JFK assassination shook Las Vegans

Some Las Vegans — Steve Wynn for one — recall with photographic-like clarity, their personal memories from Nov. 22, 1963.

For comedian and party animal Shecky Greene, the horror of that day has been erased, for whatever reason.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has more than distant memories of the shocking instant he was informed President John F. Kennedy was shot 50 years ago today: Reid has a framed thank-you letter from President-elect Kennedy dated one week before his inauguration in 1961.

A historical letter, it turns out, from a president-elect to a future Senate majority leader. The framed letter hangs in Reid’s Washington office.

More than two dozen notable Las Vegans were interviewed about where they were and what they were doing that day.

The vignettes appear in full at normclarke.com.

Reid and Elaine Wynn were in Washington, unaware they were both attending classes at George Washington University.

The interviews uncovered some remarkable coincidences and postscripts: Greene and former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller were both at the Ambassador Hotel five years later, when JFK’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was mortally wounded by assassin Sirhan Sirhan.

Fellow comedians Sammy Shore and Greene knew Jack Ruby, the Dallas club owner who assassinated Lee Harvey Oswald.

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman was pulled into the assassination aftermath shortly after arriving here in 1964. His first client, “Bottom’s Up” co-producer and performer Brent Wall, was a Ruby confidant. The Warren Commission, appointed to investigate the assassination, wanted to know what Wall knew.

Entertainers Steve Lawrence and Wayne Newton were in New York City; Lawrence rehearsing for his first Broadway show and Newton as the featured entertainer for a tribute to comedic giant Jackie Gleason.

Newton called it “an absolutely surreal” day, adding he has never forgotten the overwhelming grief and weeping he experienced on the streets that day.

Lawrence recalled watching Kennedy’s inaugural address, with his wife, Eydie Gorme, from bleachers across from the inauguration platform.

 Burlesque star Tempest Storm burst into tears during her show in Hawaii. Some may prefer not to know the back story. 

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan remembers how quickly businesses closed after the news, with wreaths being placed in windows. Some resorts turned off their marquee lights in tribute, he said.

I’ve been told over the years that might have been the first time it happened here.

Kennedy’s last visit to Las Vegas was Sept. 28, 1963, when he delivered an address at the old convention center. A photo taken by the Las Vegas News Bureau shows Kennedy seated in the right rear seat of a limo convertible, an eerie reminder of the last photos taken of him in Dallas.

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more at normclarke.com. Follow @Norm_Clarke on Twitter. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.

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