Becoming America's Playground: Las Vegas in the 1950s

Front Cover
University of Oklahoma Press, Aug 29, 2019 - History - 290 pages

In 1950 Las Vegas saw a million tourists. In 1960 it attracted ten million. The city entered the fifties as a regional destination where prosperous postwar Americans could enjoy vices largely forbidden elsewhere, and it emerged in the sixties as a national hotspot, the glitzy resort city that lights up the American West today. Becoming America’s Playground chronicles the vice and the toil that gave Las Vegas its worldwide reputation in those transformative years.

Las Vegas’s rise was no happy accident. After World War II, vacationing Americans traveled the country in record numbers, making tourism a top industry in such states as California and Florida. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce saw its chance and developed a plan to capitalize on the town’s burgeoning reputation for leisure. Las Vegas pinned its hopes for the future on Americans’ need for escape.

Transforming a vice city financed largely by the mob into a family vacation spot was not easy. Hotel and casino publicists closely monitored media representations of the city and took every opportunity to stage images of good, clean fun for the public—posing even the atomic bomb tests conducted just miles away as an attraction.

The racism and sexism common in the rest of the nation in the era prevailed in Las Vegas too. The wild success of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack performances at the Sands Hotel in 1960 demonstrated the city’s slow progress toward equality. Women couldn’t work as dealers in Las Vegas until the 1970s, yet they found more opportunities for well-paying jobs there than many American women could find elsewhere.

Gragg shows how a place like the Las Vegas Strip—with its glitz and vast wealth and its wildly public consumption of vice—rose to prominence in the 1950s, a decade of Cold War anxiety and civil rights conflict. Becoming America’s Playground brings this pivotal decade in Las Vegas into sharp focus for the first time.
 
 

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

Selected pages

Contents

List of Illustrations
SELLING VEGAS
ENTERTAINMENT CAPITAL
WOMEN IN LAS VEGAS
STRUGGLES FOR BLACK ENTERTAINERS
MISSISSIPPI IN THE DESERT
MOB VEGAS
ATOMIC VEGAS
RAT PACK
Afterword
Bibliography
Index
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2019)

Larry D. Gragg is Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, and the author of eight books, including “Bright Light City”: Las Vegas in Popular Culture and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel: The Gangster, the Flamingo, and the Making of Modern Las Vegas.
 

Bibliographic information