsh reality of a segregated Las Vegas hit Pollard and the other dancers hard once they left the confines of that West Las Vegas haven.

"One of our girls got in trouble when she went to the Strip to have breakfast with (actor) Peter Lawford -- not at a hotel-casino, which of course was off limits to blacks, but a restaurant," Pollard recalled.

"They (restaurant owners) wouldn't dare say anything to Mr. Lawford about it, but they called the Moulin Rouge and said one of your girls was caught here and you better do something about it. They (Moulin Rouge management) threatened to fire her, but we refused to perform if they did and the matter was dropped."

After three months, Pollard left the show to return to her native New York.

"I cried when I heard the Moulin Rouge closed because I was so disappointed," she said. "The Moulin Rouge started me off on a career of singing and dancing in the best of places. I never played a crummy place during my show business career."

Pollard returned to Las Vegas in 1956 to perform in the Strip's first all-black production show, Larry Steele's "Smart Affairs" at the Dunes. She and her fellow performers stayed in boarding houses in West Las Vegas.

"That was segregation -- come in through the back door and don't go into the casino," she said.

Pollard left show business in 1969 and returned to school. She earned a masters degree in science and special education at Lehman College in the Bronx and worked 25 years for the state of New York, retiring as acting administrative unit chief at Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital. She has been a Las Vegas resident for eight years.

Pollard was married for 30 years to Ray Pollard, lead singer of The Wanderers rhythm and blues group, who died in January. She is a mother of three, as well as a grandmother and a great-grandmother.

Pollard is not optimistic the Moulin Rouge will be rebuilt.

"It has just been bad luck," she said. "Whenever someone starts to do something things just go wrong. The last time, it burned down.

"Besides, the neighborhood is not the same as it was in the 1950s. Then, the Moulin Rouge was by itself on the street. Now there are warehouses and industry all around it. It's just not a pretty place anymore."