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Remembering Legendary Las Vegas Journalist Ned Day, Part I

In April, Ned Day would have been 70. It’s hard to believe that more than 27 years have passed since he died. Many of you who have moved to Las Vegas since he died have heard his name. He was indeed a legend in his time, and for all time.

Ned was born in Milwaukee. His father, Ned Senior, was a famous, successful professional bowler. But he was involved in a national racetrack gambling ring and possibly with the Milwaukee mob. He ended up dying too young. The younger Ned went to school at a military academy, studied at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and got into journalism. He also recalled doing some work for the Milwaukee mob, controlled by Frank “Fancy Pants” Balistreri, who had Las Vegas connections.

Those connections didn’t bring Ned Day to Las Vegas, but they played a role in what he did here. He had gotten to know Mike Maxicoolie, a Milwaukee club owner. Maxicoolie came to Las Vegas. Ned was working as a reporter in the Milwaukee area and Maxicoolie urged him to move here. In 1976, he did, looking for a reporting job and adventure.

Ned found both. He went to work at The Valley Times, which had been a North Las Vegas paper. Bob Brown bought it from Adam Yacenda in 1973 and soon converted it to a daily, hoping to compete with the older, more established Las Vegas Sun and the Review-Journal. Brown and his editors wanted their reporters to dig into political and gaming stories that hadn’t been getting coverage. Ned gave them coverage, on his own and with help from other reporters and editors there. He worked long hours as a reporter and columnist. A lot of what we know about the mob in Las Vegas the late 1970s, he uncovered or reported on … the skimming at the Tropicana … mob involvement in hotel-casinos like the Aladdin and the Dunes … and the cast of characters on whom the movie Casino was based: Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who ran the Stardust and Fremont, and Tony Spilotro, who was involved in the streets and various other activities. Day especially went after Spilotro, referring to him as a fireplug who walked like a man. In turn, somebody blew up Ned’s car. Ned was fine but his golf clubs were damaged, and his published response was that his assailants didn’t seem to understand that the real danger was his typewriter.

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He could use that typewriter in a variety of ways. He could be rough and critical of everyone from entertainers he disliked to, ahem, governors he disagreed with. He could be sentimental in his way, but mainly about people he saw as better than himself—the average folks, making a living out of the limelight or even at its edges. He could be funny … Maxicoolie was the inspiration for his item columns about a variety of local happenings, with the information coming from someone he called “Mickey the Mope.”

In 1981, he moved from The Valley Times to being a columnist for the Review-Journal. But there would be more to his story, and we’ll talk about it next time.

Nevada Yesterdays is written by Associate Professor Michael Green of UNLV, and narrated by former Senator Richard Bryan. Supported by Nevada Humanities

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