Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2014

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

No. 15: Ol’ Blue Eyes plays the Mack

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A poster for a "Christmas with Class" concert starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. hangs in the halls of the Thomas & Mack Center.

Beyond the Sun

Editor's Note: In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Thomas & Mack Center's opening on Nov. 21, 1983, the Sun is celebrating the building's colorful history with a top 25 countdown - to No. 1 on Nov. 21, 2008 - of the biggest events held inside the arena located on UNLV's campus.

Who else would roll into the Thomas & Mack Center to entertain at one of its inaugural events but the Chairman of the Board?

Frank Sinatra also played the arena in one of his last public performances.

On Dec. 16, 1983, Sinatra sang at “Christmas with Class” with Dean Martin and Diana Ross. Among the 9,000 in attendance were Nevada politicians and business tycoons to dedicate the new building.

It was a benefit for the Nathan Adelson Hospice and UNLV, on whose Foundation Board Sinatra would serve for the rest of the decade.

Golden Nugget chairman Steve Wynn and his wife, Elaine, arranged the event. Gov. Richard Bryan praised bankers E. Parry Thomas and Jerome Mack for their foresight and dedication as pioneer builders in Las Vegas.

Martin opened. Sinatra sang. They exchanged jokes, then Ross sang. Martin and Sinatra then laughed about an incident two weeks earlier at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.

They were playing blackjack with a dealer who was doling out cards to them, by hand, from a single deck. Seems that’s illegal in New Jersey.

Gaming officials there were investigating whether that dealer was doing so because Sinatra had been intimidating him to do so.

“It doesn’t happen here,” Sinatra told the Mack audience, “it happens in New Jersey.”

The audience rained applause down on Sinatra.

Nine years later, Ol’ Blue Eyes was back at the Mack to sing for 67-year-old Lee Iacocca at his extravagant Chrysler retirement party.

Sinatra, 76, serenaded Iacocca with “My Way” on Aug. 27, 1992, fresh off an engagement in which he sang to Princess Grace Kelly in Monte Carlo.

They were longtime friends. When Chrysler was ailing, Sinatra did commercials for $1. Iacocca once unveiled a Sinatra edition of the Imperial.

When Sinatra was driving his from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and it broke down somewhere in the desert, Iacocca sent a helicopter to whisk Sinatra and his small group to Las Vegas.

The gala was grand. Chrysler folks moved into the Mack 15 days earlier to build an enormous stage. There was a huge Chrysler logo with a platform in the middle for Iacocca.

Neon and fog machines surrounded the stage. Orchestra pits flanked both sides. Hydraulic lifts vaulted 1993 Chrysler models high into the air.

There were enough tables to seat 11,000, and dealers from all of Chrysler’s units, other employees and guests paid $700 each to send Iacocca off.

Singer Kenny Rogers and actor Ricardo Montalban also attended. After a two-hour stage show, Iacocca choked up during a speech.

Afterward, Sinatra, Iacocca and 145 others repaired to the top of the Hilton for a lavish dinner.

Sinatra played the Desert Inn, Sands, MGM Grand and Caesars Palace, among his other Las Vegas gigs. The two times he sang inside the Thomas & Mack Center, though, were extra special.

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