In John Ford's elegiac Western "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", the newsmen are gathered around listening to Rance Stoddard's (Jimmy Stewart) story. At the end of the story, one of the newspaper men replies "This is the West, sir. When fact becomes legend, print the legend."
Las Vegas is a young town, barely 100 years old and yet, plenty of legends have sprung up about the town and the people. Here's the truth about some of the more notable:
Tommy Hull and the El Rancho Vegas:
Myth: One hot summer day, hotelier Tommy Hull was driving down the old LA Highway towards Las Vegas when his car broke down. While waiting for a tow truck, he started to count the cars that drove by him. He began to envision a resort hotel and casino with a pool out front that would entrance the carloads of people as they drove along the highway.
Fact: Big Jim Cashman, Sr, businessman and town booster extraordinare, contacted Tommy Hull (who at that time owned the El Rancho Hotel franchise as well as the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel). Hull visited Las Vegas on a number of occasions. Late one evening, while having drinks with Big Jim on the porch of the Apache Hotel (now Binions), Hull agreed to build a hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, for the town, Hull finally decided to build his hotel along the route of the Highway. The El Rancho Vegas was built at the corner of what was then a dirt road (now Sahara Avenue) and the old LA Highway (now Las Vegas Blvd South) not in the boundary of Las Vegas but outside city limits in Clark County.
Myth: Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel founded/started/built Las Vegas.
Fact: Contrary to popular opinion, Benjamin Siegel did not do any of those things There was a community of families and businesses here long before Siegel thought of driving anywhere.
Siegel was not the first person to build a resort on the old LA Highway. The El Rancho Vegas (see the story above) had opened in 1940 and was doing brisk business when Siegel decided to build his resort hotel. The Frontier Hotel had opened during World War 2 and was doing a brisk business with not only it's hotel but the Last Frontier Village as well.
Siegel is not the modern father of Las Vegas. That moniker rightly belongs to businessman and civic booster, Maxwell Kelch. Kelch, who came to Las Vegas in 1939 and started K-ENO radio, knew that people were going to want to travel after WW2.
As president of the Chamber of Commerce, Kelch hired the J. Walter Thompson ad agency to promote Las Vegas as a tourist destination. Kelch started the Live Wire Fund which helped fund the Desert Sea News Bureau. When the Thompson contract expired a year later, the Desert Sea News Bureau became the Las Vegas News Bureau.
The purpose of the Las Vegas News Bureau "was to in any way, shape or form to get publicity for Las Vegas and we did it mostly through photos and captions and stories. (We) did anything we could to get the name Las Vegas in front of the public." (Don English, News Bureau photographer).
What was Siegel's contribution to Las Vegas? "There's no denying that Siegel had an impact. He brought the Hollywood crowd here." (Emmett Sullivan) The Flamingo Hotel was the first "carpet" joint on the Strip. It was the first hotel that catered to the sophisticated traveler. The El Rancho Vegas and the Frontier were themed along the lines of western movies: "The old west in modern splendor" (Sen. Richard Bryan).
Siegel made the idea of performing in Las Vegas appealing to the stars of the day and that helped promote Las Vegas as a tourist destination. The resort hotels that followed after the Flamingo were also more sophisticated in tastes and decor as the Strip began to distinquish itself from the more western tastes of downtown Las Vegas where western clothes and sawdust on the floor were more in style.
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