Chappell

LYNETTE CHAPPEL

by Deana Murray

“Behind every great man, stands a good woman…
Lynette Chappel stands behind two legends. She is
“the First Lady of Siegfried and Roy”

This is how Martha Stevens introduced Lynette to the ‘Lady’s Event’ crowd at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas this year. Getting to chat with Lynette was a real treat since she doesn’t like to talk about herself and she rarely gives interviews, let alone with two people asking the questions. But, Lynette and her partners have been sponsors of the Desert Magic/World Magic Seminars (founded by Joe and Martha Stevens) since the beginning, 32 years ago. We began by talking about previous seminar parties and antics and laughed for two hours. Being there with Martha and Lynette’s quick wit seemed like a conversation in the living room around the fireplace, complete with slides.

She’s been with Siegfried and Roy for nearly 35 years of the 40 they’ve been in Las Vegas. They met at the Lido de Paris at the Stardust when Roy brought in one of his tiger cubs from Africa. There was an immediate connection. Lynette was born in Kenya (where her father worked as a mining engineer) AND they had a common interest in wild animals. Lynette said she was often late for school due to elephants or other animals blocking the road. And in Africa, animals have the ‘right of way’. Later on, as tribute to their friendship, a Nubian Lion was named in honor of her hometown, Mombasa.

Always into theatrics and dance as a little girl, she showed us a picture of herself in her ‘emerald green bunny suit’ at the age of three. Her very first brush with magic and magicians was when she was chosen by John Calvert to be one of the little girls to jump out of a vase on stage. Growing up, her courage and determination lead her to attend the Royal Ballet School in London. Her talent and discipline lead to the recommendation by Madame Bluebell as the youngest student to be invited to perform at the Lido de Paris in Las Vegas. Lynette remembered needing a yellow Work Visa to travel (good for only 18 months) and being too young to be in the casinos other than in performances on stage. By the way, she never made it back to Blackpool, England which was to be her next job! And those headdresses …weigh up to 10-12 lbs.
And what was Las Vegas like in those early years? Here are a few of her favorite memories…

Barbra Streisand was the opening act for Liberace.
Elvis and the Memphis mafia painted the statue in front of the Hilton with black paint.
Shecky Green put soap suds in one of the fountains and the bubbles floated into the street.
Frank Sinatra road a camel down the Strip all the way to the Dunes.
Sammy Davis, Jr. gave hay rides for the other entertainers at Bonnie Springs after their shows.
Howard Hughs bought the Silver Slipper Casino so that he could take down the starry shoe because the lights bothered him from his room across the street at the Desert Inn.

From the beginning at the Lido de Paris, Lynette went on to share the stages with Siegfried and Roy in “Hallelujah Hollywood” at MGM Grand, “Beyond Belief” at the Frontier, “Masters of the Impossible” at the Mirage, at the Radio City Music Hall, on their Tour of Germany and their Tour of Tokoyo and Osaka (where their last show got an hour and eight minute standing ovation). While history was in the making (like real shows making real money, like friendly shows, like the first to be named on a permanent marquis, like record attendance and sold out performances) the trio were having the time of their lives.

Lynette’s also had the pleasure of holding, naming, being surrogate mother to and sharing the stage with the Royal White Tigers and their offspring and a menagerie of other exotic animals considered as extended family. She told us that the elephant who disappeared nightly on stage also went with them to Japan. No animal was left behind, and there were seven more on the return trip. There were two litters of cubs born on tour. All of the animals have had a pretty good life too. Gildah, the elephant, had her own apartment with a television, and an assistant with a window in between. She lived to be 58 years old and had her own fan club. The newest member of the family is a snow white leopard named ‘Java’ living at the Secret Garden at the Mirage, which has been continuously open since 1997.

Over the years, there have been many celebrities invited backstage to their private dressing rooms. In fact, the hallways became a photo history of these visits – literally wall to wall, top to bottom. Lynette has since catalogued and stored all of them – waiting for the right time and place to put them back up. So who were her favorites? Lynette said she was drawn to Cary Grant who was “the perfect gentleman”. And Helen Hayes, “Lady – just oozed out of her.” And “women with good skin” like Jaclyn Smith, Streisand, and Olivia Newton-John… “There were presidents, kings and queens, royalty of all kinds, political and theatrical who came to the shows.” Some celebrities she didn’t like but wouldn’t say whom. I asked if she ever thought of writing a book? Her answer was quick, “I’ll have to wait until a lot of people are dead.”

Martha asked if they ever took a day off? She said, “No, only the Lord took a day off, but He had a different union!”
Whose idea was it to use an 8’ python snake named Sherman in the act? Siegfried came up with the premise. Lynette said, “I REALLY didn’t want to work with a snake…” And then, Roy held up a costume and said, “But look what you get to wear if that part of the act is IN.” She said, “I liked the costume so then I had to make friends with Sherman! We chatted about each other’s politics until we became acquainted. I changed some of his ways of thinking… I know he changed some of mine.” Her first introduction was made from the tallest thing she could stand on in the small confines of her bathroom. Luckily, Siegfried and Roy had also hired Sherman’s ‘handler’ to translate. Lynette seems perfectly happy. Her days are full and the two men in her life are alive and doing well. Just recently, Siegfried and Roy performed at the LOU RUVO BRAIN INSTITUTE for the Power of Love charity gala. In part to give the farewell performance denied them, another to celebrate the healing and recovery brought about through the Institute’s help. Even Montecore, the white tiger, (yes, that white tiger) took part in the performance that was part comeback/part give back. A perfect reunion raising twelve million dollars; proving that Siegfried and Roy are still Masters of the Impossible. Together, all three of them, have influenced the lives of millions of people through their performances and many more by their sheer presence, their philanthropy and their generosity of spirit given throughout the world (known and unknown). SARMOTI as an idea, a theme, a stream of conscience, as a goal whose outcome affects others – lives on.

Lynette said she was called “The Evil Queen” in her performances in the fantasy production at the Mirage, a title she fully earned. If that’s the case, then she too is “a master of the impossible” to make that characterization so believable while she’s assisted both onstage and off. In truth, she is delightful and witty. Charming and friendly. The only title that truly fits is…. “Queen of our Hearts!”