When I set out to write a book about Las Vegas’s golden age of entertainment, in the 1960s, I discovered that I was venturing into largely forgotten territory. There are plenty of books about Las Vegas—the hotels, the gambling, the Mob—but few that focus on the entertainment itself, the history and evolution of the Las Vegas show.
Elvis Presley quickly took over the book and proved the perfect framework for it. He first appeared in Las Vegas, few remember, in 1956, when he was just breaking out (he hadn’t even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show yet), and Colonel Parker booked him into the New Frontier Hotel, on a bill with Freddy Martin’s orchestra and Shecky Greene. The engagement was a misfire: the Vegas nightclub crowd didn’t know what to make of this hip-shaking rock ’n’ roller. But Elvis loved Vegas. He got friendly with Liberace (who told him his act needed more glitz), and he returned there often for R&R. He shot Viva Las Vegas there in 1963. He married Priscilla at the Aladdin Hotel, in 1967. And so it was fitting that, when Vegas was starting to flounder in the face of the late-60s rock revolution, it would turn to the original rock ’n’ roller as the agent of its re-invention.