CAROL STREAM – Former Carol Stream resident Andy Martello is thrilled at the recent release of his first nonfiction book, “The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club.” But how this author and entertainer came upon the idea and where the research took him for this intriguing book is a story in itself.
Martello, who was an active community and chamber member, lived in Carol Stream for about five years until 2007. He was one of 90 families displaced by the March 31, 2007, microburst that hit the village apartment complexes near Schmale Road and North Avenue.
Martello often visited Las Vegas, and while doing so, he came upon a photo of the El Rey Club on a museum wall. Attached to the photo was information about the owner, Willie Martello, who shared the same last name as the author.
But it wasn’t until Martello’s third visit to the museum that his curiosity got the best of him, and he began the eight-year journey that culminated in the production of a book packed with history, humor and excitement.
Was Willie Martello a relative? What were his connections? What is the history of the El Rey Club, a Nevada casino and one-time brothel that was destroyed by fire in 1962? Martello had many questions he wanted answered. But he never expected that his research, which began as a hobby, would lead to a published book.
Although Martello’s initial research revealed he and Willie were not related, he continued his investigation and writing because everything he learned was entertaining.
“The protagonist of my book is Willie Martello, a man whose adventures included regular trysts with celebrities, gun-toting mobsters and sensual prostitutes,” Andy Martello said.
He added that almost 50 years would pass before anyone knew of how the casino, located several miles south of Las Vegas in Searchlight, provided a template for present-day gambling resorts and upset the Las Vegas mob.
While the El Rey Club was only open for about 15 years, between 1946 and 1962, it boasted gourmet meals, world-class entertainment and innovative amenities. Some of the plans Willie had for the club in the 1950s weren’t prevalent in Las Vegas until the 1980s.
“I knew Willie Martello for many years and found him to be one of the wildest, most flamboyant men I ever met,” said Jerry Schafer, Hollywood filmmaker.
Schafer was one of many Andy Martello interviewed for the book.
“Andy Martello did an amazing job of investigation to gain the information he needed to write ‘The King of Casinos,’” Schafer said.
For nearly four years, Willie’s niece Sharon Richardson spent hours on the phone with Martello, sharing stories of an uncle with whom she was close. These included memories of the year spent in Searchlight at age 20 and of her visits with Willie as a young girl.
“I don’t think anyone else could have done justice to this book as Andy did,” Richardson said.
Martello hopes to one day see the story of the El Rey Club make it to the silver screen.
“I truly believe it is a national story,” he said.
About Andy Martello
Residence: North Las Vegas
Notable: Published his first non-fiction book in January
Education: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College
Activities: Visiting canyons and trails throughout the Southwest, attending minor league baseball games and smoking a good cigar with friends
Buy the book
“The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club” is available on Amazon and at www.andymartello.com.