The Duke of Fremont Street is a cathedral to class.
If you’ve been around Las Vegas for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve seen the dapper gentleman dressed to the limit. If not, then perhaps the 1938 Cadillac caught your attention. From his earliest origins spent gambling along the Mississippi River all the way to the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, the Duke has been there and always seems to be closing a deal.
In this 25-minute interview, I sat down with the Duke where we talked about his life, what he thinks of Las Vegas and casinos today, and where he thinks we’re all headed. No surprise, the Duke delivers. He holds nothing back. He sounds just as cool as he looks.
CLICK AND WATCH HERE:
This was one of the first (of several) interviews we’ve recorded as part of a new series called “The Basement Tapes,” brought to you by 5th Street Sports. We shot the video in a basement, where the studio is located — hence, the show’s name.
I had a great time interviewing the Duke, which is obvious in this video. Thanks to my guest for coming on to the show and setting a shining example of elegance, perhaps matched though never surpassed.
Death gives us an opportunity to reflect and put things in perspective.
While he was alive for 76 earth years, astrophysicist-cosmologist-mathematician-author-teacher-husband-father Stephen Hawking gave everyone a much broader perspective. More important, his thoughts and theories will usher in a greater understanding of the universe long after his death and we are long gone.
I’ve never been good at science. Or, math. Those subjects were always difficult for me in school. That’s why I admire those gifted individuals who excel in the sciences and in math. People who work in those fields sometimes come up with amazing ideas that I could never imagine, let alone understand. Science and math may claim its findings are based solely on fact. However, the greatest discoveries begin with a combination of curiosity and rebelliousness.
I wish there was sufficient time and opportunity to devote to a better understanding of science. Like most ordinary people, I don’t have what it takes to be someone like Hawking — or Einstein or Newton. Thankfully, Hawking understood this lapse better than most and did his part to bridge the abyss. That’s one reason he wrote his landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which was the first widely-popular book on science I ever read. Hawking expressed his complex ideas about the universe, astronomy, and physics in non-technical, easy-to-understand language. Well, easier to understand, for some. Translated into more than 40 languages, his vast concepts and emerging rock star status inspired a whole new generation of young people all over the world to begin asking their own questions about the origins of the universe and the nature of our modern world.
Hawking didn’t just teach us about science. He taught us things about humanity and being human, too. It’s easy to forget Hawking was a man. He was a man with flaws and failings and frailties — much like everyone else. He had kids. He had affairs. He went through divorces. He could be tempestuous. He was an imperfect man, which was no big surprise because all men — indeed all people — are imperfect.
There was such a defiant incongruity to Hawking, with the mind of a giant encased in the feeble frame of a fragile body scarcely able to carry the burden of his weight, nor the greater calling of innate responsibility that goes with such a rare gift of insight. It was as though the secret key to understanding the mysteries of the universe were sewn inside his jacket pocket and no one could reach it.
The contradiction between mind and body was a cruel irony. Contemplating fully the human struggle of making it through a day, interminably uncomfortable, often distracted by aches and pains, unable to communicate without the assistance of electronics, the constant reliance on others for sustenance, is almost too much to contemplate. Complete paralysis from ALS since the mid-1960’s during most of his adult life made his tireless work ethic and ultimate discoveries all the more astounding.
Even his personal tastes were paradoxical. He loved and often listened to the classics of Richard Wagner while he worked, presumably absorbed in the imaginative role of a operatic superhero vanquishing the forces of calamity. In both fantasy and reality, he sought to create order out of chaos.
Indeed, death does allow for reflection gives greater perspective. While the world continues to spin and species will evolve, we should freeze a brief moment in time in our lives to honor Hawking and think about how amazing he truly was. When we look for heroes, we shouldn’t be thinking about sports stars and celebrities. Instead, we should be revere the late Stephen Hawking who told us adapting to change was the highest virtue.
His story and struggle showed, Hawking didn’t just say those words. He lived them.
“All the Money in the World” is based on the real-life 1973 kidnapping and ransom of John Paul Getty III, then the grandson of the world’s richest man.
I had no prior knowledge of what actually happened when kidnappers presumed to be Italian terrorists snatched the 16-year-old prized golden ticket off a dark Roman street and proceeded to demand $17 million in ransom money for his safe return to an emotionally ruptured, hideously-dysfunctional family.
Come to find out later after reading historical accounts of the caper, “All the Money in the World” gets most of the facts right. Unlike many other historical docudramas scripted into a Hollywood screenplay, the film doesn’t overly dramatize these events because — it doesn’t have to. The real story is quite compelling enough.
Credit master filmmaker Ridley Scott, who has given us a motley kaleidoscope of memorable movie silhouettes in the past, including “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Thelma and Louise” (1991), “Gladiator” (2000), and “The Martian” (2015). Based on John Pearson’s book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” published in 1995, Scott delivers yet another thoroughly-engaging saga that’s sure to spark a range of viewer emotions and leave audiences on the edge of their seats.
For Scott and all those who worked on “All the Money in the World,” the finished product which hit theaters on Christmas Day wasn’t just a conventional movie unfolding along a linear timeline. It also included an unexpected last-second crisis beset with controversy testing the very patience of a studio and its financial resources. The studio had to pony up its own sort of payoff to salvage a movie that ultimately would still be marketable to audiences largely turned off by the recent scandals in the news. Film production had wrapped up and the movie was set for release by early Fall (2017). Actor Kevin Spacey had originally been cast in the iconic role-playing the tightfisted J. Paul Getty. However, the revelation of Spacey’s personal sexual harassment escapades posed potential box office catastrophe. So, filmmakers had to scrap nearly one-third of an already finished film and re-shoot all the scenes on the fly at an additional expense of $10 million in production costs. Key actors were brought back to various locations around Italy and England and scenes were re-staged and filmed in only a few week’s time — something of a miracle. Someday perhaps we’ll see and hear the real backstory of how a major motion picture was ultimately rescued from almost certain oblivion by gritty resilience. If Scott isn’t nominated for a “Best Director” Oscar for overcoming this ordeal alone, there is no justice.
We may not ever see Spacey’s discarded scenes playing Getty, but the recasting of stately Christopher Plummer in the role of the avaricious financial baron turns out to be a marvelous stroke of grand fortune. Plummer is absolutely riveting in this role, arguably his best performance ever in a long career spanning six decades on film. Plummer chews every scene he’s in, and spits out anyone who stands in his way, not so much by overplaying his role, but by underselling it with the hint of suggestion. His steely look, his lonely eyes, his dismissive hand gestures, and his intimidating presence alone makes a decisive statement and does much of the talking. Words aren’t necessary to win battles when a slight frown or wave of the hand will suffice. In Plummer as Getty, we see a puzzle of man with many missing pieces. This is a man who possesses everything and yet really has nothing — aside from about $8 billion (in today’s dollars) and a prized collection of rare artworks and priceless antiquities that would later define but a fraction of his vast and complex legacy. “I love collecting objects because objects they are real and they are what they seem,” he says. “People are not what they seem. They disappointment me.”
Upstaging Plummer would seem next to impossible, but Michelle Williams who plays the kidnapped teen heir’s tenacious but emotionally-devastated mother is every bit the miser’s match in each scene, and then some. She married John Paul Getty, Jr., who turned out had none of the business savvy (nor ruthlessness) of his famous rapacious father. Getty, Jr. (in both the movie and in real life) eventually became a hopeless drug addict. An absentee father every bit as negligent as his hard-nosed father, Getty, Jr. played virtually no role in the teen’s upbringing and ransom negotiations. That left the kidnapped boy’s mother isolated, vulnerable, broke, and essentially powerless to do much of anything to free her hostage-son. Proving the most essential human resources aren’t tangible nor valued in dollars, Williams carries the movie from start to finish. In her, we see the heroic counterweight to elder Getty’s mangled priorities. Money doesn’t matter. Only her son and his safe return matters. Billions in assets are trivial.
Getty stubbornly refused to pay the full $17 million in ransom for reasons which are far more complex (and perhaps even justifiable) than one may expect. This is far from an easy and automatic decision as to what exactly to do. Sure, $17 million represents a paltry day’s pay for Getty, a mere crumb in his vast financial empire. However, Getty won’t budge. This steady crescendo of mounting suspense, heightened when the boy’s severed ear is mailed in by kidnappers, leads to an inevitable face-to-face confrontation, the details of which will not be revealed here. In what otherwise is an intriguing film most certainly worthy of seeing, this zenith of steely personalities and clash of beliefs near the film’s climax is both messy and unsatisfying. I was left with a lingering curiosity that was not answered. [SEE FOOTNOTE FOR SPOILER]
My only other criticism of “All the Money in the World” is the cringe worthy miscasting of Mark Wahlberg, the beefcake actor who doesn’t seem right at all for the nuanced role as Getty’s security confidant and eventual accessory to Michelle Williams during the kidnapping ordeal. Wahlberg’s character appears to be mostly useless, providing little tactical nor emotional support to Williams nor anyone else involved in solving the crime. I was surprised to learn afterward that Getty did indeed dispatch a former American intelligence operative to assist with the investigation. His character and scenes add nothing to the story and film. But in fairness, no one could outshine Plummer and Williams in their respective roles.
Also worthy of note is the outstanding supporting performance of Romain Duris, a well-known French actor who plays the role of Cinquinta, a sympathetic Italian kidnapper. Usually, criminals are portrayed as one-dimensional villains. However, Duris manages to go far beyond the typical shallowness and becomes a compassionate steward of the prized boy treasure, with startling similarities to the boy’s own mother. Both are steamrolled by more powerful personalities and forces beyond their control.
“All the Money in the World” receives a very high recommendation. Though slightly flawed, the caper based on a true crime story sustains our suspense for slightly more than two hours. Actors Plummer and Williams are certain to receive the usual accolades for their portrayals of real people. Plummer, in particular, deserves high praise for essentially performing all of his scenes which were re-shot within the time frame it usually takes to film a television commercial.
Ridley Scott has given us an authentic likeness of the people, places, and circumstances which comprised one of the most intriguing kidnapping cases in history. Ultimately, and fortuitously due to real-life scandal and controversy, he’s also created one of the top five movies of the year.
[SPOILER ALERT: SOME DETAILS OF THE PLOT WILL BE REVEALED BELOW]
The film’s tension stems from the escalating conflict between Getty (Plummer) and the heir’s mother (Williams) over whether or not to pay $17 million ransom. Getty has his reasons for not paying — some valid. He’s spent an entire lifetime negotiating with rivals and breaking adversaries in the business world. Nothing, it seems, will change his mind on surrendering to blackmail (which is also a standard policy of some governments when faced with acts of terrorism) — not even the threat of his grandson being murdered by kidnappers. However, very late in the film in the anticipated climactic showdown, the character played by Mark Wahlberg storms onto Getty’s lavish estate and confronts his boss with a tirade of insults. Uncaring and unfeeling, Getty had never budged in any negotiations before. He had no regard for the feelings or opinions of his family (he was married five times). Yet for reasons unexplained — and grossly inconsistent with the persona and actions of Getty to that point — he decides to give in an pay a smaller part of the ransom. Given the nuanced complexities of the dilemma, the audience deserved to know why Getty changed his mind and gave in. Why would Getty do this? Because he was insulted by an employee? This is implausible and mars what is otherwise a very good movie.
Walking into the Golden Steer is like visiting the ghosts of Las Vegas pasts.
If these walls could talk, just imagine the stories they could tell.
Last night’s motley crew guest list included Andy Rich (Golden Nugget Poker Manager), Todd Anderson (Creator of television show Poker Night in America), Vin Narayanan (who’s doing some lucrative deal in Hong Kong that’s succeeding despite making no logical sense whatsoever) and yours truly. Our frightening foursome plopped down in a red-leather booth. Almost instantly, we had appetizer cocktails in one hand and dinner menus in the other.
Now, that’s service.
The Golden Steer has been in business for like — forever. It’s a really weird location, helplessly bookended into a seedy strip mall right off Las Vegas Blvd., on Sahara. A few doors down there’s a busy cigar bar that you can smell from a block away. The restaurant, in the shadow of the new Lucky Dragon casino, is bordered by ghetto apartments. Fortunately, there’s a spindle of rusted barbed wire atop a cinder block wall separating the slums from the Golden Steer. That way, we can all feel safe while feasting on dead animals.
If these directions don’t make any sense, then try this: Look for the giant sign with the fat cow out in front. Everyone in town knows the fat cow. Err, steer — whatever.
Years ago, the Golden Steer was the favorite hangout of the Rat Pack. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. and company used to dine here regularly. The trio of crooners even had their own private booths (each still in place and memorialized with plaques).
The Golden Steer has undergone a sparkling facelift since my last visit a few years ago when it seemed the old cow’s best days were way behind her. While the inner decor has been updated, it still screams “Old Las Vegas.” You don’t see places like this around anymore because they’ve all been bulldozed and paved over by an all-too-crowded kitchen of celebrity chefs.
Now that you know a little something about the Golden Steer, here’s where the story really gets good.
While Andy, Todd, Vin, and I were solving the world’s problems last night while trying to get away from our own, the scene across from us in the opposite red leather booth caught our attention and kept us captivated nearly to the point of becoming a distraction. About 15 feet away, a scruffy bearded man wearing a brown western hat dined with a young lady. The man’s coat looked disgustingly filthy. His hat was bent out of shape and wouldn’t fetch $2 at a garage sale. If you examined this scene for no more than five seconds, you’d have made a reasonable guess the man was homeless.
No big deal, really. This is Las Vegas. You see a lot of weirdness in Las Vegas.
At some point, the scruffy man asked the waiter to remove a portrait from the restaurant wall (yes, I’m serious). Then, he requested the portrait be positioned next to him and his lady friend, in the booth. If the scruffy man wasn’t a curious sideshow to watch before based on appearances, well now he had our full attention — at least as much attention you could muster without turning into a gawker.
So, the large framed portrait of a movie star was nestled into the booth while the scruffy man feasted on supper. It was hard to tell who this was exactly in the picture, but after some artful eye-dodging, someone in our party finally recognized the portrait was of the late actor Charles Bronson.
The scruffy man, the lady friend, and Charles Bronson’s portrait all seemed to be quietly enjoying themselves, although Bronson didn’t say much. Bronson also didn’t eat or drink anything. Those delicious delights were left to the other two, who emptied at least one bottle of expensive wine followed by a bottle of champagne. I tried to catch a glimpse of the labels to see what they were drinking, but I didn’t want to seem too nosy. One can only gawk so much without causing a scene.
Of course, we had to play the whispering game of speculation. Who in the hell is this guy? He sure looks like a pauper, but he’s dining in a fancy restaurant, guzzling down wine and champagne. Who could make such a wild request to have a portrait removed from the wall — and then have that request honored by the staff? And the woman really seems to dig him!
An eccentric billionaire?
The owner of the restaurant?
A perverted Charles Bronson fanatic?
Who was he?
Just as we were preparing to leave, the scruffy man and his friend got up also. They made a swift bee-line for the front door, hopefully not leaving stoic and speechless Charles Bronson to pay the bill.
Consumed by curiosity, we stopped the waiter in mid-stride cold in his tracks.
“Who in the hell was that scruffy guy in the hat? Do you know him?” we asked.
“Oh, that was Nicolas Cage. He’s a regular here. He comes in all the time.”
If great comedy requires courage, then Roger Rodd is the bravest of souls.
The versatile Los Angeles-based comedian and actor, perhaps best-known for his anti-politically correct stage act and topical rantings on current events which are posted almost by-the-hour on social media, reveals an unshakable chasm between what we so often think versus what we often can’t say.
On cue, Roger just comes out and speaks his mind anyway. He’s even willing to risk offending some people, convinced that hurt feelings are best tranquilized by the sound of laughter.
Consider one of his trademark professional endeavors, which is guest appearing at various “Black clubs” around the country, which is to say venues that cater primarily to African-American audiences. This is where Roger is at his wicked best. Nothing in the script gets changed. No part of the act is toned down due to sensitivity. Roger walks that razor-thin edge between humor and being offensive like a high-wire trapeze artist.
Of course, sometimes he falls.
Like any risk taker, some might think that Roger crosses an invisible and ever-changing line on what’s tasteful and appropriate. That’s not intended as criticism. Instead, that’s a compliment. To reach the very edge of the steep comedic cliff and get the best view sometimes requires stepping a little too far and then falling into the abyss. Then, one crawls out of the pit, gets back up on his feet, learns a lesson or two, and goes right back to performing — swinging and missing and hitting plenty of home runs. That’s Roger Rodd.
The stage act and the person are connected in many ways. But, they are also different. As with many comedians, there’s typically something far deeper going on within the psyche when writing and performing a comedy act, especially and edgier show. Some might even see this as a dark place. Other know the art of comedy as personal introspection. The act becomes the manifestation of an insatiable curiosity about culture and society that must be explored and deserves to be pressure tested.
I’ve known Roger for more than ten years. We first met in Lake Tahoe. I have been a fan ever since.
Thanks to Roger Rodd for agreeing to my ongoing series, “Facing the Firing Squad.”
Here’s a short highlight reel of Roger doing stand up:
FACING THE FIRING SQUAD:
Q: What are some of the things you stand for?
Rodd: The legalization of all drugs, prostitution, and gambling,
Legalizing all forms of death, meaning abortion, death penalty for all who kill, and euthanasia,
Seize all churches and donate them to the homeless,
Enforce the death penalty for any form of religion, where anybody but the immediate family, gathers ANYWHERE BUT inside of their own domicile. Humanity’s disgraceful track record of god gatherings is well founded.
Q: What are some of the things you stand against?
Rodd: Obstinate ignorance and denial, in the face of hard evidence.
Any religious infusion into what was designed to be our secular government.
The military-industrial complex and their “whores for hire” media.
“Blanket respect” and “blanket judgments.” Both need to be lost or earned on an individual basis ONLY.
Q: What living person do you admire the most, and why?
Rodd: My mother. S he is a Great Depression-toughened member of the generation who are the reason we aren’t speaking German.
Her values and integrity run through my soul.
Q: What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?
Rodd: Never having known their personal lives, and knowing only their public persona, nobody qualifies.
The disparity and magnitude of those two perceptions in terms of deserving my admiration causes me to say — “Nobody.”
I used to think O.J. was a great guy.
My personal historical figure of admiration is my father. He was a decorated WW II survivor of a Kamikaze attack with 52 casualties, who swam over a mile to shore with shrapnel buried all over his body.
When it was my turn to fight a war, there was a problem with my feet.
They were in Canada.
Q: What living person do you despise?
Rodd: None who are in MY personal life. Why allow that negativity to rent a space in your head?
Regarding public figures, that’s WAY too long of a list, with far too many vying for the top slot.
Q: If money were not an object, what profession would you chose?
Rodd: Beach Lifeguard. If it would’ve paid enough, I never would’ve left the tower.
Q: What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?
Rodd: Learning from my father how to never quit.
Q: What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?
Rodd: Nothing. We all have faults but if asked the question, “Would you like to have a person like you for a friend, I’d emphatically say — yes.”
Q: What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
Rodd: Toss up between skydiving and making a “life or death” rescue.
Q: What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?
Rodd: A Scientology camp that hired me for the day as an actor.
Q: Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.
Q: Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.
Rodd: Book — North Dallas Forty
Movie — “Lifeguard”
Musician — None. Music is FAR too overrated.
Q: What upsets you the most?
Rodd: The stupidity of humanity.
Q: What bores you?
Q: What would it take for humanity to reach its true potential? Rodd: The elimination of ALL religions. It is THE single and most DIRECT cause of all human misery.
Q: Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?
Rodd: When something cannot be proven or disproven, the only sensible answer is — “I don’t know.”