Monday, June 16, 7:30 p.m.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, Hollywood was split in twain between gossip columnists Louella Parsons of the Hearst papers and Hedda Hopper of the LA Times. Two of the most conniving, power-hungry she-devils ever to put ink to newsprint, they awed many with their audaciousness and daring as much as they repulsed with their vicious means of getting film studios and actors under their slender boot heels. Pieces of history, the pair of them. And somewhere in that infamous history, Hopper—my personal go-to bitch-totem—penned a hasty note on her letterhead. This week, that note will go up for auction. And I want it.
Maybe it’s the wine, but as the dressed-up, impossibly artsy-looking socialite couples and collectors peruse the weighty auction book and the items selected for preview tonight at the Symbolic Gallery, I eye them with suspicion. The scribbly note card is probably the least of all the items to be hauled out of Tinsel Town’s collective closets and attics but still—“What would Hedda do?”
In the temporary home of the Symbolic Gallery on Dean Martin Drive, I and my plastic cup of chardonnay rest on a glass case wherein nestles the original disco ball from Saturday Night Fever as well as a weathered Godfather script and Carmen Electra’s panties. Fortunately, a photo of Electra in those skivvies appears alongside; otherwise I would have to assume the prize resulted from a panty raid. But Julien’s is a respectable auction firm and the Symbolic Gallery a popular outlet for rock-inspired photo exhibitions and the world’s largest Johnny Cash memorabilia cache. Most recently, Mick Rock—a British photog famous for capturing in his lens the glam and punk era, including the antics of a Ziggy Stardust-ed David Bowie. Both collections are in permanent residence but then, as with everything in Vegas, they’re entirely for sale.
With each exhibition, the gallery throws a cocktail party with an invitation list almost as weighty as this auction catalog, a who’s-who of the nightlife industry’s most desirable patrons, or as charismatic gallery VP Robert Rios puts it, “people who are involved in the culture scene in Las Vegas, people who are collectors or have access to collectors or who may not even know they are collectors. Yet.” In a town with an “any excuse” attitude towards parties, it’s not surprising to see nightcrawlers emerging early on a Monday night to give the showing a once over and to gather in gaggles for gossip and cocktails.
“Were choosing subject material that skews towards a younger demographic,” said Rios. Things will take an even chic-er turn in October when Symbolic moves to its tony new home, tucked inside the ground floor of the neighboring Panorama Towers. But, adds Rios, exhibitors must also supply a free lecture at the gallery. “Mick Rock spent two hours here giving a talk. For me, [folks like Rock] they’re historians.” Speaking of historians, in walks Warwick Stone, the Hard Rock’s “King of Collectors,” recently profiled in this publication. “We definitely pass a lot of things by him,” says Rios of his creative consultant. A new Beatles photo exhibition will be heading Stone’s way shortly.
“I thought it would be bigger,” says a woman in a ruffled skirt who crouches in front of the disco ball and cocks her head. Rios regards the ball of mirrored tiles, no bigger than a beach ball. “We should ask Monti,” he offers, half laughing, referring to Vegas’ own Monti Rock III (living memorabilia), who played the role of “The Deejay.”
Elsewhere in the gallery are Marilyn Monroe portraits, Sammy Davis Jr.’s UNLV letterman jacket and even Elvis Presley’s personal piano from Graceland, flanked by his size 32 waist black wool suit from Viva Las Vegas, proving that, at least at one time, the King was tiny! So too was Marilyn, whose black velvet blazer and itty bitty leather pumps sit daintily on the floor as if the starlet had just popped them off at a party. Wishing I could do the same, I take a seat at Bugsy Siegel’s piano, commanding the dead center of the room.
Funny. Even today, he’s still at the center of the action.
Xania Woodman thinks globally and parties locally. And frequently. E-mail her at [email protected] and visit thecircuitlv.com to sign up for Xania’s free weekly newsletter.