Who drove 60 miles to shake my hand?
Who else but The Amazing Kreskin
Feb. 1, 2013
I know a lot of show biz guys who are imposing in person, majestic when
they sign a contract and magnitudinous when they win an Emmy – but only one
of these people sends me Admiral Fitzroy’s Storm Glass for Christmas.
Of course, it’s a wonderful gift. Tall, rounded, poised to tell you it’s snow
en route or a wicked band of ice crystals. Just a glance tells you exactly what’s
rumbling your way – even if this wonder was developed in the 19th century.
Now think a minute. Who else would send me the best Storm Glass made?
Who else would help me if my yacht got lost in the Sea of Japan, about two feet
from North Korea? Here’s a clue. This man can shuffle a deck of cards in less
than a minute, then pluck out your card in an instant. Think you know now? If
you yelled “It’s The Amazing Kreskin,” you’re a hundred percent correct.
Kreskin has been a part of my life for more than 45 years – including the day
in my office at the Sahara Las Vegas when my wife Robin strolled in about as
pregnant as you can get. Kreskin immediately leaped up.”What are you going to
call the boy, he asked?”
“He knows,” said my wife. Sure enough. Four months later, a boy.
Some time later he phoned us – just to talk.”Where are you?” my wife asked.
“Wait a second,” Kreskin said. “I’ll ask my Road Manager.” So what do you
expect? The man does close to 400 theaters and shows a year. In Atlantic City
one year, I called his home to say hello. He promptly drove from New Jersey to
Atlantic City, found me in the middle of the casino and shook my hand with such
gusto I almost flew out of the room.
I could continue with stories about this extraordinary man, revered by
all those who know him. But time and space run out. We cherish you, sir.
P.S. The Storm Glass came with a smart new key chain and Kreskin’s day
planner. I hid both. Did you think I’d just toss them on the table? Did you?
The casino security guard
who loved chasing cheats
Nov. 15, 2013
When I worked at Del Webb’s Sahara in Las Vegas, we had a team no one could match, much less overcome. One of my favorites was Eddie Warren, our Security Chief. The guy just loved to discover slot cheaters. He’d catch them, take them up to his office, and after some muffled conversation, boot them out the front door, screaming, “You’re gonna love it in Alcatraz.”
Remember the days when we called huge, beefy guys “husky?” Eddie was on the back side of that. I mean, his arms alone looked like cannons and his legs were the size of those electric poles along the highway. He swore a lot, probably because he was tail gunner on a Flying Fortress for 25 raids over Germany in World War II. The guy told me he was scared to death on every flight but never admitted it.
I’ve been told his Sahara office had indentations in its fiberboard walls – the kind the back of your head would make if some guy grabbed you by the face and shoved. Of course, I never saw anything like that. But I did see Eddie at work one night on the Sahara casino floor.
He had stalked a slot player for hours because the man played only dime machines. In the 60s and 70s few players went after dime games, and here was a guy hitting every one of ours and pocketing the winnings. Eddie couldn’t figure out how the player got dime machines to pay off, and he didn’t know where or how the man stashed his loot.
Here was a challenge Eddie couldn’t afford to lose, so he closed in on the cheater – who tottered off toward the front door. Now, Eddie was always the kind of cop I wanted to chase me if I stole anything. When furious, he weighed at least 300 pounds, frowned like a demented moose and was a very slow runner.
To my surprise, Eddie kept gaining on the player. He finally chased him out the front door, caught him, slammed him down on the cement and suggested the guy not move an inch. Then he stared down at his foe like an eagle sizing up a field mouse. The cheater was terrified, took off his boots and out poured dimes by the thousands. No wonder he couldn’t run away from Eddie – who turned to the crowd that had gathered.
Eddie held up the boots. “The jerk was wearing Tony Lamas,” he said. “Just my size.”
Is Las Vegas always like this? Sure, just forget the dime games.
Should a menu be funny?
It worked for the quiche
Oct. 15, 2013
Not long ago I saw a newspaper food section use a really different kind of headline. Instead of pitching the food, they went for the menu – and one of the best chefs in the country backed them. A little overblown, I thought, but cute.
I liked it because it took me back to the early 80s and a menu I wrote for my first casino client – Lady Luck in downtown Las Vegas. The casino had opened a new gourmet room but business wasn’t exactly sensational, so the General Manager asked for my advice.
“Tell you what,” I told him. “When people go out to eat in Las Vegas and pay the large bucks they want to love the works – food, design, lighting, smiling waiters, really good wine, a pleasant greeting and fun.”
“So we’re doing all those things wrong?” the GM asked.
“No,” I said. “You do them all very well. But the menu is terrible. Not the food – the writing.”
Okay, the GM said, write us a new one. The chef thought it was a fine idea, even when I started to ask for the food cost of every item on his menu. Turned out his quiche was lowest. So I wrote about 75 words on it. I said it was so good we had to keep it away from Californians, because they’d mob the place.
The chef loved that one. So did the General Manager.
I told the chef we had to warn the clientele with a little mystery. I wanted the waiters to pitch the quiche first when they came to every table. But after the pitch, I wanted them to get serious.
If the diners ordered the quiche they had to pledge never to tell anyone from California about it. The waiter would then tell them he had to have a pledge in writing before he delivered the quiche. Then I wrote the pledge in a kind of muddled lawyer lingo.
Bottom line: the quiche became a best-seller, the customers all wanted to keep the pledge they signed, and the chef turned into a believer. I wrote humorous stuff for a dozen more items. Prices on the menu all went up.
As the dancers flowed on stage,
effortless grace came with them
Sept. 1, 2013
I flew into Las Vegas a month ago. I worked there 10 years in the newspaper business and 20 more as Marketing Director for one of the Strip casinos. I recently wrote a book about it. I still know a few of the bosses. But it’s not my town anymore.
Sure, the city is packed with casinos, and the casinos are packed with slot machines. The food is as good as it was in the 60s. It just costs more now. Valets still park your car but a ten spot doesn’t work as well as it did in the 70s. Most of the big casinos advertise “fun” but some have no idea how to make it happen. It’s not my town anymore.
I liked it when most of the big joints on the Strip had a line of dancing girls. They opened the show every night and every dancer was a babe. In New York they think the Rockettes are the best ever because they can do the “Tiller.” But in the line at the Sahara the girls often danced on top of 3-foot-high wooden balls. And on most stages, gorgeous showgirls averaging six feet or more walked around and stunned every guy who had a seat. It’s not my town anymore.
Want to know what happened to my town? In the 70s almost every casino dropped their dancing girls. I mean, many of these girls grew up in Las Vegas. They could memorize an entire routine as fast as the choreographers could take them through it. I sent their pictures as individuals or pairs to every newspaper in the country two or three times a month. You saw the Most American Girls, as we named them, in every newspaper in the nation. But when times turned shaky they were among the first to go. Dancing is a form of artistic expression found in virtually every society. Our shoulders sway, our feet keep time and we clap our hands to the music even when we look like wipeouts on the dance floor. Most in the audiences had never seen such beautiful and coordinated movements. It was the kind of dancing that painted athletic grace and effortless perfection into the minds of male and female audiences alike.
Will such dancing come back to Las Vegas? If it does I’ll take my town back.
Verbs has to agree with the author,
so avoid them dangling participles
Jul. 31, 2013
I’m cleaning out my office cabinets and bookcases when an odd little piece of paper flutters right past me. The headline read, “Never Say Neverisms.” I like words, so I kept reading. I could tell the author was a word wonk because one of his first lines was, “Verbs has to agree with their subjects.” Beautifully put, don’t you think?
I kept reading, chuckled until my teeth hurt, fell out of my chair laughing and called the cops. Just kidding on that last one. You want to read some of this stuff? Be my guest. You might learn something.
- Avoid run-on sentences; they are hard to read.
- Don’t use no double negatives.
- Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
- Proof read carefully to see if you any words out.
- Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
- Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!!
- Avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
- Don’t start a sentence with a conjugation.
- Write all adverbial forms correct.
- Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
- It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
- Avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.
- Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
- Hyphenate between syllables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
- If you reread your work, you will find in rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
- If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
- Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
There’s more, but I feel like I’m stealing from the Unknown Author. You’re pretty good, whoever you are.
Britain wins the best word in 2013,
with the US just a hot dance away
Dec. 1, 2013
London (AFP) – Oxford Dictionaries has just announced “Selfie” as the 2013 word of the year, stunning judges and other well-dressed men and women. The 6-letter shocker, which has a battery of meanings, edged out the US Army.
News from Yahoo.com and ABC Online showed the British and Americans fought like NFL quarterbacks to gain second place. The finest work from the British was schmeat (synthetic meat). The US entered a verb (to twerk) which means hot dancing. My wife says, stop it right there.
Selfie, according to the Oxford Dictionary and the Daily Caller News Foundation people who attended the “Word Conference,” also beat shortlist words that included “Bedroom Tax,” “Binge-Watch,” “Bitcoin,” “Olinguito,” and “Showrooming.” I did not conjure-up this spectacle.
Once again, the US word “Copacetic” failed to make it. In all US drinking colleges it means “fine,” “excellent” and “able to be coped with.” It should roll in a handsome manner off the tongue of every man.
Some Americans, I’m told, entered words such as “copal,” which is a hard resin used in varnishes, “cowslip,” a British wildflower, and “crabbed” to illustrate “sour” and “surly,” usually in Britain.” Just kidding, gentlemen.
US judges fought to the end, and sure enough one had to be carried out of the stadium as 37,000 (mostly British) screaming soccer fans booed him fiercely. Judy Pearsall, editorial director for Oxford Dictionaries, said their language research collects about 150 million words of current English – a month. Please, Ma’am, see if you can get Copacetic in the contest next year.
Boss met guest about 5 years ago:
Could his memory click again?
Nov. 1, 2013
In the summer of 1965, I invited a Honolulu disc jockey named Hal Lewis to visit the Sahara Las Vegas – my roost as Marketing Director for 20 years. The man’s on-the-air name was J. Akuhead Pupule, which I think translated to “J. Fishhead Crazy.”
On the drive back from the airport I asked if he'd stayed with us before. Yes, he had. Said he had once spoken to Johnny Hughes, our casino manager. “Of course,” he added, “Johnny can’t remember everyone he meets.”
“Don't be too sure,” I said. In my mind, a diabolical plan had formed.
After I turned Hal over to the front desk and asked the manager to give him a suite, I sprinted over to see Hughes. Johnny wore thousand dollar Italian suits, stood as straight as a Marine and smiled a lot. And he never forgot a customer’s name.
I was breathing hard when I reached him. “Do you remember a Hawaiian DJ named Hal Lewis?” I asked. “Goes by J. Akuhead Pupule.”
Johnny looked at me warily. “No,” he said.
Well, I said, “I wrote some notes on this guy and he’ll be coming downstairs to play any second. When he grabs the dice he’ll be throwing black checks (slang for $100 bets) all over the table. Says he met you five years ago but you won’t remember him. He’ll be the only person in the casino wearing a Hawaiian shirt in the winter.”
Johnny smiled and said, “You got it.”
An hour later my phone rings. It's Hal Lewis and the guy can hardly talk. “I don’t believe it,” he shouts. “I’m in the casino and I hear somebody yell 'Hal! Hal Lewis from Hawaii.’ “It's Johnny Hughes. And he says ‘How's your wife, your two kids, your dog, your bird and your pet fish?’ He remembered everything about me. It's a miracle!”
When J. Akuhead went back to Hawaii he couldn't stop raving about Johnny Hughes. Our boss kept his string of memories intact and the Sahara got, oh, around $50,000 worth of free air time. A customer friend bet against me. Cost him $50.
Secret of press releases:
send ‘em a story instead
Oct. 1, 2013
Every now and then as I scan subject lines, I see some company trying to sell “The Secret” of a good press release. But I never open it and read the copy. Why? Because I’ve worked both sides of the street and I already know the secret – my secret. The one that works every time.
As sports editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for ten years, I saw plenty of press releases. And in the 20 years I worked for the Sahara Las Vegas as marketing director, I wrote plenty of them. My stuff for the Sahara always saw print. Editors would call to thank me and tell me they always looked forward to my pieces. Why? Most of the press releases that crossed their desks were filled with syrupy praise for the company, or the owner. Mine told stories. I wrote them like newspaper and magazine features.
For a story about the Sahara’s many cash gifts to charities, I told about the night Buddy Hackett, a big Sahara star, wrote a $3,000 personal check on the side of a grocery bag and handed it to a dazzled younker who represented a Nevada Indian group. “Hey,” said Buddy, “you can write a check on anything. Just tell them to call me if there’s any problem.” Of course, I worked the Sahara’s largesse into the piece.
On sports pages, archery stories win little space. But my story about Joan Adams, a gorgeous Sahara cocktail server who almost won the indoor archery title two months after she took up the sport, scored big. Naturally, I slipped in how the Sahara encouraged its employees to enter all sorts of events and helped them become stars.
When the Sahara held an outdoor rally for the Johnny Mann Singers, we accidentally released a thousand balloons into the McCarran Field flight path. They missed the incoming planes by miles but I never mentioned that. The story about balloons got Johnny terrific ink in the local and national newspapers.
Good stories always run. “Press releases” make most editors roll their eyes.
British newspaper rolls over US,
shows how good headlines can be
Aug. 15, 2013
Newspapers in the United States, some running “Death Pages,” apparently haven’t budged the British Daily Mail. For example, Denver has a good newspaper. But the inside front cover is heavy on shootings, drownings, and head-on auto wrecks. Headlines always let you know an SUV was to blame if one was within 500 yards. And most stories are no more than three inches long.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is yelling “Doctors had to remove my ears to fix my face, as told by a plastic-obsessed model.” I mean, the headline is huge, the model posed for a couple of shots, copy flowed all over the place and the stats show every young babe in Blighty read the piece. Okay, maybe it was just 75%.
Want to hear some more of the Daily Mail’s big stuff? No problem, Take a chair, and stay out of China.
“Ranting man in wheelchair ‘blows himself up’ in the arrivals hall at Beijing Airport.” If you’re headed for China regardless, try the train.
Here’s another Daily Mail roundhouse. “Terrifying moment as US Stuntmen save suicidal woman about to leap from the balcony.” The Stuntmen, says the Mail, were from “Kick-Ass 2,” the superhero movie. Personally, I wouldn’t pay a dime to see “Kick-Ass 2.” But I could have caught the jumping woman.
A couple more of my favorite Daily Mail headlines and I’m out of here.
“Gallery sparks fury by censoring image at the moment a woman gave birth.” And the closer: “British cyclist forced to field answers about doping as he is about to win the Tour de France.” P.S. The story says he punched a fan, too.
Japanese baseball fans grow furious
as the commissioner tweaks the ball
Jul. 15, 2013
Tony Blanco wasn’t trying to start a riot when he swung at a fastball fired at him by a Japanese pitcher for the Tokyo Swallows. The 32 year-old American playing for the Yokohama Baystars promptly slugged it over the left field wall for a home run. It was Tony’s 14th in April, the most ever hit in a month by Japanese players.
The Japanese baseball fans who kept close touch on their game turned furious. A little shuffling of the first half of the season, probably by a newspaper, revealed a 60 percent increase in home runs over the same period last year. “This year,” wrote one columnist, “the ball is really flying well.” Another said, “The sound is different. Maybe the ball has changed.”
It didn’t take long for Nippon Professional Baseball to pile on. “Nothing has been changed,” they shouted. Public broadcaster NHK reported hitters had “gotten used to” the standard ball that hit the market in 2011. In midweek, with balls still clearing the fences, NPB confessed it arranged with a well-known company to “tweak” the ball to make it fly. Tweak the ball? The doggone thing flew out of the park if a hitter snarled at it.
At one point, the Japanese offered a ball much like the US pros use. The hitters hated it. Yorniuri Michihiro Ogasawara, who hit 30 or more homers a season for six straight years, hit only 5 in 2011 – and none in 2012. The annoyed hitters shook their heads. The fans went to sleep.
The story doesn’t end here. The commissioner is still fighting to stay on top. The company he dealt with made a new ball. But more than 90 percent of the fans voted against the poor guy. Now for a tip. If you read the Wall Street Journal every day like I do, you’d know this stuff. (Thanks Moeko Figii, Stu Woo and Eleanor Warnock.)