Ron Onesti: Memories of Vegas, baby!

 
 
Posted6/15/2018 6:00 AM
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  • While managing Lena Prima, Ron Onesti saw his name in lights on the Las Vegas Strip, a trophy for guys in the entertainment business.

    While managing Lena Prima, Ron Onesti saw his name in lights on the Las Vegas Strip, a trophy for guys in the entertainment business. Courtesy of Onesti Entertainment Corp.

I was in Las Vegas recently putting on a huge corporate event, and I just can't believe what Sin City has turned into! I mean, it is incredible and fantastic and larger than life. I felt as if I were in a new Disney movie, "Ron in Wonderland!"

It was definitely overwhelming. But the excitement was prevalent; music, color and extravagance everywhere. "The City of Entertainment" is where I belong!

As I was walking "The Strip," I passed the familiar Flamingo sign, the barrage of lights, and feathers. It made me think of the films "Casino," with Robert DeNiro, and "Bugsy," with Warren Beatty. Films that focused on the early days of Las Vegas, when shows WERE shows.

With all the Cirque shows, magic shows, tribute acts and comedy shows, there just seemed to be that high-class, "ring-a-ding-ding" showbiz element missing. I'm talking about those swanky times those movies were set in. We have all seen that picture of the Rat Pack (Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop) as they walked as a "pack" down the Strip in front of the Sands Hotel and Casino. They were filming the original "Ocean's 11" at the time and it was taken around 6 a.m. after a night of Jack Daniels-filled cabaret-ing.

I have been coming here for so many years and watched Vegas history disappear right in front of my eyes. Those days of showrooms filled with tuxedoed crooners, $1.99 steak-and-egg breakfasts in time for the 5 a.m. show, and showgirls with gorgeous feathered headpieces larger than the girls themselves, are all but gone.

I have done many shows in Vegas. It has always been a great experience to be there in any capacity, but as a show producer, well, it's a trophy for me.

I used to manage the fabulous Beatles tribute act, American English. As history and tradition are very important to these types of guys who work hard to recapture the essence of the legendary entertainers they emulate, they had a dream. It was to play at the Sahara Hotel, where the only Las Vegas Beatles' shows ever happened. It was August of 1964, and the group was originally booked at the 700-person Conga Room in the Sahara. But when it came close to the day of the show, another show was added and they were moved to the Convention Center to accommodate the more than 8,000 fans who attended.

But the Beatles DID stay at the Sahara Hotel overnight.

So I worked hard to not only book American English at the Sahara, but also arranged for them to stay in the very rooms the Beatles stayed in. To say that it was surreal for all of us would be an understatement. They performed two shows and walked through the hotel the way John, Paul, George and Ringo did. There was a billboard on the Strip facing the hotel with their pictures on it. It was Vegas, baby!

And speaking of the Sahara, I had another career moment, courtesy of the legendary hotel. Another act I formerly managed was the great Louis Prima's daughter, Lena Prima. In 2002, the Sahara celebrated it's 50th anniversary. When I found out the hotel and casino opened with Louis Prima in 1952, I presented the hotel with an idea: why not bring in Louis' daughter Lena for a 50th anniversary party?

They loved the idea.

So she appeared in the Sahara's Casbah Lounge, where her father performed with Keely Smith 50 years ago to the day. It was an evening filled with songs and stories, many laughs and a few tears.

I wound up putting on shows there for another two years. It was incredible for me.

As I was leaving for the night after Lena's historic performance, I reflected on the evening. I thought it was just so amazing to in some way be a part of "Old Vegas." Then I looked over at the Sahara's grand marquee. It brought a tear to my eye.

It said, "Ron Onesti presents Lena Prima in Louis Prima: That's My Dad!" right there on Las Vegas Boulevard.

My name was in lights on the historic Las Vegas Strip! Talk about trophies. If you do what I do, to be on a huge sign in Vegas is truly a dream.

I turned and walked the Strip again. I was in a tux and walked where the Sands used to be. I looked to my left and looked to my right. Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter and Joey where right next to me. I "do-be-do-be-do'd" all the way to my hotel. There just isn't anything like "Old Vegas."

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email ron@oshows.com.

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