Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Paying Back a Classy Casino
In 1960, before I left Anchorage, Alaska where I’d worked as a reporter for the Daily News, I sent a letter and news clips to the Las Vegas Sun, hoping to land a job there. I had been a long-distance admirer of its publisher, Hank Greenspun, who had used his newspaper column, “Where I Stand,” to challenge the red-baiting Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy. I’d saved a thousand dollars in Alaska, hitch-hiked to Brooklyn in August to visit my parents, bought a used Volkswagen and headed west. As I had not had any response from my letter, my plan was to drive to San Diego and get a job with the Union or Tribune, seeking heat so I might thaw out. Halfway cross country I decided to detour to Las Vegas and present myself. Greenspun was not available, but his managing editor, Ruthe Deskin, talked to me. She recalled getting my clips, did not know what had happened to them, but in any case there was no job and none in prospect. I got back into the Beetle, drove out the Hotel Strip on the way to the highway to Southern California.
Something made me stop at the Stardust, probably the impressive facade, but I remember nothing else about the visit except asking someone what the “Keno” game was about, how it was played, and how much it cost to play. I was told I could play for as little as 25 cents, that I could pick ten numbers out of 80 on the ticket, and if I hit all 10 out of 20 that would be chosen at random by little white lottery balls, I would collect $10,000. I picked ten – 7, 19, 33, 34, 35, 43, 44, 45, 63, 73 – and hit 7 of the 10, which was good enough for a payoff of $40, as I recall. That was big money back then, as evidenced by the fact that I decided to treat myself to a motel room out at the end of the Strip, across from the Hacienda Hotel, where the rate was $3 a night. I had been sleeping in the VW across country to save on hotels, as I only had $200 left from my savings after buying the car. I cleaned myself up, took out a clean shirt and slacks, and headed for the Silver Slipper, which was advertising a buffet dinner for 99 cents. After a good meal, I decided to wager some of my Stardust winnings, clearing $35 at blackjack @ 25 cents minimum, and another $40 at roulette.
I decided I liked Las Vegas and would the next day go to the bigger paper in town, the Review-Journal, and see if there was hope of a job. The managing editor, Jeff McColl, listened to my pitch and said he would keep me in mind if something opened up. Six months later he called where I had found a job, at the Culver City Star-News inside Los Angeles, and offered me $110 a week. I stayed at the R-J for 4½ years, easily the most fun years of my life, before moving on to Washington, D.C., to write for the National Observer, the Dow-Jones newsweekly. Among the friends I’d left behind was Jim Seagrave, three years my junior, a soft-spoken sportswriter for the R-J. I’d lost track of Jim over the years, but he came to mind earlier this year when I watched the PBS Jazz Series. Jim was a jazz fanatic, I’d recalled, the first person I ever knew who raved about Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk, writing jazz reviews for the R-J on the side, without extra pay.
So it was that when I got to Las Vegas last week, to spend time with my brother Terry and his family, I decided to see if Jim still might be in town. Sure enough, there was a Jim Seagrave in the book, and when I called I got one of his daughters, and explained who I was. She told me that her father was the publicity director of the Stardust Hotel. I left my number and within the hour he called my brother’s house and we talked about what we’d been up to all those years. He invited me to lunch at the hotel, so Terry and I met him there the next day after a round of golf. In the course of the lunch, it suddenly struck me that I was in the casino that changed the course of my life with a winning Keno ticket. I told Jim the story and when I finished there was a pause before he told me that I had changed his life. I had forgotten completely about this, but Jim had remembered it as clearly as I recalled the Keno numbers. Before I left for Washington, one of my good friends in Vegas, Hank Kovell, the publicity director at the Fremont Hotel, asked me if I knew of anyone I could recommend to be his assistant. I put him together with young Jim and the rest is history, with Jim now at the Stardust for the last dozen years after intermediate stops as publicity director at the Algiers and Caesar’s Palace. He is as soft-spoken, even-tempered and pleasant as I’d remembered him, and it was no surprise to see how the ordinary workers at the Stardust treated him like a prince. What goes around comes around, in all kinds of ways. The Stardust was there when I needed it to change the path my life would take. Without realizing it at the time, before I left town in 1965, I arranged to change the path of Jim’s life in a way that returned the favor to the Stardust.