King of Casinos ~ Willie Martello and the El Rey Club
You started the project when you discovered the primary character, Willie Martello, had the same last name as yours. I am sure it started as sheer curiosity at first to see if he was a relation but what enticed you to go to the point of writing a book?
I had no idea I would write a book. This was not supposed to be my first book, if I was ever expected TO publish a book. It was supposed to be a hobby. I wanted to see if the guy was still alive, if the casino was still around, and maybe buy a collectable item from the place. Eight years later, I had a book. The moment I realized I should write the book came when one of Willie’s family members put me on a mission to find Jerry Schafer, who directed a feature film at the El Rey Club. It was a topless film of the 60s and kind of scandalous at the time. Through my research I was able to locate Jerry and the film. What blew my mind was somehow the film was credited to Francis Coppola and not Jerry Schafer. By this point I already amassed a huge collection of interviews and memorabilia. Each little thing more interesting than the next. After being amazed to learn about the Coppola connections and wanting to know more, I thought “Somebody should write a book about this guy,” After looking at all I had already learned I realized I should write a book about this guy.
You used GoFundMe.com. Can you explain, simply, why you chose to use them?
I wanted to include as many unpublished historical photos as I could find. The Nevada State Museum had a treasure trove of fabulous photographs which all came with a licensing fee. I used GoFundMe to raise the funds for the photos. I like that site because you have the option of keeping whatever money is raised, even if you don’t reach the goal amount. I was fortunate enough to raise more than the goal, so the extra money was used for editing, design, and the like.
Had you ever heard of Willie Martello before?
Not at all. I was surprised as all get-out when I saw his name on an old photo at a Vegas museum. The monster had been let out and an eight-year quest began.
What is the most interesting tidbit about Willie Martello and/or the El Rey Club that you can share here (and remember, this is a family-friendly publication.)
I loved hearing how so many people remembered him as a bit of a scoundrel, but were quick to point out he was the most generous, lovable, and impossibly likable people they had ever met.
There are many favorite stories, but the most family-friendly of the bunch involves Willie and a family passing through town. The father was hoping to find work and went into the El Rey, leaving his wife and kids in the car. Willie saw the kids and was outraged the man didn’t bring the family into the casino with them. He gave them a meal, a room, and found jobs for them on the spot. They worked there for a couple of years until they had enough money to live on and move on.
What was the most exciting part of the writing process for this book? (and don’t say getting it done.)
Other than the acceptance and delight this book brought to Willie’s surviving family, for me, the most exciting thing came when I received an email from NYT bestselling author Robert Graysmith, who found my blog and my research about the El Rey Club, hoping I would grant him permission to use some of it for a book he was working on. I learned his book wouldn’t take away from the one I was writing and was flabbergasted when I read, “You are an excellent writer” in his humble email. I think any time a newbie punk trying to figure out how to write a book gets encouragement like that from a big name in publishing it’s as good a reason as any to buckle down and FINISH the project.
Robert also gave me the single best bit of advice about writing a book I’d ever heard. It was so simple and brilliant. I told him I had no idea if what I was writing made any sense and really wasn’t certain how to go about writing a book at all, much less writing one with so many facts and names in it. He simply told me, “Write a page a day. In 300 days or less, you’ll have a book.” Simple enough, but the genius is revealed after you start writing that page a day. The thing he didn’t tell me was, after a few days, you cannot stop with one page. You end up wanting to finish a thought and getting into a groove where you find the pages fly by. I started with a page a day. Before long I was writing full chapters. The first draft of this book was completed in 90 days. Robert did that.
Graysmith was also kind enough to offer a lovely blurb for the back cover. My first book had celebrity endorsements including that from a bona fide bestseller whose books are frequently turned into motion pictures, and he even said, “My only regret is that I didn’t write this book.” There have been too many exciting things about writing The King of Casinos, but few compare to my interactions with Robert Graysmith.
Stupid Stories About Famous People
Your book is about personal experiences and interactions with famous people. How did you, a self-proclaimed ‘the most famous nonfamous person’, approach the process? (Did you just call them up and say, ‘Hey, dude, let’s chat.’?)
Stupid Stories was never going to be a book had my brother, Matt, not suggested it. The stories in the book are all personal recollections of the ridiculous things I did or said when working with people considerably more famous than myself. They are the types of stories I pull out any time someone asks me to tell them about working with Tony Curtis or asked, “Have you ever met anyone famous?” The stories always get good laughs and responses from those who hear them and Matt said, “THERE’S your next book!” I thought he was crazy and told him, “NOBODY wants to hear my stupid stories about famous people!” I realized immediately that was a good title for the book and decided I couldn’t let a good title go to waste.
I find your work fresh and humorous, without bragging. Difficult when writing about one’s own experience. So how do you say “grounded?”
You are very kind to say so. It is easy to stay humble when I take time to realize I am NOT as famous, hip, or cool as the people I have written about. I am not a household name nor do I expect to become one any time soon. It would be ludicrous and arrogant of me to ever think anyone would ever want to read my autobiography because I have achieved nothing of note, nor will I be missed in the same way so many C and D-list celebrities are when they pass. However, I do have stories to tell and I have lived an interesting life. In my mind, people are more likely to listen to my life story when they hear about the colorful people who were a part of it all. Stupid Stories, in some sense, is a “hidden autobiography” because it is about other people and I am the common denominator.
I also remember things my dad taught me about not being full of yourself. He was very much the guy who would befriend the janitor long before the executive because he’s the guy who can make the mess go away or make the mess bigger.
Any last words?
My favorite stupid story is the one I have yet to tell. Lord knows I will not stop acting a fool around others any time soon.
Andy Martello is an award-winning author, entertainer, and comedian. Originally from Chicago, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. You may have seen his television work on American Restoration, Mystery Diners, Last Comic Standing, and Street Genius (aka None of the Above). In 2016, he was named Best Local Author by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in their annual Best of Las Vegas poll.
His first book, The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club has earned 14 prestigious awards, including an International Book Award, a Book Excellence Award, a Readers’ Favorite Book Award, and a USA Best Books Award for best biography. King of Casinos is currently in development to become a major motion picture.
Andy’s published works include The King of Casinos, ‘Pretty Words. Nothing More’, and Andy Martello’s Stupid Stories About Famous People. Future books include Andy Martello’s The Roommate Chronicles and the poetry books ‘PrettyWords.So Much More’, and ‘Pretty Words.The Broken Mirror’.
Follow Andy: Facebook.com/andymartelloentertainment