It would be easy to say that being Frank Marino is a real drag, but the evidence certainly proves otherwise. Las Vegas’ longest-running Strip performer has outlasted many flash-in-the-pan acts, as well as glitzy production shows, high-profile entertainers and even a few Sin City staples to become nearly as legendary as the celebrities portrayed in his show every night. And he’s done it all in heels.
Throughout his career, the queen of Las Vegas has racked up some impressive honors: a street named after him, the key to the city, his own day (Feb. 1) and not one but two stars on the Las Vegas walk of fame. Just weeks after receiving his latest honor, a themed gaming table at the Imperial Palace, Marino talked with the Best of Las Vegas about the Strip’s evolution, his dream home and why the “Millionaire Matchmaker” may have revitalized his career.
Best of Las Vegas: You’ve been headlining on the strip for nearly 28 years, first in “An Evening at La Cage,” now in “Divas Las Vegas” at Imperial Palace. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen come to Las Vegas and the Strip since 1985?
Frank Marino: The biggest change I’ve seen has been in the audience itself. I remember, when I first opened in the ’80s, when women would come in beautiful evening gowns and mink coats, and men would be in suits. Nowadays, it’s changed so much that people come in fanny packs and flip flops! That’s a change that I really don’t like. I also saw the town go from the end of what I call the Mafia Era to the beginning of the Corporate Era, and I’ve got to say, I kind of like the Mafia Era better. It was a more personal, one-on-one experience, where a high roller could walk into a hotel and they’d go, “Mr. Smith, how are you, sir?” Now, you could drop a million dollars at a table and people wouldn’t know who you are. The other thing I’ve seen change, as far as shows go, is that when I first started, you would get a salary to come to Vegas and be in a show and headline, whereas now it’s more of a four-wall deal, where you rent the room as a vendor and cross your fingers and hope people will want to see you.
BOLV: What’s the biggest misconception people have about your show?
FM: That it’s a gay show. They think it’s just a bunch of gay men running around in dresses when it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a very big production show that rivals all the big shows on the Strip. I don’t think they realize how many people are in my show. We have a cast of 25 people, we’re the only tribute show that does 17 characters per show. Most others do like four or five. It’s a show for all ages, everyone from kids to senior citizens.
BOLV: With six shows a week, how do you keep up your physical and creative energy?
FM: Well, besides diet and exercise, which I’m very strict with, I also get a B12 shot every day. Also, now that I’ve been doing it every day for so long, this is my new key: to pace myself. Don’t do everything in one day. Pace myself so that when I go to the show, I have my energy.
BOLV: Three years ago, you purchased the land for your dream home. How is that coming?
FM: I haven’t built the home yet, but I have the architect working on it. The reason it hasn’t been built yet is because right after I bought it, that’s when my show I had for 24 years closed. Then we opened the new show, “Divas,” where I am the producer. So now I’m like Barbara, I produce it, I direct it, I star in it, I do it all. But we are going to build the house. We have the architect working on it now, we plan on starting it in September and I can’t wait. In fact, it’s not going to be a house, it’s going to be a palace, like every queen should have.
BOLV: Spill – How much room is dedicated to closet space?
FM: My closets, I can guarantee you, will be huge. I’ve seen many huge closets in many mansions before, but I can guarantee you this closet will be huge!
BOLV: You were recently featured on an episode of Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Though you didn’t make a love connection, has dating been harder or easier since appearing on the show?
FM: Dating hasn’t been harder or easier, but I’ll tell you a little funny anecdote. After working for so many years on the Strip under the mask of the makeup, for the first time I did a television show as a man, as myself, without being in costume, and it was overnight fame. I went to Hawaii the next week and got recognized all over the place, I went to New York and got recognized, I went to Paris and got noticed, all off of “Millionaire Matchmaker.” And I was like, whoa! I need to get me a TV show! That worked out quite well, because they really portrayed me in a nice light. I was kind of nervous, because you never know with reality TV, how you’re going to be portrayed in the editing. Patti (Stanger) and I hit it off. I know sometimes she’s bitchy in the episodes, but she was wonderful to me and I’m going to tell you, it gave an energy boost to my career. It was a really, really good experience.
BOLV: Speaking of “Millionaire Matchmaker,” you did a great impersonation of the show’s star (Patti Stanger.) Are there any other newsworthy females you’d consider impersonating?
FM: I am the only female impersonator in the world who hates impersonating famous people. I’d rather just be Frank Marino, the comedian, the way RuPaul is the singer, and have my femme-fatale created look. I did Patti for the show, because it warranted it. I’ve been on talk shows and impersonated the talk show host, and of course, I use my staple, Joan Rivers, in the beginning of my show, but it’s really such a small part that I just open with it, then I just do myself for the rest of the show, doing the crazy looks that I’ve created for myself over the years in drag.
BOLV: Your website proclaims that you’re America’s favorite male actress. What movie, TV or stage projects would you like to take on in the future?
FM: I think after doing “Millionaire Matchmaker,” I really want to focus on doing my own reality show, and it doesn’t even really have to be my show, I’d just love to be a part of a show or an ensemble. I did quite a few movies, quite a few TV shows, so now I just want people to get to know me, and if they get to know me, they might like me, like they did on “Millionaire Matchmaker.” And want to come and see our “Divas” show at the Imperial Palace.
BOLV: Do you prefer portraying a version of yourself, or entirely new characters?
FM: I like portraying a version of myself. Onstage, I like to be myself in the costume, femme fatale telling my own jokes. On TV, I’d rather be myself on a reality show than in a sitcom portraying somebody else.
BOLV: What haven’t you done that you’d like to attempt?
FM: I say in my book, “His Majesty, The Queen,” my autobiography, the best and worst thing in my life is that I think I’ve done everything I want to do, that there’s nothing left I want to do. But after I wrote the book, I realized there’s one more goal I have. I mean, I’ve had a street named after me in Vegas, the city gave me a day, I’ve got two stars on Las Vegas Boulevard (the only entertainer to have that,) all those crazy things. The only thing I can think of, as far as show business goes, is to have my own wax figure in Madame Tussauds. They have a Vegas room, where they have Lance Burton, so I feel they should have the longest-running Las Vegas headliner. Number two, they have RuPaul in New York and they have Dame Edna in London, so it’s not like I’d be their first drag queen. I’ve been wanting this for over 10 years, I’ve campaigned from every angle possible, and there’s always a new reason why we can’t do it. If it doesn’t happen, I’m going to make it known right now that I’m going to make my own and have it right in my living room, so that when people visit me, it will be right there. Better yet, when I’ve built my new home, I’ll put it right out front in a glass case, so when they do the tour of the movie stars’ homes, they can say, “…and here’s Frank Marino. He couldn’t have a wax figure in a museum, so he put it in his yard.”
BOLV: You’ve undergone a number of plastic surgery procedures. What’s the one thing you wish you hadn’t done?
FM: There’s nothing I wish I hadn’t done. Actually, the one surgery I wish I hadn’t done is the hysterectomy.
BOLV: There is a lot of attention being focused on bullying right now. How much of that did you endure when you were younger?
FM: I did endure a lot of bullying when I was young, probably for not being the most macho of men. Gym class was kind of rough. I don’t remember anything specific, but fortunately, I took all that knowledge and instead of learning not to do it, I kind of created it into my act, because my act is based on bullying. I only bully bigshots, I don’t bully the little person in the audience, I bully the celebrities who can afford to be knocked down a few pegs because they’re superstars. Actually, I feel like I get more bullied now, as an adult, in the media by what newspapers say about me sometimes, then as a kid when people did mean things. Bullying has actually benefitted me, because it gave me the strong skin to be able to go into entertainment. This is not a job for sissies.
BOLV: What fact about Frank Marino, male or female version, would be surprising for readers to learn?
FM: One thing nobody knows is, if you came to my house, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell what I do for a living. There’s not one gown, one eyelash, one false fingernail, no makeup, no wigs, nothing I use in the show. I leave it all at the office, except maybe for a poster or painting, there’s nothing in my office that would say “oh this is Frank Marino’s house.” I keep it all separate. Drag is what I do for a living, it’s not who I am.
Frank Marino’s “Divas Las Vegas” performs Saturday through Thursday at 10 p.m. at the Imperial Palace. Tickets start at $39, and are available at the box office, online at www.imperialpalace.com or by calling (888) 777-7664. For more information on Frank Marino, visit www.frankmarino.com.
Published on BestofLasVegas.com