A new TV series will be hitting the air waves this fall, and more importantly its Las Vegas related. I enjoy reruns of the original “Vega$” with Robert Urich and “Crime Story” when I can catch them, and the more recent “Las Vegas” as well, I try to catch the reality COPS style “Vegas Strip” on TruTV and never miss one of Travel Channel’s out dated, Vegas based shows (the kind they seem to have on every other week). If your anything like me; you like the wild history behind Las Vegas and the characters that made Vegas, Vegas. So I suspect I will like this new show as well. Its to be called “Vegas” (huh, that’s original). The show's theme will be the molding of Las Vegas while Sheriff Ralph Lamb was at the helm. Some say he was a controversial figure and others worshiped him. Hopefully the series sticks somewhat close to reality so we can judge for ourselves.
Here’s a little of what I dug up on the longest running Sheriff Las Vegas has ever had, and a little of what to expect from the show.
Ralph Lamb was just eleven when his father died on July 4th 1938, from a horse related accident, much the same way his grandfather died years earlier. His older brother, Floyd already had his own ranch so Ralph and a sister, Wanda, moved to the land and began working it with him. Ralph grew to love ranching but had a dream of one day becoming a FBI agent. When World War II came he joined as Army Intelligence but couldn’t continue with school afterwards because of his family’s lack of money, so in 1947 he took on a job as a deputy sheriff. It didn’t take him long to prove valuable to Clark County and their population of 15, 000. He quickly moved up the ladder to Chief of detectives. In 1954 Ralph and a fellow police office started their own detective agency and for the next 4 years handled clients such as Howard Hughes. He decided to run for Sheriff in 1958 and lost, but when the man that defeated him was named to the Gaming Control Board in 1961 Clark County asked him to take the position until the next election, he did and won the next election in 1962. Lamb was Sheriff longer then anyone ever has held the position, 18 years total. During his career he is credited with the modernizing of a rural police force, combining the Sheriffs office and the police dept into what is known as METRO today. He is also known for bringing in the first mobile crime lab and SWAT team to Vegas. During his 18 years as Sheriff his brother Floyd became a Senator and brother Darwin became a county commissioner.
The large Lamb family wasn’t immune to the spotlight or bad press. His youngest brother Larry had murder charges dismissed after he shot and killed a man, leading to an outcry of favoritism due to the family’s political position. Charges were then reinstated but a jury acquitted him. Floyd had troubles as well, In 1983 the FBI convicted the Senator of accepting bribes. Floyd spent 9 months in prison and was then pardoned and his civil rights were reinstated. The family had a rowdy reputation, which most people respected, especially in the middle of the “mafia movement” into Vegas. Ralph had many run ins with different ruffians, from Hell’s Angels bikers on up to Syndicate guys such as Moe Dalitzs and Johnny Rosselli. (Michael Chiklis will play a Rosselli style character on the show).
Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal was the head of the Stardust Casino through the early 80” as a front for the Mob out of Chicago. There are legendary tales of Lamb and Lefty going back and forth and Lamb trying to run him out of town, including the day he arrived in town and was kicked out by Lamb that same evening. He soon returned after Lamb and many of both parties mutual friends agreed on stipulations, including curfew and a “NO JACKPOT” law. Rosenthal has said he and Lamb became good friends after that, which seems like an odd statement, considering each other’s history and legend in Vegas.
After reading about those legendary confrontations with Rosenthal, I have no doubt that the tall cowboy character that visited Robert De Niro at his office, in the movie “Casino”, was derived from Sheriff Lamb.
The Sheriff had his own share of rumors and bad press. In 1977 he was indicted on tax evasion, when it was discovered he was spending a lot more then his salary on a ranch and new home. During the trials it was proven he took what he called “loans” from Benny Binion. The IRS tried to prove either the Sheriff had no intention of paying those “loans” or Mr. Binion didn’t expect to be paid back, making the money taxable income. Something I found funny was the District Judge during that trial made the statement, “Many fringe benefits come to elected officials which may be accepted along with the honest discharge of duty.”
Then I thought, Why would a man with known mafia ties and a criminal background, such as Binion, be willing to lend (give) a man, in Sheriff Lamb’s position, $30,000 (or more) and not expect it paid back. I digress.
You’d think there would already have been a book or movie to celebrate such a big part of Las Vegas’ history. It’s been talked about a few times in the past. Once, before director Sam Peckinpah died he was interested in casting Clint Eastwood in the role of Sheriff Lamb. In this case CBS feels Dennis Quaid can fill Lambs shoes, or boots as it were.
Lamb himself said he was “overwhelmed by the cast and crew” who have finished filming the pilot episode in Las Vegas New Mexico. On his own, Lamb’s a pretty private man but he isn’t shy when telling stories to writers about those days. Recently he and famed writer Nick Pileggi had a sit down and the discussed enough content to fill, what was described as, several television seasons. Pileggi is a co-writer for the shows script, and originally developed the project as a movie at MGM with Arthur Sarkissian who got the rights back when MGM went through bankruptcy. It will be directed by James Mangold who gained notoriety as director of the Johnny Cash profile movie"Walk the Line" and also the western "3:10 to Yuma".
I'm excited to have a new Vegas based television show to watch this fall, its looks like the stuff a movie could easily be made from. I just hope it stays true to Vegas lore and shows all sides of story, because many dont.
One last interesting thing about Lamb was in 18 years as Sheriff, he never shot a single person. We'll see how thats worked in the script.