Hailed as the "entertainment capital of the world," Las Vegas has dazzled audiences with legendary entertainers and shows even before the Rat Pack days.
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Entertainment has been a staple of Las Vegas since the opening of the El Rancho Hotel and Casino on Highway 91 in 1941. The steady opening of hotels that followed such as the Last Frontier (1942), Flamingo (1946), Thunderbird (1948), Desert Inn (1950), and Sands (1952), among others, provided an opportunity for hundreds of performers to ply their trade on the stages of these hotels in the new desert oasis. From individual headliners in casino showrooms to lounge acts to the fabulous production shows that made the showgirl a Las Vegas icon, entertainment on the Las Vegas Strip has taken many forms. The history of Las Vegas entertainment can be discovered in a variety of formats in Special Collections from photographs and manuscript collections to periodicals and promotional material.
Historical photographs provide visual documentation of individual entertainers on stage and in publicity shots around the hotel, as well as images of dancers and showgirls and the production shows that made them famous such as the Folies Bergere, Lido de Paris, Casino de Paris, Hallelujah Hollywood, etc. Researchers may find entertainment photos of interest listed in the following collection inventories: Dunes Hotel Photo Collection, Sands Hotel Photo Collection, Donn Arden Photo Collection, Minsky Photo Collection, Matt Gregory Photo Collection, Valda & Esper Esau Photo Collection, Breck Wall Photo Collection. Please note that a number of manuscript collections also include photographs that may not be listed individually. A large number of photographs have been digitized and can be found online in the Dino at the Sands digital collection or Showgirls digital collection.
Donn Knepp's Las Vegas: the Entertainment Capital is somewhat dated, but provides a comprehensive timeline of entertainment in Las Vegas from the 1930s-1980s.
Periodicals such as Fabulous Las Vegas, Magazine Las Vegas, Follow Me to Las Vegas provide detailed reviews, advertisements, and promotional information about Las Vegas entertainment in the 1950s-1960s. For more recent information about Las Vegas entertainment from the 1970s onward try Panorama, What's On, and Las Vegas Magazine and Showbiz Weekly among others.
The Las Vegas Show Programs Collection contains a variety of show programs and ephemera from production shows, lounge shows, and headliners dating from the 1950s-2000s.
Manuscript collections feature the publicity records of entertainment departments from hotels such as the Sands, Dunes, Thunderbird, Frontier, and Stardust, which provide insight into the business of entertainment on the Las Vegas Strip. Personal papers of noted Las Vegas show producers such as Donn Arden (Lido de Paris, Hallelujah Hollywood and Jubilee!), Jerry Jackson (Folies Bergere), Bill Moore (Playgirls on Ice and City Lites), and Matt Gregory (La Nouvelle Eve, Feminine Touch) provide insight into the rarified world of the production show with its feather and rhinestone-clad showgirls and fantastic stage technology. Included in these collections are hundreds of costume design sketches from Las Vegas production shows. Other collections of show costume designs can be found in the Las Vegas Show Costume Designs Collection and the Bill Campbell Collection. Individual dancers (Virginia James, Valda Esau, Rene de Haven) and choreographers such as Tom Hansen have also donated their personal photographs and papers to Special Collections. The history of burlesque can be found in the papers of agent Jess Mack and producer Harold Minksy and dancer Carmella Rickman.
Vertical and Biographical Files
Biographical and vertical files in Special Collections can also provide insight into entertainment and entertainers in Las Vegas. Of particular interest is a vertical file on Dancers. Vertical files can be browsed in the Special Collections Reading Room. After browsing the inventory for the Biography Files, request them at the reference desk in Special Collections.
Oral histories of showgirls and dancers, musicians, and other performers provide personal stories of individual careers in Las Vegas entertainment from the 1940s onward. Of particular interest are the oral histories of entertainers from the Arnold Shaw Collection.