Updated April 15, 2021 - 5:59 pm
Ask Ann-Margret what first springs to mind when someone brings up Las Vegas, and she calls out such terms as, “Happiness,” and “Bang!” and also, “Wow!”
“I feel happiness. I love performing,” the entertainment legend said Tuesday night prior to her induction into the UNLV College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame at the university’s Student Union. “I love it, I love the audience, the give and take. I love the immediate bang! When I get onstage. Wow! … I love being fed by the audience.”
Ann-Margret, of course, is part of Vegas entertainment’s legacy as co-star with Elvis Presley in the 1964 classic “Viva Las Vegas.” UNLV is forever linked to the film, as the two filmed the explosive “C’mon Everybody” number at the gymnasium/dance studio set, with the “University of Nevada” sign in the background.
“He was a great man,” Ann-Margret said, recalling her meeting Elvis.”This sounds weird, but I had never seen him perform before I did the movie. Hard to believe. We just found out we were very much alike. We were both very shy, but then you become this other person when you are performing.
“I loved my parents so much, and he loved his mother so much.”
Ann-Margret was brought to the stage triumphantly, by renowned costume designer (and author of the book “Stars In Their Underwear”) Diana Eden, who called out, “Viva Las Vegas! And Viva Ann-Margret!”
The superstar was inducted alongside veteran Strip resident headliners Mac King of Harrah’s, Carrot Top (Scott Thompson) and art critic and writer Dave Hickey. Trumpet virtuoso and Lady Gaga’s bandleader Brian Newman was honored with the first Las Vegas Newcomer Award.
Recognized with the Koep Dean’s Medal were Vegas native Justin Favela, UNLV alumnus and mixed media and installation artist; and Candy Schneider, vice president of education and outreach for The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Stage director and educator Giovanna Sardelli (who is a daughter of the great Vegas singer and F.I.O.R.E. of Las Vegas founder Nelson Sardelli), and mixed-media artist Sush Machida were recognized as Alumni of the Year. UNLV College of Fine Arts Dean Nancy Uscher hosted and ex-“Folies Bergere” singer Traci Kesisian emceed.
Master Magician Lance Burton introduced King, which was only right as the two have been friends since meeting at age 14 in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Burton brought his friend to the stage with, “Mac King is the finest stage magician working in the world today. Period.”
King brought some comedy in his speech, spraying down the mic stand with a little hand-sanitizer packet handed out to all guests.
“You don’t know Lance Burton the way I know Lance Burton,” King said. Referring to the legend sitting at the front of the room, King said, “I don’t have any Ann-Margret stories. But the night is young!”
Taking a serious tone, King said it was his wife, Jennifer, who coerced him to move to Las Vegas in the first place. “Now, Las Vegas is my home. Even after I’m finished performing, it will still be my home.”
Newman (introduced by yours truly) reminded the crowd of Vegas’ golden lounge era.
“As a young musician, I heard the tales of the iconic scenes of Vegas, the party music of Keely Smith and Louis Prima spilling out onto the casino floor until the wee hours of the night, the glittering showrooms, the audiences dressed to the nines,” Newman said. “The mystery, no one knew who would jump on the stage that night. Sinatra? Sammy Davis? Dean? The shows, the vibe, the scene, it was the place I wanted to be, even at 14.”
The NoMad Restaurant at Park MGM headliner’s voice cracked as he said,”I can’t express my gratitude, but I’m going to show it as soon as I get back on that stage.”
Hickey and Thompson could not make it to the event. Hickey, the former UNLV professor who now lives in Santa Fe., New Mexico, was honored on video by past inductee Roger Thomas. The resort designer of Wynn/Encore (among many signature designs) and 2011 inductee referred to Hickey’s 2001 MacArthur Foundation Award for Art Criticism, saying it the honor was “only one instance of the wide-ranging acclaim he garnered over decades of writing about art. His insistence, at once simple and complex, that beauty is the basis for art, has resonated with a worldwide audience.”
Famed stand-up comic and actor Louie Anderson introduced his friend Carrot Top.
“People often say that this guy is a prop comic, but this guy is an artist, and the props are his art,” Anderson said. “I watched him do 20 minutes with no prop in his hand, and afterward I told him, ‘You’re really great.’”
Thompson, who cut a video from the Luxor Theater stage, remarked on his 27-year career headlining in Las Vegas, which includes the past 15 as headliner at Luxor. In thanking the Hall of Fame, he said, “Sorry I can’t be there, but I’m in Florida, on my boat, in my Speedo.” The video then cut to exactly that scene. No props there, either.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.