Elvis and the Beatles defined the Sixties in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — As the Sixties dawned in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack were king. But by the decade’s end, Las Vegas had a new king.

In the summer of 1963, Elvis Presley made “Viva Las Vegas” with the city playing a starring role. Elvis and Ann-Margret brought the script to life in what is viewed as one of The King’s best movies. It debuted on May 20, 1964, with Fremont Street, the Landmark hotel and the Las Vegas Convention Center in many of the racing scenes. It was one of 20 movies Elvis made for MGM, and it grossed nearly $10 million.

Liberace on guitar, Elvis on piano in 1964. (Las Vegas News Bureau)

Three months later, the Beatles rolled into town for their concert at the Las Vegas Convention Center Rotunda.

John, Paul, George and Ringo opened the Aug. 20 show with “Twist and Shout,” and played a 13-song set that included “All My Loving,” “She Loves You,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”

 The Beatles arrive in Las Vegas in 1964 (Las Vegas News Bureau)

By the end of the decade, Elvis returned to begin his International Hotel residency in 1969. His deal was for four weeks, twice a year, for $125,000 per week.

A rush of construction on the Strip in the ’50s continued into the ’60s, with the Aladdin and Caesars Palace opening in 1966. Circus Circus went up in 1968 and the International Hotel debuted in 1969.

Other highlights of the decade:

  • The Rat Pack — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford — performed for the first time in 1960 at the Sands. “Ocean’s 11” debuted the same year.
  • Wayne Newton performed his first show at the Flamingo in 1963.
  • In 1964, UNLV graduated its first class — 29 students dubbed the “Centennial Class” — as the state turned 100 years old.
  • Howard Hughes arrived in Las Vegas in 1966, and by 1967 the reclusive billionaire bought the Desert Inn to avoid eviction from the top floors of the hotel.
  • Elvis was back in headlines when he married Priscilla Beaulieu in 1967 at the Aladdin.
  • On the last day of 1967, Evel Knievel had all eyes on Caesars Palace as he jumped the fountains, crashing on the 141-foot attempt and breaking many bones.

DYK: “Viva Las Vegas”

  • Lucky Jackson, the character Elvis played, was the inspiration for “Speed Racer”
  • The Killers, ZZ Top, the Dead Kennedys, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Springsteen, Vince Neil and Bugs Bunny have all performed covers of “Viva Las Vegas”
  • A 2002 effort to make “Viva Las Vegas” the city’s theme song stalled in negotiations
  • Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top tells Las Vegas Weekly that during the band’s filming of their “Viva Las Vegas” music video, “We rode around the Strip in a fire engine red ’53 Cadillac convertible and met the ghost of Elvis.”
  • The song was released as the B-side to “What I’d Say,” another Elvis song from the movie.

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