Sugar in the mornin’… Sugar in the evenin’… Sugar at suppertime. Be my little sugar… And love me all the time. —Odis Echols/Charlie Phillips, Sung by the McGuire Sisters
I was minding my own business living in a home on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. A few months prior I had stepped down from Grand Casinos Inc., cashed out my options, and planned to slow my life down a bit. I then received a call from the chairman of Grand, Lyle Berman, who was also the chairman of the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel, and Tower in Las Vegas. Lyle had a rather curious and surprising request—he asked if I would consider running the facility for 90 days while we would work together to source new leadership for the property. Lyle had been very good to me and it seemed that it would be difficult to say no—so I agreed.
Two days later I threw a bunch of clothes into a van and was taken to Lyle’s jet. We loaded the plane with my stuff and a few hours later I was on my way to Las Vegas.
I was checked into a suite on the top floor of the hotel and moved in. Little did I know at the time that I would be living there for the next 365 days. I even went one period of nine weeks during which I did not leave the property. The Stratosphere was a property that could keep a CEO very busy.
After the formal announcement was published concerning the change in leadership for the facility, a press conference was scheduled. In this session I mentioned my plan for an eight-week turnaround marketing effort for the property and the late Gary Thompson, then a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, asked what was so special about eight weeks. I told him this was because the property only had about eight weeks of cash left. I added that if the property had nine weeks of cash left, I would have developed a nine-week turnaround plan.
One of the reporters also asked what I was being paid and they all seemed rather surprised that I did not know. Lyle and I had not discussed it. I knew Lyle as a fair man and I was not worried about it, plus we had more important things in front of us – like almost 4,000 employees who were very concerned about their jobs.
I have a great many fond memories about my time at the Stratosphere and one near the top of this list was a wonderful dinner I had with Phyllis McGuire, of fame for being one of the McGuire Sisters.
The McGuire Sisters were a very popular singing group, launching their act in the early 1950s, and experiencing a great deal of success. This path was slowed in the 1960s as a result of a romantic relationship one of the sisters had with noted mobster Sam Giancana. And yes, that sister was Phyllis.
During my tenure as president and CEO of the Stratosphere, I noted that there was a bit of a crime problem in the ‘hood. I contacted our attorney and requested he set up a meeting with the mayor of Las Vegas so I could allow my concerns to be heard. The mayor, whom I did not know at the time, was Jan Jones (now Blackhurst) and while that meeting seemed to have caused no change in the crime around the property, the mayor and I did start dating. And it was the mayor who introduced me to Phyllis McGuire.
One of the incredible assets of the Stratosphere was the Top of the World restaurant. High atop the tower, this outlet offered and still offers spectacular views of the greater Las Vegas area. The restaurant also slowly rotated and it was a mesmerizing experience. It is no surprise this outlet was known as one of the most romantic and special environments in all of Las Vegas.
I then set a plan in place. I invited Jan and Phyllis to join me for dinner at the Top of the World. I ordered a limo to pick these two ladies up and I had a table somewhat separated in the room and near the windows. Oh, and I told the server to ensure we had great champagne and that neither of the ladies’ glasses was ever to go empty.
I was waiting at the entrance of the casino when the limo arrived and I opened the car door for these two women. I escorted them across the casino and up the escalator to get to the elevators for the Tower. I will note that these two ladies turned a great many heads as they walked arm-in-arm with me across the casino floor. Not only were these ladies quite beautiful, but they generally managed to wear hundreds of thousands of dollars of clothing and jewelry. Yes, they turned heads
Everything went perfectly at the dinner. After a great meal, we stayed in the restaurant for at least another hour enjoying each other’s company, the wonderful surroundings—and the champagne. Finally, I had to ask: “Phyllis, tell me about Sam.”
We talked for some time on the topic of Sam and she did make one point quite clearly—and that was that she felt she was unfairly criticized by the public for being associated with him. It was Phyllis’ point that she did much good for she indicated at times there would be this darkness in Sam’s eyes and his whole mood and demeanor would change. She said when she saw that look, she knew someone was in trouble and it would not end well.
When this happened, she said she would become amorous with him, giving him the look and touching his hands. She said that this would calm him down, and by the next day, all would be well in Sam’s world for his anger had subsided. She argued that she felt she saved many lives in this fashion so that her relationship with Sam was a positive thing.
It saddened me to hear the news of late last year that Phyllis had died. The world lost an incredibly interesting person. A wonderful interview can be found between Phyllis and Barbara Walters on YouTube, and I would encourage everyone to check it out for it is both interesting and great fun. Not only does it tell a wonderful story about Phyllis but it also allows for people to see her incredible Rancho Circle home in Las Vegas. That home, to say the least, was amazing.
Oh, and I almost forgot. During our discussion, Phyllis mentioned that she had even saved Sinatra’s life… twice.