by ERROL LABORDE
Marilyn Monroe was making advances toward me, and I was uneasy. I hate it when that happens.
Las Vegas is all about fantasy. It’s a surreal place that creates its own reality, a setting where Venice, Paris and New York stand only blocks apart, in some ways as good as the real thing, save for the clanging of gambling machines.
On a Monday night, when many big shows are closed, we were at the Greek Isle, one of the last of the old era nightspots not yet subdued by the giants that have devoured Vegas. At the Isle, there was a little gambling in one room and an intimate theater in another. The theater was full, as it is most nights, for a re-creation of the Rat Pack, the famous gang of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop, who once performed at the nearby Sands casino. Preservation has little hold in Vegas; the Sands was imploded to make way for a bigger casino, and according to the waiter, the same fate may await the Greek Isle within the next year or so.
For the evening, though, the past was showing some heartbeat. Four men who looked and sounded remarkably like the characters they represented became real. There was Sinatra being boss; Martin being suave and tipsy; Davis slapping his knee in laughter and Bishop providing comic relief. They sang and cut up just like Rat Packers should.
But then there was a special guest, Marilyn Monroe, spirited into momentary reality. She joked with Sinatra, who urged her to perform the famous scene when she sang a sultry version of “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy. Teasing that all the men in the audience considered this moment to be their birthday, Monroe said she would pick one man – “and that will be you!” she said, pointing to me, seated on the aisle five rows back. Boing! There was something about my facial expression that betrayed me. “He looks more like a deer in headlights,”Sinatra quipped to Monroe.
I am not comfortable with audience participation, especially if it is to involve me, so I braced myself as Monroe began her soft song, heading down the stage steps. She paused to rub the head of a man two rows ahead of me. I gulped as she took the next step in my direction, but then, like Hurricane Ivan being deflected by a pressure system, she suddenly turned to a much older man with a solid head of gray hair who obviously had lots of stories to tell, but whose stories would go back to the early 20th century. For the next few moments Monroe purred, flirted, sat on his lap and sang.
Still not knowing if I was in her plans, I sat motionless. As the song reached its crescendo, Monroe rose from the old man’s lap and then ascended the stairs to rejoin Sinatra. Applause.
I felt relieved but passed over. I kept wondering what I had done to repel Marilyn Monroe. Was it my body language? The performers, I reasoned, are professionals, and they know how to spot a potential loser, so maybe she made a last-minute adjustment away from me. This was not a proud moment.
Monroe left the stage but returned for the final curtain, this time dressed in white to relive the scene from “The Seven Year Itch” when a gust of air tossed up the skirt of her dress. The show was great – it earned a standing ovation, but I was bothered. I felt like I did when I was on jury duty. During jury selection, I prayed not to be picked, but when I was bypassed, I wondered why. What was wrong with me?
After the show Sinatra, Davis, Martin, Bishop and Monroe stood in a receiving line in the lobby. There was a break in the line in front of Monroe, so I paused to shake her hand and to give the usual compliments. But then, I couldn’t resist. “I am sorry I looked like a deer in headlights,” I said. “Oh, no,” she answered in a perfect, tiny, but seductive voice. “That wasn’t the problem – you were just too young.”
There are millions of lights in Las Vegas, blinking the images of thousands of performers. Whether real or fanciful, no performer at that moment delivered a more rejuvenating line than Marilyn Monroe. •