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Sinatra: The Las Vegas Story, Part III

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Marilyn Monroe talks with Frank Sinatra at Cal Neva Resort
The Associated Press

In this photo taken in 1959, Marilyn Monroe talks with Frank Sinatra while an unidentified man looks on at the Cal Neva Resort in Crystal Bay.

Last time, we were talking about the Rat Pack and the Summit at the Sands. There would be repercussions that affected the life of Frank Sinatra, who was born a century ago, December 12.

In 1960, Sinatra was riding high, and Las Vegas was part of the ride. The Rat Pack had just wowed the entertainment world. He had met John Kennedy, liked him, and supported his presidential campaign. It didn’t hurt that another member of the Pack, Peter Lawford, was married to the former Patricia Kennedy; Sinatra called him the brother-in-lawford. But there were some rocky times ahead. As president, JFK was supposed to stay at Sinatra’s Palm Springs estate. But the president changed his mind after a controversy involving Sinatra. This upset Sinatra, who blamed Lawford for not smoothing the waters. Their friendship was at an end.

Sinatra had a lot of other things going for him, obviously. These included part-ownership of the Sands and of the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe. But in 1960, Nevada gaming regulators had created the Black Book—officially, the List of Excluded Persons. They especially targeted mobsters, including Chicago’s Sam Giancana. The rumor was that Sinatra was actually the front man for Giancana. Whatever the merit of that, in 1963, Sinatra hosted Giancana at the Cal-Neva.

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Well, that was a no-no, to put it mildly. For that offense, Sinatra could lose his license. State officials investigated. The media became aware of it. And Sinatra called Ed Olsen, the chairman of the Gaming Control Board. He accused Olsen of leaking the story and of being out to get him. Olsen denied both. Sinatra made a few additional comments. We won’t quote them; we like our FCC license, so we don’t use words like that. But in the end, Sinatra gave up his license.

Life at the Sands changed, too. Howard Hughes bought the hotel in 1967. Sinatra’s line of credit was cut. Sinatra got mad and wound up in a confrontation with Sands casino executive Carl Cohen. It ended with Cohen decking Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes went across to Caesars Palace, and never returned to the Sands.

Sinatra announced his retirement in 1971, but he came back. He continued to perform in Las Vegas for another two decades, first at Caesars, and later at the Golden Nugget; he signed with Steve Wynn to perform at his properties in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He kept performing, as time made his voice rougher and he needed some help remembering the words—and he remained an incredible draw. He didn’t live here, but he was part of the community. He did a concert with Dean Martin and Diana Ross to open the Thomas and Mack arena. He appeared on Jerry Lewis’s annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He received an honorary doctorate from UNLV. He and Las Vegas remained inseparable.

Indeed, they remain inseparable seventeen years after his death, and at his centennial. His name adorns a Las Vegas street. There’s a restaurant in the Encore with his name. When he died, the Las Vegas Strip dimmed its lights. As it should have. Entertainment columnist James Bacon ran with Frank in their younger days. He said that Sinatra embodied the glamour of Las Vegas. Indeed he did. He will always be the chairman of the Las Vegas board.

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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