July 29, 2007
JOHN L. SMITH: Frontier helped Robert Goulet make a name for himself on the Strip
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
A photograph hangs on Robert Goulet's office wall that captures a time he'll never forget.
It was the moment he was the undisputed king of Las Vegas Boulevard and had the photographic evidence to prove it.
Perhaps you're thinking: Goulet, a great singer, but the king of the Boulevard? What about Sinatra? What about Elvis? What about Tony Bennett?
Good questions, but read on.
Goulet was ending a two-week run as a headliner at the Desert Inn when he received a call from the management of the Frontier across the street. Their showroom star had canceled at the last minute, and would Goulet consider filling in?
In the heart of the Strip before the mega-resort age, such a request didn't breach 14 layers of corporate protocol and ruffle the feathers of three-dozen vice presidents. In those days, Goulet had boundless energy to go with a voice as big as the Grand Canyon and almost as deep.
Two weeks at the Frontier? His bags were packed.
Far from being a Strip also-ran, the Frontier was an icon. To appear there was to play at a resort known to a generation of Americans. Three decades ago, in a Las Vegas that has been reduced to postcards, the Frontier was a happening joint.
So Goulet moved across the street, and overnight the marquees of two of the most famous resorts in Las Vegas history read: Robert Goulet.
It was heady stuff even for a guy who'd won awards on Broadway, first as Sir Lancelot in "Camelot," and was on his way to creating 60 albums. And if that didn't make him the king of the Boulevard for a day, at least no one could accuse him of loafing.
"I played there many, many years and have wonderful memories of the place," Goulet says.
The Frontier is closed now. Most of its memorials have been written. Surely demolition crews are already dreaming of leveling it. There's talk of preserving the hotel/casino's underrated neon sign.
It's too late, I guess, but it would be wonderful if some department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas years ago had assembled a crack team of interviewers and photographers, people who would converge on a fated casino for weeks before its closure and eventual demise.
Perhaps that's really the job of the newspaper and its reporters and photographers, but there never seems to be enough time to gather all the anecdotes and interview all the characters before they scatter to the four winds like the dust from an imploded building.
Goulet, now 73, spent a good portion of his prolific career either on the Frontier's stage or sitting in a mobile home behind the resort waiting for his next performance in the company of his ferociously faithful German shepherd, Thor.
Goulet recounts his schedule, which varied but was basically two-week runs with two shows nightly, seven nights a week. He'd play to packed houses at the Frontier a total of eight weeks a year.
"It was always a pleasant sojourn for me, the two weeks I would spend here, and I looked forward to it," Goulet says.
He eventually shortened the commute by moving to Las Vegas with his wife, Vera. "It was a pleasure to come to town, almost like a vacation for me."
I ask Goulet to tell me a Frontier story and he laughs a little. He reminds me he wasn't exactly taking notes.
But there was the time between shows that his conductor Ralph Sharon entered the mobile home to chat about a performance. A performer-conductor relationship is something akin to a pitcher-catcher friendship in baseball. Each can do his job separately, but they can be masterful when they work together.
Sharon was a fine conductor, but for some reason Goulet's dog Thor didn't like him.
Not even a little bit.
Sharon made what the dog perceived as a suspicious move, and Thor attacked him, tearing his tuxedo to shreds and scaring him halfway to Henderson.
Goulet apologized profusely and replaced the tux.
It wasn't long afterward that Sharon went to work with Tony Bennett.
On the ever-changing Boulevard, not even the famous Frontier can keep from fading away.
It will always be the place "Sir Lancelot" was a showroom king back when the Strip was a lot like Camelot.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.