Patriotism on the Strip

The Bicentennial year brought its thematic fireworks to much of the Strip. Sequins and showgirls were freshly revamped in red, white and blue as many of the production shows took a patriotic spin: the Stardust’s Lido ’76, the Dunes’ Casino de Paris ’76, the Flamingo Hilton’s Hooray ’76, the Royal’s Burlesque ’76, the Sahara’s Pinups ’76.

Of course, it wasn’t the kind of American history taught in school: The marquee for Hooray ’76 featured a busty brunette in an Uncle Sam hat luring folks to a “Bi-Censational Revue!” The Las Vegas Star exulted in the show’s “feathers and fannys,” noting that “Benjamin Franklin segues the delightful scenes and gloriously unclad feminine pulchritudinous spectacle.” All of this and two drinks for only $5.95. The Casino de Paris’ “Salute to America’s Bicentennial” ran through history— from the Declaration of Independence Ball to the Gold Rush to a “Happy Birthday U.S.A.” number complete with a giant cake—and plenty of topless showgirls in American Indian war bonnets along the way.

Liberace spent most of June at the Hilton with what Vegas Visitor described as a “star-spangled salute to the Bicentennial.” He introduced his red, white and blue 1952 Silver Dawn Rolls Royce, while everything from costumes to lights to the dancing waters was redone in a patriotic color scheme. On July 1, Neil Diamond opened the Aladdin’s new Theater for Performing Arts, where he was paid a then-record $650,000 for five shows. Diamond sold out every night to an audience so fervent that some had come from as far as Canada and Atlanta. Women in the front row were using binoculars.

There was the incongruous, albeit über-’70s double bill of Jimmie “Good Times” Walker and the Carpenters at the Riviera, the latter fresh off their seventh album, A Kind of Hush. The Oak Ridge Boys were harmonizing at the Landmark (dinner show $9.95, midnight cocktail show for $6.50), and Debbie Reynolds was doing her thing at the New Frontier. Don Rickles worked the big room at the Sahara, while Rodney Dangerfield got “no respect” at the Blue Room Lounge in the Trop.

And, of course, the Hacienda featured its nude extravaganza, Spice on Ice, which may not have been patriotic per se, but really, what says U.S.A. more than drinking a beer while watching a bunch of topless ice skaters at a casino in July?