Erik Kabik / ErikKabik.com
Thursday, May 12, 2016 | 8:36 p.m.
Until Wayne Newton reminded me after his Bally’s show Wednesday night marking his return to the Las Vegas stage after a four-year absence, I’d forgotten our conversation last December when we both took part in the Opportunity Village Great Santa Run.
I’d told him that he should do a “living room” show and tell all the stories we’d never heard before from his 50-plus-year treasure trove career. “Robin, this is the show you told me to do, and I’m doing it. I love being a storyteller,” he said.
“Mr. Las Vegas” sure didn’t disappoint. Wayne revealed that it had taken three years from when he recorded the hit “Danke Schoen” to get his first royalty check after being paid $500 for the recording session.
He ’fessed up to guest moderator country music star Neal McCoy that he’s made 37,000 phone calls to relatives of servicemen and servicewomen fighting overseas when he returned here after his USO tours to Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and Vietnam.
They included one marriage proposal where the woman on the other end of the line berated the star singer that her boyfriend away in Asia was not doing the actual proposal after 30 years.
Wayne also told the incredible stories of “rescues” with Bobby Darin and Jack Benny. Bobby had gotten himself blacklisted from playing Las Vegas casinos because of a rampage he went on after the assassination of his friend, then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Wayne called the CEO of Howard Hughes Corp. to ask a favor and succeeded in getting Bobby work.
Jack invited Wayne to be his supporting act in the big showroom at Harrah’s on Lake Tahoe, but Wayne said hotel management would only let him work in the lounge. Jack said if he couldn’t get him into the main showroom, then the hotel couldn’t have him, either. Wayne urged him not to request the favor, but Jack ignored him and succeeded in getting Wayne to open for him in the main room.
It was a delightful trip down memory lane punctuated with videos of a young Mr. Las Vegas growing up before our eyes downtown where he worked five shows a night five nights a week until 2 a.m. for $500 a week. Wayne has a magical and debonair Saville Row charm to him that still captivates and has the ladies begging to be kissed.
His voice because of bouts with bronchial asthma over the years might not be as strong as it used to be, but he knows how to manage it to still belt out the hits, including his “Viva Las Vegas” arrival walking through the audience and a remarkable sing-along with Sammy Davis Jr. via video.
Wayne and the audience could have gone on for another 90 minutes easily over the allotted time if “Fifty Shades! The Parody” with Maren Wade, who was in the audience, didn’t have its curtain up after Wayne. It was fascinating storytelling, and Neal gets credit for being a perfect host.
There was video of when Wayne appeared on a show with host Dean Martin. Wayne confirmed that the singer did drink and smoke while working in front of the cameras and didn’t show up for rehearsals, preferring to use cue cards scattered all around the back of the studio to sing the correct words.
Wayne showed why he’s been the perfect ambassador for Las Vegas all these years. The video of him back in the days with Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball is precious and priceless. Wayne, who can play 13 instruments, showed his skills on everything from a guitar to a ukulele backed by his four-piece onstage band.
It’s definitely a new side to Wayne, and his stories score a bull’s-eye. The audience sings along with his hits and altogether makes it a highly enjoyable evening. This was Classic Vegas and showed Wayne’s amazing appeal through the ages. I’m glad he took my suggestion and turned it into such a positive idea.
It’s incredible to think that at 74, Wayne is still going strong like the Energizer Bunny. He learned how to play piano and guitar when he was 6 and by 9 was signed by a Las Vegas booking agent to move from Phoenix, where he lived to fight severe asthma, to play on Fremont Street.
Our thanks to Erik Kabik for his photo gallery of the grand opening night of “Up Close and Personal.” It’s a remarkable story, and I’m really glad that the man aka “The Midnight Idol” is still telling it. It’s a vital piece of Las Vegas history we must always celebrate and preserve.
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.