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That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas Hardcover – November 1, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clavin (Halsey's Typhoon) commemorates the centennial of trumpeter Louis Prima's birth with an entertaining biography of the bandleader's colorful life, music, and marriages--especially his union with fourth wife, singer Keely Smith, 18 years his junior. In the Vegas of the early 1950s and '60s, Prima and Smith's raucous all-night lounge act, nicknamed "The Wildest," thrilled both tourists and celebrities with an energetic mix of Dixieland, swing, rock, and off-color humor. Clavin brings the stage act to life, ably evoking the Vegas lifestyle it helped popularize. Through anecdotes, pop criticism, and comments from print and video sources as well as original interviews, the complex Vegas backstory of racism, gangsters, the Rat Pack, and Howard Hughes is palpable. Not so the Primas' offstage existence, the descriptions of which are surprisingly flavorless. After tracing Prima's musical fortunes from his New Orleans roots through gigs at Manhattan's famed 52nd Street jazz clubs to his reign at the Casbar Lounge of the Sahara Hotel, Clavin portrays Prima's relationship to the alluring Cherokee-Irish Smith as a bit of musical luck that turned romantic, until their divorce in 1961. (Nov.) (c)
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Review

"This book brought me back to my days in Vegas, which we’ll never see again. That was a one-time-only event. I enjoyed Louis Prima more than any other entertainer I’ve seen onstage, that’s how good he was."  —Shecky Greene


"Clavin has produced an easy read that is informative, entertaining and enlightening . . . makes a valuable contribution to the world's body of knowledge about one of the greatest entertainers of all time."  —NewOrleans.com



"Crisply written and engaging."  —PopMatters

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; First Edition (US) First Printing edition (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556528213
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556528217
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #385,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

TOM CLAVIN is a bestselling author and has worked as a newspaper and web site editor, magazine writer, TV and radio commentator, and a reporter for The New York Times covering entertainment, sports, and the environment. He has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and National Newspaper Association, and two of his books were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Two of his books have been New York Times best sellers, The Heart of Everything That Is and Halsey's Typhoon. Other books that have received popular and critical acclaim include The DiMaggios, Last Men Out, Gil Hodges, Roger Maris, The Last Stand of Fox Company, and his most recent book, Reckless: The Racehorse Who Became a Marine Corps Hero. Tom was born in the Bronx. His first professional job was as a publicist and proofreader for Sterling Publishing, which at the time produced annual editions of The Guinness Book of World Records. He began freelance writing and editing in 1980, and moved to Sag Harbor, NY two years later. Tom still lives there, and his two children, Kathryn and Brendan, were born and raised in Sag Harbor. His career has included working in the newspaper game on eastern Long Island - 15 years as a roving writer for The New York Times, managing editor of The East Hampton Star, editor-in-chief of the Independent chain of weeklies, and writing arts features and the "Farther East" column for the Press News Group. Gradually, writing nonfiction books became his full-time occupation. His next two books, to be published in 2016, is one on Old 666, the B-17 bomber that had the most decorated crew of World War II, and Reach for the Sky: The Dodge City Days of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ken Smith on September 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being a personal friend of Keely Smith and her two daughters and having worked with Keely over the past 3 years I was interested to see what slant, if any that Tom Clavin had put into his book. I was pleased to read that he had written the story of Louis Prima & Keely from a very unbiased and neutral view point. Too many times I have read or seen their story told from a negative stand. Tom has done his home work not only on the couple in question but also on the time period and places, People and music lots of nice back ground information). I very much enjoyed reading about Louis's rise to stardom through the 1930's and then again in the 50's with Keely.

The point I agreed with the most was that Louis,Keely and Sam Butera with the Witnesses had one thing in mind when performing. Giving 110% of the their energy to the performance and with the aim to make people happy!!! This comes across time and time again in the pages of the book.

If you are a Louis and Keely fan and love that time period of the growth of Las Vegas you will really enjoy this read!!!

Keely now at 83 still performs with the Jive Aces (Britain's top jive and swing combo) when she visits the United Kingdom each summer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By eljaykay on January 14, 2011
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just the book I hoped it would be.....great info on Louis and Keeley....answered questions I had, like how he passed away.....plus, gives a perfect picture of their fabulous gigs in Vegas and Tahoe back in the day.....I know, cuz I was there for many shows at the Sahara.....loved it
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By bcp on June 30, 2011
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My husband and I have always been big fans of these two people. This book was so good you can't put it down. It's sad Louie isn't still performing like Keeley but I'm sure he's enjoying wherever he is....
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dittybopper1954 on December 13, 2011
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A Great Book! It is that, especially if you were a fan of Louis and Keely down through the past 50+ years; one that is a very well-documented edition. And not only is one able to read about the lives of the two, but there is an excellent history of the beginnings of musical entertainment in Las Vegas, all the way from Louis and Keely through the Rat Pack and into the late 20th century. Back in the 1990's my wife and I spent several stays at the Desert Inn (before Steve Wynn tore it down) where during one stay Keely and Sam Butera just happened to be entertaining in the lounge, so we got to see and hear them. Oh and also, I just happened to ride an elevator with Keely one night---my one brush with real fame there on the LV strip! But to sum up, again, it is truly a great book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By SC on May 11, 2012
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This is a nicely written intro to Louis Prima & Keely Smith and the golden days of Las Vegas. As another reviewer, Joseph Welnack, has pointed out the book draws heavily on the documentary DVD "Louis Prima The Wildest" which is now apparently out of print and new copies are quite expensive. The author, Tom Clavin, offers grateful thanks and acknowledgment to Historic Films for use of the material, but after reading the book I watched the DVD and was surprised at how much of the book is basically a transcript of the DVD. I think you might be ahead if you rented the DVD and bought a couple of Louis Prima & Keely Smith cds, because the music is really where it's at.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LSB on September 7, 2013
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Great story, warmly written, regarding a somewhat recently gone bye era that still has a great deal of affection for many.Keely Smith was a very fine vocalist who belongs with her great contemporaneous performers. I do not believe that she received the recognition that she deserved. She subordinated herself to her husbands self image.The book brings this out nicely.
I liked the book a lot.
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I got more from this book than I expected. All the history of jazz and Vegas woven in the story of Keely Smith and Louis Prima.... I never cared for Prima... I absolutely love Keely....as a child I remembered her voice and as an adult I discovered who she was. ......she had a one of a kind voice...I was not surprised at how their relationship ended...Prima may have been talented...but he was just a smuck! Keely certainly didn't deserve the treatment she received from him....So glad to see she is still active and doing well. I guess I got emotionally involved.... I loved the book, sharing with my husband...
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Prima & Smith are one of the matches made in heaven. I have always liked Louis Prima's music, ever since I was a kid and saw the Jungle Book, but only after reading this book did I come to really appreciate his talent in music. Adding his band to that, and the way he, too, had to learn the rules of the road before hitting it big, makes you wish for a time machine that could take you back to his shows in the 30's, 40's and the 50's.

When Keely Smith came along, not only did the music get to the top of the curve, but the way Prima's womanizing was kept in reins for some time was also very interesting to read. It finally broke through, and the dream couple went their separate ways, but it is always amazing to read such a well-written, detailed, and complete account of the lives of celebrities. They are human, after all, with all the failings and problems we all have.

This merits 4 stars, because it could have been tightened a little, but even as it is, it is a very good book about the pair whose music still has that black magic lure.
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That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas
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