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September 19, 2014

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COMEDY:

Showman, 80, staying busy, missing Stupak

Pushing 80, entertainer Steve Rossi doesn’t seem to slow down.

The longtime Las Vegas resident, and former straight man for Marty Allen, just wrapped up a co-starring role in the off-Broadway musical comedy “Don’t Leave it All to Your Children.”

The show debuted in New York in May and is still running, with a new cast. Rossi says he left for other projects, including a number of corporate gigs.

“Besides, I really don’t want to be in New York in the winter,” he says.

His busy agenda includes appearing in the Palm Springs, Calif., version of “Don’t Leave it All to Your Children” from January through March.

Then, he says, he will go right into “Fandancer,” a musical written by Misty Rowe (of “Hee Haw”) about the late burlesque star Sally Rand.

“That will be in Bridgeport, Conn.,” he says. “I play three characters in the production.”

And he says he’s producing and co-writing the play “Dr. Sunshine,” a comedy loosely based on Dr. Phil.

“If it works out I’d like to bring it to Vegas,” Rossi says.

While he was away a friend, impressionist Danny Gans, died.

“The first time I met Danny was when he was just getting started in the business and I was producing a show at the Holiday International, which is now Main Street Station,” Rossi says. “The host of the show was ill one night and I was filling in for her and I happened to pick him out of the audience to chat with. I asked him what he did and he said he did impressions and was in Vegas looking for a job.

“He did a few impressions and the people went nuts. I knew he was going to be a star.”

Another friend, Bob Stupak, died shortly after Rossi returned from New York.

The colorful creator of Vegas World, which evolved into the Stratosphere, died in September.

Among his grandiose plans was to build a Titanic-themed casino, but he couldn’t get financial backing. Another was to build a giant gorilla ride that would climb halfway up the side of the Stratosphere.

“Bob was one of the most incredible humans I ever met,” he says, “good or bad. He had traits of both.”

The first time they met was when Stupak was about to open Vegas World in 1979.

“He made me the entertainment director and he didn’t even have a showroom, just a small lounge,” Rossi says.

Rossi put curtains around the lounge area, created a 100-seat showroom and produced a burlesque show with four topless dancers, two novelty acts and a three-piece band. As Vegas World evolved, Rossi says Stupak signed him and Allen to a lifetime contract to perform at the venue 48 weeks of the year.

“He wrote out the contract on the back of a keno ticket,” Rossi says. “He could be impulsive.”

When Stupak had to sell his resort, he tried to get out of the contract and gave the comedy team notice.

“I said, ‘You can’t give us notice — we have a lifetime contract.’ And he said ‘I thought the lifetime contract meant while I owned it.’ I said, ‘But it doesn’t stipulate that.’ He said, ‘What, you’re going to get technical on me?’ And he said, ‘OK, are we talking about your lifetime or Marty’s, because Marty’s older.’ ”

Rossi said they reached an agreement and remained friends until the end.

“I visited him in the hospital before he died,” Rossi says. “It was hard to talk to him. I didn’t know what to say. He was a guy that had been so vital and personable, and pretty generous. He helped a lot of people.”

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