Friday, Feb. 12, 1999 | 11:51 a.m.
Shecky Greene has his groove back. ... His performance at last Thursday's Induction Gala at the Tropicana for its new Casino Legends Hall of Fame transported the capacity crowd to the Sheck's glory days at the Tropicana and, later, the Riviera. ... Greene actually kept the Tropicana in business during one particularly quiet period back then.
Whatever the criteria and in whichever entertainment medium, Shecky Greene is the funniest performer I've ever witnessed and I've seen them all, in person and otherwise, during my six decades-plus spent in show business, the last 32 with the Sun as columnist-critic.
Performances by Greene, the McGuire Sisters, Sam Butera & The Wildest and Kenny Rogers, plus the co-host antics of Mario & Daniel, salvaged the otherwise overly long, dull series of induction announcements. ... The exhibit is worth a visit; Nevadans with ID get in free.
He was born Schmuel (pronounced "Shmoy-yell") Greenfield in Chicago on April 8, 1926. ... Our paths first crossed in 1952 when I was studying law in New Orleans at Tulane University. Shecky, in his mid-20s, opened in a cellar night club, the Preview Lounge, just off Canal Street, across from the Roosevelt Hotel, now the Fairmont Roosevelt.
Greene's onstage hours were midnight to 6 a.m., 45 minutes on, 15 off, six nights a week. ... Shecky would sometimes skip the 15-minute break and go for six straight hours, never repeating himself, hilarious impromptu.
Alec Waller, night city editor of the Times-Picayune, and Dick Martin of WWL radio, one of the nation's top disc jockeys, would join me at 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., respectively. ... Many a night we stayed until the 6 a.m. closing, had breakfast with Shecky. ... Then they went to bed while I continued on to an 8 a.m. class at law school.
The Big Easy
New Orleans' Bourbon Street was a talent incubator in the early 1950s. ... In addition to Greene, Louis Prima and Keely Smith were at Frank Ferrara's Sho-Bar, and Sharkey Bonano and his Kings of Dixieland alternated with the original Dukes of Dixieland at Hyp Guinle's Famous Door. ... Liberace was a frequent attraction in the Hotel Monteleone's Swan Room.
Sam Butera, currently at the Orleans, was playing hard bop tenor back then, leading a small combo that moved into the Famous Door opposite the Dukes when Sharkey Bonano retired.
No one dreamed that a few years later Shecky, Louis, Keely and Sam & The Witnesses would spearhead the lounge renaissance, 1955-1965, in Las Vegas. ... Certainly, no one could forecast that Liberace would open at the Riviera in 1955 as LV's first $50,000-a-week headliner. ... The Dukes of Dixieland were at the Royal Nevada, now the Stardust.
Along came Elvis
Greene was the star act when Elvis Presley made his LV debut at the Frontier in 1956. ... Elvis, backed by a trio, was not a hit, went on to make films before returning in the late 1960s to the International, now the LV Hilton, a superstar until his death in 1977. ... During the past 20 years, Greene has had a history of medical problems, losing and recovering his voice, all this followed by anxiety attacks.
This is why his performance at the Tropicana last Thursday was so heartening. ... In this era of big and bigger production shows, Las Vegas needs the comedy of Shecky Greene, Buddy Hackett, Bob Newhart and Alan King, plus longer play dates for Don Rickles.
If the established comedians no longer wish to do an hour, present them in a comedy roast or variety acts format. ... Comedy clubs are mostly one-dimensional; laughs are scarce in main showrooms.
Tuesday at 10 p.m., producer Maynard Sloate and I caught the second of the Trenier's three shows nightly at the Showboat. ... It was opening night and Claude, Skip, et al, were in top form as always. ... They're there this week and next, off on Monday, not to be missed. ... This is the best of Las Vegas for 50 years and still the best.
Recommended: "Tuskegee Love Letters," 2 p.m. Saturday, West Charleston Library. ... It is an original musical, written by Kim Russell and her talented comedian father, Jay Bernard. ... Russell's one-man show follows immediately after. ... Sunday at 2 p.m., it's the Dick McGee Sextet at Winchester Library, part of the Nevada Jazz Artists series. ... See you next Thursday.