The Stardust – From Criminals to Celebrities
With a cosmic and astronomical theme, the Stardust opened its doors in 1958. It was occupied 63 acres at the northern edge of The Strip, and was the last casino/resort built in the 1950’s. When it opened, it offered 1,065 guest rooms at $6 a night (the equivalent to $50 in 2017) and featured The Big Dipper, the largest swimming pool on the Strip, and the only drive-in theater that offered first run movies. The casino was also the first to introduce Keno. In 1958, the owners purchased the Royal Nevada next door and converted it to a convention center and high roller suite that housed high roller guests and The Stardust Showgirls. The resort sponsored an auto race in Desert Springs, which drew famous drivers like Mario Andretti and Mark Donahue. A golf course was later added to the property.
As much of an attraction as the hotel itself was the sign. Designed by Kermit Wayne and fabricated by Young Electric Sign Company, the sign was designed to promote the cosmic atmosphere within the resort and casino. The concept behind the sign was to give a panoramic view of the solar system, with the earth at the center of the neon and electric lights. The name Stardust “floated” among the cosmic dust. The sign used 7,100 feet of neon tubing, with over 11,000 light bulbs and was said to be able to be visible for over 60 miles.
The last bet was placed and the chimes of the slot machines rang out for the last time in the fall of 2006. Fireworks lit up the Vegas sky as the last of the buildings were brought down with explosives in March of 2007 to make way for a new generation of casinos and resorts. The site is currently being developed as the Resorts World, an Asian and South Pacific themed resort set to open in 2020.
The story of the Stardust was intertwined with organized crime and glitz of Hollywood. “Astronomical luxury at down to earth prices…” was the motto of Anthony Comero as he conceived of his dream casino and hotel on The Strip. Comero, aka The Admiral and Tony the Hat, was a bootlegger and gambling entrepreneur from Los Angeles. He made his money during Prohibition running rum, which he hid using a shrimping business as his cover. After Prohibition, he switched his focus to floating casinos, evading the California law enforcement until an eight day stand off forced The Admiral to retire his fleet and serve time in prison. He survived a murder attempt, being shot four times in the chest. Comero didn’t live to see his casino built. He died while playing Craps in the Desert Inn. The official cause of death was listed as heart attack, but many people believed that he was poisoned.
Comero’s dream was realized by John Factor, the half-brother to Max Factor, Sr. of make up fame. Factor, aka Jake the Barber, was a Prohibition era gangster, affiliated with Chicago Mob. He was known for the stock scam in England (whose victims also may have included members of the royal family) and rigging card tables in Monte Carlo. He also supposedly attempted to bail out Jimmy Hoffa before he disappeared.
Throughout its history, the Stardust was run by men with ties to the Mob. Hyman Goldbaum, Credit Manager, was a career criminal with 14 convictions ranging from assault to grand larceny. An early casino manager, Johnny Drew, was a veteran associate of Al Capone and the Chicago crime syndicate. In the 1960’s the casino was purchased by the Argent Corporation, through loans from The Teamster’s Union, and executives were eventually tried and convicted of siphoning between 7 and 15 million dollars using rigged scales (and was the topic of the book, and movie of the same name, Casino). Even into the 1970’s the hotel was linked to organized crime when owners, Al Sachs and Herb Tobman, were convicted of skimming money and laundering it through the Chicago Syndicate.
Most of the criminal activities went unnoticed by the guests who were enthralled with entertainment and activities available at the resort. The Stardust was the first casino to offer a signature act when Billy Daniels signed a long-term residency contract. Wayne Newton called The Stardust home for 10 years in the 80’s and 90’s, as did George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay. Tim Conway and Harvey Korman offered their slapstick routines on a regular basis and famous tiger trainers, Siegfried and Roy, first took the stage at The Stardust. The final performers to grace the stage were Vegas regulars, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.
Resources and for more Information
Anthony Cornero. (2017, October 16). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Cornero
DeMatteo, D. (n.d.). Stardust Resort – 1954-1959 Las Vegas Strip History. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.lvstriphistory.com/ie/star1955.htm
John Factor (2017, October 8). Retrieved October25, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Factor
The Stardust Resort and Casino. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stardust_Resort_and_Casino