VIDEO VAULT | Iconic neon 'Happy Shirt' dry-cleaning sign was mainstay of Steiner Cleaners
LAS VEGAS (KSNV) —
The Neon Museum is home to signs that once adorned many of the storied hotels, casinos and restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, Fremont Street and elsewhere.
One of the more whimsical displays that gets attention is the "Happy Shirt." This particular sign came from long-time, local dry-cleaning business owner Vic Plassman who had lost his lease and decided to have the image from above his storefront sent over. The contribution was unsolicited.
"So they called me," remembers Plassman. "'What are you dropping this old sign off for?' And I said 'I just hate to get rid of it. Young Sign will scrap it, probably'."
The Happy Shirt had been a familiar fixture in the strip mall on the southwest corner of Tropicana and Maryland Parkway starting in the late 1960s, which is when Plassman first met original owner Herman Steiner.
"I went to work for him and then I bought the cleaners from him," recounts Plassman. "Mr. Steiner, and it was his daughter that designed the sign."
Young Electric Sign Company [YESCO] took the 15-year-old girl's design and added a second set of neon arm. Some simple electrical impulse animation made it appear the sign was beckoning customers in.
The neon sign over the dry-cleaning business seemed like a good fit, a little more than a mile from the fabulous Las Vegas Strip and just around the corner from the home of one of Las Vegas' most popular entertainers from the late-1940s through the mid-1980s.
"Liberace wanted to meet me, so I went over to the house," says Plassman. "Then the next time I went over to the house I asked for an autographed picture."
"Hi, this is Liberace. I take a lot of kidding about my costumes that I wear on the stage," said the flamboyant performer in a 1970s radio commercial.
"But I really don't mind. As long as you enjoy seeing them, I enjoy wearing them. But make no mistake about those costumes. They've become an expensive joke. And that's why I'm so particular about the care of my costumes. To keep them looking their very expensive best, I trust Vic Plassman of Steiner Cleaners, who cleans and refurbishes them just like new."
Taking care of such high-profile clothing could be a bit nerve-wracking at times.
"I called my insurance company. I said 'I've got Liberace's $200,000 white fox cape in my living room. What do I do?' 'Get it the hell out of your house'," recalls Plassman with a laugh.
There were several other celebrity endorsements, like comedian Jimmy "J.J." Walker.
"Hey, I'm not going to Disneyland, I'm going to Steiners," announced the "Good Times" star as he dropped off a load of laundry in a commercial.
"Did you forget to take your shirt to the cleaners for that party tomorrow night?" inquires singer Robert Goulet in another ad.
Other celebrities speaking out for Steiners included comedians Norm Crosby and Sandy Hackett, as well as "USA Up All night" host Rhonda Shear.
"What about in by seven out by five," a customer asks Shear in a commercial.
"Oh, that's me, sir," finishes Plassman with a chuckle, completing Shear's line.
Steiner closed several years ago and the sign has now been fully restored. It lights up and animates at night, getting far more attention in the neon boneyard than it ever did above Steiner Cleaners, which gives the former owner a kick.
"All the people that work for Neon Museum say 'Oh, you and Mr. Steiner are a legend around here'," he laughs.
Vic Plassman is semi-retired, but still does some dry-cleaning part-time. The Happy Shirt is one of eleven fully restored signs at the Neon Museum on Las Vegas Boulevard just north of downtown.
For more information on the Neon Museum, visit NeonMuseum.org.