Thursday, May 7, 2009

This week's LVW Col: Danny Gans Understood

Here's this week's Weekly column. Off to lunch with my mom in Florida. -sf

Danny Gans: 1956-2009
Apart from Vegas, most of the country had no idea who Gans was -- and odds are he ws just fine with that

Miles shook me awake last Friday at about 7:30 a.m.

“I need you to wake up,” he said. “You need to get up. Now.”

I was confused. I’d told him I didn’t need to be up until 8. But he looked grave.

“Danny Gans died in his sleep this morning,” he said.

My bleary look gave way to a puzzled one. It was the only reaction to such strange and awful news. How does a 52-year-old health nut die in his sleep?

Here are my first and second comments, in this order: “Oh, that’s so sad.” Then, after a long pause: “But I wonder who’s going to care.”

Yes, that sounds cold. But I meant—and Miles got it immediately—who in the national media will recognize this passing as a significant story? That’s my job and to some extent my function in this community, to determine what of the local news rises to the level of broader significance and interest, and which publication is going to want me to document it.

And so it was that I was brought immediately back around to the central conundrum that was always the most baffling part of the Danny Gans story: How does someone become such a mammoth, wealthy star, entertain untold millions and grin for years from the largest billboard along the most-traveled American tourist thoroughfare and still remain largely anonymous in the broader popular culture? Just seven years ago, a Los Angeles Times profile of the impressionist was topped by a headline that summed it up perfectly: “Las Vegas Loves Who?” Heck, the Wall Street Journal scribe Christina Binkley, writing an exhaustive book on recent Vegas history last year, misspelled Gans’ name!

Indeed, none of the East Coast-based papers or magazines I regularly write for took an interest in this startling passing as a news event. The New York Times, which furnishes a large part of my meal ticket, shunted the matter to a staff obit writer who aptly referred to Gans as “a show business anomaly, virtually unknown outside Las Vegas but a superstar on the Strip.” The Agence France-Presse, a Paris-based wire service read largely in Europe and Asia, let me write just 200 words because, “I’m afraid if he’s not that well-known outside Las Vegas, it’s not going to make waves,” my LA-based editor wrote me. And a CNN anchor actually said—on the air—something to the effect of, “You ever hear of Danny Gans, the Vegas headliner? He died today.”

I wasn’t surprised, per my mental calculation, upon hearing the news. The coastal media don’t take much interest in Vegas entertainment unless Hollywood somehow infiltrates it—see Hilton, Paris or Lohan, Lindsay—or unless there’s something that fits a wacky Vegas stereotype. The onstage tiger attack on illusionist Roy Horn was sensational news because there was blood and animals and traumatized fans and bizarre costumes. Even then, though, I had to remind photo editors repeatedly which one was Siegfried and which one was Roy.

Danny Gans wasn’t Vegas in that sense. When I saw Gov. Jim Gibbons on the news referring to Gans as another “Mr. Las Vegas” it sounded really odd. He wasn’t ostentatious or outlandish like Liberace, dramatic and tragic and campy like Elvis, schlocky like Wayne Newton. Gans just got on stage night after night, did a bunch of impressions that Middle America loved to see and went home.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.


Jinx said...

Very nice article Steve and I do believe you captured the national question with it. Just my own personal experience, one of the thing that initially fascinated me about Vegas was it's local celebrities. I remember first trips being amazed at names like Clint Holmes, Danny Gans, and others were plastered all over the place and were so well known. I always thught it gave the city a uniqueness that I had never really seen before. A transient city, with a hometown idol feel. It's one of the things that I loved about the place and has led to much of my fanaticism with the town.

Tabloid Baby staff said...

We'd say the national question is "What killed Danny Gans and why is the Las Vegas news media not investigating?"

Oh, that's two questions.

"And do real journalists just wait around to be handed an 'official version' weeks after the fact?"


Too much time under the sheets with Miles, Not enough shoe leather on the sidewalks.