Apr. 28, 2008
Our reporter comes, sees, gets conquered
"Who are you supposed to be?" asks an Australian tourist who identifies herself as Debbie.
I'm dressed in a tunic, chest plate and gold sandals. I'm carrying a fake sword and a scroll. And I'm parading around Caesars Palace behind a guy shouting, "All make way for Caesar!"
The problem, I'm guessing, is that my shouting centurion is a 6-foot-3 Adonis who makes me look like the young son he's out for a stroll with.
"More like 7 feet with my hat," Nathan Ferrier pointed out as we armored up.
When our procession stops for its three photo ops -- at the front desk, the statue of Caesar and the Colosseum steps -- I am invisible standing behind Ferrier, even when he bows down to me.
"Let me guess," Debbie continues. "Mark Antony?"
It's not an entirely wild guess, considering the Cleopatra (Ami Orto) on my arm. (Mark Antony wed Cleo after her marriage to Caesar and before his marriage to J-Lo.)
I'm surprised that nobody guesses Sonny Bono, since Orto also towers over me and is dressed pretty much like Cher is on the posters adorning every wall. (Cher opens at the Colosseum on May 6.)
"I've never heard of a Caesar not being recognized before," I'm told later by my boss for the day, Stephanie Deppensmith. The Best Agency entertainment director also told me, however, that I'm the first Caesar to squeak underneath the 6-foot height requirement. (She was being kind. It was less a squeak than a comfortable waltz.)
Julius Caesar was the dictator famous for commanding one of history's most powerful armies, laying the foundation for the Roman imperial system, and July. (The month of his birth -- extremely popular in places that aren't Las Vegas -- was posthumously named after him.)
"The most important thing is to be commanding," said Stu Rich, one of the casino's six revolving Caesars. "When you talk to the guests, you're gracious and kind, but you are also in charge of the situation."
Rich, 44, is a Las Vegas native who graduated with a business degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. For a while, he commanded the marketing department of an Internet company. Then the Bonanza High School grad charged after his acting dream, landing some local TV commercials and a dinner show at Caesars' Bacchanal restaurant. In 1999, just before the Bacchanal closed, he was promoted to leader of the Roman Empire.
"It's an honor to portray Caesar," said Rich, who -- like all Caesars, Cleos and centurions -- earns $20 an hour for five daily tours ranging from 30 to 80 minutes. (He works about 25 hours per week.)
"There's nothing at all I don't like about this job," said Rich, a claim I might have believed more had Deppensmith not been watching closely when he made it.
Roaming Romans are employed not by Caesars Palace but by Best, which also staffs The Venetian with living statues and gondoliers. It was another modeling agency, however, that created the characters. Farrington Productions initially provided them for high-roller toga parties in 1982.
"People just loved the elaborate costuming and the focus on Caesar and Cleopatra," said company owner Blair Farrington, who held the contract with Caesars until 1999.
"One day, Caesars' head of marketing said, 'Why don't we take them out to the casino?' " Farrington remembered, guessing the year at 1985. (Now here's my idea: With so many casinos trying to cut costs and all these Caesars and centurions roaming around, why not hand them real swords and make them double as security guards?)
When pressed, Rich did admit to a least-favorite day on the job. Every year on March 15, hotel visitors -- all of whom think they're being hysterically original -- approach from behind, mock-stab him in the back and yell, "I'm Brutus!"
"The Ides of March is the day to take off," Rich said.
This brings me to a related concern. I'm not sure I'm helping to promote such a great guy here. When 60 respected legislators, and your closest friend in the world, reportedly stab you 23 times in the back and watch you bleed to death, you're probably not the man of the people that you thought you were.
"I tend to think (Caesar) was misunderstood," Rich said.
Perhaps. One thing even Caesars Palace gets wrong is his height. Most Internet sources list it at 5-foot-7. That's 2 inches taller than me, technically qualifying Caesar as his royal lowness.
Napoleon, it turns out, had a Caesar complex.
"Pizza! Pizza!" I shout as we march away from the front desk. "I am Little Caesar!"
Nobody shall doubt my royal identity from this moment forth.
My improvising does not please Deppensmith, however. Earlier, she handed me a 16-page training packet with precisely scripted royal greetings ("I, Caesar, along with the enchantingly beautiful Cleopatra and the royal court, welcome you to the empire of Caesars Palace"), compliments ("Ah, your garments are most regal!") and partings ("Good journey!").
And it thoroughly disappoints a lady who tries placing an order for Crazy Bread when I round the corner at Pure nightclub.
"Turn off the slot machines!" I announce.
We have arrived at the Colosseum steps, and I am about to read aloud the speech taped into my scroll. (It's about the "shopping wonders" at my palace. Separate speeches spotlight the property's gaming, dining and entertainment wonders.)
"I can't hear myself think!" I continue, in a pompous voice not unlike Madonna's in half-Britishness and, to be honest, pitch. (Deep and commanding isn't my specialty, a fact I'm reminded of whenever a telemarketer calls and asks, "Is your mom or dad home?")
While pretending to wait for the slot machines to stop, I glance over at Deppensmith, whose jaw is agape. Luckily, there are no lions at this casino to throw disobedient Caesars to.
Rich, on the other hand, is impressed.
"Great job!" he raves after my speech, during the march back up to the Caesarian section (a second-floor dressing room in the Roman Tower).
"You owned it!"
Rich is particularly impressed by how well I processed Cleo in a circle before getting into position for our last photo op.
"I can't believe you remembered to do that!" he says. (I didn't. Orto walked me like her toy poodle.)
In reality, Little Caesar commanded so little respect, one guy actually clocked me with the back of his hand as I posed with him on the steps.
"Yeah, I saw that," Deppensmith says. "They don't usually hit the Caesars."
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.