Lady Las Vegas: The Inside Story Behind America’s Neon Oasis

I acquired Lady Las Vegas: The Inside Story Behind America’s Neon Oasis by Susan Berman after watching the A&E series The Real Las Vegas. It was a speedy read, filled with sepia-tinted photographs, telling the story of the city from before its foundation in 1905 up until 1996, the year of publication. Berman was the daughter of mobster David (Davie) Berman, who built some of the early Vegas hotels and casinos and took over the Flamingo after Bugsy Siegel was murdered. She grew up in the city and watched it expand from a dusty town with gambling shacks to the metropolis it is now.

One theme throughout the book was the personification of the city as “Lady Las Vegas”, where Berman referred to the town–later city–as an older sister, holding sometimes a jealousy or a sense of rivalry against “her”. This was understandable considering how much attention her father devoted to developing the city. He was frequently absent, only to return home long after Susan had gone to bed. It is no wonder if she felt that her father spent more time with hotel management (and mob business) than with her.

Berman had access to the glory days of 1950’s and 60’s Vegas, befriending the stars of the Strip through her father’s connections. As a young girl she met Elvis, the Rat Pack and many of the celebrities who passed through. We learned about segregation and how headlining celebrities led the fight to end it by refusing to go onstage unless it was to an integrated audience.

Sadly, Berman was murdered in 2001, in a manner not uncommon among mob hits. I only learned this as I was researching the author before I embarked on reading this book. Thus when I read the following passage:

“Is there a curse on Vegas parents and their children–is it the sins of our fathers, or is that just an old wives tale?…Am I to suffer for the sins of his youth?”

I had to take a pause before I resumed reading. Berman features prominently in The Real Las Vegas and since I own this four-tape VHS box set I’d like to watch it again (I liked it so much I would watch it repeatedly) for the first time in over twenty years since Mark and I are going to Las Vegas for the US Scrabble Nationals in two weeks.

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