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While Jubilee's feathers are long gone, memories remain

AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta

Showgirls get ready backstage for the opening number of Jubilee Tuesday Dec. 4, 2001 in Las Vegas at Bally's Hotel and Casino. The long running show announced it is closing.

The feathers may be gone, but the memories remain.

Jubilee at Bally’s closed in February after 34 years. It was the longest-running show on the Strip. It also was the last of the showgirl shows. But Jubilee has a longer history than that, if you think about it.

Start with when it opened. It was in the Ziegfeld Theater at the MGM Grand. Not the MGM Grand at Tropicana and the Strip. Bally’s was originally the MGM Grand until Kirk Kerkorian sold it and the name changed. And Jubilee was supposed to open late in 1980. But that November, a fire killed more than 85 people and led to the hotel’s closure. In July 1981, after the hotel reopened, Jubilee made its debut.

Jubilee cost ten million dollars to stage. Legendary costume designer Bob Mackie put together what the showgirls wore. It included the sinking of the Titanic and a tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, among other set pieces, with a cast of 66, some wearing headdresses that weighed up to 35 pounds.

Fluff LeCoque was there from the beginning. She was Jubilee’s co-creator and associate producer. She managed the show until her health kept her from doing so; she died last December at age ninety-two. She had been a dancer in Las Vegas showrooms starting in 1947.

For many years, she worked for Donn Arden. He hired her to dance in a show he was producing. As a dancer, choreographer, and assistant, she continued his traditions. One involved twisting a foot to swing the pelvis. It’s known as the Arden Walk or the showgirl walk. He also insisted that showgirls should be tall—at least five feet eight—and know how to dance.

Arden had a lot of opportunities to impose his will. He started running shows in Las Vegas in 1950, meaning that an Arden show was on the Strip for 65 years. He first hired Fluff LeCoque for a show he brought to Las Vegas, the Lido de Paris at the Stardust, where it ran until the early 1990s.

Jubilee may have ended up being unique, but, historically, it wasn’t. The Lido was one of several production shows imported from France, or based on French revues. Not long after the Stardust opened in 1958 and enjoyed success with the Lido, J. Kell Houssels, Junior, of the Tropicana went to Paris to negotiate the migration of the Folies Bergere, which played at the Trop for nearly half a century. The Dunes soon followed with Frederic Apcar importing Casino de Paris, which ran for about 20 years.

All of these highlighted their dancers, but many of the showrooms on the old Las Vegas Strip had showgirls. For example, the Sands had the Copa Girls. And Jubilee was known for having some of its dancers topless, which went back to when Major Riddle brought Minsky’s to the Dunes in the late 1950s.

Today, Cirque du Soleil continues the tradition of the diverse showroom attraction—not just a comedian or a singer, but a variety of entertainment forms. In that way, it’s a much more high-tech version of what Las Vegas showrooms used to offer. Jubilee was the last reminder of that kind of spectacular from the old days.

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