December 10, 2008

Norm Clarke's party and bonding with Rita Rudner

I am writing the Buffet column for the Nov. 23 print edition about Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke. Clarke began covering the celebrity scene here shortly before I moved to Vegas in 1999. And, so, I have never known this town without Clarke's Vegas Confidential column. But in the introduction to Clarke's latest book, "Norm Clarke's Vegas Confidential: Sinsational Celebrity Tales," former "Soprano's" actor Steve Schrirripa, a longtime Vegas hand, notes that when Clarke started in Vegas: "The idea of a gossip columnist covering our town was not warmly embraced." You can imagine why.

That has changed. Two nights ago, I went to Clarke's book party at the Palms' Playboy Club. I arrived late (story due at work) and could not stay long (mom was landing at the airport for a visit), but the place was packed with many of the Vegas personages who populate Norm's newspaper column: casino owner George Maloof, Strip headliner Rita Rudner, celebrity chef Kerry Simon and fellow Vegas chronicler Robin Leach.

I grabbed a quick word with Clarke before I had to go: "I wanted edgy and I got edgy in this book," he said. "I got a lot of help from some casino VIP hosts, anonymously of course." I asked Clarke what surprised him most preparing the book: "What people had to say about Kobe Bryant. Apparently, he is the No. 1 most obnoxious and most arrogant celebrity in the view of VIP hosts. And No. 2 might surprise you: Matthew McConaughey. I've always got a strange vibe from him. He is not a nice guy it turns out, very full of himself."

Clarke describes covering celebrities in Vegas (with a nice name check to me) as: "The ultimate buffet for people like you and me who love to pick up the phone and say 'You gotta be kidding?' "

On the way back to my car (down the elevator, through the casino and into the parking lot) I had my own celebrity run-in. Unlike Clarke, my picture rarely appears anywhere, and I almost never get recognized. So imagine my surprise when I hear someone say, as we get on the elevator, "Hello Richard," and I saw that it was Harrah's headliner Rita Rudner.

Rudner is the only headliner in Las Vegas who has ever refused to interview with me. And she did so for years. For a long time I had no idea why that was true. It turned out she was unhappy with a review I wrote, not of her show which I always liked, but a production that her husband was connected to in some way. The details of that production (which was at New York New York hotel) are lost in my memory, and the review is no longer on the Web for computer server reasons, and so I can't recall exactly what I wrote. But it upset her and her husband, and their unhappiness lasted for years until Rudner and I made peace by phone in February.

Of course, we spoke alone by phone, and at the Palms her husband was with her on the elevator and during the walk through the casino, all the way out to the garage. I had no idea how he was feeling toward me. I considered trying to shake his hand but he remained a bit too far from reach the entire time. That did not seem like an accident.

Meanwhile, Rudner seemed to be really enjoying smothering me with pleasantness. She was very friendly, making a point of being sweet as well as talkative as we discussed all of her various projects. And one of the things I like about Rudner is she does a lot beyond her show at Harrah's. In fact, she mostly does what I do: write. She writes books, television shows, movies and, most recently and surprisingly, she wrote a play -- along with her husband -- that was offered to a local community theater in a gesture of support.

Of course, the scale of Rudner's career is much larger than mine, a point she made clear, when, after reviewing all the exciting things she is working at, she took time to compliment me fully on a very brief appearance she had seen of me the other night on the Travel Channel in a documentary on Vegas. Ouch. At least I then knew how she managed to recognize me in the elevator with no trouble (though we have only met once or twice in person before). I had to confess to her that the documentary was actually shot years ago and was only reairing. I have never felt so awful while being spoken to so kindly.

Anyway, Rudner's dry, knife-someone-with-a-smile humor turns out not only to work on Vegas audiences but to be a perfect instrument for putting journalists in their place.

Source: Las Vegas LA Times

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