By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
LAS VEGAS--Gazing out a second-story window of the intimate "boutique" hotel that bears her name, Debbie Reynolds, best known for her role in 1957's Tammy and the Bachelor, surveys the once-familiar landscape that's rapidly being transformed into some sort of whacked-out theme park for gamblers. "This town has really changed," the former star of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals and Vegas showrooms sighs wistfully.
She can say that again. Over the next several months, visitors to the fabled Las Vegas strip will be able to gorge their eyes and empty their wallets on an array of gaudy new attractions unprecedented in the history of the garish gambling capital.
At the south end of the strip is the Luxor hotel and casino, scheduled to open in October; visitors will enter the 30-story pyramid through the mouth of a giant sphinx, then be ferried to the registration desk via barges floating up the hotel's in-house Nile. Up the road, workers are putting finishing touches on the $450 million Treasure Island hotel, where passing motorists will soon thrill to open-air buccaneer combat, complete with booming cannons. Next year, visitors will even be able to catch an aerial view of all this hoopla from an amusement-park-style thrill ride mounted atop the 1,012-foot Stratosphere Tower casino, Las Vegas' tallest structure to date.
For the time being, however, the most unusual and financially dicey new enterprise in Vegas has got to be the off-strip hotel and casino at 305 Convention Center Drive, located midway between the Stardust and the soon-to-be-razed Landmark. Still under renovation, but open for business since last July, Debbie Reynolds' Hollywood Hotel/Casino and Motion Picture Museum is undoubtedly the only hotel in town at which the celebrity proprietress, whose name once loomed over the Las Vegas strip on showroom marquees in letters 15 feet high, now performs in the lobby for free four afternoons per week. The 61-year-old performer is frequently accompanied by comedian Rip Taylor, the confetti-scattering comic best known to couch potatoes as the host of The $1.98 Beauty Show, Chuck Barris' late-Seventies companion piece to The Gong Show.
Debbie-ana is everywhere. The hold music on the hotel's switchboard plays "Tammy," Debbie's 1957 chart buster. To hit the jackpot on the slot machines in the minicasino, players must line up three Debbies. Meanwhile, another machine in the slots-only casino dispenses commemorative Debbie Reynolds coins. And if they're lucky, guests just might catch a glimpse of their famous hostess performing some down-and-dirty janitorial duties, as well.
"Debbie is very hands-on," says one employee of the remodeled hotel. "She's not afraid to pick up a vacuum cleaner or a dust cloth. And if she sees something that's dirty, she'll get down and clean it. That's why she's so busy all the time."
@body:One of the busiest stars in show business, Debbie (no one calls her "Miss Reynolds") has been working steadily in one field or another since 1948, when the 16-year-old "Miss Burbank" was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout. Following a couple of bit parts at Warner Bros., the pert and perky personality packed up her Peter Pan collars and ponytail and moved to MGM, where she appeared in a series of frothy but, with the exception of Singin' in the Rain, largely forgettable musicals. Shifting into Doris Day-type roles in the Sixties, Debbie and her brand of cute eventually wore out their box-office welcome.
Realizing that Hollywood was no longer making her kind of picture (in 1971's What's the Matter With Helen?, her most recent big-screen starring role, Debbie's character wound up being butchered by Shelley Winters'), Debbie hit the road with a live nightclub act, ranging from top Vegas shows to, more recently, the Sundome circuit. But it was Debbie's 1955 marriage to singer Eddie Fisher (and, more important, her subsequent 1959 divorce) that really put her on the map; that, more than any of her films, is probably what she's best remembered for today. Boy Next Door leaves Girl Next Door for home wrecker Liz Taylor! Perhaps the most publicized split in Hollywood history, the messy breakup and even messier aftermath (Liz eventually dumped Fisher for Richard Burton) make the Loni-and-Burt contretemps look like a lovers' spat by comparison. Proving that time heals all wounds, one of the large, movie-star blowups that adorns the front of Debbie's hotel is of none other than Liz Taylor. While Reynolds vehemently denies that the film had anything to do with her, more than a few moviegoers familiar with the actress's life have no doubt that she served as the role model for the megalomaniac former star portrayed by Shirley MacLaine in Postcards From the Edge, the 1990 film written by Debbie's daughter, Carrie Fisher.
@body:Debbie is apparently so preoccupied with business elsewhere in the hotel on one recent Saturday afternoon that no one can determine her whereabouts. Not the frazzled young woman who's frantically tracking Debbie down to sign checks that "should have gone out yesterday." Not the harried PR man who's trying to locate the absentee entertainer for the benefit of both an out-of-town reporter and a Today camera crew unloading in the parking lot.
And certainly not the hotheaded factotum who's reaming out another employee who had failed to locate Debbie when country singer Mickey Gilley dropped by to say hello earlier in the week. When the staffer counters that Debbie was in a meeting and had left explicit instructions that she was not to be disturbed, the first employee fumes, "That was yesterday! If you've got another star in here who's visiting the hotel, I don't give a damn if Debbie's on the toilet! I talked to her last night, and Debbie said she doesn't give a shit who it is, you call her!" If tempers are running short around chez Debbie, it's understandable. Since purchasing the run-down resort at an auction last fall for $2.2 million, the actress and her real estate developer/husband, Richard Hamlett, have had more than their share of problems with the property, many of them still unresolved. Last May, an Illinois-based riverboat-gambling operation called Hollywood Casino-Aurora filed a federal suit against the hotel, claiming the name of Debbie's hostelry violated trademark laws. The following month, the Nevada Environmental Protection Division discovered that hotel workers had dumped hazardous paint stripper into a grease trap that emptied into the city sewer; although the hotel subsequently spent $20,000 cleaning up the waste, the hotel may still be fined. According to various stories that have appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Debbie and spouse are still struggling to scrape up financing for the hotel, whose much-touted, 500-seat showroom, motion picture museum, gift shop and gourmet restaurant have yet to open. And last August, The Globe, a supermarket tabloid, printed a story claiming that worries over the "problem-plagued" casino were jeopardizing the "cash-starved star's" marriage.