Vintage photos show what happened in Vegas didn’t always stay in Vegas
It’s summer time, and while the living’s easy we know that some adventurous people will be testing the boundaries of their morals in the city of sin, Las Vegas. “Vegas” has been providing great times to irresponsible adults for decades now, and our collection of photos reveal that generations of sinners have been seeking the same down-trodden fun for the better part of a century. You’ll probably be booking your next trip to Vegas by the end, so proceed with caution!
The beautiful celebs
That’s actress and model, Brigitte Bardot, stepping off of a private plane in Las Vegas with her fiance, Gunther Sachs. Bardot was a French actress that sizzled on the silver screen in the 1950s and 1960s. This photograph was taken in July 1966, when the two arrived to get married in the wedding capital of the world.
Bardot was considered “the most desirable woman in the world,” and Sachs won her over by hiring a helicopter to dump hundreds of roses over her property in the south of France. The German playboy and French bombshell would divorce in 1969, as Sachs would have three marriages, and Bardot would have four.
Showgirls Golf Tournament
Don’t worry, folks, it was all for charity! When the Desert Inn built its golf course in 1952, they needed an event to get the word out. By 1953, the PGA held a major tournament at the golf course, which was also accompanied by the annual showgirls golf tournament.
Fourteen showgirls from seven resorts competed in the event, including Joy Skylar (left) and Florence Walters (right), who are using the pin as a putter. The Desert Inn Country Club would host three PGA tournaments every year, and feature some of the wealthiest people of all time, including billionaires Howard Hughes and Steve Wynn.
In the 1960s, Las Vegas looked very different from “the strip,” for the one known today didn’t arrive until 1989. But that didn’t mean there was any less vice or sin in “sin city.” These tables were dropped in the pool as a publicity stunt, giving patrons an opportunity to lose money while they’re swimming. What’s next, bathroom slot machines?
This photograph was taken in 1965 at the Sands Hotel, which was the spot for entertainment in Las Vegas. It’s where the Rat Pack called home and got their start (with backing from the mafia). Legendary mobsters, such as Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello, financed the building of the Sands back in 1947.
A piece of Elvis
On Dec. 2, 1975, Elvis’ better days were definitely behind him, but the karate kicking, hip-shaking heartthrob that was “the King” still made women swoon as his voice tugged at their heartstrings. The announcement that “Elvis has left the building” was about to follow, but before he could exit the stage, this woman rushed to get a kiss.
Elvis was in poor shape in 1975, but he loved his fans so much that he wasn’t going to quit anytime soon. Night after night, he always gave his all, often putting up with ridiculous requests from fans. This woman happens to be tugging at his scarf, which he handed out to lucky ladies during his shows.
Beautiful ladies are a Vegas staple
Las Vegas may have very much started out as a “cow town,” but it grew into something exotic and glamorous in a short time. That’s Jayne Mansfield posing back in the mid-1950s at the Dunes Hotel. She was one of the top female actresses of her day and is rated number five on IMDb’s Greatest Blonde Bombshells of all Time.
This photograph was taken around the time Mansfield was Playboy’s “Playmate of the Month (February 1955).” By that time, Vegas was so popular that it was receiving around 8-million tourists each year. When the mafia built Vegas in the early 1940s, they wanted a constant presence of celebrities.
Trying to best Evel Knievel is a bad idea
In November 1967, Evel Knievel attempted to jump over the water fountain in front of Caesars Palace. A sudden loss in power caused Knievel to short the landing, which resulted in him getting a crushed pelvis and femur, fractures to his hip, wrist, both ankles, and a concussion to boot.
On Sept. 15, 1980, stuntman Gary Wells attempted to do the same thing. He followed Knievel’s lead up to a “T,” drinking a whiskey beforehand and walking out with two showgirls. Wells got the distance but missed the landing ramp entirely. For his troubles, he suffered two broken legs, a cracked pelvis, and a ruptured aorta.
The World Series of Poker
The World Series of Poker hit the mainstream after Doyle Brunson won back-to-back titles in the mid-1970s. That’s him in 1977, when he raked in $340,000, which was big money for poker at the time. By comparison, consider that John Cynn, who was the 2018 winner, took home $8.8 million.
Doyle Brunson is considered the most influential person on the game of Poker, but he got kind of lucky with his pair of titles. Miraculously, he was dealt a 10 and two on the final hand both times, was underhanded after the flop both times, and both times he caught a runner full house.
Las Vegas, 1905 and 2008
The year 1905 is significant in Las Vegas history, because it’s when the railroad arrived, as before that it was just an abandoned Mormon settlement. Gambling was declared illegal in 1910, which led to gangsters running underground casinos. Then, in 1931, Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling, and the Italian mafia took notice.
Workers from the Hoover Dam flooded the city that same year, and vice was on the rise. “The Strip” began to take shape in 1941 when mafia money funded the first resort hotels. They were driven out by corporate conglomerates in the late 1980s, making way for the super-resort hotels seen today in Las Vegas.
The wedding capital of the world
What Vegas adventure would be complete without a wedding (or bachelor or bachelorette party for that matter). On May 1, 1967, in a small sweet inside the Aladdin Hotel, Elvis Presley married his longtime girlfriend, Priscilla. There were 14 people total in attendance.
Priscilla ended up hitting this photographer over the head with a cane when he got in the way. As for weddings, they’ve been a staple in Vegas since 1931 when laws made it extremely easy to get married. All one needs is another person, photo ID, and last time checked $77. So basically, anyone can get married in Vegas.
Sinatra has ’em crying
One of the first celebrities with mafia ties to embrace Las Vegas was singer and actor, Frank Sinatra. Here, he has everyone bedazzled by his spellbinding voice. He’s singing at the opening of Ziegfeld Falls in 1957, and one of the original performers of the Broadway show is sitting in the front row, barely able to contain herself.
Sinatra sang his first song on stage in Vegas back in 1941, and ten years later he was a staple in the city. Sinatra was the first in a long line of musicians (such as Liberace, Elvis, Tom Jones, and Brittany Spears) who were at the end of their careers when they arrived in Vegas, receiving a much-needed career boost.
Willie Nelson strung out
Las Vegas is home to a rich variety of singers, and one of the greatest to take the stage there is Willie Nelson. This photograph was taken of him in June 1980, showing him talking on the phone in his hotel room at Caesars Palace after a show.
This photograph was scrubbed pretty hard for paraphernalia, so give him the benefit of the doubt that that’s coca cola in his glass. But, what perhaps can’t be explained is why he has two phones. Nelson was a Vegas staple in the 1970s and 1980s, drawing some of the biggest crowds Caesars Palace ever saw.
Las Vegas has the best charity events in the world, and the fact that they got sister models and actresses Audrey and Judy Landers for one is all the proof you need. When anyone gets dubbed a sex symbol, such as the Landers sisters, Vegas will come knocking at their door.
This particular benefit is the tenth annual Vegas Magazine celebrity softball game, which benefited the Nevada Special Olympics in April 1982. Eight months later, the two sisters would grace the cover of another magazine, and this time it was Playboy. Further research has been conducted into this matter, and reportedly, it was a non-nude shoot.
Diamonds are Forever, and so is Las Vegas
Sean Connery said goodbye to acting as British super-spy James Bond after completing You Only Live Twice in 1967. Two years later the series nearly fell apart when someone else tried to play Bond, so Connery took the role back for Diamonds are Forever in 1971.
Was it because the majority of the film takes place in Las Vegas? We’ll never know (except that he was divorced less than two years later). He looks pretty dapper in his suit but would’ve hated it if someone shouted, “There’s James Bond!” as he grew tired of the role after wrapping this production.
Backstage at the Tropicana
These lovely ladies have their game faces on as they put the final touches on their makeup and costumes before a show at the Tropicana. This particular show was of special significance because it celebrated the centennial of “Folies Bergere,” which was an especially racy show that started in Paris.
Las Vegas had been running the show for nearly a decade when this one took place in 1969. Dancers often wore scanty outfits, if they even had any clothes on at all. Sadly, the Tropicana said goodbye to the show in 2009, but if it’s skin people desire to see in Las Vegas, all they have to do is look around.
The Rat Pack
It was actually actress Lauren Bacall who coined the name, the “Rat Pack,” and it wasn’t meant to be a compliment. The Rat Pack as we know them actually preferred “the Summit,” in reference to a meeting of world leaders. That’s why the show they played on the night this photo was taken was called “Summit at Sands” (Sands Casino).
It was Sinatra that brought the Rat Pack to Vegas, but “Summit at the Sands” almost didn’t happen. Sammy Davis, Jr. wasn’t allowed to stay in the hotel because he was black, but when Sinatra threatened to pull the plug on the show, they gave Davis a suite.
Rockin out to Blondie in Vegas
Debbie Harry might be what you’d call a “show stopper,” as Blondie lit up the Aladdin Theater on Aug. 9, 1979. Although this was by no means intentional, Debbie Harry makes the fourth Playboy playmate to grace this collection of vintage Vegas photos (well, maybe this occurred subconsciously).
For this sizzling show, attendees only had to pay $7 or $8, which will barely get you a beer in Vegas these days. Speaking of these days, Harry will turn 74 years old in July 2019, and still rocks out during shows in Las Vegas. She’ll be playing at the Pearl Theater in August, but this time it’ll cost you at least $90.
‘Up and Atom City’
Would you believe that during the rise of Las Vegas, the US government was detonating nuclear bombs less than 100 miles away? Imagine standing on the Vegas strip and witnessing a mushroom rise in the distance, because that actually happened. And it happened so often that Vegas became known as “Up and Atom City.”
It’s estimated that the US blew up over 100 bombs at the Nevada Test Site between 1951 to 1963. These unfortunate troops are apart of the 11th Airborne Division, and they’re witnessing the effects of operation “Buster Dog,” which took place on Nov. 1, 1951. This one was of particular importance, as it was the first time troops were used during the testing of an atomic weapon.
Back to the fun!
History 101 loves this photograph because, despite the fact that it’s in black and white, it could’ve been taken last week. The same joy has brought the same smiles, while beautiful ladies in swimwear have fun and make the guys gawk for decades in Vegas. So, would you believe this photograph was taken 60 years ago?
These three ladies are hanging out poolside at the Tropicana, and are indulging in some delicious looking iced beverages. We haven’t been able to verify if that’s Jayne Mansfield on the left, but given her popularity, it’s easy to assume someone has copied her style.
Downright fun in the sun
If someone invented the time machine tomorrow, would you not have them drop you right into this pool at the Sands Hotel? These three ladies are living life right, indulging in some slot machine fun while gleaming in the sun. That server in the background looks like she’s having a good time too, as going to work in a pool every day sounds pretty good.
Swim up gambling was a novelty when this photograph was taken in May 1965. It disappeared over the years, but there’s some evidence that it’s making a comeback. Next time you’re in Vegas, check out the swim-up Blackjack at the Fortuna pool at Caesars Palace.
MGM Fire of 1980
Not to bring the mood down, but Vegas’ history isn’t all fun and games. The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino fire of Nov. 21, 1980, took six minutes to engulf the entire building. It all started when the member of a tile crew noticed a flickering, and upon investigation, he realized it was a wall of flames.
Originating in the restaurant, a ball of fire swept through the casino floor at nearly 20 feet per second. A giant fireball then blew out the front door… When it was over, 85 people were dead. This version of the MGM was sold and is now Bally’s, and there are many claims that the dead still haunt it.
The old strip
The Riviera, Stardust, and Frontier Hotels were happening spots on the strip when this photograph was taken in in November 1975. The year 1975 was a special year for Nevada because that’s when casino revenues grossed over $1 billion for the first time. That seems like very little when you consider Las Vegas alone came just short of $12 billion in 2018.
These three hotels are still around today, but they’re antiques compared to the mega-hotels found in Vegas today. The 1973 construction of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (which caught fire in 1980) paved the way for the future. When Steve Wynn arrived on the Vegas strip in the late 1980s and opened the Mirage, Vegas got a serious facelift.
Jim Morrison arrested in Vegas
Las Vegas probably has the greatest collection of famous mugshots in the entire world. On Jan. 28, 1968, Jim Morrison was arrested (his fourth of six arrests) by Las Vegas police at the Pussycat a Go Go, which was a live Rock and Roll dance club and casino.
Morrison was evidently smoking a cigarette like a joint, and a bouncer stepped in to stop him. Morrison then threw him shade and was over the head with a club. The police arrived, and Morrison started taunting them and calling them names. He spent the night in jail and was charged with “public drunkenness.”
Viva Las Vegas
You probably recognize the man on the right as Elvis Presley, and the woman on the left is the lovely Ann Margaret. Margaret did pose for Playboy in 1963, but she was not a playmate and it was a non-nude shoot (again, this has been looked into, and her photos are, ‘cheeky’).
These two beautiful people are rehearsing for the duet they sang together in the 1964 classic, Viva Las Vegas. The eponymous title has since become the anthem of Las Vegas. Interestingly enough, the filmmaker later admitted the original version of the movie was about an Arabian, and the script was rewritten in 11 days to feature Las Vegas.
Smiling like a kid in a candy shop
It’s too bad the Sands Hotel isn’t around anymore (it closed in 1996), because some of the photos coming out of there were legendary. That’s Milton Berle in the center there rolling his eyes and laughing, while the showgirls of the Sands’ chorus line surround him and smile for this 1953 photograph.
“Uncle Berle,” as he was known, was considered America’s first television star and was in show business for 80 years. Aside from the fact that he’s surrounded by gorgeous women, Berle has reason to smile, as two years earlier he signed the first TV contract worth $1 million.
Look at the pit boss, just look at him
Outdoor table games don’t seem like such a bad idea, but a man with a suit jacket and shorts is as bad of an idea as playing with a toaster in a bathtub. This photograph was taken in 1955 at the Royal Nevada Hotel, which was one of the worst run hotels to ever grace the strip.
The Royal Nevada opened its doors in 1955 and was in financial peril from the start. An economic downturn exacerbated problems, and the hotel was closed in 1959 after being bought up by the Stardust. In the meantime, there were plenty of bad ideas floating around the Royal Nevada, evidenced by the photo above.
Neon sign graveyard
Just where do all those neon signs go from hotels, clubs, and restaurants of the past? If the ghosts of Vegas past had a place where they congregate it’d definitely be in the neon sign graveyard. The desert air is perfect for preserving neon signs, and this graveyard, pictured in 1977, has signs that date back to the 1930s.
In 1996, three different organizations decided to do something about the growing collection and created The Neon Museum. Nearly 100 years of neon signs tell the story of how Las Vegas grew up. The museum can only light 15 signs at a time however, as the nonprofit can’t afford to light the 800 signs in the “Boneyard.”
Fun in the sun, 1940s style
This photograph is special because this beautiful young lady is sunbathing at El Rancho Hotel in 1942. It was the first resort hotel to ever open in Las Vegas, and this photograph was taken about a year after it was built. Fremont Street used to be the mecca for Vegas, but the lonely resort on Highway 91 became the first of many to follow.
After El Rancho came Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky from New York, and the rest is history. As for the El Rancho — the OG Vegas resort hotel and casino — it closed in 1960 after a devastating fire destroyed the entire building. This time, however, no one was killed.
Today’s Las Vegas
Look at who’s on the table. It’s a movie star. It’s a stripper. No, it’s Paris Hilton. Yes indeed, that’s the “Star Princess” doing what she does best at the after party for the Tao Las Vegas Grand Opening at the Venetian back in 2005. Photos reveal that she had quite a night, as she also has quite a history in Vegas.
Partiers have made Vegas their haven for nearly a century as the adult playground of the United States. As for Hilton, in 2010 she was banned from two major resorts when she was arrested for cocaine possession. She claimed the handbag that held the substance wasn’t hers, but when the police looked at her Twitter account, they found she had tweeted about purchasing it days earlier.
Weddings of all shapes and sizes
When it comes to Las Vegas, partying, gambling, and fun aren’t all that comes with the package, as you’d be forgetting to add “weird.” A town that was created by the mafia and Howard Hughes is bound to have some nuances, but doggy wedding chapels has to take the cake.
This photograph is of JoJo and Missi, who are posing next to their wedding certificate on March 17, 1983. We can only hope that Saint Patrick’s Day left their owners so inebriated that they did it as a joke. You can’t get your dogs married in Vegas anymore, but you still can purchase “The Hound Dog Wedding” featuring an Elvis impersonator to officiate.