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November 20, 2014

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Celebrities:

When they were young: Mothers of L.V. stars reflect on their famous children

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MGM Resorts International

Terry Fator celebrates the second anniversary of his show at the Mirage on March 18, 2011.

It takes a lot to become a Las Vegas celebrity: talent, passion, dedication, sacrifice. And we’re just talking about their moms.

For almost every name that’s made it onto a Strip marquee, there’s been a mom whose love and support helped get it there.

Here’s a sampling of mothers of Las Vegas stars, sharing some favorite memories of their children growing up and discussing the joys, challenges and surprises of raising a kid destined for show business.

    • Terry Fator and his mom, Marie, circa 1977.

      Terry Fator and his mom, Marie, circa 1977.

      Marie Fator, mother of ventriloquist Terry Fator

      It’s hard to believe, but I swear it’s true — Terry was walking and talking at 9 months old and could repeat any word we would ask him. That was an early sign of his talent with ventriloquism. When he was 10, he checked out a library book called “Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit,” and it sure has been profitable! I thought he was pretty good, so just a couple weeks later, I bought him a dummy called Willie Talk from the Sears catalog for $20. A few months later, he performed for the first time at a church party, and he never missed a beat.

      I got him ads in the local paper, found places for him to perform and encouraged him in that way. But the challenge when Terry was younger was his dad. I had to help Terry hide his ventriloquism because his dad didn’t like him doing it in any kind of serious way. We knew if he found out, it would be very bad, and he could take it all away. So that was very difficult.

      As Terry grew older, his challenge became wanting more success and feeling like it was never going to come. There was only one time, when he was in his late 30s, when I suggested he should maybe go back to school as a backup plan, but he said, “No, Mom, this is what I’m born to do,” so I’ve supported him 100 percent ever since. I’m so proud of him for surpassing so much, and I’m just so happy that he’s been able to be successful.

      Terry’s success has been unbelievable. I had watched him when he first started ventriloquism at age 10, and for him to see his dream of becoming a headliner in Vegas come true — it’s hard for me to describe the excitement. I’ll never get tired of driving around and seeing his billboards.

    • Josh Strickland and his mom, Sara.

      Josh Strickland and his mom, Sara.

      Sara Strickland, mother of "Peepshow" star Josh Strickland

      I first noticed his talent as a performer when he was just 2 or 3 years old. He would memorize the songs on tapes we had of Disney movies and then would make me sit down to show what he could do. Once he started singing, you really had to hush him up to get him to stop — he’d literally sing himself to sleep.

      Still, when he first began performing around other people in elementary school, he was very shy. He had a beautiful voice but would always sing with his back to people. There was nothing I could do but encourage him while he built up his confidence. I never forced him to sing — I think that would be the worst thing I could’ve done. I just let him take his time, and he blossomed on his own, even more than I could’ve imagined.

      When I go to visit Josh in Las Vegas, he gets stopped on the street for autographs, but I don’t see him differently — he’s still my son Josh. I’m proud that he’s made something of himself. Josh is adopted. He’s my only son and a gift from God. I think I was chosen — I tell people that I’m the lucky one, not him.

    • Laura Croft with her mom, Cheryl.

      Laura Croft with her mom, Cheryl.

      Cheryl Croft, mother of model and former Playboy Playmate Laura Croft

      As a toddler, Laura loved to watch "Wheel of Fortune." She would pretend she was Vanna White and play with the curtains, stepping out from behind them and parading around the living room. As a child, we would call her "Hollywood Lolly" because she was always performing and acting like a little starlet.

      I never pushed Laura to be a model, but I was always supportive. It’s been most important to me to maintain a really strong connection with her and always let her know that if she makes a decision and doesn’t like it, she always has home to come back to and her family.

      We’re very close. It was difficult to watch her deal with rejection earlier in her career, and I’ve really learned to appreciate what a strong person my daughter is. She’s really done very well.

      Laura’s career in Vegas keeps life very interesting. I’m always meeting new people through her. But I am still getting used to her getting recognized and stopped on the street for pictures when we go out shopping in Las Vegas. I have to learn to share!

    • David Saxe with his mom, Bonnie.

      David Saxe with his mom, Bonnie.

      Bonnie Saxe, former Las Vegas dancer and show producer and mother of producer David Saxe and magician Melinda Saxe

      David’s older sisters Melinda and Suzanne grew up dancing, and he would always mimic what they were doing. Even at 4 or 5, he was all about learning John Travolta’s dance moves in "Grease." He was so good at it that he was able to fool people into thinking he was a trained dancer! That was a sign to me that he had a real eye for talent.

      There’s been so many moments I’ve been proud of him, but where he’s at right now in his career makes me the proudest. We all look up to David, and even though he’s the youngest, he’s now become the sort of godfather of the family business.

      Being that showbiz has always been our family’s way of life, David’s life in the spotlight has always just seemed like regular work. I’m glad he chose it, and I think he’s been very smart to do it, but of course that’s what I did and what his father did, so it kind of came naturally.

      Melinda first expressed interest in doing magic in the 1980s when she joined "Siegfried and Roy” as a dancer at 17. She grew up learning small tricks and illusions, but when she came to me and said she wanted to pursue it as a career, I loved the idea. I had been a dancer in the "Follies Bergere" and taught dancing, so I thought that for her to use dance to add new dimension to magic and illusions was thrilling.

      At the time, there were no other women in magic that we knew about, and early on some people criticized her for trying to do dance and magic and more in her show; they said she had to pick one. But when she came to me upset, I just said, "Sweetheart, you’re not one or the other. You’re an entertainer.”

      I have so much pride for all of my children, and I love them and the fact that they love the business and love this town so much. And it’s wonderful to see my grandchildren now following in their footsteps.

    • Andrew Ragone and his mom, Marti.

      Andrew Ragone and his mom, Marti.

      Marti Ragone, mother of Andrew Ragone, who plays Raoul in "Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular"

      It’s funny how he got his start: In fifth grade, I enrolled him in a children’s theater, much to his chagrin, because I heard that they needed more boys, and I wanted to give him something new to do after school. He went kicking and screaming!

      At first, he was too shy to speak and didn’t want a speaking part. I told him to do what he felt comfortable with at first, and by the second production, he realized that theater was something he really enjoyed. As he grew in confidence, I encouraged him to go for bigger parts and to push himself. By the time he was in high school and was getting big roles in the musical-theater productions, I realized his talent was special and this was more than an activity.

      While I’m so proud of his success as a performer, I’m especially proud of his compassionate and giving nature. He does a lot of volunteer work. When the Make-a-Wish Foundation came to visit the set of "Phantom," he volunteered to spend time with the kids, to visit with them after the show and show them around. That’s what makes me really proud to be his mother.

      I feel very honored by Andrew’s success, and I’ll never get tired of seeing him onstage.

    Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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