By George: Maître d’ Levine one of the great Las Vegas characters By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports August 20, 2018 at 8:00 pm People tell me I live in the past, and I don’t disagree. Truth is, I’m probably more comfortable there. For one thing, in the past my clothes are in style. My hair is dark. There’s more spring in my step. I can still hear the punchline of a lounge comedian’s joke.George LevineAnd living in the past is now officially the only place I’ll run into sweet George Levine, the last of the great Las Vegas maître d’s, who died Aug. 11 at age 93. For the many longtime Las Vegans who knew and loved George, he needs no introduction. For those not as fortunate, let’s just say you missed a treat. George was one-part Vegas Golden Age historian and one-part small-town mayor. He loved the Las Vegas that was because he understood its hustle and its absurd sense of humor. And George knew how to laugh. He was born Feb. 28, 1925 in Sommerville, New Jersey and grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he met wife Estelle and started a family that produced daughters Wendy and (future Congresswoman) Shelley. George honed his material at the Concord Resort hotel at Kiamesha Lake in New York. For several years he managed a coffee shop that seated hundreds of guests. In 1963, the family chased its fortune West to Las Vegas, a good place to find a job and a crap game. George first worked at the diminutive Mr. Sy’s casino, across from the Stardust but not exactly in the center of the action. But when he took a job waiting tables at the Sands in the heart of the Rat Pack era, a kind of curtain was pulled back. He spent years there grinding it out, supporting his family. In 1979, he became the Sands’ maître d’ in the showroom. It was a lucrative and important position he held until the hotel closed in 1996: Lucrative because it was a tip-earner’s dream. Important because the maître d’ in those days was more important than some vice presidents, as much an orchestra conductor as table waiter, and a celebrity in his own right. “I got a job at the Sands as a waiter,” George recalled in 2015 interview with Barbara Tabach as part of the Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project in association with UNLV’s University Libraries and its Oral History Research Center. “Eventually, I ended up the maître d’ of the hotel. If you don’t think that’s exciting, then nothing is exciting. I went through a lot of exciting times, but that was it. As maître d’, I think you’re more popular than the president of the hotel. You had more power probably. Everybody wanted to get in to see Frank and Dean and Sammy. My favorites were Steve and Eydie; they just blew me away – not only me, they blew everybody away. We had tremendous actors. That was a great experience, the Sands. But to think that you were more powerful than the president of the hotel, it’s really something.” A chance meeting with George was an instant history lesson with a little lounge comedy thrown in. From Sinatra to Wayne Newton, he knew just about every entertainer worth knowing. He was a good judge of character, but he also liked to put a positive spin on all things Vegas past. Who could blame him? That’s where he was most comfortable. In a town where relationships were everything, George was a man to know. But by 1996, Las Vegas – a place always on the move – was changing again. Maître d’s and dinner shows were going the way of the dinosaur. The corporate era values efficiency over experience. A decade ago, at an age most guys would be satisfied just to remember their names and home addresses, George was back in a tux working at The Plaza downtown in the theater during the run of Dick Feeney’s energetic impersonator show “The Rat Pack is Back.” I met him before the crowd arrived. Juiced by the excitement of being back in the game he loved so much, he looked younger than ever. At 84, his comedic timing was impeccable. “It was always happy times,” he said as the stage crew adjusted the sound. “Jack Entratter, Carl Cohen, the bosses were great. The lower echelon guys, the floor bosses and pit bosses, were great. And once Jack said, ‘We’re sold, out,’ we were sold out. You could have had a million empty seats. He just wanted the people who came in to be comfortable.” George Levine was successful in life in no small part because he genuinely liked people – and not just because they occasionally slipped him a double sawbuck to improve their standing in the Copa Room. In the neon heaven, I’m sure George has a very good seat. Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.