LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- On a recent trip down the four-mile Las Vegas 'strip,' the number of posh gambling resorts presenting major entertainers was four, compared to more than a dozen three years ago.
Headlining resort showrooms in a city that bills itself modestly as the 'Entertainment Capital of the World' were: Bill Cosby at the Aladdin, Joan Rivers at Caesars Palace, Mac Davis at the MGM Grand and Paul Anka at the Riviera.
In addition, Charo headlined a production show at the Las Vegas Hilton and magicians Siegfried and Roy starred in a show at the Frontier.
Redd Foxx appeared in an X-rated show at the Hacienda. Other showrooms presented production shows, Beatles and Elvis impersonators and Broadway-type musicals.
Where have all the stars gone?
'A lot of performers don't want to work Las Vegas,' said Paul Anka. 'They don't like the image -- the contemporary performers. And when they do, they laugh at it. They hide in their rooms. They take it lightly... It's a joke. I mean I've seen it. I've heard it. They don't take it seriously, unfortunately.'
The picture of smoke-filled Las Vegas showrooms featuring a boozy, drunken singer or comic facing an inebriatated and boisterous crowd is just one of the image problems facing the resort city.
There has developed a certain uneasiness in Las Vegas.
Resort operators accustomed to 20 percent growth annually in the 1970s now are scrambling to keep ahead of inflation and mortgage payments. The recession, competition from Atlantic City, high airline fares and increased costs have chipped away at the confidence of many hotel executives.
A price war among resorts for stars several years ago drove many hotels to production shows without a headline entertainer.
'It goes back to the International (later purchased and renamed the Las Vegas Hilton) booking Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand for $100,000 per week,' said Riviera Director of Entertainment Barbara Hayes.
'I think a lot of entertainers have priced themselves out of the market. People are coming down (in price) and the market will become competitive in 1984.'
Demands of $200,000 to $300,000 a week ended the bookings of a number of once-frequent Las Vegas entertainers.
'Some people don't play Las Vegas anymore because they want too much money,' said George Nattin, senior vice president of marketing at Caesars Palace.
Asked specifically about Andy Williams, who no longer performs at Caesars Palace or anywhere else on the Las Vegas 'strip,' Nattin chuckled and said: 'He's doing great in Atlantic City.'
Don Soderberg, assistant director of publicity at the Las Vegas Hilton, which went to a production show 'that wasn't extremely successful' this year and then added Suzanne Somers and later Charo to turn 'Bal du Moulin Rouge de Paris' into an attendance winner, said his resort was not totally against high salaries for entertainers.
'(Hilton Vice President) Henri Lewin has always said he will pay it (the high salary) if you can fill it (the resort's 1,500-seat showroom) consistently. But outside of Elvis, no one has done it.'
Anka, whose ties to Las Vegas go back 25 years, says he remains 'pro-Las Vegas,' but believes production shows have 'failed miserably.'
'I feel for the performers and I feel for the artists, but you can't have 12 of the same thing and run scared and try to think that's going to save it, because it won't,' he said.
Ms. Hayes, admitting her $100,000 weekly entertainment budget is low compared to other major resorts, said the Riviera was looking for contemporary acts to replace certain performers who have appeared on the 'strip' for decades but 'just aren't jamming the showrooms anymore.'
One problem facing showroom operators is an inability to offer the money many contemporary performers can attract elsewhere.
'Some people don't play Las Vegas because these entertainers do absolutely great on tours and they make a heck of a lot of money,' said Nattin of Caesars Palace, which installed the Broadway show '42nd Street' in the resort's Circus Maximus showroom this year and recently returned to a star policy when attendance slumped.
Nattin said contemporary stars can play before thousands of fans in stadiums around the country and charge much less than can a Las Vegas showroom.
Anka said the economics of a 900- or 1,000-seat showroom prevent certain acts from playing Las Vegas.
'What we're locked into is the amount of seating and the economics of trying to get an attraction like say Police or Billy Joel,' said Anka. 'For them to come here when they can work a stadium is not really that appealing.'
Nattin said Caesars officials 'are continually looking for ways to create an exciting and entertaining mix. We felt the outdoor concerts would provide that.'
Riviera Hotel officials recently announced that opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti would perform in a single concert in March 1984 to begin a series showcasing performers who are not Las Vegas regulars.
'We hope that with Pavarotti, we can bring more excitement to Las Vegas,' said Tibor Rudas, executive producer of the series. 'The Riviera will always try to make Las Vegas an unpredictable town. Right now, it is predictable. You always know who's going to be appearing. That is part of the city's problem.'