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Former maitre d’ shares tales of his days serving celebrities

Thomas Payne had no clue how he and his buddies were going to tell Sammy Davis Jr. that the limo was gone.

Stolen from the valet at the old Mint.

Payne served as “Mr. D’s” dressing room captain when the famed entertainer and esteemed member of the Rat Pack played at Bally’s in the ’80s.

Davis had cance led the show that night because he wasn’t feeling well. He slept at his penthouse.

The group, which included Davis’ manager and bodyguard, had taken the limo to go out that evening.

Nobody told Mr. D.

“We’re at the top of the Mint, we’re up there drinking and jitterbuggin’, having a good time,” Payne said with a slight British accent. “Around 2:30 a.m., we came out and the limo’s gone. We’re sitting there frantic, because the valet couldn’t find it. We had the receipt.”

Turns out Davis woke up, went to the front desk to find out where everyone had gone and picked up his own limo from the Mint before returning to the penthouse.

The group took a cab back to face the music. Davis was up and waiting for them, Payne said.

“He goes, ‘I’m glad you’re back,’ ” Payne recalled Davis saying to the group. “ ’Brian (Davis’ bodyguard), get the limo round.’ ”

The bodyguard stuttered and stammered before Davis tossed the keys up on a table, Payne said, laughing.

It all sounds a little far-fetched, he admits.

Then, Payne points to a picture of himself sandwiched between Davis and a guffawing Jerry Lewis. A copy of a personal check from Davis to Payne is attached.

Payne hands over a stack of papers and copies of photographs with celebrities. There is a copy of his certification with the Maitre D’s & Captains Association. He wants people to know his stories are true about his personal relationships with musical icons, who are now dead and can’t corroborate his tales.

“As proof,” Payne said. “Talk is cheap.”

An autographed letter from Jerry Lewis thanking Payne for his work hangs on a wall nearby. There’s a photograph of Payne standing next to “Tonight” show host Johnny Carson. There’s another one of him with Bob Hope. A personally signed letter from Bill Clinton is framed on a desk.

His tiny downtown home is a shrine to some of Las Vegas’ entertainment icons. These are people he used to rub elbows with as he served them expensive food and drink.

To this day Payne can remember most of their orders.

Dean Martin drank lemonade and cherry juice.

“He was a real down-to-earth guy,” Payne said of the Rat Pack member.

Frank Sinatra drank Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Payne worked with him in New York, California and Las Vegas.

Roy Rogers once gave him a picture as a tip. That photo hangs on the same wall as the letter from Lewis.

“He didn’t even sign it,” Payne complained. “How am I supposed to pay the bills with that?”

Payne spent his early years fine-tuning his serving skills as a chief lounge waiter on cruise ships such as the RMS Queen Mary and the RMS Caronia. He moved around Brooklyn, New York City and New Jersey. He owned a restaurant in California before moving to Las Vegas in the ’80s.

But a failing prostate and old age have Payne wanting to make sure his memories of the Rat Pack days are documented in history. A bowl full of miscellaneous prescription pill containers sits near the front door. The joy in his voice is tinged with sadness at the thought of the “good old days when the mob ran the town. Now it’s all corporations. It’s quite pathetic, really.”

“I’ve lived quite a life,” Payne said. “I wish I could turn the clock back. I miss those days. I really do.”

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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