Show goes on for Las Vegas diva
Even at 74...
Lisa Medford looks playfully vampy in black stretch pants and a pink top showing just a hint of cleavage. Once a dancer, she moves gracefully about her tiny house like an actress in search of an audience.
Now 74, she's an aging siren, still on her game, happily living alone in a suburban retirement community. Sure, she's getting on in years, but her spirit still soars with all those memories — the sheer naughtiness of her past.
She keeps a life-size cutout of herself as a 19-year-old, when she says she became the first standing semi-nude showgirl in town, a gig that launched her career as a "Folies Bergere" show dancer and actress.
Medford has always traipsed along the wilder side of Las Vegas life — once considering a request from screen legend Cary Grant to bear his child, she says. Later, she admits, she sold cocaine and worked as an assistant to a Las Vegas madam, chauffeuring call girls on shopping trips. Her image was even featured on a 50th anniversary casino chip at the Riviera.
She's a rebel, an adventuress, who proclaims, "I've always thought of myself as Errol Flynn with breasts."
Last year she chronicled her life in her self-published autobiography, "I Can Hear the Applause: Adult Language…Some Nudity," co-written with a neighbour, author Jeanne Gulbranson.
The book is a bittersweet tale of a tough-broad survivor. Standing in her living room, the retired stage diva glances at the black-and-white cutout of her former self.
"She was so naive," she said. "She didn't know anything."
She was born Loretta Maloof, a girl with Middle Eastern blood. Her father manufactured women's clothing in Los Angeles and had some tough guys as friends. One night, infamous Vegas mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel came to the house to play poker.
He offered to braid her hair because her father was busy. At age 7, she called him Uncle Benjamin — nobody called him Bugsy to his face. But Bugsy botched the braiding job and she cried, saying that he'd ruined her life.
Now she looks back at the mobster with fondness. "He was handsome; I knew it even then," she said. "I've always had a thing for guys with big blue eyes."
Medford was hooked on the gangsters who once ran this town. They were gentlemen-clowns who made her laugh — even as an adult. They also gave her father tickets to shows on the Strip, where she got her first look at the beauties with glitzy costumes, towering headdresses and six-inch stilettos.
Before that, she had dreamed of becoming a lawyer, a private eye or a female Clark Kent. Then, at age 12, she decided she wanted to be a showgirl.
Years later, in 1957, she got her chance. She was working in a Los Angeles talent office when two Vegas characters offered her a gig: Portray a "nude" statue in a Harry Belafonte show at the Riviera.
All her important real estate, she says, was covered with glitter and sparkle. Suddenly, she shifted her arms to reveal her breasts. The crowd went wild.
She claims she was the first woman to bare her breasts at a high-end casino on the Strip. The job led to an 11-year career as a model and showgirl.
Men fawned, but Medford yawned, never considering herself a beauty: "I was 97 pounds and knock-kneed with a big nose, pimples, kinky hair and a unibrow."
Still, Cary Grant said she reminded him of Sophia Loren. They dated, and the 57-year-old heartthrob made a proposal, she said: Get pregnant with his baby and he'd set her up financially for life. She declined.
"But I spent nights crying, thinking 'What if I had Cary Grant's baby?'" recalled Medford, whose home wall of photos includes a black-and-white shot of her and Grant at dinner. "Would my parents really disown me? But I didn't want kids. He was basically gay, and I wasn't in love with him."
Her time with Grant was recalled by Deirdre Flynn, Errol Flynn's daughter, whom Medford had met in Los Angeles.
"I used to see Cary when he came to pick her up," said Flynn, who now lives in Las Vegas. "She mentioned that he did want her to have his child, but that wasn't for Lisa. Even to this day, she's still full of the devil, still feisty."
Grant biographer Marc Eliot said the actor, who married five times, "told several women he wanted them to have his baby. He said it half in jest and half meaning it, but I don't think he was ever serious about it."
Medford married a television director, but it didn't last. These days she prefers dating men 30 years her junior. "I always get the younger ones so they don't die or just get boring," she said.
Medford did crazy things, took chances. Flitting about Europe, California and Nevada, she worked as a photographer and a bank loan officer, drove stock cars, landed some bit television roles, sold dope.
"I have the retention span of a rhesus monkey," she said. "Maybe it's because my grandparents were first cousins. I have no morals but high principles."
She returned to Vegas from Los Angeles in 2002. Gulbranson was curious about her neighbour, the woman whose vanity car plate read "1STNUDE." One day in 2010, she spotted her in the frontyard trying to fix a light.
"She was wearing the shortest shorts, enough to make Daisy Duke blush," Gulbranson said. "I thought, 'This is an age-restricted community. How did those legs get in here?'"
Gulbranson learned that Miss Daisy Duke had a juicy past she wanted to turn into a book. The two teamed up. At first, Gulbranson gave Medford a tape recorder to get down her tales, but always the entertainer, Medford needed an audience. So they brought in Gulbranson's husband to hear her rambles. If he laughed, the anecdote made the book.
These days, she still picks up a gig or two but now keeps her clothes on. She works as a tour guide and speaks at conventions as an impromptu Vegas historian. She has few regrets about her showgirl past.
"It took talent," she said. "It was the look, the attitude, that said, 'Don't you wish you had the money to sleep with me? Well, you can't have me.'"
There is one decision she has second-guessed. "No matter how your life turned out, you have to sometimes wonder, what would have it been like to be the ex-Mrs Cary Grant?" she said.
"You wouldn't have to care about money today, that's for sure. But then I wouldn't be who I am today. I'd be somebody else."