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November 26, 2014

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The Strip:

Michael Douglas remembers ‘easier’ era of fame; Mary Steenburgen (theatrically) graces Binion’s lounge

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Steve Marcus

Actors Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas chat during a ceremony for cast members of “Last Vegas” and director Jon Turteltaub in front of the Bellagio on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak declared Oct. 18, 2013, as “Last Vegas Day” in Las Vegas and Clark County. The movie by CBS Films opens nationwide Nov. 1.

‘Last Vegas’ Key to the City

The cast of the film Last Vegas, from left, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and director Jon Turteltaub, pose for photos after receiving honors from Las Vegas and Clark County Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 in front of the Bellagio. Launch slideshow »
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Actor Kevin Kline is shown during a ceremony with cast members of "Last Vegas" and director Jon Turteltaub in front of the Bellagio on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013.

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Actress Mary Steenburgen is shown during a ceremony with cast members of "Last Vegas" and director Jon Turteltaub in front of the Bellagio on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013.

While walking through Aria on Friday night, I stopped at Lift Bar lounge just off the casino floor to check in on one of the city’s gifted musicians and songwriters, Patrick Sieben, during his regular gig at the hotel. He pulled away from the mic and called out, “You just missed Morgan Freeman! He just walked by!”

True, Freeman had moments earlier strode past Sieben and his three-piece band. But this was not such a random sighting, as Freeman was in the hotel for the post-screening party for the new comedy “Last Vegas,” which was played for the first time in Vegas across the Strip at Showcase UA Theaters.

Freeman was too fast apace to catch (I will one day ask him about his days on "Electric Company"), but we will begin the raking with some red-carpet chatter at Aria’s Haze Nightclub:

• Michael Douglas fondly recalled visiting Vegas in the 1960s with his father, Kirk, when the scene was not so intensely scrutinized by the media.

“I would come up here with my dad, and he was very close friends with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I remember coming up and seeing their shows, and I remember when Frank was married to Mia Farrow, who was only a couple of years older than I was,” Douglas said during his jaunt across the carpet. “But it was all easier back then. There wasn’t as much coverage about all of that, and it was an important time for me because you got to see the vulnerabilities of all these major talents and artists, and how much fun they had. So, hopefully, we brought a little of that feeling back with this movie.”

Douglas also said that the repeated comparisons between “Last Vegas” and the “Hangover” movies is the lengthy relationships among the main characters — four longtime friends Douglas, Freeman, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline — in the new film.

“We were certainly aware of the ‘Hangover’ comparisons in the beginning, but what we had going for us is that we were all old friends, as opposed to newer friends,” Douglas said. “That aspect, even though none of us have ether worked with each other, seems to have paid off. We seemed to be really enjoying this old friendship.”

• The script of “Last Vegas” folds in a very appealing subplot, with Mary Steenburgen playing a lounge singer at Binion’s. She is so effective in that role that she could conceivably front her own cabaret show in town, if she wanted. But she did not sing in a lounge or in front of any audience in preparation for the role.

“I took a lot of singing lessons to prepare for the role,” said Steenburgen, who has long battled stage fright in her career. “And I did a lot of singing in the shower. A lot of it is just staring down your fear, and a lot of it is just working on your voice, which I did do.”

Though the film shows Vegas in an appealing light, with dazzling shots of most of the Strip resorts and even a scene featuring Douglas and Steenburgen riding X-Scream atop Stratosphere, one line tucked into the movie is likely to make officials at Binion’s wince. In describing where Steenburgen sings, De Niro refers to the place as a “(crap) hole.”

Oof!

But De Niro and Douglas kept returning to the casino, to check out Steenburgen, which if nothing else proves the undying value of a great lounge singer.

• On the topic of people who are famous and can sing with great aptitude, the PBS special starring Clint Holmes, Jane Monheit and Frank Wildhorn recorded a few months ago at Cabaret Jazz is scheduled to air Dec. 5 on PBS. The shows from the “Frank and Friends” shows in April also are available on a just-released CD. Having just returned from a universally applauded set of shows at Cafe Carlyle in New York, Holmes’ next performances at Cab Jazz are Nov. 1-3.

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Norm Johnson, racing visionary.

• I finally found my way to Railroad Pass several nights ago and took in a dinner at that hotel’s Steakhouse at the Pass (which is a pretty swank, out-of-the-way dining haunt) with venerable PR rep Norm Johnson.

Johnson is the man who first organized the Mint 400 in Las Vegas beginning in 1967. Johnson’s vision was to use the off-road race as a vehicle to promote the Mint Hotel, and he raced in the event from 1969-1983. He was a PR man and competitor in the 1971 Mint 400, which was among the events that served as the backdrop for the book and, later, film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

In a tale he’s told me before, Johnson actually shared a drink with Hunter S. Thompson during Thompson’s assignment covering the race for consideration in Sports Illustrated or Rolling Stone. Johnson remembers meeting Thompson just after Thompson picked up his press credential and happening upon Thompson again later at a craps table. “By that time, I think he was pretty stoned” was Johnson’s not-inaccurate assessment of Thompson.

Also during our dinner conversation from last weekend, Johnson offhandedly shared this highly unexpected revelation: He was a backup dancer for Elvis in the 1957 movie “Jailhouse Rock.”

“What?!” I coughed.

But this is true. Stormin’ Norman is featured on the bottom-left section of the famous jailhouse dance scene and is shown clinging to a post as Elvis dances in front of the costumed “inmates.” Johnson was once a member of a group of young men and women who danced in contests in Hollywood three nights a week, and film choreographers would visit these competitions to fill out the casts of such movies as “Jailhouse Rock.” Johnson was plucked after winning one of those contests and also danced in the Bill Haley & The Comets musicals “Rock Around the Clock” and “Don’t Knock the Rock.” And all this time, I had no idea we had a dancer in our midst.

• Sin City Theater at Planet Hollywood has become a busy music club with its new “HiFi Vegas” nights. The club has been bolstered by the booking of the Prince tribute act Purple Reign from Thursdays through Sundays, the blistering Franky Perez on Mondays, Swingin’ Pedestrians (featuring the city’s best cover of Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs’ “Little Red Ridin’ Hood”) on Tuesdays and Disco-rama dance act Wonder Boogie on Wednesdays. All times are 10:30 p.m., after the Sin City Comedy & Burlesque shows, and admission is free.

Now, before venturing to Planet Hollywood, understand something about valet parking at the hotel’s connected retail fortress, Miracle Mile Shops: It closes at 1 a.m., even when folks turn over their cars for shows that let out at 1 a.m. or later at Planet Hollywood (and this was the case at Perez’s show last week). You need to call the hotel’s security department if you are attempting to leave in your own vehicle at, say, 1:15 a.m. The security phone number is posted on the wall at the valet stand — a valet attendant pointed it out to me, actually. Just remember to plan ahead for this odd procedure on the Strip in Las Vegas, the greatest 24/7 city on the planet.

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

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