An excited hum moved through the room as residents of The Preston of the Park Cities retirement community waited for the guest of honor to appear.
Many were thrilled to learn one of their neighbors used to be a Las Vegas showgirl and would show off her memorabilia at a community photo shoot.
Linda Stewart’s story begins in Dallas. She grew up in Highland Park with her mother and her father, who was in the U.S. Army.
Stewart attended SMU until her sophomore year when she won the Miss Dallas- Fort Worth Press Photographer Pageant. As the winner, she received an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas to audition to become one of the Texas Copa Girls.
While many families may have choice words to say about a child leaving school to perform in Vegas, her family thought differently.
“They were thrilled with it,” Stewart said.
“She loves reminiscing about those times and remains quite the dancer to this day as an active participant in our recreational programs.” -Molly Meyer
Stewart did not go unaccompanied. Her aunt traveled with her, eventually becoming the bookkeeper for the show.
The Texas Copa Girls – the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders of the showgirl world – performed at the Sands Hotel and Casino, now the home of the Venetian.
Showgirls during that time were known for being elegant, graceful, and unattainable. One non-negotiable requirement was height. A short showgirl was considered to be around 5 feet 8 inches tall. They were 18 years of age or older and usually had a dance background.
In Stewart’s case, she did not have any dance training.
“I learned while I was there,” she said.
Showgirls, while graceful and talented, were known for their large and lavish outfits. According to the book Showgirls of Las Vegas, written by Lisa Gioia-Acres, the girls would sometimes wear a costume that costs more than $12,000. That’s more than a headliner such as Danny Thomas was making per show.
Some of Stewart’s fondest memories were of the celebrities she had the chance to meet. While dancing with the Copa Girls, she performed with the Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. She even went on a few dates with Sinatra, she said.
Stewart left Las Vegas after about four years, moved back home to Texas, and did several modeling jobs. One of her most notable modeling gigs was as the face on a Camel cigarette ad.
Stewart also played Pat Boone’s girlfriend in the movie State Fair, although her character lost the guy to Anne Margaret’s character. She, to this day, recalls her line: “Please come back alive.”
Eventually, life slowed down, and she married Maco Stewart III, a former member of the Texas House of Representatives. After having children, she continued to visit Vegas.
“She loves reminiscing about those times and remains quite the dancer to this day as an active participant in our recreational programs,” said Molly Meyer, the community life director at The Preston of the Park Cities.