Radio Documentary Tells Story of Big-Name Entertainment

Contact: Darcy Minter
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Radio Documentary Tells Story of Big-Name Entertainment in Elko's Casinos
Commercial Casino was First to Present Famous Entertainers on its Stage 

Elko – The Western Folklife Center’s Media Office has produced a radio documentary that highlights a chapter in Elko’s history that’s often overlooked. In 1941, the Commercial Hotel became the first casino to bring big-name entertainment to its stage, creating the model that was then copied by casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Tommy Dorsey, Sophie Tucker, Chico Marx and Xavier Cougat were just some of the headliners at the Commercial in the early days. National Public Radio will air the program on Saturday morning, December, 6, and Elko’s own KELK will rebroadcast it Thursday, December 11, on Elko Live at 12:30 pm Pacific. "When you think of big-name acts performing in casinos, you probably think of Las Vegas, Wayne Newton & the Rat Pack. And you might assume that Sin City is the first place where casinos used showbiz stars to attract customers. But the fact is that it started in Elko," explains Hal Cannon, Founding Director of the Western Folklife Center.

Several casinos opened in Elko after gambling was legalized in Nevada during the depression. In 1941 Newt Crumley, the owner of the Commercial Casino, had an idea. Realizing that most of the trains shuttling big-name acts between the East Coast and California were chugging right through Elko, he decided to try and book them to perform in his casino. Before long, the biggest names in showbiz were performing in Elko at both Crumley's Commercial Casino and Red Ellis' Stockmen’s Hotel and Casino. The formula worked because the Hollywood swells saw Elko as a refuge from the limelight; a place where they could relax and be themselves. Elko was one of the few places where Bing Crosby didn’t wear his toupee. And unlike Las Vegas, the Elko scene remained wholesome, never associated with organized crime. In fact, part of Crumley’s contract with performers specified that they had to do a free show for the Elko High School. This radio story also points out that several big-name stars, including Bing Crosby (who was Elko’s honorary mayor for a time) and Jimmy Stewart, lived the cowboy dream by purchasing ranches in Elko County.

This Western Folklife Center Deep West Radio production is a music-rich story that combines this history with recollections from local Elko residents and even the grown children of some of the stars that performed there.

The mission of the Western Folklife Center is to enhance the vitality of American life through the experience, understanding, and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the American West.