Efforts aiming to preserve ‘Lost Vegas’

Is there a chance “Lost Vegas” could be truly lost now?

Local Web columnist Esther Lynn recently caught me up to the March death of Tim Onosko. Obituaries clued me in to the fact that the 60-year-old Wisconsin resident was primarily known as a Walt Disney “Imagineer,” influential in the design of EPCOT Center.

But in the narrow world of Las Vegas entertainment, Onosko made his mark at the CineVegas festival in 2005. It was one of the few places where anyone has seen “Lost Vegas: The Lounge Era,” his documentary about the lounge legends of golden-age Vegas.

The project came in time to get on-screen interviews with Mary Kaye, Claude Trenier, Sonny King and Blackie Hunt, all of whom since have died. Some of them were able to attend the screening, and it was an emotional scene in the theater for those of us watching these folks get some belated recognition.

The standing ovation was as much for the subjects, and the effort, as the film itself. Though it was a single viewing a long time ago, my memory of the documentary is that of a good start in need of more work; technical tweaks and, ideally, a cable channel to come in with extra cash to pay for the rights to use copyrighted film clips and songs.

Still, the most valuable part of it — interviews with those no longer around — can’t be re-created. They deserve to be seen.

Much of Onosko’s film was lensed at the Bootlegger Bistro, where Ron Mancuso of the restaurant’s family and Dana Strum (better known from the band Slaughter) had begun a similar project by interviewing King and Hunt.

“We were playing with the same idea, but (Onosko) had the wherewithal at the time, so we sort of let him run with it,” Mancuso says.

Beth Abrohams, Onosko’s wife and partner on the project, says she plans to renew efforts to sell the film that were sidetracked by Tim’s pancreatic cancer. She’s resisting the idea of self-marketing DVDs without commercial distribution.

So far, that’s the status of a similar project, “The Story of Classic Las Vegas.” Though “the ultimate goal is for it to reach a wider audience,” producer Lynn Zook decided to self-market an hourlong overview of her 150 hours of footage. (You can buy it at the Nevada State Museum in Lorenzi Park.)

Like Onosko, Zook didn’t start a day too soon. “We’ve lost about 13 interviewees in the past couple of years,” she says.

Perhaps some day, a heavy hitter such as Ken Burns will consolidate the effort, or at least direct the spotlight to these smaller ones. “If somebody could pick up all the footage we had and combine it with (Onosko’s), that would be an interesting project,” Mancuso says.

“It’s definitely a story that needs to be told.”

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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