Janie Steele’s theme song should be “Thanks for the Memories.” The 67-year-old photographer-turned-bookkeeper retired Friday from the Las Vegas Hilton, where she hobnobbed with Elvis Presley and other celebrities during her almost 30 years at the venue.
“When I feel sorry for myself about not having done anything, I think that for somebody who thought they would never leave their small town, I’ve seen and done quite a lot,” says Steele, a native of Westminster, S.C., population 2,763.
As Steele thought of retirement, she began turning back her pages: She saw Ike & Tina Turner, Redd Foxx and Frankie Laine at the Hilton lounges and such memorable entertainers as Barbra Streisand, Bill Cosby, Juliet Prowse and Maurice Chevalier with the Kim Sisters at showrooms around town.
And of course, Elvis. Steele went to work at the Hilton — then the International Hotel — as a photographer in 1970. Streisand was the headliner at the International when it opened in 1969, but then it was Elvis. “He would do two shows a night, seven nights a week, for four weeks,” Steele says. “I don’t know how he did it, but that’s how all the entertainers used to do here. They never had a day off.”
She lost track of how many times she saw Elvis. She would attend his shows even if she had to pay for them. She often joined members of the public who were invited to his suite. “It was the only way he could meet normal people,” Steele says. “They would just invite people up to his rooms. Music would be playing. He’d sometimes demonstrate his karate kicks. He’d chitchat with everyone, mingle with the little groups of people who were all around the suite. He was such a gentleman to me. It breaks my heart that things happened the way they did.”
It wasn’t unusual for her to bump into Priscilla Presley and their daughter, Lisa Marie. “The last time I saw Lisa Marie was in the showroom. She was about 6 years old. A gorgeous child.”
When Steele arrived from South Carolina in 1964, she worked in data processing at the Nevada Test Site. “A bus would pick up employees in the morning and take us home in the evening. It was 180 miles round-trip, an hour and a half each way.”