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Silver Slipper, Part 1

Silver Slipper
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Library, Special Collections

Howard Hughes bought it fifty years ago. It closed thirty years ago. Let’s look back at the Silver Slipper.

It opened in 1950 in Last Frontier Village, a theme park—really—behind the Hotel Last Frontier. It had nine hundred tons of western memorabilia, mainly from the collection of Doby Doc Caudill, who had, shall we say, ACQUIRED the material while living in the Elko area. He shipped nearly twenty-eight hundred boxes to Las Vegas, including trains, a drug store, a schoolhouse, a jail, and the printing plant of the legendary newspaper of Austin, Nevada, the Reese River Reveille. By the entry to Last Frontier Village was a small casino and bingo hall, the Golden Slipper.

Yes, Golden. There are a few of versions of what happened. The likely one is that Last Frontier boss William Moore got a phone call from Art Ham, the longtime local attorney. He owned part of the downtown Golden Nugget and thought the name and the design of the Golden Slipper were too close for comfort. So, Moore bought the Silver Slipper name from a Boulder Highway bar, and that was that.

By 1952, the bingo parlor had a new operator: Michael Wynn. But he was only in town a few weeks before returning east. He had brought his ten-year-old Steve with him. Steve Wynn would return.

The Silver Slipper soon became separate from the Last Frontier and, for much of its life, the Slipper was known for things other than its connection to the rise of modern Las Vegas. For its time, it had a large casino and convention space. Its entertainment featured everything from melodrama to, for most of its run, burlesque. For well over a decade, its main star was Hank Henry, who spent many years in burlesque. He appeared in a number of movies and television shows, including with the Rat Pack. Frank Sinatra and his friends sometimes came to the Silver Slipper’s late night show and joined in the fun.

For a few years, Henry’s straight man or co-star was Bill Willard. After pursuing art and journalism, he moved to Las Vegas in 1949 and, yes, did more of the same as a columnist, theatrical producer and performer, public relations man, artist, and director of UNLV’s Arnold Shaw Popular Music Research Center. Another performer in the Slipper’s shows was Sparky Kaye, who, like Henry, came out of vaudeville and burlesque. There were other headliners like Sally Rand of fan dance fame and boxer-turned-entertainer Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom. There also was a husband-and-wife team, Toni and Harry Wham, and that last name may ring some bells. The Whams had operated a place near Big Bear Lake and Harry later owned the Keyboard Lounge in Las Vegas before a sensational murder case: his fourth wife, Peggy, hired a hit man to kill him.

The Silver Slipper had troubles of its own. In 1964, state gaming officials raided the casino and shut it down. The charge was using flat or shaved dice, which meant the winning roll of six and one came up less often. As United Press International reported, “Although the alleged cheating took place on one of two dice tables, 105 slot machines, a roulette wheel, five blackjack games, and a wheel of fortune were also shut down by order of the state gaming control board.” For a few months, the neon slipper designed by Jack Larsen of YESCO would turn no more. But big changes were coming. More on that next time