On the weekend of Jan. 28, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner traveled to Las Vegas to work on plans for a Rolling Stone Hotel and Casino.
Mr. Wenner’s magazine has a long history with the city. On assignment there in November 1971, Rolling Stone writer Hunter S. Thompson announced the defeat of the counterculture: From the city, Thompson wrote, “you can almost see the high-water mark—the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Nearly 35 years after Thompson’s visit, according to a source with knowledge of the deal, the Wenner Media chief is negotiating with real-estate developers to license his magazine’s name to an estimated $500 million development with luxury hotel rooms, a casino and a music venue that would host “the biggest and most important music acts.”
“They’re in the early planning stages …. It’s going to be sort of along the lines of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino,” the source said. That rock ’n’ roll–themed outpost of the Hard Rock Cafe chain opened in 1995.
A Las Vegas real-estate source said that Mr. Wenner’s hotel would be located on Harmon Avenue, the east-west corridor where new developments are sprouting. The Rolling Stone, tentatively scheduled for completion in 2008, would share the neighborhood with the new Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino opening later this year; the $1.7 billion W Hotel and Casino; George Clooney’s planned $3 billion, Philippe Starck–designed Las Ramblas development—and the 11-year-old Hard Rock.
Beyond the similarity in their trademark fonts and their geezers-with–Les Pauls sensibilities, the Hard Rock and the Rolling Stone would be direct competitors for high-profile concerts in Las Vegas. The Hard Rock has hosted the likes of Bon Jovi, Green Day and David Bowie; Mr. Wenner’s hotel would aim for major acts as well.
“It will be acoustically perfect,” the source familiar with the plan said. “Instead of people in the twilight of their career, in theory, they’ll book everyone from Kanye West to U2. This won’t be someplace you’ll get $15 stadium seating. This is about big money and big acts.”
A spokesperson for Wenner Media declined to comment about the Las Vegas project.
But concert halls aside, what does a long-running rock-music magazine have to do with destination gambling? Will there be a “New Dylan Album” slot machine, where every pull comes up five stars?
“Themed hotels in Las Vegas allow one popular brand to join forces with the tremendously successful Las Vegas brand, resulting in a property with extraordinary appeal for visitors,” said Erika Yowell, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
In recent months, reports have indicated a thawing of the hot Vegas real-estate market. Earlier this month, a high-profile project called ICON Las Vegas was abandoned, and some reports say Mr. Clooney’s hotel and residential development, currently scheduled for a 2008 completion, may not survive.
But Rolling Stone is already set on branching out in other ways, including a December deal with MTV to produce a reality show in which contestants will vie to land a writing contract with the magazine. In May the magazine plans to celebrate its 1,000th issue with a three-dimensional, Sgt. Pepper’s–style cover of the celebrities who’ve appeared in its pages over the years. Later this year, Wenner Media plans to revamp the magazine’s Internet presence.
And there’s still room for more spin-offs in Las Vegas. Among the other brands currently extending themselves into the casino market is Hooters, which opens its first hotel-casino on Feb. 3. (Las Vegas already has a standard-issue Hooters restaurant.)
The Hooters chain—like Rolling Stone starlet covers—relies heavily on a softer-than-soft-core mood. How will that brand of tease play in the city of Showgirls?
“Yes, you can find topless girls available in Las Vegas,” said Richard Langlois, Hooters’ senior vice president for marketing. “But that’s not what we’re about. We’re about wholesome girls. You won’t find Las Vegas divas at Hooters.”
Ten years after his first attempt was quashed, filmmaker Ric Burns is taking another try at creating a documentary about The New York Times.
Mr. Burns was the unnamed filmmaker described in the opening of The Trust, Alex Jones and Susan Tifft’s history of the Ochs clan, who was tapped to make a 10-minute film about Times patriarch Adolph Ochs in 1996. The short was meant to play for a crowd of 500 at a lavish dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, capping the centennial celebration of Ochs’ acquisition of the newspaper.
But as The Trust recounts, Susan Dryfoos—Adolph Ochs’ great-granddaughter and one of the centennial’s organizers—killed the movie, displeased with its depiction of Ochs’ battle with depression. Then–drama critic Frank Rich and playwright Wendy Wasserstein were rushed in to produce a short play to substitute for Mr. Burns’ work.
Ms. Dryfoos’ fellow organizer, former managing editor Arthur Gelb, is serving as a consultant on the new film, which is scheduled for release in 2008.
The project is considerably bigger than its predecessor: It’s planned as a two-part, four-hour documentary. And it’s being made for PBS, not The Times. Mr. Burns said it would cover the history of the paper from its founding in 1851 through the present day, drawing on The Times’ archives and interviews with current and former staffers.
“We’re going to cover the warts and all,” Mr. Burns said in a phone conversation Jan. 25. “For example, you don’t want to look too closely at the reporting the paper did during the Holocaust—but we will.”
Mr. Burns—the younger brother of long-and-stately-form auteur Ken Burns—has experience with New York subjects. He directed an Emmy Award–winning miniseries on the city’s history and has made documentaries about Coney Island and Columbia University.
Currently, two researchers and a producer are at work on the documentary.
Mr. Burns and Mr. Gelb met roughly a year ago with publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., executive editor Bill Keller and editorial-page editor Gail Collins to pitch the documentary, and Mr. Sulzberger agreed to open the archives.
“They’ve been gratifyingly open,” Mr. Burns said.
Maybe they’ll even stay open! Mr. Burns said that this time the paper would have no editorial control over the film.
Ms. Dryfoos, reached for comment, said that she’d cancelled Mr. Burns’ 1996 film before he delivered a finished version. “Ric is superb in what he does,” Ms. Dryfoos said. “But in the short amount of time we had, we wanted something that was fun …. It was a realization it was a wrong venue.”
“My recollection doesn’t square with Susan’s,” Mr. Burns said. “We completed a film and turned it in.” Mr. Burns declined to comment further, citing a legal agreement he signed with The Times not to discuss the matter.
In any event, the 1996 project led Mr. Burns and Mr. Gelb to form an ongoing creative partnership. Shortly after The Times killed the short, Mr. Gelb suggested that Mr. Burns try making a documentary about Eugene O’Neill, the subject of a best-selling biography that Mr. Gelb wrote with his wife, Barbara.
That documentary—written by Mr. Burns and the Gelbs—had its first viewing on Jan. 23 at the MGM screening room in midtown, with Ben Bradlee and Maureen Dowd among the audience. It is narrated by Christopher Plummer and includes appearances by Al Pacino, Liam Neeson and Tony Kushner; it’s scheduled to premiere on PBS on March 27.
Mr. Gelb, meanwhile, is pursuing another film project: He is in negotiations to sell part of his 2003 Times memoir, City Room, to Hollywood. The deal, which a source said is near completion, would cover the portion of the book that chronicles Mr. Gelb’s youth on West 43rd Street, starting with his arrival as a tall, lanky night copyboy—how about Ryan Gosling?—in 1944.
Mr. Gelb declined to discuss negotiations over the movie.
The continued strife in Iraq has stalled out one high-profile New York Times visit to the region. In recent months, Times managing editor Jill Abramson and columnist Maureen Dowd had been considering a trip to the paper’s Baghdad bureau, which would have taken place in February or March.
Now, any travel plans have been put off.
“We’d be very happy to see people in positions of seniority come and see how we operate,” Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns said by phone Jan. 30 while on break from Baghdad in England. “It would be very good for our morale. But we can’t be gung-ho about this. Put simplest: Is it a wise thing to expose them to that level of risk?”
In the fall, Ms. Abramson and Ms. Dowd had begun discussing the possibility of a Baghdad visit with Mr. Burns. The trip would have been The Times’ first masthead visit to Baghdad since the war began in March 2003. Ms. Abramson—who has helped direct The Times’ Iraq coverage first as Washington bureau chief and more recently as managing editor—declined to comment, but Ms. Dowd said that her schedule prevented a trip at this time.
“I was going to stop by on the way to my Australian book tour later this month but decided I wouldn’t be able to stay long enough to make it worthwhile,” she wrote in an e-mail, “so I’ll rethink it after my Australian and London book tours.”
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