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Fleshing out the photogenic Presley-Riviera connection

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Elvis and Liberace do it up madcap-style backstage at the Riviera on Nov. 14, 1956.
Liberace Museum
Liberace, recognizing a face in the crowd at the Riviera's Clover Room.

Liberace, recognizing a face in the crowd at the Riviera's Clover Room.

The photos and accompanying video tell the story of the “who” – Liberace and Elvis Presley, cavorting and mugging in each other’s attire (or at least jackets), even switching out their chosen instruments. The shots are part of the lore for each entertainer, who might have been more alike than different, given their gift of showmanship. But the “where” in those photos is often lost – the Riviera, which is where the King, who never sang a single note onstage at the hotel, will be honored Sept. 26 by the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. The Riviera, along with the Tropicana, is one of the few vintage Vegas-styled hotel-casinos still standing on the Strip and is also home to Sammy Davis Jr.’s star – another entertainer who never performed there.

A more businesslike Elvis-Riv connection is Robert F.X. Sillerman, chairman and chief executive officer of FX Real Estate and Entertainment Inc. Conveniently, the company is the majority partner in Elvis Presley Enterprises, and is also an investor in Riviera Holdings Corporation – which owns the Riv. The company, which also owns licensing rights to Muhammad Ali’s name and image, is seeking to develop about 18 acres of land on the southeast corner of the Strip and Harmon Avenue, where it has been reported it hopes to build an Elvis-themed hotel-casino.

That hotel would be an ideal spot for the Elvis star, but the project is a mere concept today, and the Vegas-based Viva Las Vegas Elvis Presley Fan Club wants a star in place this fall. It helps that the famed photos and video of Liberace and Elvis, a publicity stunt for the ages, took place at the hotel on Nov. 14, 1956. Elvis was months removed from his first stage appearances in Vegas, which were a largely derided week’s worth of performances at the Frontier (the hotel lopped his scheduled two-week run because the older Vegas fans – and older Vegas show reviewers – found the young entertainer a “bore” and “uncouth,” as the Sun reported at the time). Elvis took in a Liberace performance at the Clover Room, later renamed the Versailles Theatre, and in a piece of Vegas legend, afterward Liberace encouraged the young Presley to glitz up his stage act and the two switched jackets. The next year, at Liberace’s urging, Presley slipped into a gold-lame suit similar to Liberace’s for the cover photo for the album 50,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong. (Go here for a look at Presley's measurements for that suit.)

Three other hotels would have been logical sites for Presley’s Vegas star. The Aladdin, where he and Priscilla Presley were married in 1967, has morphed into Planet Hollywood; the Frontier has been imploded; and the Las Vegas Hilton is not actually on the Strip, and the Clark County Commission has authorized that these stars to be place only on Las Vegas Boulevard. As they say in real estate, the key is location, location, location.

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