At 84, 'Rat Pack' showroom captain is still the man who knew the men


The Plaza marquee shouts "The Rat Pack is Back!" but one foot inside the theater I can tell I'm joining "The Georgie Levine Show" already in progress.

With due respect to the sainted Tony Bennett and the femmes of the fading Folies Bergere, Levine just might have the longest-running showroom act in Las Vegas, even if he's never seen his name in lights.

He's no song-and-dance man, but at 84 he remains light on his feet. He's not a standup comedian -- at his age, just standing up should be enough -- but his comic timing crackles. During our interview I notice his hearing isn't so hot, but his eyes never miss a blonde.

Tall, distinguished, impeccably dressed, George Levine is one of the last of the red-hot showroom captains at a show that celebrates the Vegas mystique of Frank, Sammy, Dean, and the rest of the Rat Pack. In a show filled with impersonators, Levine is a genuine throwback. What some folks can't appreciate is the fact there was a time top celebrity showroom waiters, captains, and maitre d's not only made big bank, but were well known in their own right.

If you couldn't be the man in Las Vegas, it always paid to be the man who knows the man.

(In George's case, he's also the man who knows the woman. He's the father of Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, but he's quick to mention he has two "little girls" he adores.)

Starting in the early 1960s at the Sands Copa Room, Levine was a captain in the heart of the Rat Pack era. Levine was the Copa maitre d' 17 years and retired after the Sands closed in 1996, but he was lured back into the spotlight by the tribute show's producer, Dick Feeney.

"The Rat Pack is Back!" features a dedicated cast of look-alikes, but the man who helps you find your seat is the authentic article. By my count, George is the last showroom maitre d' in Las Vegas.

"It was always happy times," he says before the first show, the stage crew checking the microphones in the background. "Jack Entratter, Carl Cohen, the bosses were great. The lower echelon guys, the floor bosses and pit bosses, were great.

"And once Jack said, 'We're sold, out,' we were sold out. You could have had a million empty seats. He just wanted the people who came in to be comfortable. Of course, when Hughes took over, the president called us in and said, 'I want you to fill this room. I don't want to see an empty seat no matter who's playing.'"

The older bosses could be triple tough, but they generally didn't sweat the money like the chieftains of the publicly held corporations do.

Producer Feeney is clearly one of Georgie's biggest fans. And he's impressed with the octogenarian's memory. He recalls the time he met Levine. When he returned a year later, "George remembered who I was. I couldn't believe it. Of course, the $100 tip helped, but he remembered who I was."

Off stage, a rim shot is heard.

He's a kidder, this Feeney.

As Levine reminisces about those golden days, the neon glows in his eyes. Sure, he misses the great stars and casino characters he knew on a first-name basis.

Life goes on, but oh how those stars could work a room. He gives me the all-time show guide: "To me, the most exciting guy who came to Las Vegas was Elvis. Frank, he had the coolest people and the hippest people and the Hollywood people. Then along came Wayne Newton. He played eight to 10 weeks, and I'd turn away 300 people every show. Wayne was the biggest draw Las Vegas ever had.

"The most entertaining act was Steve and Eydie. That's my opinion, which I respect. Now that was entertainment. They had that chemistry that was unbelievable.

"Frank was so good and so liberal with his money. He'd say to me, 'Georgie, I want the piano in the coffee shop.' The next day there'd be an envelope with $500. The guy was unbelievable. Dean was a sweetheart, and Sammy was terrific. You're not going to find people like that anymore."

But you'll find a celebration of that Rat Pack mystique nightly at the Plaza, brought to you courtesy of the man who knew the men.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

 

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