May 16, 2014
May 20, 2014, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of a movie. Not just any movie, but one that has become iconic. The movie was Viva Las Vegas.
The director was George Sidney, a veteran of such great musicals as Anchor’s Aweigh, Kiss Me Kate, and Bye Bye Birdie. He had filmed some of his movies in Las Vegas. Later, he married Corinne Entratter, the widow of the boss of the Sands, Jack Entratter.
The stars of the movie were well connected to Las Vegas, too. In 1960, Ann-Margret had been appearing in the lounge at the Dunes. She came to the attention of George Burns, who included her in his show at the Sahara, and her career skyrocketed from there. She would headline in Las Vegas from the 1960s into the 1990s.
Then there was the lead actor in Viva Las Vegas who also sang its legendary title song. Yes, Elvis Presley. Remember that Elvis had performed only once in Las Vegas, in 1956 at the New Frontier Hotel. He hadn’t gone over well. He was only twenty-one. He was much younger than his audience, and his singing style was less popular with that age group. But Viva Las Vegas proved to be one of his biggest films and helped connect him with the area long before his incredible run at The International, later the Hilton.
[Read also: Tomatoes over Vegas! How did subsequent Las Vegas movies score on rottentomatoes.com? Find out more on Desert Companion.]
Las Vegas itself also was a star of the movie. It opens with a helicopter shot of downtown. Then the camera moves down the Strip to the Flamingo, where the first action takes place. Filming also was done at what was then the gym at the southern regional division of the University of Nevada. Today that building is the Marjorie Barrick Museum at UNLV. The Little Church of the West also appears in the film. The gun club at the Thunderbird Hotel shows up, and the film also spends some time at Lake Mead.
The plot has Elvis as a race car driver headed to Las Vegas for the city’s first annual grand prix. His character ends up with two goals. One is to make enough money to pay for a new engine for his car. The other is to win the love of the swimming instructor played by Ann-Margret. The auto race ends up providing moviegoers with a tour of southern Nevada, from downtown Las Vegas to Hoover Dam.
Viva Las Vegas did well at the box office. Not with the critics, who generally dismissed it as fluff. But many of them also agreed that Elvis and Ann-Margret had great chemistry, and that her performance made it an improvement over his other films—as Sidney said, it helped him to have a strong leading lady. That didn’t please Presley’s manager, Tom Parker, who kept trying to get her role and screen time reduced.
But Elvis got several hit songs out of the film, and one song in particular stood out then and stands out now. He sang Viva Las Vegas three times during the film and it remains a kind of unofficial anthem for a bright light city that still can set your soul on fire.
See discussion rules
|Jan 24, 2015 | 1964 Election, Part 2|
As politics go, winning one election doesn't necessarily mean an easy victory in the next one. The first Las Vegas resident to be elected to the Senate faced more challenges the second time around.
|Jan 16, 2015 | 1964 Election, Part 1|
By the looks of one election, Nevada's political climate in 1964 may have appeared somewhat contrary to what was going on in Washington where there was talk of "the Great Society." The election in Nevada reflected strains in the Democratic Party.
|Dec 6, 2014 | 1912 Election, Part 2|
About one-fifth of Nevada's population went to the polls in 1914. And they made some notable decisions. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.
|Nov 29, 2014 | 1914 Election, Part I|
Statewide elections in Nevada can certainly get interesting as was the case in 1914. A remarkable election when the results are really, really close. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.
|Nov 13, 2014 | Women's Suffrage in Nevada|
A century has gone by since 'women's suffrage became a reality in Nevada. The push to give women in Nevada the right to vote was not an easy endeavor. We take a look at how that change came about on Nevada Yesterdays.
|Oct 31, 2014 | One Hundred Fifty Years|
Was it 'silver' or politics that tipped the scales in favor of Nevada statehood, 150 years ago. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.
|Sep 5, 2014 | The Beatles|
It's been a half century since the Beatles had a 'hard day's night,' right here in Las Vegas. The real thing - John, Paul, George and Ringo - arrived on August 20, 1964. Their performance lasted for about 30-minutes as part of a show that included the Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon.
|Aug 22, 2014 | Civil Rights Act|
When the Civil Rights Act was passed a half century ago, not everyone within Nevada's political circles was onboard with it. The decision was not a simple one for some Nevada Senators.
|Aug 1, 2014 | Bob Bailey|
How much can one person accomplish? If you're like Bob Bailey, quite a bit. From show business to civil rights on the Strip, Here's Senator Richard Bryan with a look back at the life of Bob Bailey.
|Jul 11, 2014 | Remembering Bob Faiss|
Mixing law with the gaming industry seemed a natural fit for one Las Vegas attorney, who passed away recently. Here's a look back at the influence of attorney Bob Faiss on the gaming industry.
|May 16, 2014 | Viva Las Vegas|
"Viva Las Vegas" turns 50 in a few days. We'll hear how Las Vegas itself starred in the iconic movie, along side Elvis. Moviegoers got a taste of Southern Nevada and a song to go with it!
|May 9, 2014 | Sagebrush Rebels|
A rancher challenging federal authority over land rights in Nevada has been in the news recently, but it's not the first time the subject has been a hot topic. Remembering the "Sagebrush Rebellion" on Nevada Yesterdays.
|Apr 18, 2014 | Metro Battles Corruption and the Mob|
Efforts to drive organized crime out of Las Vegas, left one former Metro officer, Kent Clifford, with some controversies of his own.
|Mar 21, 2014 | Natalie Rittenhouse|
Family connections run deep for some pioneer families of Southern Nevada. Perhaps they aren't too well known these days. They should be. They are among the important pioneer families of southern Nevada.
|Mar 7, 2014 | Test Ban|
Strange as it may seem now, there was a time when detonating a nuclear bomb was healthy for Nevada's image.
|Feb 21, 2014 | Green Felt Jungle|
The pen is mightier than the roulette table? Some books over the years have tested that notion. Fifty years ago, a book about Las Vegas became a best-seller. But not everyone was happy with what the book had to say about the influence of organized crime on Las Vegas casinos.
|Jan 16, 2014 | Martin Luther King, Jr.|
Fifty years have gone by since Martin Luther King, Jr. made his way to Las Vegas, in a visit that had an impact. Local leaders had won the right to patronize once segregated casinos, but they hoped King would reinvigorate the local movement.
|Jan 3, 2014 | Treaty of Ruby Valley|
A treaty that was signed in the territory of Nevada 150 years ago is still raising questions. The Western Shoshone tribe has been offered tens of millions of dollars by the US government, but they say no thanks. In 1974, sisters Mary and Carrie Dann of Beowawe, became symbols of the tribes resistance.
|Dec 5, 2013 | Lon Simmons|
We take a look at how a legendary sports-broadcaster forged a path from Las Vegas to Candlestick Park. Switching from pitcher to broadcaster turned out to be a home run decision for Lon Simmons. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.
|Nov 20, 2013 | JFK and Las Vegas Connections|
Elements of John F. Kennedy's ties to Las Vegas have been mixed in with the
puzzle-pieces surrounding his death. Las Vegas and Nevada were part of the orbit of the Kennedys, their allies, and their enemies. Senator Richard Bryan connects the dots on Nevada Yesterdays.