INTERNATIONAL HOTEL – a brief history
The man behind the International Hotel was the businessman Kerkor “Kirk” Kerkorian. In 1967 he bought 64.5 acres of land on the east side of Paradise Road between Desert Inn Road and Sahara Avenue, about half a mile east of the Vegas Strip. It was bought from Martin Kratter who had plans to build a big hotel on the spot but opted to sell the tract to Kerkorian for $5 million. The construction of International started in 1967 and would be finished in late June ’69. It fully opened on July 1st. Kerkorian eventually spent $60 million to cover the building costs.
Below you can see footage of the International Hotel when it was still being built. The footage was taken in February 1969 as part of a small publicity stunt (also seen in the clip); Elvis himself would visit the construction site for a “media signing” of their contract. The hotel manager Alex Shoofey and Bill Miller were also there and all was captured on film. They would also briefly show Elvis around the site that would become his home for a full month when he’d perform there. The actual contract was officially signed in April.
The hotel was opened on July 1st 1969 and at the time was the largest hotel in the world, covering 64 acres, going up 30 floors with some 1500 rooms, massive 30,000 square feet gaming area/casino, a 500-seat casino theater and a showroom with a capacity of holding 2000 people. It was a sight that would’ve attracted people from all over the world by itself but as it was the custom in the Sin City, hotels offered more than just gambling and performers were also pulling in the people. The very first performer to take the stage at the International was Barbra Streisand (with Peggy Lee playing the casino theater), performing two shows daily from July 2nd to July 30th. It’s been said that she was basically “sorting everything out” for everyone to follow her as apparently the showroom wasn’t entirely finished when she started her stand.
At the end of her engagement, the total amount of people who saw her perform at the Showroom Internationale was around 60,000. There’s even quite nice quality footage around from one of the shows (possibly the last one) as Ed Sullivan brought his cameras in the International to feature Barbra in his variety show – one of the only pieces from the early days of the hotel. By all accounts, her engagement was a success and the hotel was off to a good start.
From Barbra to Elvis – the July and August 1969 marquees
Elvis took the stage the following day on July 31st with a special show for ‘vip’s’. The audience consisted mainly of all kinds of media people, celebrities, executives and people from the “inner circle”, albeit some regular fans are known to have snuck in as well. Elvis had put together the best possible band, picked every single member himself and had been rehearsing with them for at least a month straight – in fact he was still doing it at 5pm on his opening night only hours before showtime.
The rhythm group was named the “TCB-Band” and they were James Burton (lead guitar), John Wilkinson (rhythm guitar), Ronnie Tutt (drums), Jerry Scheff (bass), Charlie Hodge (guitar/vocals) and Larry Muhoberac (piano/organ). Elvis also handpicked his backup vocal groups; The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials, and Bobby Morris and his Orchestra made the sound of the group even larger with their finishing touches.
When he finally stepped on the stage and faced the eager crowd, it would be the fourth time he’d do the full show that day. He may have been extremely nervous but once he got going, he left no one cold – it was like witnessing a wild animal let loose and people were raving about his return to the stage. Clad in his black karate-inspired outfit he stepped in front of the curious audience and let it all out. Although it was still Elvis, it was a different Elvis even when compared to year earlier; his performance had become even more influenced by karate altogether and he demonstrated this with incredible control over his body – he had no problem getting into a very low stance, it would take only a split second and all while having his guitar strapped around his neck and grabbing the mike down with him. The sudden gyrations, bumps and grinds and quick karate moves were a sight to behold and he made the showroom shake with his pure enthusiasm for performing – this was Elvis giving 100% for his craft, truly believing what he was doing.
During the run, the show’s were kept very similar. This was Elvis’ way of perfecting his act and with each show he got more comfortable. He tried different things, different arrangements even when trying to get himself back to his game. The pure hunger for live performing he had for all those years in Hollywood was what kept him going all through the engagement with sheer POWER – once he hit the stage, he would not only set the showroom on fire, he’d light up the whole city. Elvis turned out to be a force so powerful not even a place like Vegas had often seen one.
By his final show of the season on August 28th Elvis had attracted in well over 100,000 (depending on the source, even 130,000 has been mentioned) paying customers during his month-long stay (basically doubled Barbra’s numbers). He broke all previous Las Vegas attendance records and the International management would award him with a little gift after his final show – a gold belt that was worth $10,000!
Elvis was back with a bang, the hotel was now officially open and it already made its mark in Vegas, big time.