This week, Ira Sternberg spoke with Norm Johnson.
Veteran Las Vegas journalist Norm Johnson has covered the Las Vegas scene for several decades.
In this 30-minute episode of Talk About Las Vegas, Johnson talks about his long entertainment, publicity and event career in Las Vegas; how he arrived here after working as a journalist in Los Angeles, including accidently covering the Watts Riots; working with some of the top entertainers in show business; starting The Mint 400; bemoaning the lack of creativity in casinos today; what he sees as the future of the city.
Born in Burbank, California, Johnson grew up in Hollywood. His mother was Max Factor’s right hand for movie makeup, and owned three beauty salons in Los Angeles and Hollywood.
When he turned 17, in 1950, Johnson enlisted in the United States Air Force. He eventually became an investigator in the Air Police (now referred to as APIS), and was sent to Japan in April, 1952. Upon arrival in Japan, he immediately signed up to continue his studying (which he had begun as a youngster in San Diego) in the Martial Arts at the Kodakan Institute in Tokyo, where he became a third degree black belt. As an investigator he worked on numerous cases involving narcotics, illegal trade of script (used by armed forces as money), and the printing of phony script.
He was discharged in San Francisco in 1953, and returned to live with his family in San Diego. Johnson would go back and forth to Hollywood to enter dance contests. In 1955 he met James Dean while racing a Porsche for a sponsor in Palm Springs, and the two racers became good friends. Whenever he was in Hollywood, Johnson would stay at his place just above Hollywood Blvd. He met Elvis on the set of Jailhouse Rock in 1957, when he was selected to be one of the dancers in the Jailhouse scene.
In 1959, Johnson was hired to handle public relations for former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Joe Louis. That was his first of many Las Vegas connections.