Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

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France, longtime dancer, producer, dies

Penny France had a desire to be more than just a pretty face on a statuesque showgirl's body.

Trained in dance in her native England, she came to Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as a 5-foot-9-inch Les Bluebell Girl in the "Lido de Paris" show at the Stardust.

Before her dance career ended, France learned everything she could about every phase of show business, from lighting to selling tickets, and became a successful producer of small, intimate shows in Las Vegas and Laughlin.

Penny France Guercio, who won acclaim for her production of the shows "Saddle Tramps" at the Sahara, "Naughty Ladies Revue" at Arizona Charlies and "The Outlaw Women at Boomtown" (now Silverton), died Sunday of cancer. She was 61.

Services were held last week for the Las Vegas resident of 40 years.

"My wife ran the girls (through their numbers), she knew about the best costumes and the best designers -- she did it all," said Joe Guercio, longtime Las Vegas orchestra leader who was Elvis Presley's musical director at the International, which became the Las Vegas Hilton.

"She had a lot of dedication to her profession."

France's daughter Melanie Alley of Las Vegas said her mother also would want to be remembered as a person whose talents reached well beyond show business.

"She was intelligent and she accomplished a lot of what she did as a single mom, having divorced my dad when I was two," Alley said. "And she was a cancer survivor since 1993. She often spoke to women's groups and to other cancer patients."

Born Dec. 27, 1943, in London, France settled in Las Vegas in her early 20s, with her then-husband Gil Ross. In the early 1970s, the couple opened Carnaby Street English-style clothiers in Commerical Center near Sahara Avenue and Maryland Parkway.

In the 1980s, on her own, France opened Midnight Lace, a lingerie store in the Fashion Show mall.

But the lure of show business brought her back to that profession, where she worked with former Sahara Vice President of Entertainment Jack Eglash. France helped put together the Sahara Girls, who served as background dancers for several of the Sahara's headliners, including the late Johnny Carson.

Soon after, France opened "Saddle Tramps" in the Sahara lounge, but eventually moved it to Arizona Charlies, where she later opened the "Naughty Ladies Revue," one of her most successful productions.

"She signed on for an eight-week engagement and show ran nine years," Guercio said.

Late longtime Sun entertainment columnist Joe Delaney wrote after attending the 1996 opening of "The Outlaw Women of Boomtown": "France is nearly peerless as a producer of high-energy music and dance revues."

France married Guercio in 1998. She had been a friend of Guercio's late wife, Corrine. Although France officially was Mrs. Guercio, she used her familiar stage name of Penny France in production credits.

In 2000, France produced the musical revue "Diamonds and Pearls" at the River Palms in Laughlin.

In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Rebecca Allen of Reno; a brother, Laurence Dean of England; and two granddaughters.