Norbert Aleman…a true Renaissance man…
Written by: R. Drew Fezzey
Photos by: Scott P. Santos
Norbert Aleman has a great life and is one of life’s most colorful characters, with an illustrious background that seems as though it’s been taken from a novel. Norbert is many things: a gentleman, a patriot, an artist and producer and perhaps most importantly, a man who lives life to the fullest and enjoys its rewards, particularly his friends, family and beautiful women. Norbert’s theatrical genius is exemplified by his uncanny eye for talent and his creativity that has broken the boundaries of conventional theatre. Norbert has repeatedly brought new life to the stage and dared to do what others couldn’t. Perhaps Norbert is best recognized as the producer of two of the longest running shows in Las Vegas, “Crazy Girls” and “An Evening at La Cage,” which have run for over 20 years, both at the Riviera. However, he and his productions are known all over the world.
Norbert was born in French Morocco during World War II. His father was in the military and he was in training for military service…as he puts it… “I always liked guns, fighting and war games.” As conditions worsened in Morocco, his family decided to move to France, virtually with nothing… Norbert had to find his own way. He’d learned some Judo and other fighting techniques while in North Africa, but when he met some guys in France who were studying Karate, he decided to give it a go. “I learned the basics and just enough to be good,” he says, and in fact, he became good enough to become the European Full Contact Karate Champion in 1959. Norbert joined the French Foreign Legion as a mercenary, and he explained, “They were looking for some guys to fight in Algeria, so I
said, ‘I’m in.’ They had missions so we would do what we had to do.
” I asked him how he got started in the entertainment business. “By accident… I had a bar in St Tropez. One night I closed the bar at 5:00 in the morning and was walking out to the parking lot and I hear this screaming and saw a number of guys beating the shit out of this one guy… I didn’t like the odds, so I jumped in the middle to help the guy out. I was fast and strong so it evened things up. At the time I didn’t know who it was, but it turned out to be French singing sensation, Johnny Hallyday. He thanked me, we became friends. He was on tour, but one day he came back to see me and said, ‘I could use a guy like you to keep me out of trouble,’ and would I go on tour with him. He said he could pay me, so I became his bodyguard and eventually his producer.” This was Norbert’s introduction to show business. He made a name for himself and consequently was asked by the best in the business to be their bodyguard. “They would hire me for $500 or a thousand for the night, a day or a week, but it wasn’t a steady job.” However, this introduced Norbert to a whole new world of celebrities and industry people. Always the entrepreneur, Norbert sharpened his eye for talent and ventured into record producing. “I got into record producing without knowing shit! I was working with a guy, another French singer, and we were in a hotel in Innsbrook, Austria… it was a contest we were there for. I was in the bedroom in this hotel and I heard this screaming and yelling, so I got up. There were all these people next door. I see this guy out there with pictures flying out over the balcony. So I told this guy, ‘Hey take it easy, loosen up, I was trying to sleep.’ The next day, at the music festival, I find out this guy’s in the competition. He was a fabulous singer. He won a prize. My guy won as well, so when I was leaving I told him if he wanted to come to Paris, to call me, we could do something. I didn’t know what I was talking about, but I had connections and knew the people.” The guy was David Alexander Winter. Norbert produced a record with him which sold more copies than any other record in France. The song was called, “Oh, Lady Mary” which wound up selling 50 million copies. He then started his own record label, Norbert Aleman Production, which became very successful. He produced numerous other successful artists and records and continued to produce David’s career.
Norbert later distinguished himself as a European film actor and stuntman. This true renaissance man had it all happening. Then in the early 70’s, France took a radical left turn politically and as Norbert put it: “I like to drive on the right.” After the French government took 150 million dollars from Norbert, he started out for Brazil in 1976 to continue his producing career. However, a brief stop-over in Los Angeles proved to be longer than expected. Norbert met and fell in love with actress Leigh Christian and life became most definitely different. Once a multi-millionaire, Norbert had only $5000 in his pocket when he arrived in LA and he didn’t speak English. So he did what he had to do to survive. He ended up staying in Los Angeles, becoming a waiter, a driver and Leigh’s
manager… eventually, they got married. He also began to find work in the film industry.
Once again, Norbert’s life would change. “Terrence Young was the director of the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No.” I knew him from Paris because I’d done some stunts with him. His movies were very, very big in Europe. I saw him at a party in Hollywood, with Yul Brenner. Terrence asked me what I was doing and I told him that I’d just moved here. He said, ‘Why don’t you go to Korea and help me with my new movie, “Inchon.”’ It was a big movie, with Jacquelyn Bissett, David Jansen and many other big stars, so I said… ‘Why not?’ While I was in Korea, there was a big fire in the Canyon in LA. My house burned down. I was in Korea, I didn’t even know about it. I kept trying to call home…no answer…no answer. I thought my wife had found someone else. I called a friend to see if he knew where she was and he said, ‘Don’t you know your house burned down?’ I finally found her—she was living at a friend’s, Keith Roger. She told me we’d lost everything. I told her, ‘No problem.’ And I immediately packed my stuff and left Korea to go find a place for my wife and family to live. I didn’t want to stay in LA, I hated it, too fake for me, so I called a friend of mine, George La Forge, who I knew from the Lido in Paris, where I’d been a dancer. George owned a restaurant called the Morning After in Las Vegas. He said to come there and he could find something.” Norbert took a job as a cook and maitre d’ at the Morning After, which soon became the landmark Pamplemousse Restaurant on E. Sahara, in 1979. “When I was in France, I met Ernest Malle. He worked with the Prince; children of royalty. One day I got a call from him and he said, ‘Prince Fahad is coming to Vegas and he needs a bodyguard, do you want a job?’ I said, ‘Why not’…So I became his bodyguard for the time he was here; that’s how I bought my first house here. The way he gambled and partied, he would tip very well, so I made sure I got him what he wanted.”
When I asked Norbert how he got started producing shows, he said, “It was also by accident, I met John Cheiro, President of the Tropicana. John wanted to do a show. I said, ‘Lets do a show.’ I’d never done a show. He said, “Can Can”… I said, ‘Great, “Can Can.”’ I’m thinking of the French “Can Can” with the girls and the dresses, but I didn’t know he was talking about the Cole Porter “Can Can” on Broadway. Now I’m fucked. I don’t know how to do this, so I call a friend, Jim Page, who is a musical director and said I need help. He says, ‘I know someone.’ So he introduces me to the original creator of “Can Can” on Broadway…It was done!” Just the right phone call …You know, my dad always said to me: ‘You see the same people going up as coming down…just keep your word, look people in the eyes and you will live a good life.’ He was right.”
Yvonne DeCarlo starred in Norbert’s “Can Can” which enjoyed a successful three year run. The story is that the show could have had a much longer run except Yvonne wanted more than just a contract from Norbert… but this he could not give her. “Can Can” made Norbert one of the most sought-after producers in the business. He created such shows as “Concert on the Beach,” “Hooked on Classics” and “Big Band.” In 1984, Norbert produced “An Evening at La Cage” at Bally’s Park Place in Atlantic City. Due to management’s concerns over the female impersonator revue, the all-knowing executives only gave Norbert a three month run, with shows beginning at midnight. “La Cage” opened on June 15th, and by July 4th it was such a smash hit that it went from midnight to 8 p.m., and one of the two other shows at the hotel was cancelled. By September, the other show was gone and they wanted to redo my contract…They wanted a piece of the action.” … Imagine that! “An Evening at La Cage” enjoyed a 12-year run. Norbert would eventually produce 10 major shows for Trump Castle, and at one time he had four shows running simultaneously.
How did “La Cage” wind up in Las Vegas? “Meshulam Riklis was a great man and the head of the Riviera during this period. He came to Atlantic City to surprise his wife Pia Zadora, who was performing there. I knew Pia, because my wife Leigh had done movies with her. Riklis saw “La Cage” and wanted to meet the producer. He wanted to know if we could have one of the guys impersonate Pia to surprise her for her birthday. So we did, and it was a big success. Then Meshulam invited me to Las Vegas. He flew me out here in his private 707 and asked me to bring the show to Las Vegas. So I signed my first 12-week contract with him on a cocktail napkin, built the room at the Riviera, “An Evening at La Cage” opened, and we’re still there.” “La Cage” opened in 1985, featuring our good friend, Frank Marino as Joan Rivers, and has been one of the most popular shows in Las Vegas ever since. Where did you find Frank? “I met Frank in Atlantic City. He came in and said he did Diana Ross. I said, ‘What?’ …he said, ‘Diana Ross.’ …He had such a mouth, I knew he had to be good …We’ve been together for 23 years.”
Two years later, another Aleman Production was born. Meshulam suggested a show featuring beautiful women, so in 1986 Norbert created “Crazy Girls.” Norbert explained, “…We love beautiful women, we love statues of beautiful women, art of beautiful women, it is not sexual, it is just love of beautiful women.” “Crazy Girls” has run for 20 years and is still going strong; however, its beginning was not without controversy. When his now famous photo, “No If’s, Ands or…,” was introduced, it fueled a firestorm. There were objections from city hall as Norbert placed a full-size billboard of the butts directly facing their offices. He had objections from the cab companies because of the Crazy Girls backsides riding gracefully on the back of city cabs. There were even threats of legal action. In 1997, a bronze statue of the seven Crazy Girls was unveiled at the Rivera, which created even greater controversy and protests. Marketing genius…or love of beautiful women…only Norbert knows… But the reality is that The Bronze Beauties have become a Las Vegas legend ever since.
Norbert tells us that: “At one point, I had three shows in Las Vegas, one in Tokyo, one in Monte-Carlo, one in Paris, two in Atlantic City and one in Aruba, all running at the same time.”
Norbert Aleman is a man who cherishes his family and his relationships. He’s been married six times. He has two sons, Tao-by and Randy, who are not in show business and grandchildren who call him Norbert. He’s had God knows how many girlfriends. However, all of his wives and girlfriends are still very close. “Why should two people stay together if the chemistry is gone. It is better to be good friends. I have great respect for women and their beauty.”
He has a beautiful French Manor which he designed, built and decorated, adorned with spectacular gardens, beautiful swimming pools and statues of beautiful women. But he said that he’s thinking about expanding… “I need a nightclub. I’m going to build one on the property.”
Norbert enjoys the freedom of riding his Harley, “I’ve discovered this country riding. I know more about America than most Americans. Riding, for me, is relaxing. I’ve been all over on my bike… to Mexico, we’ve just taken a ride to Cabo and back. I’ve ridden across Australia, it’s beautiful... next year Brazil.”
What’s next? “I would like to do a movie with the girls before I step out. I want to produce and direct a film or two.” And no doubt, he will.
Norbert Aleman is a very private man. He has many new projects, his new show, “Transatia,” has been chosen for the San Francisco and Berlin festivals, but there is much about Norbert that few know. One thing is certain, as Norbert will say… “I did it my way.”
Strip Las Vegas is proud to have the opportunity to bring you the Crazy Girls as you’ve never seen them and to have Norbert Aleman as a friend and colleague. If you want a fun night, check out one of his shows. Both “La Cage” and “Crazy Girls” are at the Riviera and still going strong. SLV
“The New Crazy Girls”
Still Crazy After 20 Years…
by: R. Drew Fezzey
photos by: Scott P. Santos
Crazy Girls, Las Vegas’ Sexiest Topless Revue, has been controversial, sexy, fun and most of all, successful. Norbert Aleman's girls not only broke down barriers, they ignited a firestorm of controversy with their marketing campaign, “No Ifs ands or….”. It featured the derrières of his 7 beauties, beautiful butts on billboards and cabs all over town. The campaign drew opposition and outrage from the city fathers, particularly Senator Bill O’Neal, which only attracted the national spotlight and added more fuel to the fire. In 1997, Crazy Girls were immortalized in bronze. The famous bronze beauties and their bottoms have since become a landmark, posed in the front of the legendary Riviera Hotel and Casino. As for the original photo, it still graces cabs and magazines all over Las Vegas… …so much for the moral firestorm. Crazy Girls celebrated their 20 Year Anniversary in September, and has irrefutably earned the title of “The Longest Running Topless Revue on The Strip.”
Still Crazy after 20 years, the show has been given a makeover; new numbers, a more contemporary look and sex appeal. Norbert admits, “I’ve been away from the show for almost 8 years now, Karen’s been running it. I really have not been that involved, but she and the girls asked me to help, so I got married again to what I love…it’s rekindled my creative spirit. 24 hours a day now, I’m thinking about the choreography, the staging, the direction and putting the final touches on the new show. Crazy Girls has new music, costumes, lighting, choreography and some surprises. Working closely with producer and original Crazy Girl, Karen Rader, choreographer Charmaine Hunter, and line captain, Rayma Alfred, has been energizing. It’s all part of the plan to make certain that the show is hot and perhaps, even shocking. I’m controversial…we’re going to have some shocking and unusual numbers, and unusual choreography that people are probably not expecting from Crazy Girls,” Norbert declares.
Karen Rader reveals, “Crazy Girls has a more contemporary look. Some of the classical numbers have be taken out, in favor of more youthful ones. We’re having a great time!” I asked Karen if she missed dancing. She facetiously said, “No, I like being the Boss… It’s great to see the girls so inspired. They’ll take everything they experience with Crazy Girls with them throughout their careers. I love that!” Karen is one of the bronzed beauties, but you’ll have to figure out which figure she is.
Charmaine Hunter has been a principal dancer with the famous Dance Theatre of Harlem. She’s performed all over the world, including a command performance for the Queen Mother. Charmaine’s worked on big productions like Zumanity and The Lion King, but admitted, “I was not prepared for this! Choreographing a topless cabaret revue is very different and much more intimate. This choreography is not about showing the line…it’s about showing the woman and demands that the performer have a natural charisma…a sensual energy that fills the theatre. You don’t have 90 minutes to tell your story, you have 3 seconds to grab the audience and hold them. I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Karen and Norbert. There was a point where I hit the wall and they were there to help. They know what will work in this show and have great ideas. Norbert has the eye of an eagle…he was on top of everything…it’s been a blast!”
Rayma Alfred has been with the show for 6 years and keeps “the line” in order. She said, “this is one of the best things that’s happened to the show! The new girls are a great addition, they bring fresh, new, youthful personalities which people will really relate to….the New Crazy Girls is definitely 21st Century!”
Lovely Valentina is one of the New Crazy Girls. She’s only been in the states four years after spending eleven years as a Russian gymnast. She competed in the European championships and studied jazz dance in the motherland.
Terese Chafe is sexy and knew she was going to be an actress, model and dancer from the age of three. She was working in Los Angeles until her audition… now Terese’s a New Crazy Girl living Las Vegas.
Even the Technical Director and Lighting Designer, Nevada Nichols got inspired. “We’re using a new projector with 3D graphics. We got wild…it makes the girls look great, new, hot and sexy!”
Norbert is planning to produce “Crazy Girls Undercover” for the big screen. Production begins in early 2007 and features the Crazy Girls. Consequently, he must make certain that the new stage show works with the movie concepts and have the edge that the film will demand. The new show has 3 new numbers with a couple more still in rehearsal. I’ve been told to watch for the number called “Bazooka.” Crazy Girls features MC/ Singer, Stewart May and a unique specialty act performed by Nino Frediani. So if you’re looking for a great night out, go see the legendary Crazy Girls! It just might arouse your imagination again, and again, and again. SLV
The New Crazy Girls perform at the Riviera, in the Crazy Girls Showroom. Show times are: Wednesday-Monday at 9:30pm.