December 09, 2017

Photo Essay: A Bit of Hollywood in Vegas

I've quit gambling. I'm a stupid gambler, and I lose too much money too quickly.

So why go to Vegas, then?

To me, there's so much more to Vegas than the roulette wheel and poker tables and slot machines. I love the bling-bling of a big win (even though it was much better when you got to collect a bucketful of actual coins), but typically I try to make a beeline through any given casino floor to get to the other stuff in Vegas that I can safely (and more affordably) occupy myself with.

My Vegas visits are frequently offbeat even by Vegas standards—hiking the red rocks, for example—but this time I wanted to see just how Vegasy I could make my trip, without gambling, and still have fun.

And that meant I had to chase down the ghost of Liberace.

I missed my chance to visit the Liberace Museum when it was open, but back then I wasn't very interested in "Mr. Showmanship" (not to be confused with "Mr. Las Vegas," Wayne Newton).

And now, just a small collection of some of his possessions—costumes, a rhinestone Baldwin grand piano, and a fleet of cars—are on display at "Liberace's Garage" at the Hollywood Cars Museum, right off the Strip.

But you do get to see how the flamboyant piano man rolled—specifically in cars like the shocking pink "VolksRolls" VW Bug that kept him rolling in style despite the 1970s energy crisis.

That was just to stand in for his preferred model—which was a real Rolls Royce, of which he had several, including a "Bicentennial" edition, a 1952 Rolls Royce model that he got special permission to paint in stars and stripes for his patriotic-themed show in 1976.

But perhaps the only thing he loved more than Rolls Royces were rhinestones—and to match his glittering custom Baldwin piano and his "Ice Blue" costume, he adorned a Roadster with thousands of them in 1986.

As much as "The Glitter Man" lived in a disco ball world, many of those cars were just for his live concerts and TV appearances. The car he actually drove himself was a gold-flecked, custom Bradley GT sports car with sterling silver candelabras on each side.

The thing about Vegas, though, is that it's inextricably linked to Hollywood—for better or for worse.

So, it's in Vegas that you'll find one of the original Batmobiles...

...or a James Bond villain's AMC Matador coupe, the "flying car" from The Man With the Golden Gun.

In Vegas, you'll find one of the 1969 Dodge Chargers known as the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard (though you'll find others at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank and even the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville).

The only surviving stunt car from the TV show Hardcastle and McCormick, the Coyote X, is also in Vegas—having been rescued from the backlot of MGM Studios in Culver City.

And The Fast and the Furious may be one of the main attractions at the Universal Studios Tour, but Brian's 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse is permanently parked on Dean Martin Drive.

The real Bonnie and Clyde death car may be displayed in Primm, NV at Whiskey Pete's...

...but the movie death car, in which Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty met their demise, is 40 miles north at the Hollywood Cars Museum.

Sure, it can be a bit morose or even morbid to ogle dead celebrities' belongings and movie props riddled with bullets, but the creepiest part of this Vegas car museum for me was its display of unsettling mannequins.

Whether they were meant to be mechanics...

...or princes of the pump...

...they're a reminder that you never know who or what you might run unto in Vegas.

Because Vegas isn't just any one thing. And whatever it is at any given moment, it's bound to change soon enough.

But maybe Vegas will always be where Hollywood goes to escape—and yet finds something altogether familiar.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: At Home With Mr. Las Vegas
Giving Thanks on the Vegas Strip
Life's a Gamble

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