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Jim Dunbar: Caesars Palace’s only employee from first day 50 years ago

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Erik Kabik / ErikKabik.com

Caesars Palace General Manager and VP Sean McBurney is flanked by Year One employees Benny Figgins, Jim Dunbar, Pamela Price and Pete George as the Summer of Caesars 50th anniversary celebration kicks off Friday, June 17, 2016, at Caesars Palace. Dunbar is the only Day One employee.

Click to enlarge photo

Four of the five employees who have been with Caesars Palace since 1966 attended Celine Dion’s resident show at the Colosseum and met Dion on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration. From left, Caesars Palace General Manager Sean McBurney, Pete George, Pamela Price, Dion, Jim Dunbar, Benny Figgins and Caesars Palace Regional President Gary Selesner.

Summer of Caesars 50th Anniversary

The Summer of Caesars 50th anniversary celebration kicks off Friday, June 17, 2016, at Caesars Palace. Launch slideshow »

50 Years of Caesars Palace

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace on Feb. 16, 1990, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Jim Dunbar is as famous as Julius Caesar. Jim who, you ask? Just as Caesars’ statue has been outside his Palace on the Strip the past 50 years, so has Jim.

He’s been right at the front door for five decades meeting and greeting hotel guests, and he’s helping Caesars Palace celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer. Jim is the only employee there from Day 1.

It was 50 years ago that hotel kingpin Jay Sarno walked then 28-year-old Jim from his midnight shift at Flamingo Las Vegas when he turned up for work across the Strip to the new Caesars.

“I remember it clearly as if it was yesterday,” he told me. “I showed up at midnight for my shift, and he walked me over. I never looked back. I never wanted to go back to the Flamingo that first night. This became the only place in Las Vegas for me.

“It’s always up to date. This hotel never rested on its laurels. They always improved things. Things always got better. The towers were always better, they were exciting, they instituted new restaurants, they brought in great chefs, and they built the Colosseum.

“It’s been the same job and duties all that time. I’ve been right there at the front door meeting and greeting people, taking care of them, parking their cars, helping them with their luggage, checking them in for 50 years. For me, it’s been the best job in the world — a really good job.

“I’ve never been bored. I never said, ‘Well, I don’t want to go to work.’ I always looked forward to going to work as I still do now. It enabled me to put my wife through college. I met my wife 34 years ago, and we got married in 1982 and honeymooned here at Caesars.

“I couldn’t think of a better place for a honeymoon. We were married in the Presbyterian Church over on Charleston. It was a big wedding, about 150 people. Nice, beautiful, and then we came right to Caesars for the reception and honeymoon.”

I asked Jim about the cars back in those days:

“They didn’t run as well as they do now,” he said. “When we opened in 1966, there were the ’66 Caddys, Lincolns and Chevys. They were pretty good cars really considering there was no I-15 back then. It was Interstate 91, and that was, in a lot of places, just a two-lane road going to California.

“I still clearly remember that opening night. There was royalty from Greece, but they hadn’t made a reservation. They hadn’t asked for accommodations until they got here. They were worried that they weren’t going to get a place to sleep that night.

“It was just a wonderful opening, and so many people were here, incredible, and somehow they found them a suite. Liberace was around, but Andy Williams opened our very first show. I parked Liberace’s Rolls many times. He had so many kinds of cars, just like Elvis.

“I love that they brought in Celine Dion — she is a super superstar. Just beyond nice, a wonderful lady. She always says hello to all the employees. Her husband was a real gentleman, a champ who really liked all of us. He was just wonderful.”

Jim, who will celebrate his 78th birthday Wednesday, added: “I don’t feel that old at all. Caesars has kept me young. I thought about retiring once four years ago, but I still enjoy working. If I went fishing, it would only last two days because I’d want to get back to work.

“I’ve made a good living, and that’s been wonderful. I always have a place to go to. When I wake up in the morning, I know at least five days a week, I’ll have a nice place to go where I can get lunch and make a few dollars.”

Jim is the only Day 1 employee still at Caesars, although Pamela Price, Pete George, Benny Figgins and John O’Connell have been faithful team members since the first year. They were all treated recently to a meet-and-greet VIP performance with Celine.

Last Friday, General Manager and Vice President Sean McBurney presented all five with commemorative pins, and they were joined by Caesar, Cleopatra and the Roman Court to officially kick off the Summer of Caesars celebration with a historic walking tour of the property that features photo exhibits of the resort’s half-century history.

Our thanks to Erik Kabik for his photo gallery.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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