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Mr. Niagara Falls

Wayne Newton gets the keys to the Cataract City

Mr. Las Vegas, Mr. Entertainment, whatever you call him, Wayne Newton was born to be a star. After tens of thousands of Vegas shows in a career that has spanned more than 50 years, Newton will receive a unique honor this Friday at the annual “Niagara Holiday Lights” on Old Falls Street, when he’s given the key to the city of Niagara Falls at 5pm. The 70-year-old entertainer will be in town to perform a string of seven holiday shows in five nights at the Seneca Niagara Casino.

Newton’s next performances will be 1:30pm and 7pm on Thursday, December 6, 7pm on Friday, 1:30pm and 7pm on Saturday, and 1:30pm on Sunday.

This week we talked to Newton about his life in show business, his favorite movie cameos, and, of course, his hair.

AV: You’ve been in show business all of your life. How does performing at 70 compare to performing at 50 or 30?

Wayne Newton: If you get into the 30s, I think that performing was different because I was doing two shows a night in those days, seven nights a week. My record for performing in Las Vegas is 36 weeks without a day off, so I don’t have that kind of ability anymore. I have a life in addition to working now. [Laughs] I don’t party as much.

AV: You’ve made some memorable movie cameos over your career.

Newton: I think my favorite would have to be, of course, Vegas Vacation. I played a caricature of Wayne Newton and it was funny. My second favorite is the James Bond film License to Kill, where I played a preacher who was smuggling dope. I’ve done about 32 motion pictures to date and those are definitely my two favorites.

AV: There is a great scene in Vegas Vacation where you give a lock of your hair to Beverly D’Angelo’s character, Ellen Griswold. Do you ever get requests like that in real life?

Newton: What’s funny about that is that the original scene called for me to give her a key chain. I said to Jerry Weintraud, the producer, “Jerry, this is really lame. A keychain is not something Wayne Newton would be asked for from anybody.” So he said, “Well, what do people ask you for?” I had recently gotten a couple letters from some ladies asking for a lock of my hair. So I said, “I think I should give her a lock of my hair,” and he laughed and that’s what we went with in the film. That started a whole fad. When I do get fan mail now, a great many of them request a lock of hair.

AV: Do you ever indulge their requests?

Newton: Sometimes. For example, I got a letter recently from a 92-year-old lady in Arizona who lives in an assisted living home, and she said, “Would you come and see me and bring me a lock of your hair?” So when I do go to Phoenix I am going to go see her and, depending on whether or not I get a haircut soon, I’ll give her a lock of my hair.

AV: I love that the lock of hair idea was based in real life.

Newton: What’s funny too is guys always ask me what it was like to hit on Beverly D’Angelo, and I say, “No, no, no, you’re missing it.” Seated next to Beverly during the scene where I hit on her at the show is of course the rest of the Griswold family, but on the other side of her is my actual mother-in-law. Try coming on to a woman who is married with children, with your own mother-in-law sitting next to her. That takes some guts. [Laughs] Or stupidity. I don’t know which.

AV: I mentioned to some of my friends that I would be interviewing Wayne Newton and they all instantly mentioned Vegas Vacation. I told my mom that I was interviewing you and she said, “You have to ask him about Dancing with the Stars.”

Newton: [Laughs] I have to tell you that the Dancing with the Stars thing was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I thought, “Okay, I’m in pretty good shape and I’ve haven’t dissipated too badly in terms of drinking, so this should be a walk in the park.” It was eight hours of rehearsals each day and every step you took was choreographed. You’ve got three people sitting there telling you things that most people haven’t heard as performers since their second year of performing. It was fun and I would probably do it again, but I was very happy to go home when I got voted off.

AV: You released “Danke Shoen” in 1963 at the age of 21. What did that song mean to you then and what does it mean to you now?

Newton: “Danke Shoen” was originally written for Bobby Darin. Bobby had seen me on stage at the Copacabana in the lounge and said he wanted to give me this song that he was supposed to record. The publishers of that song called Bobby, and Bobby, as my producer, said he was giving it to me. The publishers said, “No, you’re not,” and Bobby said, “If you don’t give me this song for this kid, I will never record another song that you publish.” Obviously, the publisher reconsidered. I’m originally from Virginia and my dad is typically southern. I brought the acetate home for him and my mother to hear and he said [in a southern accent], “Doggonit, boy, people are gonna think you’re a communist when this thing comes out.” So that was my first introduction to “Danke Schoen.” What it’s become since is it really becomes a hit all over again every 10 years or so. So when people think of me, they immediately think of “Danke Shoen.”

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