Longform

WHAT MAKES TAMMY RUN?GAMBLING-CAPITAL SKEPTICS HAVE RESERVATIONS ABOUT DEBBIE REYNOLDS, LAS VEGAS' UNLIKELIEST INNKEEPER

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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.

Just as understandable, nobody in Debbiedom is particularly eager to field questions about the entertainer's wisdom in buying the hotel-and-entertainment complex, especially given Debbie's spectacularly bad track record as a businesswoman. In her 1988 autobiography, the actress reported that she inadvertently kissed off a fortune when she insisted that NBC-TV not air cigarette commercials during her 1969 sitcom, because she deemed cigarettes unsuitable products for a family show, even though she herself was an on-again, off-again smoker. That demand effectively nullified a two-year run the network had guaranteed the show, costing the actress several million dollars. And even though she claims to have earned approximately $10 million during her 13-year marriage to shoe-store magnate Harry Karl, her free-spending second husband, Karl racked up so many gambling debts that she was forced to live in her car for a period following the couple's 1973 divorce. @rule:

@body:While waiting for the boss lady to appear, public relations director Rich Hannasch admits that while she's a consummate entertainer, Debbie Reynolds' knowledge of hotel management is somewhere between zero and nil. "She and her husband run the whole thing, but they're basically just landlords," says Hannasch, explaining that most of the hotel is or will be leased out to independent franchises. "The hotel rooms, the casino, the restaurants--all of these are being leased to guys who are experts in their field, so Debbie and her husband can concentrate on the showroom and the museum. Those are their babies. She's got a lot of friends--Frank Sinatra, people like that--and if we can get them to come over here, I think she'll have a real winner here.

"The fact that there are only about 200 rooms is a real plus, too," continues Hannasch, obviously vamping for time until the tardy Debbie appears. "This place is a personality, not just a building, like the Luxor or the MGM. See, the older people who come to Vegas tend to get scared of the crowds on the strip and all the stuff that's happening out there. Now they can come over here, see the show and it's easy in, easy out." It has evidently not occurred to Debbie or to anyone else that the easily spooked folks that Hannasch is describing rarely, if ever, go to Vegas. Or that when and if the urge to gamble does strike, these are the people who grab a cottage-cheese container full of nickels and head for Laughlin or the nearest Indian reservation casino.

@rule:
@body:Looking almost as trim and far more taut than she did in her last major screen appearance, more than 20 years ago, Debbie finally sweeps into the office, followed by a harried-looking group of employees that wants her to sign this, initial that. No dice, as they say in Vegas.

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Dewey Webb