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April 16, 2014

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Don’t call Lee Meriwether a ‘former’; Gallagher’s Las Vegas tour; Zowie Bowie takes a Windows seat

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

1955 Miss America Lee Meriwether, center, holds a rose for Chris Harrison during the second night of preliminaries in the 2013 Miss America Pageant at PH Live in Planet Hollywood on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.

2013 Miss America Pageant: Second Preliminaries

2012 Miss America Laura Kaeppeler performs during the second night of preliminaries in the 2013 Miss America Pageant at PH Live in Planet Hollywood on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Launch slideshow »

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A rake to the scene has piled up the following:

• What is a term not favored by former Miss Americas? “Former.” The shorthand description of the women who have won the title since its inception in 1948 has been “formers.” But Thursday morning during a news conference at Planet Hollywood, 1955 Miss America Lee Meriwether took issue with being called a “former.”

“You are never a ‘former’ Miss America,” she said from the dais where several Miss America winners, including current Miss A Laura Kaeppeler, were assembled. The show is set for PH Live on Saturday night. “You are always Miss America.”

Meriwether is one of the more famous women to win the title, having forged a successful acting career on the TV series “Barnaby Jones” (for which she earned two Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy nomination) and the soap “All My Children.” She also played Catwoman in the 1966 “Batman” movie, a far kitschier film treatment than the latest installments of the franchise (Batusi, anyone?).

Meriwether said she was hit with resistance from casting directors who were skeptical that a pageant winner could effectively act.

“They said, ‘Oh, she’s a beauty queen, she can’t act her way out of a paper bag,’ ” Meriwether said. “I had to overcome that early in my career.”

Meriwether is a graduate of Washington High in San Francisco and not the only famous figure to rise from that school. She was a classmate with a great track athlete -- a sprinter, a hurdler and a long jumper who was thought to be the next Jesse Owens. The promising athlete, who many felt would be an Olympic gold medalist, opted instead for a career in entertainment. It’s difficult to argue that Johnny Mathis made the right call.

2013 Canon USA and NCMEC Event

Lisa Mesioh and John O'Hurley arrive at the red carpet for the 2013 Canon USA and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children benefit at the Bellagio on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Launch slideshow »
Fifth Avenue founder Jerry Jones, left, soaks up the scene with Gallagher at Mandalay Bay.

Fifth Avenue founder Jerry Jones, left, soaks up the scene with Gallagher at Mandalay Bay.

• During Monday night’s Santa Fe & the Fat City Horns show at the Lounge at the Palms, a familiar figure in a blue-and-white-striped pullover and black bowler took a seat near the front of the stage. He looks like Gallagher, was the collective thought -- and he was. He padded around the room from time to time, nodding at the crowd packed to see Santa Fe’s weekly performance.

A night earlier, he was spotted in the crowd at Mizuya Lounge at Mandalay Bay checking out Guilty Pleasures, what is was described to me by a new fan as "a '70s yacht-rock kind of thing." On Wednesday, the mallet-less prop comic was seen at the Canon USA gala dinner to benefit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at Bellagio. He wasn’t taking part in an official capacity, but, again, just sort of meandering around the scene, posing for photos and winking at the crowd filing into the event.

Gallagher is not booked in Vegas. He’s just visiting friends in town between shows -- he’s at Celebrity Theater in Phoenix on Saturday. The famed founder of the Sledge-O-Matic suffered two heart attacks last March and has announced his retirement from stage appearances by the end of this year. He’s crossing items off his bucket list, including the composition of a rap song based on a few of the Ten Commandments. He says he’s making it clear to fans he’s the “real” Gallagher, not to be confused with his brother, Ron Gallagher, who also performed a Gallagher-esque act that confused fans to the point that the real Gallagher successfully sued his brother to cease appearing under such titles as Gallagher Too or Gallagher Two.

I asked Gallagher about the Geico insurance commercial, in which he smashes a watermelon at a farmers market to effectively show that Geico customers are “happier than Gallagher at a farmers market.” “I’m still wearing the shirt from that commercial,” he said, and poked his finger through a small hole in the shirt’s chest where the microphone was mounted. So, be aware, that guy who looks like Gallagher ... is.

• Another distinctive figure has hit the scene around the city: Dennis Rodman. The same night Gallagher was spotted at the Palms, Rodman ducked into the club for a quick cameo, then strode off. It was the second appearance by Rodman at the club in three nights, and one account is he raised such a commotion on Saturday night, he was lucky he wasn’t thrown out. On Thursday, he wound up clambering onstage with Ray John Narbaitz’s rock cover band Red Light at Extra Lounge at Planet Hollywood and also this week was seen puffing on a stogie at Casa Fuente in the Forum Shops of Caesars Palace.

Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie performs during the "Our Town for Newtown" benefit concert held Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 at Railhead at Boulder Station.

Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie performs during the "Our Town for Newtown" benefit concert held Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 at Railhead at Boulder Station.

• Chris Phillips is one of the more self-effacing entertainers to hit Las Vegas in recent years, often joking that he’s the “weak link” of any performance bearing the name of the act he founded, Zowie Bowie. But that quality masks the drive he has had for 6 1/2 years to bring his adaptation of the “maverick spirit of Las Vegas” to the Strip. He hosts an R&B, hip-hop and rock showcase at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort each Friday, but on Tuesday hosted a mass gathering at Windows at Bally’s in the room currently home to (and leased by) "Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding." It also is known as the final, for now, home of the Amazing Johnathan, who spent a few weeks trying to revive his inspired comedy-magic show before abruptly pulling out and making the announcement in a terse Facebook post.

Backed by David Perrico’s Pop Evolution show band, Phillips took the stage at 11:30 p.m. for a show scheduled for 10:30 and rambled through a set of standards featuring assorted guest vocalists and the Bella Electric Strings violin ensemble founded by Nina DiGregorio and featuring Phillips’ girlfriend, Lydia Ansel. The guest singers included such rockers as Paul Shortino (who soared with the Etta James classic “At Last”) and Vince Neil (who joined in “Fly Me to the Moon). Also invited to the performance were the newly formed vocal group BBR (Savannah Smith and Tara Palsha from “Vegas! the Show” and Anne Barr of “Bite”) and Nieve Malandra, who performs at Marche Bacchus in Summerlin. Phillips has adopted a singer-by-committee approach to replace his original partner in the act (and in life), Marley Taylor, and Ansel has moved into the act, too.

The most important figure in Phillips’ latest attempt to maverick-ize the Strip is Perrico, the trumpet ace and highly regarded bandleader whose act is filled with some of the great players in the city. Shortino and Neil can’t be counted on to make every performance, but that band will be a constant. Whether Phillips can make this showcase a success at Windows is a challenge, to put it mildly (Ansel and he talk of the new act in the latest episode of "Kats WIth the Dish," embedded atop this post). He subleases the space and has no second show scheduled, yet. It might work best as a monthly showcase and building a following from there. But Phillips, as always, will give it his best shot.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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