May 26th -- it'll be here before you know it -- marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of Atlantic City's first casino. It also marks the 30th year of my career as a full-time entertainment journalist.
So I'm jumping the gun and using this week's column to answer some of the questions I've been asked over the past three decades that relate to my career. Space prevents me from answering all the questions. If you've got one that isn't covered here, send me an e-mail and I'll try to answer it in a future column.
So how many shows have you seen?
I used to keep track, but I stopped quite a few years ago when the figure was well over 3,500. If I had to guess, I'd put the number at about 5,000.
What's the best show you've ever seen?
Tough question, because there are quite a few. Two shows that immediately stand out: Paul McCartney at Boardwalk Hall in 2002. He didn't miss a trick in that show. Another memorable moment was Frank Sinatra at Bally's Grand (now the Hilton) in October 1987. It was one of those nights when he was one with the music, one with the orchestra, one with the audience and one with the universe in the tiny (500 seat) Opera House nightclub. Pure magic.
And the worst?
Another tough question, because there have certainly been a few memorable stinkers. Early in the casino era, Resorts featured the Kim Sisters. They were a trio of Korean women who sang, played instruments and told jokes that bombed because no one understood their thick accents. More recently -- and this one may surprise you -- was Bette Midler at Boardwalk Hall. The Divine One was divine, but her show was a technological train wreck from start to finish. Anything that could have gone wrong did, including when a large Asian globe light fell from the fly loft onto the stage, barely missing Midler's percussionist.
My mom told me you actually trashed Gene Kelly in a review?
Thank your mom for reminding me that I'm getting older. "Trashed" might be a little strong. Let's just say I had a very strong opinion about the "show" he performed at Resorts during the first year of the gambling era. It was billed as "An Evening with Gene Kelly," and many people expected the legendary actor and song-and-dance man to actually sing and dance. He did neither. Instead, Kelly, 67, sat on a stool at the apron of the stage and told stories about his career while film clips played on a screen.
Did Steve Martin actually give you "the finger" during his show?
Not just Steve Martin, but also the 1,600 people at his show at Resorts in December 1979. I had taken Martin to task in a review for performing the same show -- virtually word for word -- that he did in his 1976 HBO special (and had been doing for years before that, too). Martin held up a copy of my review, read some excerpts to the audience and then encouraged the crowd to show what they thought of my opinion with "the Nelson Rockefeller salute." A decade later, fate placed me at a dinner table with Steve at Trump Marina after he appeared there as "The Great Flydini" (look it up on Google). After a couple of Scotches, I reminded Steve of the incident, and he remembered it -- and then actually apologized to me and said he deserved the criticism. Vindication!
Who are some of the most memorable people you've interviewed?
After literally thousands of interviews, they tend to blur together. Sinatra, obviously, was one. Sammy Davis, Jr., was another, because he really got into reminiscing about his early years working the old Club Harlem and 500 Club in Atlantic City. That interview happened one night after Sammy cooked dinner for a friend and me, but I'll save that story for another column. Luciano Pavarotti was memorable for its strangeness. To read a more complete account of that one, go to www.atlanticcityweekly.com and search for my Sept. 13, 2007 column.
Through appearances on 'The Tonight Show,' a hilarious HBO 'On Location' special and appearances on 'Saturday Night Live,' Martin was a bona fide comedy star who was still a year away from his breakout movie role in 'The Jerk. '
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