Home to flashing lights and raucous nights, the city of Las Vegas began to earn its crazy reputation during the 1950s. That decade saw monumental developments throughout the city and the rise of its most iconic hotels such as the Sands and the Dunes.
Music kings such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, and even Elvis Presley attracted swarms of crowds to The Strip. It was the hub of glitz and glamour during post-war America and a haven for parties, weddings, and even mobsters.
While Las Vegas offers tons of attractions, it’s main pull is, of course, gambling. Thousands upon thousands of tourists flocked the city to try their luck at the slot machines, poker, blackjack, roulette, and more. The games got so popular that they even began leaving the casino halls and venturing outdoors.
In 1957, hotels and casinos started to get creative and offer gambling spaces in pools. Vacationers could take a dip, cool down, smoke a cigar, and start raking in that cash right from the water. These spots made the atmosphere a great place to indulge and splurge.
Legendary crooner and official "King of Cool", Dean Martin was one of the city's biggest music acts. People flocked to see his performance in the Copa Room, a showroom at the Sands Hotel.
The showroom was home to some of the era's most iconic entertainers. Frank Sinatra was also no stranger to the Copa Room.
Mamie Van Doren at The Riviera Hotel
Starlet Marylin Monroe spawned a new kind sex symbol, the "blond bombshell" look. This of course inspired many women to imitate that look. While some faded away, others stuck. One of them was the extremely iconic Mamie Van Doren.
Mamie Van Doren appeared in her first-ever night club appearance in the Riviera Hotel in 1957. She sang the song "Teddy Bear" in a memorable performance that imitated Marylin Monroe.
Frank Sinatra at The Sands
As we've seen, the Copa Room stage is hallowed ground. Sinatra was a Las Vegas regular and would typically perform at the Sands about three times a year and would often stay for two or three weeks at a time.
Needless to say, his shows filled up the city bringing millions of dollars to the hotels and to the tables. Sinatra was arguably one of the major attractions of Vegas during the 1950s.
A Buzzing Freemont Street
The famous Freemont Street is a landmark in the city of Las Vegas. It was named after the famed explorer John Charles Frémont. You can find it in downtown in the "casino corridor."
Cars whizzing down the street in 1955 was a common occurrence. Of course, as the years went by, throughout the decade, the street got busier and busier.
Jake Freedman Rolls The Dice
One of Sin City's pioneers, Jake Freedman was the owner of The Dunes hotel. Freedman is known for putting Vegas on the map and making the Sands the epicenter of entertainment and celeb hangouts.
Freedman could occasionally be spotted throwing down some dice at the craps table and being huddled by crowds.
Joe Louis Signs
Joe Louis or The old “Brown Bomber” as they "fondly" called him back then was dynamite in the ring. The former heavyweight champion signed a contract with the Las Vegas Moulin Rouge Hotel in the year 1954. He would often appear for fans and do "tourist greetings."
Louis was a heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949. He was one of the first African American boxing champions to reach celebrity status. His image was highly publicized and eventually became quite strictly managed. Having suffered from major financial troubles, so his Vegas appearances gave him a source of income.
Everybody loved showgirls. They were practical the face of the raunchy Vegas night-life of the 1950s. These women or just "girls" as they called them would work constantly and could potentially do up to three performances a night.
Pictured here are some super talented Vegas girls performing Jackpot at a casino in 1955.
Sinatra and Hepburn
In the year 1956, Frank Sinatra and Audrey Hepburn appeared together at the Sands Hotel together. The two happened to the win Oscars in the year 1954 but not ever actually appear in a film together.
It was not an uncommon sight to see such glamorous and high profile celebs in the Las Vegas party scene.
Jayne Mansfield Having a Go
One of the earliest Playboy Playmates, Jayne Mansfield was also a legendary nightclub performer and a fixture in the Vegas scene.
Here she can be seen with actress Rita Moreno and actress and dancer Gloria Paul at The Dunes Roulette table in 1955.
Actors Peter Lawford and Judy Holliday
"Rat Pack" member, actor and socialite Peter Lawford would often spend his time in Vegas. The actor also happened to be the brother in law of President John F. Kennedy.
Here you can see him helping actress Judy Holliday out of a pool in the Sands Hotel in 1953. The two actors starred in the romantic comedy "It Should Happen to You."
The Opera Singer
Famed opera singer Marguerite Piazza was a Las Vegas headliner. Originally hailing from her New Orleans, Piazza was also a radio and TV star during the 1950s.
As a Las Vegas regular, the opera singer transitioned into a jazz career, performing at the supper-club circuit in popular venus.
The Dream Girl
Jayne Mansfield was obviously a hugely iconic sex symbol in the 1950s and early 1960s. She shot to fame after some small stage productions and a minor part the CBS show "Lux Video Theatre."
The starlet soon earned some box-office and even critical success when she bagged a Theatre World Award and a Golden Globe. Here Jayne poses by one of her favorite spots — The Dunes poolside in 1955.
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner
Frank Sinatra had an enormously successful career in the 30s and early 40s. After a solid run, the legendary crooner hit a major slump. It was Vegas, however, that turned things around for him.
His performances at Las Vegas clubs were legendary and major crowd pullers for casinos and hotels. It was also the time he had his very fiery and publicized marriage with Ava actress Ava Gardner. Here's the couple at the opening of his club in 1951. They were wed that same year.
The legendary showgirl dance originated in the early 50s in Paris. Here they are on stage in 1952.
Since then it became a staple of the Las Vegas late-night entertainment scene.
Bert Lahr Plays Dice
Bert Lahr AKA The Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz." loved to hit the Vegas gambling scene.
While Lahr will be immortalized in the cowardly lion, he was also a popular stage actor.
Liberace and Elvis Presley Jamming
Two big-time performers over here. Liberace and Elvis Presley were fans of each other and first met when Liberace went to see the king of Rock and Roll perform.
Presley then got the opportunity to go see Liberace's act at the Riviera. The two reunited with a backstage jam in 1956.
Desert Tinsel Town
Frank Sinatra may have been in love with Ava Gardner but as a hotshot crooner and center of the Rat Pack — a gang of Vegas entertainers, he was definitely linked to women all over the show. On September 14, 1956, Frank got Lauren Bacall a three-tiered cake for her 32nd birthday and decorated it with the words ‘Happy Birthday Den Mother’.
Later it would be discovered that Bacall and Sinatra were having an affair while Bacall's husband, Humphrey Bogart was dying of cancer. Sinatra reportedly even begged Bacall to marry him.
Elvis's Vegas Debut
Elvis Presley's first-ever Vegas concert took place in 1956 at the New Frontier Hotel. The event created a major stir in the city and thousands of fans flocked to see the the king swing those hips.
Years later Elvis Presley would return to Vegas. By then, however, his career would be drastically different.
Kings of Cool
Dean Martin may have gotten the nickname "The King of Cool" but Sammy Davis Jr. was no less cool than him.
Here you can see the duo goofing around in Martins's dressing room in 1958.
Mansfield was not only a 1950s sex symbol but she was also an accomplished musician and stage actress.
The famous Vegas entertainer played the violin and the piano and even appeared on a British TV show in 1957 where she recited a line from Hamlet.
The Stardust Resort
Another popular resort was the Stardust Resort and Casino that opened in the year 1958. It had the largest casino and swimming pool in the whole state of Nevada.
The resort was famous for its large neon sign and topless showgirls. It also attracted a fair amount of underground activity.
American singer and actor Eddie Fisher was massively famous in the 1950s. He sold millions of records, had his own TV show, and was even married to Debbie Reynolds and then Elizabeth Taylor.
The golden boy of the 50s, fans were devastated when he left his "Singing In The Rain" wife for Elizabeth Taylor. The image above is from one of his greatest Vegas performances ever, taken in the year 1958.
Dean Martin Deals
Here we have actor, singer, and comedian Dean Martin dealing a hand at one of the casinos in 1958. Martin was one of the guys that made up the "Rat Pack." The group included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, and others.
The Rat Pack originated through the many links and parties that took place at the home of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The Hollywood power couple were at the center of some of Hollywood's most high profile circles.
Fisher Strikes Back
In 1959 Eddie Fisher leaves his wife Debbie Reynolds for actress Elizabeth Taylor. The moment their divorce was finalized, he wed Taylor. The couple actually got married in Las Vegas synagogue.
The breakup was devastating for Reynolds as she and Taylor were best friends.
Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the first African American performers in Las Vegas to get equal treatment. As one of the Rat Pack's greatest entertainment, Davis was instrumental in bringing changes to hotel policies during the 50s. His influences changed the way hotels treated their performers.
Prior to that, these establishments wouldn't' even host their talent and would give them boarding facilities outside the hotel. Davis's close friendship with Sinatra put an end to that. Here he is pictured with Clint Eastwood in 1959 at the Sands Hotel.
Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor Leaving Their Wedding
In 1959, the two officially tied the knot at Las Vegas synagogue. The marriage was scandalous and involved a lot of broken hearts. Taylor lost her previous husband, Mile Todd to a plane crash.
She turned to his best friend Eddie Fisher for comfort. Next thing they were married. Unfrotaunetly the divorced by 1964.
Showgirls would quickly prepare for the back to back shows, running to the dressing room for some last-minute touch-ups. Their performances at the Stardust Hotel were some of the best in the biz. Below is a picture of showgirls preparing for a performance in 1958.
Between the yeas 1959 and 1964, the Stardust convention center had a special place in their convention center reserved exclusively for "high rollers" and showgirls.
The Golden Nugget
One of the few hotels from the original Vegas scene still running today. The Golden Nugget in Freemont street in 1955 was one of the hottest spots in Sin City. It was built in 1946.
Real estate mogul Steve Wynn bought a share in the Nugget, by 1973 he was the main stakeholder and the youngest in casino owner in the city.
The Las Vegas Pools
Today Las Vegas is filled with luxury resorts and hotels. It was during the 1950s that this truly took off. In the image below, vacationers look through underwater portholes that were built in swimming pools.
With the temperatures that easily went over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, pools were simply a must in every resort.
Las Vegas gambling tables were filled with the rich and the beautiful, as can be seen in this 1959 photoshoot of some folks gambling at a craps table at the Sands Hotel.
Many high rollers would waltz into these places with beautiful dates on their arms and would receive special treatment from hotel staff.
Austrian British star Mara Lane stayed at the Sands Hotel in 1954. Here is she pictured in the pool while getting service from a waiter.
Lane was the daughter of the Russian-born pianist mother Olga Mironova and father Briton John Bolton (an Englishman.)
The Moulin Rouge
Built-in 1955, The Moulin Rouge was the first integrated hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Before that, African Americans were denied entry unless they were staff or entertainers, and only then could they board in separate rooms that were outside the hotel.
The Moulin Rouge changed that and paved the way for more integrated establishments across the city and even the country.
Patrons at the Moulin Rouge Casino flocked to the Blackjack tables where the hotel proved, once again that the only color that mattered was green. Here we see a photograph taken from 1955 of a mixed crowd of gamblers.
Sadly after a series of fires, the casino shut down that same year.
Business Was Good
Business was booming back then and every day it felt like it was getting busier and busier. By 1954 an average of 8 million people were visiting the city.
Casinos were raking in around $200 million a year.
Cowboy Jake Freedman
Sands hotel owner Jake Freedman would visit the roulette tables and often don some type of glitzy cowboy outfit.
Here he is with his wife, Carolyn wearing matching white outfits.
The Mint Casino
Gamblers at The Mint casino in 1958. This is the same casino that was featured in the 1972 novel by Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas."
Pictured above is practically a full house of gamblers playing the slot machines in 1958.
Mae West Makes Her Debut
The actress, playwright, and comic known for her bawdy style of humor made her Vegas debut in Hotel Sahara in 1954. Here she is pictured performing a risque piece with shirtless men at the hotel's nightclub.
West was on the last leg of her career by the time she got to Las Vegas. While her screen career was a distant memory in the '50s she still managed to forge herself a mightily successful career in the Vegas club scene.
Jack Entratter Greets Marilyn Monroe at the Sands
Nicknamed "Mr. Entertainment", Jack Entretter was known for managing the legendary Copacabana night club in New York City in the 1940s and the Sands Hotel and Casino in Vegas.
Entretter was a magnet for the hottest stars of the decade. It wasn't uncommon to see the man rub shoulders with folks like Monroe.
Las Vegas Boulevard
Photographed here is the intersection of Paradise and Las Vegas Boulevard. In the lower-left section, you can see the Desert Inn Golf Course and Las Vegas Park.
The park was a horse racing track that lasted just a few years in the mid-50s.
John F. Kennedy Visits
Prior to his presidency, Kennedy often visited the Sands Hotel throughout the 1950s. As a friend of Frank Sinatra, the eventual 35th president would often show up at performances in Vegas.
Here is pictured with Peter Lawford, his brother in law who happened to be a member of the famous Rat Pack.
The queen of burlesque dance, Tempest Storm was a regular at many Las Vegas clubs. At the peak of her career, she was even dubbed "The Queen Of Exotic Dancers" and was performing some of the greatest burlesque shows until the 1970s. She even continued many years after that.
Tempest storm's career spanned over 60 years. She also had some success on screen and recently featured in a documentary about her life.
Thunderbird Air Show
Vegas wasn't always glitz and glamor. Sometimes there was some military action. Pictured here is the first Thunderbird air show with F-84 Thudnerjest.
The jets flew over Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn
This was the fifth resort ever built on the Stip. It had some mind-boggling amenities like an 18-hole golf course and a beautiful observation deck that overlooked all the swimming pools.
The hotel's entertainment hall, the "Crystal Showroom" saw people like Bobby Darin and Liberace. Howard Huges even once stayed in the hotel stayed so long that he ended up buying it.
the Showboat Hotel
Not every hotel in Vegas was an automatic success. There were a few that hit tougher times, mostly due to their locations. The Showboat Hotel that opened in 1954 was in the North End of the Boulder Strip.
It had some tough years until they come up with a super cheap breakfast deal that outdid competing establishments. It became more popular among local residents. In 2005 it was demolished.
The Martin & Lewis duo was wildly popular and the two would do performances in Vegas often. The two collaborated together until their bitter break up in the year 1956.
Above is a picture of a better time when Martin and Lewis performed together for an ABC show. The duo performed together for 10 years.
Sammy Davis Jr. and His Eye Patch
At just 29 years old on November 19, 1954, Sammy Davis Jr. lost his left eye in a horrific accident. After the recovery, he was back on the stage. In the opening of first his performance back, the entertainer removed his eye patch and revealed his glass eye before continuing as normal with the show.
In this photograph, Davis demonstrates the action backstage. Beside him stand his fellow performers one of which is his grinning uncle, Will Mastin.
As the general manager of the Riviera, Marshall Wright was one busy man, The Riviera Hotel and Casino opened in 1955 as the official first-ever high rise of the city.
It also happened to be the 9th resort of The Strip. In the 1955 opening, famed pianist Liberace was the headliner.
Aside from having roaring parties in hotels, Nevada was also a known test site for nuclear explosions (after all there was a military base there too!)
The test was conducted on July 5, 1956, and tested the explosion of a 75 kiloton device from a balloon.
Sinatra Owned a Casino
Not only was Sinatra a regular on the Vegas Strip, but he also loved to gamble. It would then come as no surprise that the entertainer actually owned a casino in Vegas. Here we can see him dealing baccarat at the Sands Casino in 1959. A casino owner would have to be an avid gambler.
He had a real struggle getting a gambling license. He was temporarily stropped of it when he was found for having links to a Chicago mobster.
After multiple foiled developments, the Charles Pop owned site was sold and the Flamingo Hotel and Casino was erected in 1946 by Bugsy Siegel.
It was the first luxury hotel in the area and was supposedly named after Siegels's girlfriend who was nicknamed "Flamingo."
Louis Prima With His Wife and Musical Partner Keely Smith
The Louisiana native, Louis Prima AKA the King of Swing was a popular entertainer in Vegas lounges in the 1950s. The trumpeter even moved there with his wife, Keely Smith when promised by his agent that he would be making unimaginable amounts of money.
The club in which he performed was constantly packed. Prima was even invited by Sinatra to perform at Kennedy's inauguration party.
The First Ocean's Eleven
Las Vegas was home to many iconic film productions, most notably, the 1960 film Ocean's Eleven. Filming took place in 1959.
The film starred Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Angie Dickinson.
Liberace Comes To Town
In 1955 Liberace visits Las Vegas for one of his iconic stints at the Riviera. He famously stopped to admire the trees at Marylin Parkway.
Guests would visit the spot 32 years later for his memorial service.
The El Cortez
This is one of the oldest hotels still standing in Vegas today. The hotel opened in 1941 and is currently on the National Register of Historic Places. Famed hotel owner Bugsy Siegel owned it for a period of time before he sold it.
While the interior has been revamped countless times, the exterior has remained largely the same.
American actress Debra Paget who was famous for performances in films like Cecil B. DeMille's classic "The Ten Commandments", "Love Me Tender" and the risque snake dance in "The Indian Tomb."
Paget once at one point in her career was regarded as the woman who received more fan mail than Marylin Monroe.
Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher Get Married
Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher wed after breaking quite a few hearts along the way. This was Taylor's third marriage and Fisher's second.
They tied the knot at Temple Beth Shalom in Las Vegas on May 12, 1959.
This may seem unusual but anything went down in Vegas! This was the celebrity animal of The Sands.
The famous chimpanzee would entertain the gamblers on the slot machine floor by providing laughs and just simply being cute.
Actor Mike Steele
The San Francisco born actor known for "The Bat" and "The Lost Missile" would famously portray tough cowboys on-screen.
During his Vegas days, the actor performed in front of the Lucky Motel on East Fremont at the Helldorado Parade, circa 1957.