In a recent article for Expedia Viewfinder, I write about how I might travel using a time machine if given the opportunity. The post was inspired by Expediaâ€™s campaign in support of the new Dreamworks film, Mr. Peabody and Sherman. And in writing my piece, I was really surprised to find how personal the topic of time travel turned out to be for me.
Most people might choose to go back to some profound moment in world history. And in the film, the main characters do exactly that from Troy to Versailles to Ancient Egypt, accidentally wreaking havoc on the space-time continuum.
But me!? Iâ€™d go back to the toe-tapping era of the 1950â€™s in Vegas. Why? Well, first of all it was the birth of Vegas as we know it today. And it was a time when legendary talents sang and danced, and performed their hearts out to fabulously-clad crowds.
Also during that time, my grandfather, Danny Thomas, could often be found on stage, twice a night, at The Copa Room at the Sands Hotel and Casino. He was the first entertainer to ever perform there.
Iâ€™m no comedian like my grandfather. And I can only dream of reaching his level of talent as a storyteller. But all the same â€“ I am a storyteller. That is what I do either on-camera on my web-series, Travel with Kate or in my written work. And just the thought of being able to watch him on stage brings up a lot of emotion.
I canâ€™t help but feel like Iâ€™m following a similar path as he did as I pursue my creative work. And Iâ€™m certainly not the first in my family to do so. Of course, my aunt, Marlo Thomas, became a very successful actress and author. And my father, Tony Thomas, also followed in his dad’s footsteps, not as a performer but as a producer for television. And he was there in Vegas in the 50â€™s.
So, in place of a time machine â€“ because I couldnâ€™t get my hands on one – I decided to interview my Dad about his experience growing up watching my grandfather perform during that special time in Vegas.
Kate (Me): I want to interview you about Vegas.
My Dad: Vegas Baby!
Me: Ha! When was your first time to Vegas?
My Dad: Dad was the opening act at the Sandâ€™s Hotel in 1952 in The Copa Room when the hotel opened. In â€˜52 I was 4-years-old. Iâ€™m sure my parents took me then.
Me: What do you remember about that time? I know you were really young.
My Dad: I went there once or twice every year for two to three-week stints until I was at least 18-years-old. In the younger years, it was just exciting. Walking into the casino was like walking into the middle of a starship. It was noisy and full of life with bells and a lot of blinking. And it was the forbidden fruit. I wasnâ€™t allowed to be in there.
And I used to sneak in to the nickel slots, run and put a coin in a machine, pull the arm and run back out. If I ever won, I could never collect. The guards used to come and chase me away. I was kind of like that book, Eloise, at The Plaza. I had free run of the place and I ran all around.
When I got older, I started spending the evenings watching Dad perform.
Me: Can you describe to me what it felt like to walk into the back of The Copa Room on a night Bubba was performing?
My Dad: Well, unlike today, a night out in Vegas was a very fancy occasion. People lined up. And everyone was dressed in suits, a coat and tie, and the women were dressed to the nines. The Maitre dâ€™ was with that starched tuxedo. There was a big life-sized painting of Dad that was hung by the door. Every time a star performed they had these big paintings â€“ like when Dean was there or when Frank was there. When dad was there they hung his painting.
And you would walk in and of course the family would be in the VIP line and we would walk right past the giant line. Go in. And there would be this magical place.
Dad didnâ€™t like us sitting up front because he didnâ€™t want to look down and see us. We always sat off to the side in the wing. And the place was just abuzz. Everyone was very excited to be in The Copa Room.
There were times I went to both shows â€“ Iâ€™d go to the dinner show and the late show. Because I wanted to see him work. I wanted to pay attention to the details between the two shows and how each audience reacted – sometimes different things worked at different times. And laughs came where there weren’t any in the early show.
Me: Do you remember any big names? Were you ever really awed by someone you saw there in the audience?
My Dad: In the audience, not so much. But back stage, after the shows, and you know Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra who might be playing the next week would come in a day or two early sometimes. And theyâ€™d come back and visit. That was always interesting. And other comedians who were performing in other venues would come and say hi â€“ Milton Berle and Don Rickles, Shecky Green. And all the TV stars too. It was a big deal to go to The Copa Room. And the stars of that time would come backstage and say hi to Dad.
And the Copa Girls always amazed me. I mean these were long-legged girls dressed with giant headpieces and sometimes wings on their backs. All kinds of craziness. It was surrealistic.
Me: I can imagine. So do you remember any particular night or moment that sticks out to you?
My Dad: I donâ€™t know if it was just one specific thing. I guess because I used to hear him talk about his act. I would notice the way he timed things. His delivery was always very precise. He used dialects for his characters. And you know, Iâ€™d observe the emphasis he would put on certain lines and then stare at the audience. They would just laugh and laugh and laugh as he paused. It was just interesting to observe him doing that. The timing of it. Leaning into the jokes at certain perfectly placed moments.
He always used to say, his biggest pleasure was the silence. In the middle of talking, he would stop – dead stop – and there wasnâ€™t anything. There was just dead silence in the room. And that is when he knew he had â€˜em because they were listening and waiting in anticipation. And then on the other side of it, he used to love to make them laugh to the point that the joke was so big that their heads flew to the back of the room, then forward to the front of the stage and then back again. He called that, the field of wheat.
And after the shows we would go to eat Chinese food at around 2 oâ€™clock in the morning. And Dad would eat because he couldnâ€™t go to sleep for a couple of hours after being on stage. And he would discuss his show, what was good, what was bad. How he was going to take different pieces and move them around. To take the audience to different places at different moments in the show. Things like that. Listening to him taught me how to entertain an audience.
Me: So I guess thatâ€™s the root of my storytelling, huh? You watched your dad. And I watched you?
My Dad: You grew up with a father that was in show business. And you spent lots of time with me on set and in the editing room – watching me craft stories for TV audiences. And now you craft stories for internet audiences. From stage to TV to internet – It’s in your DNA. It is a link we all share. Bubba would be proud.
Me: Wow. Thanks Dad! And thank you for sharing your stories with me.
I really love how this seemingly unrelated topic of time travel led me down a path to connect with my own family heritage. If one thing is for sure both my dad and my grandfather worked very hard at becoming masterful storytellers. And this whole affair certainly gives me fuel and reassurance I’m on the right track.
And it helps highlight my goals in life. I aim to entertain with my videos and my written content. But I also aim to inspire people to seek out exciting experiences through travel.
I want to help you feel alive, get out that door, let in other worlds, acquire new ways of thinking, and make new connections. For me it is about helping enhance your life.
And to that end… here is an inside tip to help you make your travel dreams come true. In the spirit of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Expedia is giving away a 6-day trip for two to the history-rich countries of France, Greece and Italy (winnerâ€™s choice)! Hereâ€™s the link to their Travel the World Sweepstakes page to enter to win!