Bobby Morris oral history interview, 2016 March 24. OH-02638. [Audio recording]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d18c9tv72
Standardized Rights Statement
There were only five hotels in Las Vegas. There was the Last Frontier; the Desert Inn; the Thunderbird; the Flamingo; and the El Rancho. The tallest hotel was two stories high. There were thirty thousand people all told in the city of Las Vegas, [including] North Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City. I worked at the Frontier with Liberace. Liberace was getting a television show. He offered me to go with him. I said, "Well, what does it pay, Lee?" He says, "Forty three dollars; that's the scale for the show." I said, "Well, Lee, I'm making eighty seven. I can't leave an eighty seven dollar job for forty three." He said [speaking with accent], "But it'll get better, Bobby, it'll get better." A couple of years later, the Riviera Hotel opened and he came in as the star of the show for fifty thousand a week. I'm jumping the gun a little bit because I'm still at the Frontier and a couple of acts came in a little bit later. One of the entertainers was named ?Ronnie.? He said, "Just call me Ronnie." I said, "What would you like?" He said, "Well, I do a little soft shoe." [Voicing musical beat] "And then I sing with girls and I tell a few jokes." I said, "That's great, Ronnie. Hey, listen, I'd like to take you to breakfast tomorrow morning at the Silver Slipper. It's forty nine cent breakfast, everything, ham and eggs, whatever you want." So we would each take each other to breakfast at the Silver Slipper for the next couple of weeks and we became good friends. That Ronnie turned out to be Ronald Reagan. But don't forget he didn't start off as Ronald Reagan; he started off as Ronnie and movie actor, B movie actor, no big star; he was just a movie actor. He was a broadcaster, too, before that. Yes. Whatever he was, he was just Ronnie to me. But he became Ronald Reagan. What kind of personality did he have back then? Just a sweetheart. I'm talking to him like I talk to you. We're friends. We're having breakfast. Nothing special. Now it sounds like, my God, Ronald Reagan. But he wasn't Ronald Reagan; he was just Ronnie. Did you stay acquainted and stay friends as he became a politician? No. He went on and I went on. Liberace opened up, became fifty thousand dollars a week. I was invited to the top of the Riviera Hotel. It was ten floors. It was major, major, ten floors, oh, my God, in Las Vegas. I went up there and he came over to me. I said, "Oh, Lee, I'm so happy for you, my God." He says [speaking with accent], "You should've come with me, Bobby, I told you it'll get better. I told you it'll get better." So things got better for him and got better for me. Then I had a trio. Then I had a quartet, Jack Prince and the Paupers, at the Sahara Hotel. Louis Prima and Keely Smith came in, but they came in with kind of a trumped up type of...The big band arrangements that he had with his big band, he made it into a little band, but it didn't sound that good. So I'm playing with Jack Prince and the Paupers; it's my group. It's a jazz group with Dee Dee Lucido on bass, Rudy Eagan on piano, Jimmy Cook on tenor, myself, and Jack Prince, who had been the singer with Harry James at the Flamingo. We were THE jazz group in town. We were the happening jazz group. Then Louis Prima came in and he was a great performer, but nothing was happening musically, I mean rhythm wise. Then he came back with Sam Butera, Little Red, on trombone; a dear, dear friend of mine, Billy MacCumber on piano; and Amato Rodriguez on bass. Louis played trumpet, whatever, and Dick Johnson on drums. I had jazz going at the Black Magic every night after hours. All the stars in Vegas would come in and I'd play for them. Where was the Black Magic? On the corner of Paradise and Tropicana. It's not there anymore, of course. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, every star would come in and sit in with us. All the big bands that were in town?Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman?would all come in. All the stars, the best players would sit in with us. We were there for quite a while. Sam Butera came; he would sit in with us, too. He said, "Bobby, I like you. Louis Prima wants to talk to you." I said, "About what?" He said, "I don't know. Talk to him." So I went and talked to him. He said, "We're missing one link. We're going to be recording for Capitol Records. I've got the Frank Sinatra Show, Colgate Comedy Hour, every big show, the Dinah Shore." [Singing] "See the USA." I remember that. He says, "I want you to come on." I said, "Well, Louis, I'm happy here." He says, "What are you making?" I said, "I'm making two hundred dollars a week." Which is foolish; I should have said more. But he says, "I'll give you three hundred a week if you come with me." Man, that was, whoosh, three hundred a week. I was married at the time and had three boys. I had the house next to the Katz?s.