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October 25, 2014

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She blazed trail by disrobing, but there’s much, much more

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Leila Navidi

Lisa Medford, 71, shows a photo taken when she was a showgirl at the Tropicana in the ‘50s. A stint nude at the Riviera launched her career.

Lisa Medford, who is 71, was Las Vegas’ first basically nude showgirl. But that’s nothing compared with what she’s done since then.

Medford tasted Vegas life as a youngster when her dad was playing poker with Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and “uncle Ben” would braid her hair. When she was 12, Medford proclaimed she’d grow up to be a showgirl.

Fast forward to when she was a 19-year-old working at a Los Angeles modeling studio in 1957. Two fellas from Vegas walked in with their best “Hey, kid!” job offer: Appear as a nude statue during the Harry Belafonte show at the Riviera (using just a hint of glitter and a piece of duct tape to mask critical real estate).

Halfway into the seven-minute pose, she’d purposely shift her arms and, oh darling, you should have heard the shrieks and screams from the audience — She’s alive! She moved!

The monthlong show launched her career as a model and “Folies Bergere” showgirl.

In 1968 she shifted gears, traveling the world (and getting grazed in the arm by a bullet, she said, while photographing the Russian occupation of Prague). She returned to California, where she worked as a loan officer, raced stock cars, produced health education films, appeared in bit TV parts, and managed wardrobes and props for Sony Pictures.

She retired to Las Vegas in 2002, to be near two sisters.

She said she considered buying an outcall service — yes, she knew what that was all about — and became a dispatcher to get a feel for the business.

“The girls were all really nice. And when they needed a ride — to go to the doctor or get their lips injected or teeth fixed — I’d drive them. They paid me for my time at the beginning, but then they started treating me like their mom, and stopped paying me, so I quit.”

She became a limousine chauffeur in 2005. She loves sharing her knowledge of the Strip with very important people with lots of money.

But then she tells this story: After one four-hour job, the young hip-hoppers in the back seat tried to bail without paying. Before the last guy got out, Medford dug her nails into the loose skin of his neck “right where his tattoo was” and pulled him out of the vehicle.

He ran off whimpering without paying, “but payback was done,” she said. “Remember, I grew up with the mob.”

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