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Lido at the Stardust

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When Tony Cornero, mastermind of the Stardust, dropped dead shooting craps in the Desert Inn's casino, the Stardust project floundered. Years of financial difficulties among his heirs and business associates delayed its opening for several years, during which several hotel operators, including Conrad Hilton, looking to expand, were rumored to be taking it over. Finally the owners of the Desert Inn, fresh from business deals in Havana, took over the Stardust Hotel and finished it. It was the biggest hotel on the Strip and needed, they decided, a big show.

Moe Dalitz got his entertainment director, Frank Sennes, to fly to Paris to bring the Lido show to Las Vegas. Sennes had negotiated with the Lido before in attempts to bring the Parisian show to his Hollywood Moulin Rouge Club, but had never reached terms with his French counterparts. Donn Arden was in Paris producing the Lido's current revue when Sennes arrived. Arden had been staging the famous shows at the Lido in Paris for years, commuting to Europe from his regular work in New York, Hollywood, and Las Vegas. Already associated with Moe Dalitz and the Desert Inn, Arden was a natural to mount the first full-scale French show in Las Vegas, complete with the original French costumes and dancers (who were, in fact, English). A contract was signed.

Portrait of Donn Arden, Margaret Kelly, and designer

The original Stardust showroom was completely redesigned, expanded, and equipped with three elevators, 60 fly loft lines, and the orchestra pit off to the side, to provide the stage effects Arden had used in Paris. The huge company arrived with truckloads of costumes and sets. The famous "Le Bluebell Dancers” came. Mme. Bluebell was Arden's long-time friend and associate who selected and trained the English dancers that graced the stage of the Lido. The opening of Lido de Paris at the new Stardust in 1958 was an instant sensation, attracted millions of patrons, and ran for over twenty years. It ushered in the big show as a staple of Las Vegas Hotel entertainment.

Lido was obviously not the first nor the last French show in Las Vegas. Minsky and Lou Walter and endless other, smaller operators had for years been producing "French" revues with French names, but the Lido was a genuine French spectacle. And other hotels were quick to find their own authentic French Shows. Producer Matt Gregory brought Nouvelle Eve to the El Rancho in 1959. The Tropicana hired Lou Walter as entertainment producer, and he immediately flew to Paris to sign the Folies-Bergère, which opened at the Tropicana in 1959. Frederick Apcar’s even racier Casino de Paris, the show created for the Paris club of that name, began a long run at the Dunes in 1963. By the time the show had completed its first year, owner Major Riddle estimated the hotel would have invested over $5 million in it. Minsky’s Follies moved to the Silver Slipper, the Thunderbird, then to the new Aladdin Hotel. Today, only the Folies-Bergère survives (much revamped). Arden mounted new shows Hello America and Pizazz at a renovated Desert Inn. Sam Boyd, who bought the Stardust in 1983, balked at Arden's escalating budgets for each new version of Lido de Paris. When Arden refused to compromise, the show eventually closed in 1991.

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