Stan Irwin, a Las Vegas producer and road manager for Johnny Carson, died on January 21 of natural causes in Los Angeles. He was 94. Irwin also voiced the Lou Costello character in Hanna-Barbera’s Abbott and Costello cartoons in the 1960s.
Irwin was credited with bringing Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, Brenda Lee, Bob Newhart and the Beatles to perform Las Vegas. He also served as executive producer of The Tonight Show for the first two years of Carson’s tenure, and brought Carson to the Sahara, where he broke all the records in the Congo Showroom.
Irwin told blogger Kliph Nesteroff, “A guy named Herb MacDonald caught my act and booked me into the Club Bingo in Las Vegas. I was booked at the Bingo for eleven days and I stayed eight months. I took over the room and became the entertainment director. In those days Las Vegas was mainly World War II money people. They came and enjoyed themselves. The Bingo was enlarged into the Sahara, which of course usurped the Bingo.”
For almost two decades Irwin was Vice-President and Executive Producer of the Sahara-Nevada Corporation. He was entertainment director and VP-general manager for the entire Del-Webb Gambling/Entertainment Corporation, which included the Fremont and other downtown casinos, during its heyday of the 1950s and 1960s. Irwin guided the careers of Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Buddy Rich, Keely Smith and Louis Prima. He managed Pearl Bailey and her husband, drummer Louis Bellson, for 30 years. Irwin toured the world as the comedian who warmed up the audience at Bailey’s USO shows.
He was also responsible for bringing the Beatles to Las Vegas for the first time.
In 1956, Irwin booked Abbott and Costello into the Sarah for what would be their final gig as team. After the duo split, Irwin twice performed “Who’s On First?” with Lou at benefits. He recalled in Abbott and Costello in Hollywood: “When I met Lou backstage I said, ‘I’m all set, Lou. I’ve got it memorized.’ And he said, ‘You’ve got what memorized?’ I said, ‘The record. I know it by heart.’ Lou said, ‘I don’t even know the record. What Bud and I would do is, we’d go out there and try and catch each other. That way, we’d keep it fresh. You just stay alert.’”
In 1967, Irwin played Lou Costello opposite Bud Abbott in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. “A friend of mine brought the idea up and he was going to produce it,” Irwin told Nesteroff. “He knew that I could do Costello and brought me along. I would fly in from Vegas, drive and pick up Bud Abbott, go to the recording studio, and drive him back to his house and fly back to Vegas.”
Bud had a stroke in 1964, and had trouble speaking. Irwin recalled, “He needed the cartoon gig and they tolerated him because it was him, even though it was retake after retake after retake.”
Irwin was also involved in civil and political life. He served for two years in the Nevada State Legislature and earned the title “Toastmaster General of Las Vegas.” He was also consultant/coordinator of the American Heart Association and Stan Lee Media Project of Education through entertainment teaching children ages 6 through 17 on how to prevent heart attacks.
He is survived by his wife Marjorie and son Lanny.•