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Las Vegas Legends

Demond Wilson on The Dean Martin Roasts, Las Vegas, and Walking Out on Sanford & Son

Demond Wilson on The Dean Martin Roasts, Las Vegas, and Walking Out on Sanford & Son

by Billy Ingram

In a 2010 interview in conjunction with his book Second Banana, I asked Demond Wilson who, along with Redd Foxx, were the stars of of the number one rated sitcom on NBC in the 1970s about being a popular guest star on shows like Hollywood Squares and the Dean Martin Roasts.

Filming Sanford & Son at NBC in Burbank, "I used to see Dean [Martin] coming down the hall everyday," Wilson said. "And I'd say, 'How you doing, Dean?' He'd say, 'Hey, Pallie.'" Martin called everyone 'Pallie.' "I'd say 'What'd you do today, Dean?' He said, 'I did the same thing I did yesterday and the same thing I'm going to do tomorrow. I played golf.'"

Filmed in both Burbank and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Demond Wilson characterized those primetime roasts hosted by Dean Martin as, "A bunch of old, drunk comedians walking through what was left of their careers. When they roasted you that meant you had reached a certain level of success and notoriety and that in a nutshell is all it meant to Redd [Foxx]. You didn't get roasted unless you'd made it."

It was a whole other world for the young actor who had come out of the legitimate theater, "These guys were like hard core comics," Wilson said. "These guys were cage fighter comics, they would rip the heart out of the audience but backstage it was ugly... When you get a bunch of comics together there's always a fight for the top banana, who's going to be the top dog. It was like everybody trying to top everybody's else's line and giving little behind the scenes anecdotes of things that happened in Vegas, about who schtumped and who didn't schtump who."

Wilson found himself in largely unfamiliar territory. "I mean, it was like old, old, old school," he said. "You had Foster Brooks, you had Phyllis Diller, who I think died twice and came back. Muhammed Ali was on there, you had Howard Cosell, you had Bob Hope, you had John Wayne. It was like the last of a dying breed, it was like the paleolithic age... These were hard core show business people. This was their life. And they were polite to me because Redd Foxx and I were the kings of NBC so what were they going to say to me? They were talented beyond belief, they were famous and they were iconic but it wasn't my element.

When the sitcom was riding high in the ratings, "I walked out on Sanford and Son for more money," Wilson told me. "And they said 'You can't do television, you can't do radio, you can't do movies. If your house in Truesdale Estates catches on fire and a camera crew shows up and we see you interviewed on television you are in contravention of your contract.' So I said, 'Okay, I'm going to Vegas.' The money was grand, it was great, it was huge, but the lifestyle, my God. It was like sleep all day, up all night."

Vegas in those days was a crepuscular lifestyle, still is. "I don't understand how they could do that night after night," Wilson said. Contractually unable to do a stand-up act, he performed an hour set of dance routines instead. "It was murder. I never worked so hard in my life. You can't do two shows a night for four weeks and have any weight on you, I was down to Skeletor frame and still it almost killed me. It's not a life, it's like a vampire. I don't know how Sammy Davis Jr. did it—yes I do, he drank, smoked and used cocaine."

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Stuff you might not find at other web sites - Vegas Legends collects obscure stories about the greatest entertainers of all time! With rare performances from the casino showrooms and from the world of Television.

Frank Sinatra

Dean Martin

Sammy Davis Jr Story

Dean Martin Live in Las Vegas

Frank Sinatra
with Dean Martin

Las Vegas in 1977

John Oliver: Las Vegas Is the Worst Place on Earth!

Jerry Vale

More Jerry Vale

George Burns

Don Rickles' Last Carson Appearance

Joan Rivers vs Johnny Carson

Angie Dickinson

Remembering Bobby Darin

Who Killed Elvis?

Viva Las Vegas!

Sammy Davis, Jr.

Elvis

Las Vegas in the 1950s

Lola Falana

Don Rickles

Don Rickles' Last Show

Sonny & Cher

The Supremes

Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows

Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy

Louis Prima

Pat Cooper

Johnny Carson

Mort Lindsey

Liberace

Red Buttons

Ernest Borgnine on Frank & Dean

Harlan Ellison vs Frank Sinatra

Demond Wilson on The Dean Martin Roasts, Las Vegas, and Walking Out on Sanford & Son

What Las Vegas Looked Like Under Lockdown

Sammy Davis Jr.'s Home Was Looted!

Very Revealing Interview with Sammy Davis Jr.

Frank Sinatra's Last Major Interview

Drummer Hal Blaine on Recording with The Rat Pack

Donny & Marie Are Calling It Quits

Totie Fields

Sinatra's First Palm Springs Home

Phyllis Diller: An Appreciation

Steve Allen

Rich Little

Betty White on Don Rickles

Totie Fields

Sinatra's First Palm Springs Home

Phyllis Diller: An Appreciation

Steve Allen

Rich Little

Betty White on Don Rickles

Elvis' Background Singers

Wayne Newton

George Carlin

Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme

Redd Foxx

Las Vegas & The Mob

Henny Youngman

Rodney Dangerfield

How Las Vegas Has Changed Since the 1970s

How Las Vegas Has Changed Since the 1960s

More on How Las Vegas Has Changed Over the Years

Vegas Fashion

Joan Rivers

Las Vegas Postcards

BONUS: Garry Shandling in Las Vegas

Las Vegas Legends

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