Vegas Vic hewed close to the strong, silent cowboy types with little regard for a mess of extra words.
He’d wave, all friendly-like, to city folk wandering down Fremont Street, and the wink of his right eye suggested he held a secret or two. For about 15 years after settling in his spot in 1951, all he ever said via a loudspeaker was, “Howdy, pardner!”
Pleasant. Genial. Long-winded he wasn’t.
By the late 1960s, the towering neon casino sign had mostly gone quiet — with many attributing Vegas Vic’s silence to an angry Lee Marvin. The tale that’s been spun around these parts was that Marvin had been trying to get some shut-eye in the neighboring Mint Casino during a film shoot of “The Professionals.” The actor complained about Vic’s greeting and got him to clam up.
He stayed silent for decades before the folks who operated Vegas Vic mustered up the will and he began to utter “Howdy, Ppardner!” again. Sometimes, the sting of rejection takes a while to heal.
But eventually he grew quiet again. Pensive, perhaps.
Then Vegas Vic — like many inanimate objects these days — found Twitter. And, seemingly, his voice. It appears he had politics on his mind, but now Vegas Vic is in danger of being silenced again.
Kevin Hanratty, lawyer for the company that owns the image and likeness of Vegas Vic, said they hadn’t been aware of the account’s existence until this week. He said that after reviewing Vic’s posts on Twitter, he concluded that the user of @VegasVictory was in violation of using the trademarked image without permission. Another Twitter account, @VegasVic, appears to be dormant.
But the angst may also have to do with what Vegas Vic was saying and how he was saying it.
Vegas Vic on Twitter is a hyper-partisan, right-wing cowboy who bills himself as someone who loves “Liberty, America and Las Vegas.”
“I am transitioning from Neon Sign to Real Cowboy.”
Using a flurry of hashtags, Vegas Vic spent much of 2016 eviscerating Hillary Clinton. He ripped Democrats regularly and linked to a website that featured articles, pictures and videos with an anti-Democrat bent.
With more than 46,000 followers, Vegas Vic on Twitter was — sometimes crudely — mocking Clinton throughout the election cycle. He also ripped Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), calling him “an angry old man,” and has spent considerable time backing conspiracy theories -- including the one about President Obama wiretapping President Trump.
“Hillary campaign could’ve fed 6 million hungry children for a year with the $$$ they wasted,” he chided.
On Nov. 16: “I never anticipated that one of the great jobs of @DJTrump45 election would be the #LiberalMeltdown. This is sinfully delicious fun!”
Vegas Vic appears to have been a Trump supporter since the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Perhaps less controversially, Vegas Vic also tweets about sports, including updates on the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas from Oakland.
Hanratty said the owners of Pioneer Hotel Inc. — a subsidiary of Archon Corp. — weren’t interested in having Vegas Vic take on a partisan tone. The majority shareholders in the company are Paul and Sue Lowden — she ran as a Republican for Harry Reid’s Senate seat in 2010, but lost to Sharron Angle in the primary.
But Hanratty said Vegas Vic wasn’t an extension of the Lowdens’ views, and the company isn’t happy about the way the image was being used on Twitter.
Vegas Vic has held iconic status for decades, representing the Westernized version of Las Vegas before the Strip took off and began exploding with a spate of themed casinos, including the Flamingo, Sahara and the Dunes.
Michael Green, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Vegas Vic was originally brought in by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce in the late 1940s after he was designed and constructed by Young Electric Sign Co.
He’s marketed downtown Las Vegas for years, and he’s the grand old man now.
“He is one of those figures where, if you see a photo of this neon cowboy, people know it’s Las Vegas,” Green said. “He marketed downtown Las Vegas for years, and he’s the grand old man now.”
The cowboy stood tall for years, waving and beckoning visitors from his perch atop the Pioneer Club, jaunty in his yellow-and-white plaid shirt. But after the Pioneer Club closed in the mid-1990s, age caught up to Vegas Vic. He fell into disrepair, but was restored when the Fremont Street Experience debuted in 1995. That renovation included adding a canopy over Fremont Street onto which light shows are projected while restricting the road to only foot traffic.
He got a new shirt — red and yellow. His red-brown boots and lit spurs stand atop a massive souvenir shop now. He still hasn’t kicked his smoking habit.
Vegas Vic isn’t alone, with sign relatives spread throughout the state: Wendover Will on the Nevada-Utah border and River Rick in Laughlin. None appear to be tweeting.
The partisan tweeting (“I would’ve thought he might’ve been tweeting about public land issues,” Green quipped) is generally avoided among brands and iconic images because tourists come from all political stripes.
Green said the last thing Las Vegas would want is to have one of its ambassadors alienate a sizable chunk of the population.
“In our very partisan times, people are capable of reading this the wrong way,” he said. “It then eventually leads to problems.”
George Payne, a 69-year-old from New Orleans who was visiting Fremont Street, was taking video and pictures of Vegas Vic on a warm weekday during the March Madness basketball tournament, and said he didn’t want to think of the cowboy as a partisan.
Payne said he remembered seeing pictures of the waving cowboy in a few movies, and it never occurred to him to attach partisanship to Vic.
Payne looked up at the tall cowboy.
“I think of Texas more than anything,” he said. “Not politics.”
Vegas Vic was silent. He just winked.