All I could think of was, “I wish I had some breath mints.” I was standing in a crowd of press people packed like sardines waiting for a ribbon cutting. We had been waiting for quite a while. I started talking to the lady behind me which meant we were practically face-to-face. I told myself, if I ever again join a group of reporters and photographers waiting for a celebrity (which I doubted) and if I wanted a conversation, I would bring breath mints.
The setting was the Westgate Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The event was the opening of “Graceland Presents ELVIS: The Exhibition – The Show – The Experience.” The signs said that “Elvis is back in the building after an absence of 40 years”. The Westgate had partnered with Elvis Presley Enterprises to turn the space formerly occupied by the Star Trek Experience into an all-Elvis mini-museum. I had not been “invited” to the opening, but I read about it and decided to “cover” the exhibition. (The Elvis “experience” also included an evening show which I could not attend.)
I arrived in time to realize the ribbon cutting was “soon”, so I asked to be included as press and was told to stand on designated hallway steps and wait. In the meantime, the hallway began getting crowded with ordinary folks who heard that Priscilla Presley and maybe Lisa Marie Presley would be making an appearance. (The Presley ladies were waiting in the new Elvis Presley Graceland Wedding Chapel which that morning had been featured on the Today Show.) Most of the crowd was white. Everyone had cell phone cameras. One man had hoisted his young son on his shoulders, complete with Elvis glasses and a picture of Elvis, and lots of folks photographed the boy. Among the crowd was a lady with a stroller and a very young baby — why she would subject her newborn to the crowd was beyond me.
As the press folks waited on the stairway, Westgate owner David Siegel walked the hallway smiling and posing for photos. More press people arrived, and we were squeezed even tighter on the steps. We waited there for over an hour, first shifting on one leg, then on the other. Reporter (and local personality) Robin Leach arrived, and he bypassed all of us and was immediately welcomed into the exhibit. Eventually the rest of us were ushered into the rooms that are part of the new exhibition, one of which had been set aside for a ribbon cutting. Elvis pictures were everywhere. Elvis music played. In the ribbon-cutting room, Las Vegas Sun entertainment writers Robin Leach and John Katsilometes and their photographer were front row center. I hustled to the far end of the crowd and got a front row view — from the far right side.
The “ceremonial” ribbon cutting wasn’t much, really. It included a mis-pronounced word, lots of camera flashes and finally, a snip of a ribbon. The ceremony is included in the attached video. We did get to see Priscilla Presley, who Wikipedia says will be 70 next month. She doesn’t look 70. She is small and “pristine” — her skin tight and porcelain. Her daughter Lisa Maria gave me an impression of still being a sort of wild child, though she is old enough now to be a mother-in-law.
After the ribbon cutting, I toured what I could of the exhibition, called “the first permanent Elvis exhibition outside of Graceland”. Elvis appeared at the International Hotel (now the Westgate) more than 600 times, and many of the items on display have to do with Elvis’s time in Las Vegas. I’m told the cost for tourists seeing the exhibition will be $22. That sounds like a lot, but for Elvis fans, the money will create yet another memory.
My favorite part of the exhibit was a 26-minute video of Elvis during his heyday. The exhibit and the movie feature no pictures of fat Elvis or slurring Elvis — just films and photographs of Elvis at his most attractive. He looks particularly wonderful on a big screen. Right now, people who tour the exhibit sign up for specific “times” to see the movie, therefore creating a line. Frankly, I would run the movie continuously and just let folks drop in whenever they find their way to the theater. I can’t imagine fans wanting to stay and see the movie over and over not leaving room for anyone else…. but then again … some fans are very devoted, and maybe the experience at Graceland has dictated the “reservations” system.
Siegel has spent millions updating the Westgate, and he works quickly. As I indicate in the video, just in time for the Elvis exhibition opening, new carpet was installed in the casino and the old benches, trash cans and tall ashtrays have new coats of black-and-gold paint. (Note to Siegel: we can tell you painted these items. I think they should be replaced entirely. I noted a couple chips on the paint in the back bench. These items won’t look good forever.)
Gotta run. Tic Tacs are on sale at Walgreens.