Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2014

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Viva Wayne Vegas

If You Go

Who: Wayne Newton, featuring Delisco.

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, July 5 to July 9, July 12 to July 16, July 19 to July 23.

Where: Las Vegas Hilton.

Tickets: $75.

Information: 732-5755.

It is Wednesday afternoon, and Casa de Shenandoah is Casa de Chaos.

Wayne Newton is conducting an orchestra of animals -- penguins, ducks, geese, cranes, horses, wallabies, swans, peacocks and an umbrella cockatoo -- as he performs promos for an MTV "TRL" crew. The assorted cameramen, producers and publicists are shooting a half-dozen or so spots featuring Newton at his famous ranch with his assortment of animals as part of the "TRL: Summer On The Strip" series.

Newton's charge: To provide a series of intros, featuring his variety of animals, for the "TRL" cameras. This isn't easy. Newton must time his bits to last no more than 40 seconds, between the flight patterns of roaring jets soaring toward McCarran International Airport.

The spots are taped at different locations on the 52-acre property, meaning the crew has to repeatedly disperse and reassemble. One of those on hand, stepping delicately around peacock poop, is Susie Castillo, who is conducting the interviews for "TRL" and who also happens to be a former Miss USA (2003).

Newton, naturally, nails all but one spot on a single take. When the circus folds up and hits the road, the 63-year-old Las Vegas icon is ready to talk some more -- about life in Vegas, the USO and his new show at the Las Vegas Hilton featuring Delisco, champion of the E! reality show, "The Entertainer":

Las Vegas Sun: The new show at the Hilton is being billed as "Wayne Newton, featuring Delisco." How is he being featured?

Wayne Newton: I will bring Delisco out, introduce him, and he will do three songs -- we're starting out with three. As the engagements go on, leading up to September, we will augment that some. But I will leave the stage as he is on, which I never do any other time.

Sun You've performed at so many hotels in Las Vegas, why the Hilton? Can you take us through how that relationship developed?

WN: I realized about a year ago that I was not really doing the right thing by the Stardust. I was gone a lot more than I had anticipated, being away with the USO. Originally, when the Boyd group (Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns the Stardust) gave me permission to do that, after Mr. (Bob) Hope and the USO called me, we agreed that I would do two tours a year -- two one-week tours a year. Well, then along comes 9/11, 10 months later, and the whole world changed.

So we've done something like 16 tours in the last 2 1/2 years. The last four have been to Iraq. I would get a call from (Gen.) Tommy Franks, who would say, "Wayne, I need you in Afghanistan," "OK, General, when?" "Next week." Well, I'd be right in the middle of a 12-week run at the Stardust ...

Sun: So, here we have a problem.

WN: I'd go to Mr. (Bill) Boyd and tell him about the call and he'd say, "Wayne, you go do what you must do. And we'll just simply go dark," which is what they did ... I realize that I wasn't living up to -- it wasn't even a contractual thing, it was moral -- I wasn't living up to what I needed to do for them. I went to Mr. Boyd and I explained these feelings to him, and he said, "What is it you're proposing?"

I said, "I think you ought to get on with your room and put all the shows in it that you want to, and I will move on to a different place that will accommodate what my needs are from the military standpoint."

As it so happened, all of this was moving in very slow discussions until the television show came along. And when the television show was bought by E!, they wanted to shoot it at another property in Las Vegas. I went to the Stardust first, and said, "I am going to be doing a television show, or at least one season of one."

Sun: At that time, when you talked to the Stardust, did you know what the parameters of the show were going to be?

WN: Yes, we did ... one of the people (with Boyd) -- who shall remain nameless -- said, "Yes, we want the show here, but it will cost you 'this.' " I said, "OK, and if I don't do the show here, will that be a breach of my contract?" "No, of course not." "So you don't mind that I offer this show to somebody else?" "No."

So, I offered it to the Hilton, and they grabbed it.

Sun: Getting back to your work with the USO, when was the last time you were in Iraq, or near there?

WN: In November. We were in Iraq the last four times we've been over there.

Sun: What's your assessment of how it's going over there?

WN: My first trip, we slept on the ground in sleeping bags and there was no running water and no electricity. We went back three months later, and we slept on cots in tents and you could have one shower a day. The third trip, conditions noticeably improved. The last trip we were there -- I guarantee you that, once all this has passed, within 10 years it will be the No. 1 tourist attraction in the world.

Sun: Really?

WN: When you consider that Christianity and almost everything we know of a theological nature started there ... and Baghdad is a very beautiful city.

Sun: What kind of directives do you give the entertainers you recruit for a USO tour?

WN: I sit all the performers down, and I don't care who they are, I don't care how big a star they are and I don't care if they've never been heard of before. And I give them a speech. I tell them they are not there for any other reason than to bring a touch of home to the men and women they are going to be performing for.

Sun: So, what's a typical lineup?

WN: In Fort Hood, (Texas), we had Ludacris, Jessica Simpson, Drew Carey, myself, Gary Sinise, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and a group from Texas that one of the generals had asked me to put on, which was a mistake, but ...

Sun: Well, sometimes a touch of home might not be very good.

WN: (Laughs) But the rest of the show really worked. Compared to what they're facing, it was wonderful.

Sun: Has there been anyone you've brought on who you didn't think you'd care for?

WN: Yes, of course. The one who I was most concerned about was Ludacris.

Sun: Need I ask why?

WN: Oh, I was concerned because we were not in a battle zone, we were home (in Fort Hood), there were 80,000 or 100,000 people there and 40,000 were children. When I called for the meeting of the group, to give my little speech to the group, Ludacris was not available at the time. I said to his manager, and his mother, who turned out to be an absolute doll, I said, "It really is imperative that I talk to him."

So I finally arrange to meet him. We go into this office with his four bodyguards, and me, and him. I told him, "I want you to know that what I'm about to say to you I say to every act here. It has nothing to do with what you do for a living, it has nothing to do with your race, color or creed. It has nothing to do with anything other than what we are here to do. I want you to know that what you do today is not going to reflect on you, but on America, and certainly on the USO."

He's looking at me very intently and says, "Mr. Newton, you will not hear one foul word out of my mouth, I promise you with all of my heart." ... and boy, did he keep his word and he was fabulous. I walked out with an entirely different attitude.

Sun: Kid Rock has mentioned you and the shows many times. He said something about it on "The Tonight Show."

WN: Yes. He's a great guy. We are buddies (laughs) ... Chris Isaak, who's been on tour with us, is also a great guy -- what you see is what you get with a lot of these guys. That's a good thing to know.

Sun: You and your wife, Kathleen, have a 3-year-old daughter, Lauren (who the couple had with the assistance of a surrogate mother). How has being a father a second time changed you?

WN: This time around it's been totally different because I've been home a lot more than I was with (oldest daughter) Erin. I have a lot more time with Lauren -- and every day is absolutely incredible.

Sun: Have you performed the fatherly duties, changed diapers, for instance?

WN: Yes, I did. Every day we go down to the barn and ride horses. We have lunch together every day. She's definitely a daddy's girl.

Sun: Here's something I've wondered, having lived in Las Vegas for a while: Every so often I see somebody famous -- Marty Allen goes to my gym ...

WN: (Laughs) Oh? How many times?

Sun: At least four. He's in good shape. But I see Clint Holmes there, too. I've seen Phyllis McGwire at the Suncoast, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme at Fellini's, Bill Medley at the sports book at the Orleans. But I don't know of any Wayne sightings anywhere, like in a casino someplace, hanging out with the commoners.

WN: It probably goes back to when I started here, when I was too young to be in those places. I have never been comfortable in and around the casinos, even having owned two. I will go in the back door. We were just in Harrah's up in Tahoe. It was their 50th anniversary, so they invited us back this year, and I wanted desperately to walk through the casino -- and I still didn't. I don't know why.

Sun: So we wouldn't see you throwing craps at the Golden Nugget or anything like that?

WN: (Laughs) I've never been to any of the tables. In all the years I've been in this town, I've never played the tables. I've never been to a slot machine, either, come to think of it.

Sun: The other night on cable there was a rerun of you on "The Lucy Show," singing "Betsy the Heifer."

WN: I remember that very well. Interestingly enough, Lucy wanted to do a weekly television show around that character because that show was such a hit. Desilu was going to produce it.

I was appearing at the Flamingo at the time, and she asked me to meet with her in her hotel room in the tower at the Sands. She said, "Do you know who Jim Nabors is?" I said, "Of course." She said, "Well, Jim Nabors is, for the rest of his life, going to be known as Gomer Pyle ... Now, if this character is truly you, and you want to be this character for the rest of your life, then go ahead and do the show. But if it isn't, and you don't want to be known this way for the rest of your life, then turn us down."

Sun: A missed opportunity?

WN: Uh-uh. I didn't want to be a character.

Sun: You've said that's the reason why you shaved your moustache, too.

WN: Exactly. You almost become a caricature of yourself, you know? One time someone gave me a white T-shirt and all that was on the shirt were a pair of eyes, eyebrows and a moustache, and you knew who it was. That's when I said, 'No more moustache.' It's gotta go.

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