Antonio Fargas once thought a dream retirement would be a move to the Bahamas with lovely breezes and ocean views.
Fargas is an actor. When retirement decisions were actually on the horizon, he was drawn instead to Las Vegas. “I knew I needed to be in a place that welcomed retirees in terms of living costs. I also needed a vibrant entertainment community where I could feel at home,” he says. “Las Vegas was perfect. Though I hadn’t known the many singers, dancers and musicians in Las Vegas, I considered them my entertainment cousins and knew I’d love to be around them.”
Fargas has been an actor since the age of 14. One of 11 children, he says he’s known since an early age that he wanted to pursue acting. He studied, and subsequent TV, movie and stage credits take several pages to list. His most recognized TV role is that of Huggy Bear in the “Starsky &Hutch” TV show of the 1970s. Colleagues say Fargas could take quirky character roles and find a way to make each memorable.
As long and varied as his career has been, Fargas knew virtually no one in the Las Vegas entertainment community when he arrived. He had grown up in New York and lived in Los Angeles off and on since 1972. One of his early welcomes was from singer and Las Vegas resident Gladys Knight, who recognized Fargas in her Flamingo Las Vegas audience. She and Fargas had played husband and wife on the “Living Single” TV show, and she wasn’t aware he had moved from Los Angeles.
When asked why he didn’t make a big announcement about his move to Las Vegas, Fargas says, “I know you have to have a certain ego to be in show business, but you have to recognize the power of humility as well.”
Another connection brought Fargas one of the most satisfying associations of his Las Vegas retirement. Fargas was invited to appear in two shows with the St. Louis Black Repertory Company. The founder of the theater company, Ron Himes, later came to Las Vegas to be part of the Performing and Visual Arts Summer Camp for Kids at the West Las Vegas Arts Center. Youngsters 10 to 15 years old attend the camp to learn about music, dance, theater and the spoken word.
Himes invited Fargas to speak to children at the camp. There, Fargas reconnected with another important member of the Las Vegas show business community, Walter Mason, former entertainment director at the Las Vegas Hilton (now the LVH) and artistic director of the Arts Summer Camp. Fargas met Mason 50 years earlier when both were working with author James Baldwin on his play, “Amen Corner.”
Impressed with the Arts Summer Camp program, seven years ago Fargas joined Mason as part of the West Las Vegas Arts Center team to mentor and teach eager young people. The hours are long, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. for eight weeks, but Fargas says working with young people is a new fulfilling chapter in his life.
Fargas explains that the Arts Summer Camp is as much a program to teach life skills as developing specific artistic talent. “We talk about the real world of entertainment, about success, failure and the responsibilities all of us have in life.”
Mason adds: “At the end of the summer, our youngsters, perhaps a cast of 50 or more, put on three major performances showcasing the work they have done. The program has been such a success that many youngsters come back year after year, and some of our former students now help us teach.”
The reward for Fargas? “Knowing that in some small way, I have played a part in the light going on in the eyes of these young people through exposure to the disciplines of the arts.”
Do students respond to “Mr. Fargas” because they saw him on TV? “Some do,” he says, “but if the youngsters never saw Huggy Bear or my movie characters, their parents or grandparents did.”
When Fargas talks to youngsters, he says he does not act as their psychiatrist. However, as a mentor, he will say things such as, “If you have a dream, you can achieve it with hard work.”
The artistic process also involves something else, Fargas says, “finding out who you are and learning to be your own best friend.”
And then there is the family dynamic the children face. With regard to families, Fargas says, “Remember, even if your parents aren’t perfect, they are doing the best that they can with what they’ve got.”
As in past years, the production presented by the youngsters at the end of their eight weeks is given at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, Clark County Library and the West Las Vegas Arts Center.
Fargas’ wife, Sandra, says she wishes everyone could have seen this year’s production, “Affirmations of a Generation Unplugg#d.”
“The performances were absolutely inspiring,” she says.
Sandra Fargas retired as vice president of a California real estate investment firm. She admits she misses the excitement of a busy job, but says she is happiest seeing her husband so involved in his work. She has known her “favorite actor” for 25 years, and they share a blended family. They see children and grandchildren in Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Baton Rouge, La.; and Newport, R.I. Another reason Fargas loves Las Vegas: “The world comes to Vegas, so we can fly anywhere from here.”
When speaking of Las Vegas as a transportation hub, Fargas mentions that he is really only semiretired. “At this point in my career, with nothing more to prove, I take only those jobs I really want to do,” he says.
One of the phone calls he always takes is from Lonnie Wright, professor of hospitality management at the College of Southern Nevada and president and CEO of the new not-for-profit organization Hospitality International Training, or HIT.
HIT grew out of Wright’s work in the prison system and strives to reduce recidivism by training disenfranchised young people for jobs in the hospitality industry. He has asked Fargas to talk to students, in both traditional student settings and for HIT.
“Antonio is a star … people know him, but he can relate to everyone. When he speaks, you can hear a pin drop. He’s a gifted speaker, which you might expect of an actor, but he’s still down to earth. Antonio’s life story and the lessons he’s learned are very inspiring to our students,” Wright says.
Several weeks ago, Fargas flew to Sacramento, Calif., and spent a week helping a friend who was producing a TV pilot. Last April, another friend asked him to headline a musical group called New Jump Blues that performed as one of the Playboy Jazz Festival’s free concert programs. Fargas literally jumped around the stage like a man half his age, but says he’s just lucky to have stayed long (6 feet 1 inch), lean and limber all his life. He occasionally walks his dog, Chloe, a terrier mix, but otherwise won’t brag about a workout routine.
As to the rest of his Las Vegas life, Fargas says he has been thinking about writing a book, but more likely he will offer private acting classes. He has already done some individual coaching, which he enjoys.
Since moving to Las Vegas, Fargas and his wife have formed several new special friendships, one being with entertainers Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton. Fargas and Sandra also support new and upcoming entertainers as well as veteran performers by being in their audiences. In several venues, Fargas is introduced as a celebrity. And yes, he is still regularly asked for autographs and photos.
Come summertime, however, Fargas is committed to return to the West Side Arts Center. He feels a joy in “giving back” and being the shoulders on which some of today’s talented youngsters will stand.