Nick the Greek & Lolita Lady Luck, part two

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When we last saw our heroine, she had landed a job as a singer in Las Vegas, and was the apple of a big time gambler’s eye.

After I began singing with Ted Fio Rito’s band, it wasn’t long before Nick the Greek began taking notice of me in a more personal way. He asked me out to dinner and then a show and before long we were dating pretty regularly. He was very protective, treating me with great deference and respect, understanding that a youngster like me, trying out her wings in a wild town like Vegas, was a target.

Though his expensive tailored suits always reeked of cigar smoke, Nick was charming and fun to be around. Our liaison developed into an offbeat sort of Lolita relationship that featured very little sex, but a lot of talk and advice. As befitted a man with a high stakes reputation, Nick loved the best restaurants. We often had dinner and drinks at Luiggis and always made the rounds of the casinos afterward.

One night the dice began rolling Nick’s way at the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street. A crowd gathered around us at the crap table as the stacks of silver dollars and black chips grew higher in front of him. When he felt his luck had ebbed, Nick tipped a hundred each to the croupiers and cashed in the rest.

On our way out of the Nugget, Nick bought me an expensive watch, encrusted with diamonds and rubies and hugged me close as we walked out into the hubbub of the hot Vegas night. “You were certainly my Lady Luck tonight,” he said.

Like every professional gambler I’ve ever known, Nick was a keen student of human nature and could size up people very quickly. Often he would point out someone in the casino and confide to me, “Watch out for that one. He’s no good.” He nearly always proved to be right.

A wealthy oilman named Ray Ryan was one he warned me about. Ryan had made a sizable fortune on oil leases in his native Evansville, Indiana, and was also a highly successful real estate developer in Palm Springs, California. He was a good gambler who delighted in high-stakes action. He was married, but always hitting on girls in the casino.

Nick and Ray Ryan had played a highly publicized, week-long poker game outside the new Thunderbird Casino. The marathon game finally ended with Nick losing half a million dollars—more than four and a half million in today’s dollars. Nick the Greek had lost big before and, as always, he paid his gambling debt. But Nick learned later that Ryan had cheated. Ryan had hired men to spy on the game through binoculars and radio the cards in Nick’s hand to him through an earphone. (A scheme that was later popularized in Ian Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger.) When Nick found out, he demanded his money back, but Ryan denied any wrongdoing. Nick sued Ryan, but the case was thrown out of court.

Nick lived by a strict code of honor. He played for high stakes. He lived high when he won, gave money to charities, and bought gifts for people he liked. When he lost, he paid his debts and moved on. But he could not abide cheating, and he became obsessed with getting even with Ryan. According to some accounts, Nick enlisted the help of the Chicago mobster Sam Giancana to get his money back. An enforcer was sent to the oilman, but Ryan stubbornly refused to return the Greek’s money. Ryan himself had ties to crime syndicates and despite threats and even being “taken for a ride” in the desert, he managed to bluff his way out of paying.

Nick never got his money back from Ray Ryan, but he ultimately had his revenge. In 1977, Ryan’s car was rigged with a bomb by the Chicago mob. When he turned the key, the explosion shattered windows for blocks around, killing Ryan instantly, and belatedly closing the books on his dispute with Nick the Greek, eleven years after Nick’s death.

To be continued…
Next time Lolita falls for a gangster.

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Nick the Greek & Lolita Lady Luck

6/24/1953:"Nick the Greek" and Jack Dempsey.
Nick the Greek giving advice to Jack Dempsey.
(These two legends played interesting roles in my life.)

This is a story of a character in postwar Las Vegas who has seldom been written about. It happened before I was Mamie Van Doren and it has been in and out of my new book. I am presenting it here in multiple parts to I will let you decide whether or not it should be included in Secrets of the Goddess.

Of the many fascinating people I have known, the legendary gambler, Nick the Greek was perhaps one of the most interesting. A true original among the larger than life characters that populated Las Vegas in the 1940s and 1950s, Nick Dandolos was a Greek immigrant who became the most fabled high-stakes gambler, said to have won and lost half a billion dollars in his lifetime.

I was a teenager when I first saw Nick. My father loved to gamble, and I often made the long drive to Las Vegas with my parents. Our favorite place to stay was the Old West-themed El Rancho Vegas, one of the first motel-casinos along Las Vegas Boulevard—the street that would one day be known simply as “The Strip.” Its swimming pool was so close to the highway, you could wave at the passing cars from your lounge chair. My mom and I swam and suntanned there while my dad played poker and shot craps in the casino.

Occasionally I perched on a barstool and watched my dad at the crap table. To the delight of the other gamblers, sometimes I stood next to him and threw the dice. Gamblers love to have pretty girls around the tables and if this one happened to be only a teenager, those were freewheeling days in Vegas when nobody asked and nobody cared.

Often a well-dressed, olive-skinned man with thick dark hair and an expensive cigar, shooting craps an air of quiet self-assurance, would acknowledge me with a smile and a hello. When I asked who he was, my dad whispered, “Oh, that’s Nick the Greek.”

The following year, after appearing in several movies for Howard Hughes’ RKO Studios, I was back at the El Rancho Vegas with my mom and dad. The hotel owner, Beldon Katelman, had a developed a serious crush and offered me a job as a singer with the popular Ted Fio Rito band. I wasn’t especially interested in Beldon, but I was excited to have a chance at performing in Vegas. I assured my parents that I could keep Beldon at bay. They always had a liberal attitude toward my adventures anyway, so a few days later Mom and Dad returned to L.A. and I stayed behind at the El Rancho.

I had used some of the money I earned at RKO to buy a right-hand drive MG TC that once belonged to Humphrey Bogart. My dad drove the car back to Vegas for me the following week. With my car, a little money in the bank, and a paying singing gig, I felt like things were going my way. Paris in the 1920s may have been Hemingway’s moveable feast, but Las Vegas in 1949 was my 24-hour banquet.

Las Vegas in the early 1950s was not the family resort that it would become after Howard Hughes began buying hotels. The large, glitzy casinos were owned and operated largely by crime syndicates. The Mob had first been attracted to this wide place in the desert highway because it provided a means of laundering the money earned though their illegal activities. To the gangster’s delight it became a lucrative profit center in its own right.

Up and down the strip there were bright lights and entertainment at the Last Frontier, the Flamingo, the Desert Inn, the Sahara, and the Thunderbird. When I wasn’t working, I immersed myself in the glamor, danger, and sense of lawlessness that was Vegas back then. Knowing you might catch a glimpse of an infamous gangster like Bugsy Siegel or Al Capone’s cousin, Charlie Fischetti, lent an extra zing of excitement to an evening in the casinos. Nick the Greek navigated easily through this world of mobsters without being one of them. He had their respect because they knew he was honest—at least as honest as any professional gambler was likely to be.

To be continued…
Next time, Nick meets his Lolita Lady Luck.

Nobody eats parsley

Parsley

Not long ago my dear friend, genius photographer Alan Mercer, told me about drinking parsley juice. It was, Alan told me, next to miraculous for making your skin look smooth and clear, removing dark circles under the eyes, and giving you an overall feeling of well-being.

Whoa! You mean just plain old green, leafy parsley? That stuff I push aside on my plate? Alan assured me that, yes, that curly herb was really some kind of miracle substance.

Alan’s recipe is simple: take a bunch of parsley, preferably organic, and place it in a quart or so of boiling water. Allow it to boil for 8 minutes or so, take it off the heat, and let it cool. Drink.

It turns out that it’s a pleasant enough drink, either as a hot tea or cold. The best part is I began to notice my skin being more radiant within a couple of days. I’ve only been drinking it for a week or so, but I’m continuing with it. This stuff makes me feel good.

Parsley contains huge amounts of vitamins K, A, and C. I’ve attached some links here and here and here and here.

Please note that the usual disclaimers apply. This is working for me, but it might not work for you. Consult your doctor before trying the parsley drink. There are some side effects, particularly if you are taking blood thinners (vitamin K interferes with them), if you are pregnant (parsley has been used for centuries to induce menstruation and abort pregnancies), and if you have kidney disease (parsley contains oxalates which can aggravate kidney problems) or high blood pressure (it can cause some individuals to retain sodium). All that said, it can’t be more dangerous than some of the prescription drugs like Cialis and Abilify. If you read their listed side effects you would never go near them.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep you posted on this parsley drink. So far, I’m lovin’ it.

Old joke:
What’s the difference between parsley and pussy?
Nobody eats parsley.

My own private time warp

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It’s an odd situation I’m in. Many people these days are fortunate enough to have lived a long life, but I have the unusual experience of living mine in the midst of images from my youth. My movies–which are enjoying something of a renaissance these days–and the thousands of photos of me at various stages of my career are all there to remind me of the past.

It may sound strange coming from someone so closely associated with nostalgia, but I do not like living in the past. I am one who has always been curious about the future: what will the world be like, what will people think about, how will our lives be different? But when one’s past has been as well documented as mine, it has the habit of becoming part of the present.

Here’s what’s weird: watching a movie that I am in at age, say, 23, acting alongside people I knew, liked, or loved, all of us with that bond of co-workers doing a sometimes difficult job. And in the midst of seeing us as we were then, I realize they’re dead. Clark Gable, Tony Curtis, Woo Woo Grabowski, Steve Cochran, Gerald Mohr, Jeff Chandler, Donald O’Conner, Jackie Coogan, John Carradine, Faye Spain, Pamela Mason, Louis Nye, Jayne Mansfield, Tommy Noonan–the list seems endless. And watching them and me in a different time, almost a different world is, well, disorienting.

The fact is there are few of us left alive–Mickey Rooney, Doris Day, Russ Tamblyn, Piper Laurie, Anita Eckberg–who can experience the duality of this private time warp: seeing ourselves almost simultaneously as young and, with a turn of the head, as old. Getting old isn’t for sissies. And getting old when your life has been on film for so many years isn’t either. You’ll need balls if you expect to grow old gracefully.

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Vaping

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Working on my new book today—the part with health and beauty tips and life hacks—and I was going over this paragraph:

Do I really need to say this? Do not smoke. This is a no brainer. If you smoke, you will not have a healthy life and you will likely die younger than you should. When you do die of smoking related illnesses, the dying will not be pleasant. If you have been a smoker, you can improve the quality of your later years—not to mention your present years—by quitting.

For many years the evils of smoking were largely hidden from the public by the big tobacco companies. Doctors endorsed smoking in television commercials and even hinted that menthol cigarettes could be beneficial if you had a chest cold. None of this ever made any sense to me and I avoided smoking accept when I played all those bad girls who did.
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Just when smoking was on the decline—at least in the U.S.—along comes “vaping.” In case you don’t know, vaping means inhaling the vapor generated by electronic cigarettes. A battery powered atomizer vaporizes nicotine-laced propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin flavored with various tastes like mint, bubblegum, or banana caramel. Touted as an alternative to smoking or a way to quit cigarettes, it is merely a variation on a familiar theme: a nicotine delivery system. Little is known about the health risks of vaping and much of the current research has been funded by tobacco companies. Haven’t we already been lied to about the health risks of smoking, and don’t we already know about the health hazards and powerful addictive qualities of nicotine?

The sidebar story to this is, of course, that nicotine and the tobacco companies get a pass to sell known carcinogens, while marijuana is still illegal. Go figure. An herb you can grow at home is outlawed, but one grown by our corporate rulers isn’t. Ain’t that America?

This is a potential gold mine for BIG TOBACCO. Like all things related to the giant corporate players who own our government, there is big lobbying money being paid to the so-called elected officials who cast the votes. And as with cigarettes, tobacco companies are not going to tell you that it could be harmful. They will gladly sell you a drug known to be addictive and poisonous, masked in a sweetly flavored false alternative.

The Mamie Van Doren Suite

I am soooo excited about the preparations now underway at the Andreas Hotel in Palm Springs to renovate one of their luxury suites and name it in my honor. The video shows some of the changes that the hotel manager, Gina Laughton, is beginning to make. Gina plans on redecorating the suite around some of my memorabilia—pictures, movie posters, and especially a fantastic portrait of me by pinup artist Olivia De Berardinis. It promises to be gorgeous. I’ll have more updates for you in the next few weeks prior to the grand opening party.

Julian Assange: more ass than a toilet seat

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Julian Assange with his legal adviser Jennifer Robinson

There’s a fascinating documentary on Julian Assange and Wikileaks, created by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s news magazine Four Corners on the website justice4assange.org. It gives the first detailed account I have seen of the sexual dalliances with two Swedish women that caused Julian Assange to take refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid being arrested and extradited to Sweden on charges of rape. It’s worth the 45 minutes it takes to watch just to have some background on the controversial founder of Wikileaks.

You can decide whether you think he’s a rapist or a victim of the Swedish justice system acting as a proxy for the U.S., who wants desperately to silence him and Wikileaks. I’m not going to write about the pros and cons of the charges against Julian today. I am going to comment that Julian certainly gets more ass than a toilet seat. I base this on the fact that just about anywhere he goes, he’s surrounded by attractive young women. From the young Swedish women who took him under their, um, wings at a speaking engagement in 2010; to the good-looking Aussie who’s his legal adviser in London, to an Icelandic Member of Parliament who was his champion, Julian is clearly catnip to the ladies. As a woman, I can totally see why.

Assange embodies some of the qualities of a Robin Hood-like folk hero, which he manipulates very cleverly to his advantage. Not the least is his heroic image as a lone messenger brave enough to unmask the dirty secrets of the powerful around the world. That he led a nomadic existence—until he was forced to hole up in the Ecuadorian Embassy—sparks an instinct in certain women to make a safe and cozy nest for him, if only for a night or two. I would certainly give him a place to hide and a bed to put his slippers under.