The daughter of Las Vegas: an interview with Millicent Siegel

Written by on July 25, 2012 in Americas, Blog, Nevada - 38 Comments

It was about 66 years ago when Millicent Siegel’s father, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel wrote a letter to his wife addressing his oldest daughter’s smoking habits.

“I don’t like the idea of smoking at all, I would point out to her that it is not ladylike at all … Frankly, I hope she wouldn’t continue to smoke, as I dislike the habit in women and when I see her I will tell her just that.”

Millicent Siegel poses with artifacts at The Mob Attraction

Millicent Siegel poses with artifacts at The Mob Attraction

Decades later, I am sitting in Millicent’s Las Vegas condo as she pulls a drag from her cigarette, it’s neon orange tip glowing as she breathes in the smoke. Milliecent, 81, hasn’t been weathered by the dry Las Vegas sun. Rather, she looks vibrant. Her shoulder-length blonde hair skims a peach and white striped shirt, which is paired today with white pants. Her light blue eyes sparkle when her pugs, Priscilla and Porsche, come to the table where we are sitting and chatting.

The letter, which was dated November 28, 1946, was written a mere seven months before her father was killed. Today, the letter can be found on display inside the Tropicana Las Vegas at the Mob Attraction, along with a bounty of other mob-related artifacts, including video footage (only in existence) of Ben the way she remembers him – as a father, not a mobster. And the father of Las Vegas.

When Siegel first arrived to town in the 1940s, Las Vegas was nothing. But, Siegel saw something: opportunity.

“He envisioned Las Vegas to be a Palm Springs type in the desert,” says Millicent. “He wanted shops along [Las Vegas Blvd.]. He said there would be a sidewalk going all the way down into town.”

Thanks to his vision, within a few years, there was.

Growing up Hollywood

Before Siegel brought Palm Springs to Vegas, he and his family lived in Beverly Hills. Millicent’s childhood in the Hollywood town was nothing short of charmed. She was a brownie and took riding lessons with Elizabeth Taylor. Jean Harlow was her godmother.

As a young girl, Harlow would come to the house, put on an apron, and give her a bath. She even met her childhood crush, Cary Grant, face-to-face. At her house.

“When I came home from school, [Grant] was sitting in the room, waiting for my dad to get off the phone or something,” she recalls, smiling. “I thought I would die when I saw him sitting there.”

Then, came Las Vegas.

The infamous Ben "Bugsy" Siegel

Ben Siegel’s Las Vegas

Las Vegas turned from what Millicent describes as a “hicktown” into something far more glamorous. Hotels lined the main Las Vegas drag, complete with swimming pools in the front, inviting people arriving by car to take a cool dip and break from the arid desert weather.

“There were no high rises,” says Millicent. “The hotels then were more personal, smaller, more comfortable. They didn’t have all of the pool parties … You’d go out for dinner at night and see a show. During the day, you’d spend time at the pool. Or, if you came when it was cool enough, you’d go riding or play golf.”

The vision Siegel had for Las Vegas, all those years ago, has morphed into a different beast entirely today. Now, mega resorts crowd The Strip. The historic properties are blown up to make way for the latest slick building, the hot restaurants, the trendy shops. The pools at the hotels now cater to the 20- something scantily clad partiers willing to throw down hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to sit in a cabana and sip on cocktails from bottles of liquor that have been marked up hundreds of percent.

“My dad would hate what Las Vegas it today,” she says. “What corporations did to Las Vegas was never his vision of this town.”

The town and times Millicent lived in Las Vegas were very different. And, unlike most other’s experiences even during the 40s. That’s what happens when your father owns the hottest hotel in Las Vegas, The Flamingo.

Siegel opened the hotel December 26, 1946 moving his family in during construction. As a teenager, living in a hotel was never dull.

Momentos from Bugsy Siegel on display at The Mob Attraction

Life at The Flamingo

“I was a spoiled brat,” says Millicent. “I mean, here is our hotel. We own a hotel.” Her life at The Flamingo was not without its own, special stories.

“One time, I decided to write post cards,” she begins. “All of the rooms were decorated with all sorts of personal things you would have in your house. On the desk was a crystal ink well. I took out to the pool and was writing these cards. My dad came out and saw me doing this and he had a fit.”

There was one night when Millicent was taken into the counting room of the casino with Chick, the brother of Virginia Hill (Siegel’s girlfriend). “I had a crush on him and I didn’t know what his job was at the hotel. He was in the accounting room at night, so I asked if he could take me in.”

Entering the counting room was like nothing she had ever seen before – stacks and stacks of money. Unlike stories which have been told which depict counters sorting money into piles, one for the hotel, one for them, she never witnessed anything like that. But, she did witness her father’s wrath.

“I stayed until they finished counting, until three or four in the morning,” she says. “Then, we went to breakfast and came back. That’s when my father walked in. He had a shit fit. I don’t think he was bothered that I was in the room, but he was bothered that someone took me in there. Who was I going to tell?”

Perhaps the best story from her time living at the hotel was when her father decided to put a moat in front of the property and import the hotel’s namesake – some flamingos. According to Millicent, there were between six and eight of these birds and, as the days went by, they were “dropping like fleas.”

Millicent recalls: “It was too hot for them. My dad stood out there and said ‘Those goddamn flamingos are dying on me.’ They never lasted very long. It was too hot for them. I think he replaced them once or twice and that was it.”

Today, the hotel which is now owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., has flamingos on property. However, they are now inside in a climate-controlled garden.

Siegel, who treated the property as his home, could even be found walking through the halls, emptying ashtrays and tidying up.

As the founder of Las Vegas, Siegel took it upon himself to stay abreast of what was going on in town. He would donate money to organizations in need. “The town’s people liked him very much,” says Millicent. “He would go into Las Vegas and people would just come up and talk to him, have lunch with him.”

The creation of “Bugsy”

The famed mobster isn’t how Millicent sees Siegel. Despite Hollywood’s portrayal, his daughter remains steadfast in his role in the mob.

“A lot of stuff they say or still say about my dad wasn’t true or never happened,” she explains. The father Millicent remembers is nothing like Warren Beatty’s portrayal in the film “Bugsy.”

“He was very strict,” she says. “Most of what happened in the movie never happened. It was all a fabrication of what [the filmmakers] either read or surmised or just out and out faked.”

She quickly recounts two such instances in the film – the first depicting their move to LA, the second a birthday party she had. Neither of which were portrayed accurately.

“I would say 80 or 90 percent of the movie is inaccurate,” she says. “It portrayed [Siegel] as a nut.” Which is not even close to how Millicent remembers him.

“He was very strict,” she says. “We used to have to sit at the dinner table and he would ask us what was on the front page of the papers. He knew everything we were doing. He was very interested and on top of everything we did. He was also great fun to be around. He would joke a lot.”

Beatty declined Millicent’s offer to provide him with real-life accounts of her father while making the film.

Items which were once owned by Bugsy Siegel on display at Mob Attraction

The mobster, the father

Ask Milliecent about her father’s life in the mob, and she sits straight in her chair. After his death, stories began to surface about his life in the mob. “We knew him as a father. He worked some place. I was too young to question it,” she says.

Growing up in the shadow of gangsters didn’t phase Millicent. “We didn’t see these people as notorious, or different from anybody else. It was a whole new picture for me and I didn’t know how to put it. I never believed any of the things anyone has written about [Siegel]. They grew up in prohibition. They were no different than the Kennedys. They were selling the same stuff. They were doing the same thing. They were all extremely smart people.”

It was never easy for his daughter to hear the stories about life in the mob. Millicent has never gotten used to what people have said about her father, or his associates.

“It was hard to hear what people said about the man who would sit at the dinner table and make us tell him the news, or educate us on the way to cut our meat,” she says. “He wanted us to be princesses and the stories we heard didn’t jive with who we saw. I’ve always separated whatever anybody else might say from what I saw and what I felt. It hurt me. After he died, the whole thing just blew up in our faces.”

Even today, decades later,  Millicent simply refuses to believe Siegel played any part in violent acts.

“I truly cannot believe my father would kill anyone. Beat them up, maybe. But, not kill,” she says. “I think it is a misconception.”

One of her last conversations with her father addressed his violent ties to the crime world. Millicent asked about his role in Murder Inc. with Meyer Lansky.

“He told me about not being able to make a living at 12 or 14, 15, 16 years old and not being able to make a living during prohibition,” she says. “I asked him about Murder Inc and he said, ‘You’ve met all of those people. Do they look like killers to you? Have they ever hurt you? Yes, I did [commit crimes], but now I am building a hotel and am 100 percent legitimate. They was my last in-depth conversation with my father.”

Millicent is quick to point out that Siegel, despite the stories of being a murderer, was never arrested for anything other than prohibition. To this day, she maintains he never killed a person.

On Siegel’s death

On June 20, 1947, Siegel was killed.

En route to Las Vegas via train to spend the summer with their father, Millicent and sister did not know what happened until they arrived to town. When the two arrived to town, their mother stood at the depot, waiting for them. The girls couldn’t understand why she was there. But, once they got to their uncle’s house, they were told of his death.

While no one knows the truth behind Siegel’s murder, Millicent has her own opinion.

“It wasn’t a random guy standing in a house, two houses down, that shot him. [Whoever killed him] was paid to do it. Who paid them? I don’t know. I’ve heard [his death] was all over money.”

Rumor has it that Meyer, another mobster and friend of Siegel’s, was the man behind his death. Millicent disagrees.

“If you have our father killed, would you be friendly and take care of his family?” She asks, recounting Meyer’s continued involvement with the bereaved. “Could you sit down to dinner next to me and know that you hired someone to kill my father?”

She isn’t sure exactly why Siegel was killed and questions the motives. “Was it somebody that wanted something in Vegas that he had? Did they want him not to be productive? Because, the hotel never closed. It wasn’t sold for years [after his death]. It’s hard to figure out, but I can’t lose sleep over it. I could never find the answers.”

In fact, no one has found the answers. In California, the case is still open.

Las Vegas, today

It takes nearly no time at all for Millicent to say how she feels about Las Vegas today. She hates it. When asked about what her father would think of it, she is quick in responding.

“He would be appalled,” she sighs, flicking out her cigarette.

Regardless of today’s Las Vegas, Millicent remains forever the doting daughter. “I am very proud of my father’s legacy,” she says. “He had the vision for the glamour … for bringing all of these people here.”

And now, even as the sun sets against the twinkling high-rises on the Las Vegas Strip, Siegel’s legacy can be seen as the throngs of visitors make their way, yard-stick drinks in their hands, en route to the casino in a town Siegel created.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

38 Comments on " The daughter of Las Vegas: an interview with Millicent Siegel "

  1. T-roy July 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm · Reply

    LOVED reading this and hearing something I thought I knew something about from a different perspective. Great article and very informative!

    • Diana July 26, 2012 at 10:26 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Troy!! I am glad you enjoyed it. Meeting Millicent and talking with her was so fascinating. I had pages and pages of notes.

  2. Camels & Chocolate July 27, 2012 at 8:44 am · Reply

    What a cool experience, meeting Millicent! And why is it that every mobster seemed to have been named “Bugsy??”

  3. Jess | GlobetrotterGirls July 27, 2012 at 10:01 am · Reply

    Great interview – really fascinating to get such an inside look at early Vegas and such a famous figure in American pop culture/history!

    • Diana July 30, 2012 at 3:30 am · Reply

      Thank you!!

  4. Christy July 27, 2012 at 12:56 pm · Reply

    This is really interesting! I bet it was fun interviewing her.

    • Diana July 30, 2012 at 3:29 am · Reply

      It was!!

  5. Bret @ Green Global Travel July 27, 2012 at 9:56 pm · Reply

    Not what I expect from D Travels Round, but an intriguing interview nonetheless. I’ve always had a fascination with mob stories, so kudos for nabbing the interview!

    • Diana July 30, 2012 at 3:27 am · Reply

      I like to keep people guessing ;)

  6. Ali July 28, 2012 at 3:01 am · Reply

    Wow, really interesting! That’s so cool that you got to talk to her and learn so much about her life and her father.

    • Diana July 30, 2012 at 3:27 am · Reply

      Thanks, Ali. We spoke for quite a bit. I had pages and pages of conversation.

  7. Angela July 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm · Reply

    What an interesting read, definitely not the run-of-the-mill interview!

    • Diana July 30, 2012 at 3:26 am · Reply

      Thank you, Angela! It was really cool to speak with her!

  8. Christy @ Technosyncratic July 29, 2012 at 11:13 am · Reply

    What a fascinating read! Wonderful interview, Diana!

    • Diana July 30, 2012 at 3:25 am · Reply

      Thank you, Christy!!

  9. Bobbi Lee Hitchon July 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm · Reply

    What an interesting life. Great interview.

    • Diana July 30, 2012 at 3:25 am · Reply

      Thank you!! Talking to her was very fascinating!

  10. JoAnna July 30, 2012 at 9:12 am · Reply

    Interesting stuff. I’d love to visit the Mob Museum to learn more about this side of Las Vegas’ past.

    • Diana August 2, 2012 at 4:26 am · Reply

      You should!! If you want to go to Mob Attraction, let me know.

  11. Charlie July 31, 2012 at 5:53 am · Reply

    This is great to read! I just finished watching Bugsy and was interested in catching up. I had a chance to view the museum last Nov. and was greatly impressed. Bugsy is someone I have been interested in since I was a young kid. Must have been something else to meet such a historical man offspring.

    • Diana August 2, 2012 at 4:24 am · Reply

      Thank you!! Mob Attraction has some really neat artifacts in the museum area. It was really informative. I’ve always been fascinated with that time period in Las Vegas and how it shaped the city … to be able to speak with her was nothing short of awesome.

  12. Erica July 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm · Reply

    This is SO GOOD. Oh God I’m obsessed over history like this.

    • Diana August 2, 2012 at 4:23 am · Reply

      I should send you the transcript!

  13. Ayngelina July 31, 2012 at 6:38 pm · Reply

    Wow what an incredible experience to talk to someone with this kind of history.

    • Diana August 2, 2012 at 4:23 am · Reply

      It was really a neat experience. I could have talked to her for days.

      • Sal March 8, 2014 at 4:28 pm · Reply

        First off this is a very good read to say the least. Ben was in very good shape compared to the mobsters at that time. In some of his home movies you can see him flexing for the camera. How tall was he and what did he weigh?

        I noticed you never asked questions about Virginia Hill. If there is information about her in the transcript please send it. Any information on Virginia Hill? How tall was she and what did she weigh? Any pic of Ben and her together?

        • Diana March 12, 2014 at 3:23 am · Reply

          Hi Sal, thanks for taking the time to comment. I don’t have the information you are looking for, unfortunately.

          • Sal September 13, 2014 at 9:29 am ·

            Diana,

            There is another sister that Ben had, what became of her?
            He also had a brother that was a doctor, he help his brother become established in California
            when he moved there from NY.

          • Diana September 15, 2014 at 1:34 am ·

            Hi Sal, We only spoke briefly of her sister and her comments were off-the-record. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.

  14. Blair September 30, 2012 at 9:04 pm · Reply

    I absolutely love this article! I’ve done research on Lucky, Meyer and Ben for years as I’ve always been fascinated on the things they were able to accomplish based on where and what they came from. Hearing and reading accounts from their families is always great too. It gives you a feeling of who they really were. Despite all the negative media portrayals and things written in the newspapers, I’ve always taken it with a grain of salt as the media’s well know for blowing things out of proportion.
    Something always told me Ben was probably a good father to his daughters. It must’ve been really exciting to be able to talk to Millicent about Ben, though. If it would’ve been me, I would’ve passed out from the excitement of it. I do agree with what she said about how he’d feel about Vegas today were he still living… he probably would think half of it belongs at Disney World. I’d love to be able to visit the Flamingo and the museum someday. Going back in time and being able to talk to Ben would be better, but sadly it’s not possible.

    • Diana October 1, 2012 at 6:14 am · Reply

      I am so glad you enjoyed the piece! It was really fascinating to talk with Millicent and learn about her perspective. I would definitely recommend going to visit Mob Attraction to learn more and see all of the artifacts on display there.

  15. Jan Bennett December 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm · Reply

    Very interesting and personal article; my husband and I are making our annual visit ( atctually 4th time this year..lol) to LV 12/14/2012. We always make a bucket list and even tho Michael was born in “65; he is fascinated with anything Rat Pack and “real Vegas”. We will definately visit the Mob Experience and pay special attention to the Siegel display. Wouldn’t this story make a great “cold case” investigation episode? Refressing to hear that Mr. Siegel was a dedicated family man, as well. Our best to you and Ms. Millicent. (Would Love to have a shot and a smoke with that classy dame!)

    • Diana December 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm · Reply

      She was SUCH a cool interview! DEfinitely check out the Mob Attraction.

  16. felicia June 2, 2013 at 4:01 pm · Reply

    The article was interesting, but you can tell it is from the child’s point of view. She will always see her dad as he wanted to be portrayed to her. What parent would want their children to know they have a bad side to them. It is hard to believe that he lead his mob life with non of the violence that is associated with it.

    • Shirley Parker November 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm · Reply

      My thoughts exactly, Felicia. He may have been a good father/son/brother, that was one side of his life, but deep down Siegel was as evil as they come and it’s just sad that she has never truly saw the man for what he was. But I guess if it’s helped her sleep at night all these years to imagine him as a poor street tough from the slums of N.Y.C turned wealthy bootlegger like the Kennedy’s (that’s a laugh) then more power to her I suppose :-\

  17. Raven October 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm · Reply

    This article is truly amazing and extremely informative. I’ve been fascinated with Ben Siegel for as long as I can remember and I’ve read countless articles and biographies about his life, but to read about him as a sweet and loving family man is just astounding. All the things I’ve read about him describe him as a violent and murderous maniac, but I’m sure there was much more to him than anyone could ever have known. I do find it odd though that Millicent refuses to acknowledge the true extent of her father’s crimes, but then again, who wants to believe that their own dad could be a stone cold killer? Anyways, once again, this article is so preciously superb; it makes me really want to visit the Flamingo and the Mob Attraction (which I hope to do someday).

    • Diana October 14, 2013 at 4:31 am · Reply

      Thank you so much. It was very interesting speaking with her and learning about her life. And yes, interesting that she only saw the good in her father and not the bad. I really appreciate your kind words. I hope you are able to make it out to Vegas and visit the Flamingo and the Mob Attraction.

  18. Shirley Parker November 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm · Reply

    I read this interview directly after watching the one that Millicent gave to Vegas TV a few years back and both are interesting in that morbid sort of way. Millicent seems like a nice enough of a lady, very approachable and friendly, and it’s good that her notorious father was so doting to his two daughters and good to his parents and siblings. But in all honestly it’s not the least bit surprising that the private man was like that. Most gangsters are loving fathers/sons/brothers and even generous towards the public when they want to be. That’s really nothing new. But no one is ever going to convince me or any other thinking non-gullible non-media brainwashed person that Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a man with an arrest record that included such heinous acts as murder and rape, was really a man of good heart simply because his daughters (both young girls when he was assassinated) never saw the dark side of his personality or crooked business life. After all, what parent would want their children to see them in such an awful light? Anyway I just thought I’d get that off my chest after sitting through both interviews.

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