Whatever Happened to the Las Vegas Showgirl?

 Jubilee | Photo by Denise Truscello

Jubilee | Photo by Denise Truscello

By “showgirl,” I believe you mean our Strip’s classic, Parisian-inspired stage performer—a tall, topless beauty adorned in sequins and feathers, heels and headdresses—whose primary purpose was to tower over Sin City’s late-night adult audiences and captivate them with classic French notions of beauty and glamour. You can imagine how this sort of thing goes over in the 21st century, even in Las Vegas.

The showgirl concept was brought to the Strip from France by Vegas entertainment legend Donn Arden in the mid-1950s, a time when Mad Men was mad real, and the primary gambling resorts on the Strip were all the old school, Ocean’s 11 faves. Arden—who programmed entertainment for Cleveland nightclubs owned by none other than the original “Mr. Las Vegas,” Moe Dalitz—arrived in the desert to do the same for Dalitz’s Desert Inn. There, Arden founded an eponymous troupe called the “Donn Arden Dancers,” who set the stage for much Vegas Greatness to come.

By 1957, topless stage shows debuted in Las Vegas when Harold Minsky brought burlesque to the Dunes with Minsky Goes to Paris. The next year, Arden made Vegas history when he combined the concepts into Lido de Paris at the Stardust, thus creating the city’s first topless showgirl extravaganza.

Arden was so successful at bringing 19th-century, Parisian-inspired revues to the Strip that others soon followed. At the Sands, Jack Entratter adopted and adapted the showgirl concept, making her more of a saucy, New York-styled chorus girl. In the early 1960s at the Dunes, Frederic Apcar created Vive Les Girls, a sexy French lounge show that eventually led to Casino de Paris, his $2 million Dunes extravaganza. By the mid-1970s, the sequined showgirl and Las Vegas became inseparable, a notion perpetuated almost daily by Oscar Goodman, who during his three terms as Las Vegas mayor from 1999-2011 had a showgirl on each arm whenever he attended an event where a camera might be rolling.

But now, in 2014, the showgirl appears to be on the wane. There remains only one true “Vegas show”: Arden’s Jubilee! at Bally’s. Once it’s gone, the image of the iconic Vegas entertainer will fall to mirthy clowns, tumbling acrobats and celeb burlesque dancers. That won’t necessarily be a bad thing; it will just mark a new era for this ever-evolving city … much like The Mirage did 25 years ago this month.