HOW LAS VEGAS BECAME A STAR
Beautiful leading lady opposite a ruggedly handsome leading man. Bad guys, comic relief, a little music ….. the whole formulaic magilla. Not unlike any other murder-infused love story of 1952. Except that this movie fueled America’s burgeoning curiosity about a mythical oasis where vices were virtues. Where fantasy was reality and a man could change his life with one silver dollar.
The Las Vegas Story was not the first movie to showcase Las Vegas, but it had something going for it that its predecessors definitely did not. Howard Hughes as producer (uncredited) and a budget that afforded Jane Russell, Victor Mature and Vincent Price. Movie stars instead of actors. A step up in class for Hughes’ RKO Radio Pictures, an outfit that generally cranked out movies on the cheap. But Hughes been hot for Jane Russell’s 38D rack since casting her in The Outlaw nine years earlier. And he had been buying up land in Las Vegas even before that, so the man who was himself larger than life upped the ante to glamorize both his leading lady and the town which fifteen years later his casinos would monopolize.
People in the early 1950s had heard enough chatter and seen enough celebrity-infused glossy magazine spreads to know that the fantasy backdrop of The Las Vegas Story was not far from reality. It was the first movie in which America saw Las Vegas dressed in its Saturday night finest. The gowns and the jewels. The lights and the action. The cozy elegance of the casino. And the money. All that money. The Hollywood make-believe was a bit over the top, but not by much. Popcorn munchers were begging to be seduced and this movie did not let them down.
Things were on the upswing in America. The country had gotten past the Great Depression, a double-edged war, and was settling into the pedestrian prosperity that would become Eisenhower’s 1950s. Working stiffs now owned houses, and were no longer restricted to summer vacations of taking the kids to see Aunt Marge. The average American family now had the wherewithal to branch out. To explore. To live. To actually visit the fantastic places they had only read about in magazines or seen at the movies, and Las Vegas was at the top of the list.
Las Vegas extolled the virtues of recreational endeavors that other American cities demonized as scandalous. The town was dangerous yet safe. Elegant yet affordable. Offered mom and dad the perfect opportunity to dump the kids with Aunt Marge and aim the Oldsmobile toward a place where they could rub elbows with movie stars and sports heroes, then catch Bing Crosby for the price of a steak. The glamorous Las Vegas of 1952 was definitely within reach of everyone, and The Las Vegas Story promoted tourism to the masses better than any ad campaign. Sex and celebrity. Action and fun. Riches beyond your wildest dreams. All within reach to anyone who walked through the door. Moviegoers were hooked.
The Las Vegas Story is not unlike any murder-infused love story that might be made today. Beautiful leading lady opposite a handsome leading man. Bad guys, comic relief, a little music ….. the whole formulaic magilla. But then as now, with any movie set in Las Vegas the screen is big enough for only one star. Las Vegas itself. Howard Hughes knew that, much to the chagrin of Jane Russell’s 38D rack.