In 1969, one of Las Vegas’ brightest names had a memorable television appearance, only it wasn’t from Vegas; it was on top of the Hoover Dam. Actor and musician Sammy Davis Jr. came through Boulder City before crossing over to the Hoover Dam, film crew in tow, to perform in a taped variety TV special titled “Frank Sinatra Jr. with Family and Friends.” The television special ran in October 1969 but was filmed in May of the same year.
Originally filmed on 35 mm, the special was put out by The Metromedia Corp., which was later purchased as part of a creative rights deal by Ted Turner. At the time, CBS agreed to air “Frank Sinatra Jr. with Family and Friends” as part of its “Great Entertainers of Our Times” series. Frank Sinatra Jr. wanted the television variety show to be filmed at prominent Las Vegas locations, including what was then — and continues to be — very heavy tourist destinations, such as Hoover Dam.
Davis was the only musician who ended up coming through Boulder City for the filming of the TV special. The other acts, which included Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Jack Benny and the Doodletown Pipers, were each assigned locations around the Las Vegas Valley with the hopes to promote interest in Southern Nevada. It was a calculated publicity move to not only draw more visitors to the famous Las Vegas Strip, but to promote nongambling interest points around Southern Nevada.
Since Davis’ 1969 appearance at Hoover Dam, countless other musicians have used the engineering marvel as not only their musical backdrops, but as a cross-promotional effort with tourism agencies to showcase the dam and its close surroundings, like Lake Mead and Boulder City. One of my more recent throwback musical references to Hoover Dam stems from a 2016 appearance made by actor, singer and author Alan Cumming via “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
Cumming, who won a Tony Award in 1998 for best performance by a leading actor for “Cabaret,” appeared on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” to “premiere” a sneak peek of his Broadway musical “Hoover Dam: The Musical.” Cumming bantered back and forth with Meyers, discussing what inspired him to write and also star in the play. Then, without hesitation, Cumming performed his featured song, “Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t.”
Outside of the hysterical dancing with beavers scene, Cumming single-handedly plugged all the wonders associated with building Hoover Dam. He did so without missing a Broadway cue, singing against a backdrop of Hoover Dam to an engaged television audience of more than 1.6 million NBC viewers. Cumming’s “Hoover Dam: The Musical” clip then was republished on the official “Late Night with Seth Meyers” YouTube channel, reaching an additional 1.3 million subscribers.
There is no doubt actors, musicians and writers of influence, regardless of genre interest, have historically took an interest in Hoover Dam and the surrounding areas. From the dam’s initial ribbon cutting, past the time when Davis tap danced on top of it, and up to Cumming’s appearance on Meyers’ NBC show, there is no question that television and musical numbers have been very good resources to generate publicity for Hoover Dam and Boulder City.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.