Star reporter Myram Borders had a knack for delivering big stories back in the era when the mob ruled Las Vegas and Elvis was king.
Tipped off by a 1 a.m. anonymous call to her home, she scooped the world 50 years ago this week with the news Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu were getting married.
Reporters dream about getting a story of that magnitude once in their lives, but Borders defied the odds of being in the right place at the right time.
Take 1982, for instance: She was driving home on E. Sahara Ave., about 10 p.m, when an explosion rocked her car. It was a botched car-bomb assassination attempt on the life of mobster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. Borders, an ace reporter for United Press International, pulled a U-turn and got the first interview with one of the city’s most infamous organized crime figures.
Then there was yet another anonymous call to her home that seemed like an outlandish “fake” news tip: the caller said a radioactive Russian satellite was going to hit North America.
But back to Elvis: Borders sat down with me this week at the Las Vegas Country Club, where we’ve been neighbors in the Regency Towers for nearly two decades, two ex-wire service reporters who love swapping war stories.
The phone rang in her home in the early hours of May 1, 1967.
“Since I was working for an international wire service which in effect is going 24 hours a day I had the office phone also installed at my home,” she said.
It’s about 2 a.m., when “I got a call from this person who said, ‘How much do you pay for stories?’ I said United Press doesn’t usually pay for stories unless we’ve hired a stringer (free-lance reporter or photographer). He said ‘Oh,’ and hung up. So then he called back again in a few minutes and said, ‘Well, I have a really good story,’ but he wouldn’t tell me what it was.”
She gave him the names of some East Coast papers.
“So he called those numbers and when he got no answer, he called me back and said, ‘Well, I’ve got this story of Elvis Presley getting married. So I said, ‘Well, under this circumstance I think we could pay you a little bit. What’s your name?’ He wouldn’t tell me his name so I couldn’t have paid him anyway without his name.”
The caller said Elvis was getting married at the Aladdin.
“He wouldn’t tell me when, other than it was going to be that day,” said Borders. So, after a night of little sleep, she decided to go over to the Aladdin and investigate the tip. “I didn’t see anything going on over there in the least. I just started wandering around the hallways. The cops thought I was some hooker looking for a John,” she said.
She kept scouring the hotel, looking for anything that suggested an event was being set up.
“So it was about 8 in the morning and I’m still wandering around the Aladdin. I’m in the casino area and I see one of the Supreme Court judges, David Zenoff, and I asked him, ‘Why are you here?’
“He said, ‘Oh, I’m here to marry Elvis.’ So I had my story and I ran to the phone and I phoned Los Angeles (UPI) with the story that Elvis was getting married at the Aladdin hotel. And by that it alerted the world that Elvis was getting married at the Aladdin and the world appeared at the Aladdin, meaning all the newspapers that could get there.”
Presley and Priscilla had met six years earlier in Germany, where he was stationed for six years. They got divorced in 1971. He was 31 when they got married. She was 21.
The story of her scoop doesn’t quite end there.
Years later, after she had left UPI and was running Las Vegas News Bureau, an arm of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, “they’re getting ready to implode the Aladdin, now the site of Planet Hollywood.”
This was 1998 and a news release went out that the Aladdin was about to be imploded. Borders got a letter from a man in California, “telling me it was his father that called and tipped the media about Elvis getting married and that his father was an employee of the Aladdin. I answered the gentleman who had sent the letter and said I was very happy to know where that anonymous phone call came from. He said his father had passed away. I told him if he came to Las Vegas I’d buy him dinner and get him a room so he could enjoy Las Vegas for a weekend. I never heard from him again.”
I asked Borders, who retired in 2002, if Elvis’ wedding was the biggest story of her 20-year career with UPI.
“No. I don’t think so,” she said. “As far as the rest of the world is concerned, maybe. But I thought chasing (billionaire) Howard Hughes around was a major story because it went on forever. The Mormon will trial went on forever and the story of nuclear testing and nuclear development was an ongoing thing that I considered a very big story.
“There were radiation leaks and all kinds of other things going along with the nuclear testing program that made news as it went on,” she said.
“I remember one nuclear story that Howard Hughes got involved in because he wanted to stop it,” said Borders.
Hughes, then operating his empire as a recluse on the top floor of the Desert Inn, was convinced the nuclear test, code-named Boxcar, “was going to crack Hoover Dam.”
Hughes, then in his early 60s, wanted a 90-day moratorium, citing concerns about water supply, radioactive contamination and earthquakes.
“There were news conferences and everything,” said Borders. “So I was covering a news conference one day that the atomic energy commission was having and in it one of the scientists mentioned a previous test and he sort of gave a mathematical formula as to how big Boxcar was going to be compared to the one they had previously announced the yield on it.
“So I got back to the office and I mathematically figured out how big Boxcar was going to be (because) they accidentally had given the hidden formula. I said it was going to be be 1.25 megatons. I used that figure when Boxcar exploded, a 1.25-megaton thermal nuclear weapon. About three minutes later I got a call from the FBI saying, ‘How did you know it was 1.25 megatons. Where did you get that figure?”
The FBI suggested someone leaked information to her. “I said no, the guy gave it away at the news conference. They said no he didn’t. I said yes he did. Then, finally two days, later the FBI called me and said ‘it wasn’t 1.25 it was 1.2.’”
She loved the cat-and-mouse game of covering the Nevada Test Site, the megastar power of Hughes and the labor turmoil on the Strip “when they totally closed down every hotel on the Strip one night, to me those were very big stories. Elvis was a one-shot deal, so to speak, and it didn’t change anybody else’s life but those stories did.”
Borders owes her Rosenthal exclusive to her habit of working late.
“Sometimes I’d get home at 10 or 11 at night,” she said. “So I’m driving down Sahara, going home, and as I was passing this parking lot between Tony Roma’s and Marie Calenders, this car blew up. Boom! So I turned my car around, drove into this parking lot and this car was on fire and there was this guy standing outside the car patting his clothes, jumping up and down, and his hair was standing straight up and it was Lefty Rosenthal.
“Now I had run into Lefty a couple weeks before and he had had a hair transplant. I didn’t know if his hair was standing up because of the bomb or the transplant. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and he said, ‘They’re trying to kill me.’ I said, ‘Who’s trying to kill you?’”
“Then he shut up, didn’t say another word and about that time the fire department showed up. He was smudgy, like he was in a cloud of smoke. He had been out for dinner, at Tony Roma’s.”
Then she paused and recalled that Rosenthal indeed had something else to say.
“After we talked, he said, ‘Don’t tell anybody about this.’ I said ‘OK, Mr. Rosenthal.’ And so the next day he called and said, ‘You didn’t tell anybody did you?’ I said no. They didn’t understand the wire service at all. Of course it’s in the paper by that time. He didn’t know where all this news was coming from outside the area.”
Just when I thought our conversation was ending, Borders said, “I’ll give you one more war story with the calls in the night.”
The phone rings “and this voice is saying a radioactive Russian satellite is going to hit the earth,” she said. “I thought O.K., another drunk in the bar. Then about 30 minutes later, same voice, a radioactive Russian satellite is going to hit the western hemisphere and I said, ‘Well, how do you know and what else can you tell me? Nothing and click.’
“A little later the same guy calls me and says a radioactive Russian satellite is going to hit North America.
“Now I’m getting sort of antsy about this and I said, ‘Well, how will I know? How can I prove this?’ He said if you drove out to McCarran you’ll see a C-140, one of those big giant transport planes.”
“I said where’s it going? He said, ‘I don’t know where it’s going but it’s ready to go.’ I go out there and yeah there’s this big cargo plane.
“So I called a woman with the Environmental Protection Agency who I knew pretty well and I knew that her husband was in this special force that responded to nuclear disasters. So I called (her) and said, ‘Is Doug home?’
“She said yes.
“I said, ‘Is Doug going on a trip?’ and she said, ‘Maybe.’
“Is he packing?
“What kind of clothes is he packing”
“She said ‘hot weather, cold weather, packing.’
“I finally said, ‘Is Doug going on something because of the radioactive Russian satellite?’
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
“So I thought what the hell do you do. So I message the headquarters office in NYC and now I’m sounding like a nut. ‘Please check a report that a radioactive Russian satellite is going to hit North America.’”
She guessed the reaction would be, “There’s some drunken office manager in Las Vegas who is having pipe dreams.”
“So that was the end of it,” she said.
Or so she thought.
“Then about 11 o’clock in the morning the EPA calls a press conference in Washington and announces that a radioactive Russian satellite has hit somewhere in Canada, an unpopulated area, and they’re sending squads in to deal with the contamination.
“That was a pretty crazy night. Some U.S. scientist obviously was monitoring it, knew it, and felt there should be a warning but obviously the government wasn’t going to warn anybody and he was trying to.”
The scene and heard
It was announced Tuesday that Il Divo, the classical crossover group, will perform a mini-engagement at The Venetian Theatre on Sept. 20, 22, 23, 27, 29 and 30.
On this day…
May 2, 2003: News reports reveal that former Secretary of Education William Bennett, a frequent lecturer on morality and virtue, is a high-stakes gambler who has lost millions in Las Vegas. He defiantly tells “Meet the Press,” ‘What Happens Here, Stays Here’ applies to everyone but me.”
May 3, 1844: John C. Fremont, known as the great pathfinder, arrives in the Las Vegas Valley, leading a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers group of scientists, scouts and observers on an expedition to explore the American West. His journal reports that local springs “afforded a delightful bathing place.”
The punch line
“It was announced today that Kelly Ripa’s new co-host will be Ryan Seacrest. Seacrest was relieved, and said those 20 minutes he wasn’t on television were the scariest of his life.” – Conan O’Brien.