Sunday, June 25, 2000 | 11 a.m.
He's without question one of our city's most recognizable icons, ranking alongside Wayne Newton, Siegfried & Roy and the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign on the Strip. Like Wayne, he's been featured in numerous movies and, more impressively, beer commercials.
He's Vegas Vic, the 40-foot-tall neon cowboy with the tattered hat, red scarf and smoldering cigarette. Tricky Vic has hovered over the Pioneer Club intoning "Howdy partner, welcome to downtown Las Vegas" to bemused (and often startled) Fremont Street visitors off and on since 1950.
But age and weather ravaged our city's unofficial host to the point where he needed major reconstructive surgery.
"He was in rough shape," said John LaFronz, director of operations for Schiff Enterprises, which owns Vegas Vic as well as the old Pioneer Club. "Hard living, I guess."
However, through the miracle of signage reconstruction, Vegas Vic looks (and sounds) as good as new. So good, in fact, that he's granting interviews for the first time and spoke with the Sun about his past and new, youthful appearance:
Las Vegas Sun: First off, you fell silent for quite a while back in the '60s. What happened there?
Vegas Vic: Lee Marvin.
VV: Yep, in 1966 Lee Marvin was staying downtown, makin' a movie, I think. I was just doin' my job, like always, and he complains I'm too loud. So when push comes to shove, who wins? Vegas Vic or Lee Marvin?
Sun: Lee Marvin.
VV: I hate Lee Marvin. They took out my voice box and didn't put it back for another 20 years or so.
Sun: Let's go back a bit. What was your first job in town?
VV: My first job was with the Chamber of Commerce, around '47 or '48. Then I moved over to the Pioneer. They said they wanted a "magnet" to attract tourists, and said I had a bright future here. So they bought me these neon duds.
Sun: Compare Las Vegas today with Las Vegas when you first moved here.
VV: There ain't nothin' to compare. Completely diff'ernt, and not in a good way.
Sun: How so?
VV: People don't 'member that Las Vegas, at the start, was a true-blue Western town. It was like a Dodge City-type town, where the law of the land was laid down by your trusty Colt '45. It was a place with no mob, no Rat Pack, where ya could still go and rope some doggies.
Sun: And you have the urge to, um, rope some doggies?
VV: Not no more. Too old. But ah'd like to go back when there were more wide-open spaces instead of these huge airport-sized hotels. Makes me sick.
Sun: You must have seen quite a few odd sights in the 50 years you've been hanging around Fremont Street.
VV: Yer dang tootin'. I saw Hunter S. Thompson barf in the entrance of the Pioneer when he was here workin' on his book. I saw Sammy Davis Jr. give Frank Sinatra a piggy-back ride all the way up Fremont Street into the Golden Nugget. I saw a danged mob lawyer get elected as mayor, fer cryin' out loud! I'm still kickin' myself for not runnin' for public office.
Sun: Is Vegas Vic bitter?
VV: If you had kids throwin' pebbles at you, callin' you "Vagrant Vic" and whatnot for 50 years, y'all might be bitter, too.
Sun: Speaking of bitter, let's talk about the Fremont Street Experience.
VV: That cheap piece of crud? I call it the Fremont Street Expedient. I haven't seen such a Mickey Mouse deal since the last time "Disney on Ice" came to the Thomas & Mack.
Sun: Aren't you just jealous because it's taken away a lot of your prominence?
VV: I ain't got no comment.
Sun: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about Sassy Sally. What's the deal with you two?
VV: Just friends, that's all. It's a, whaddya call it, platonic-type relationship.
Sun: In all these years you've never had the urge to ...
VV: Now you just hold on here a gosh-danged minute! Vegas Vic's all man! I just ain't found the right woman, that's all!
Sun: Not to push the issue here, but it just seems that you and Sassy Sally have so much in common that you'd make a good match.
VV: Y'all might think so, but y'all would be wrong. I'll say this about Miss Sally and be done with it: I ain't never gonna pay a woman for sex. Not never, ever. Period. Got it?
Sun: Whoosh. OK. Let's move to the present here. How long did it take for you to get healthy again?
VV: I was in a six-month rehabilitation plan. They cleaned me up, repaired my tubing, gave me back my original plaid shirt 'stead of that yellow one I had to wear for a long time. I've had more work done on me than Cher, lemme tell ya. They had a bunch of guys tinkering with me.
Sun: How did it feel?
Sun: But it seems you're clean, healthy, ready for another 50-year run perhaps?
VV: Yep. I've rode myself pretty hard over the years, had my ups and downs, but I feel great now. Another 50? Y'all better bet on it, partner.