By Robin Leach Niche Division of Las Vegas Review-Journal
June 16, 2017 - 2:00 am
The city’s historic mascot, the iconic Las Vegas showgirl, may have disappeared from its stages but the world’s only showgirl museum is ready to show that it is an entity that has legs — and long-standing ones, at that.
Showgirl Museum owner Grant Philipo is hoping the city will give official approval this month for his collection of 30,000 artifacts to be moved from “Boylesque” star Kenny Kerr’s former mansion in Paradise Palms to the Reed Whipple building, a former Mormon church on the Las Vegas Boulevard. A decision is expected before month’s end.
I spoke with Philipo by phone this week and he told me that the expansion into a 65,000- to 70,000-square foot venue can accommodate the collection that includes more than 1,000 mannequins adorned with the gorgeous costumes of the great Las Vegas extravaganzas.
“The value is so great that it can’t even be determined. It’s been described as “priceless,” he told me. “ Just 100 pieces of the collection were appraised at $15 million. Many of those artifacts are currently residing in four different warehouses in Las Vegas.”
For more than two years Philipo has been in conversations with Mayor Carolyn Goodman and city planners to relocate their collection. In November of 2016, the museum, along with a few others, made a formal proposal for the building. “We’re waiting for the response, which we have been told will come later in June,” Philipo added.
A nonprofit, The Society for the Preservation of Entertainment History, created for the preservation and restoration of the collection, has put together a group of private investors and fundraisers to raise the monies needed to solidify a home for the museum. Past co-owner of The Tropicana, Fred Doumani, spearheads the group. The 50-member board of the museum includes influential Las Vegas residents ranging from former hotel owners to politicians, business owners, headliners and former showgirls.
“Once we find the venue for the museum, our team is confident that we will raise the funds to complete this project successfully,” Doumani commented. “It is going to be spectacular and our team is experienced in many different areas.”
Entertainment writer and publicist Bobbie Katz added: “ The one-of-a-kind collection contains costumes from famous designers Bob Mackie, Pete Menefee, Michael Travis, Bill Hargate and others, and artifacts from producers, Donn Arden, Barry Ashton, Frederic Apcar and more. It also takes in shows from Paris, New York, Reno and Lake Tahoe, as well as movies and television shows. In addition, there are costumes and jewelry worn by such stars as Ann-Margret, Carol Channing, Raquel Welch, Lynda Carter, Rosemary Clooney, Omar Sharif and Liberace, as well as on TV shows such as “The Donny and Marie Show” and “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.”
Philipo, the creator and curator of the museum and a former performer and show producer, has plans to include a theater that will be home to an authentic old-Vegas-style spectacular; as well as a school offering all-day full classes for those interested in learning dance, technical techniques, how to design costumes and build sets, and how to get hired for a show. The actual production show will take place at night. Philipo produced the second largest show and the second-to-last show to ever play the Dunes, “90 Degrees and Rising.”
“The museum will be a totally immersive and continually moving experience for visitors,” he said. “The mannequins will turn and there will be the authentic sets, videos, pictures, scripts, music and more. When those shows existed, the showgirl was the image that drew people to Las Vegas. Since the closing of “Jubilee ” in February last year the showgirl has still existed on the city’s website but is non-existent on the entertainment scene. We are intent on keeping her image and this incredible part of Las Vegas history alive. This museum will attract visitors from all over the world and will bring new business to whatever part of the city it is housed in.
“Each room in the museum will be themed like a specific show,” he continued. “It will be like stepping into a showroom and onto the stage. We’ll have chorus lines of mannequins and guests will be able to take pictures that make them look like they are right on stage with the casts of the various great Las Vegas shows in the city’s longtime history. It will be an up-close and personal experience. We will also give VIP tours. We aren’t going to hide the topless aspect, either.”
Bobbie confirmed the museum has received recognition from Jon Porter, former Sen. Harry Reid and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, and was awarded “The Coolest Museum” in one set of Las Vegas rankings.
She added: “ The heart of Las Vegas rests within the amazing entertainment history found within Grant Philipo’s Las Vegas Showgirl Museum. But home is where the heart is and all involved in this project are hoping that a new venue is in its near future. The destiny of the history of the showgirl is in the City Council’s hands.”
I narrated a video about the museum at www.lasvegasshowgirlmuseum.com and you can join the call to action to help the museum find its public venue.
Philipo started this collection in the late 70s. It got a big boost when he became friends and was hired by Liberace’s designer, Michael Travis, as Liberace’s fitting model. Travis learned of Philipo’s love for historic show costumes as well as his ability to bring them back to life. He connected Philipo with many iconic designers and show producers who offered their collections to him because they knew he would bring them back to perfection and even use them in the shows he produced.
In 1992, Philipo met and became business partners with Maryadelia Mantle, the wife of Mickey Mantle’s brother Roy, and together they produced Philipo’s “90 Degrees and Rising” at the Dunes. With Maryadelia’s help, they expanded the collection to include the Lido Jewels from Donn Arden’s show “Allez Lido” at The Stardust, plus the costumes and props from “Enter the Night.” Another friend, helped them acquire the original opening costumes from, Donn Arden’s “Jubilee!,” which debuted in 1981 at Bally’s with a cast of 140.
It is all the ultimate homage to the glitz, the glamour and the beauty of a unique Las Vegas phenomena that marked our matchless entertainment history going all the way back to 1973s “Hallelujah Hollywood” and the “Folies Bergere” shows that began at the Tropicana in 1959. The nearly 60-year tradition has to be maintained for a long time still to come.