Las Vegas is a shimmering resort city that rises out of the bleak Nevada desert, famous for its gambling, shotgun weddings and elaborately-themed hotels. Take a look at some of the weird and the wonderful happenings from the 1940s to the 60s in these scintillating pictures from the LIFE Magazine archives.
The first casino appeared in the city in the 1940s after Nevada legalized gambling in 1931. It became the gambling centre of the world in less than a decade, and now 41 million people visit each year.
Among Las Vegas's casinos you can find replicas of Egyptian pyramids, the Eiffel tower, a mall that recreates the canals of Venice and the largest permanent big top in the world. This picture is from the opening night of Circus Circus in 1968, a hotel and casino that features circus acts and daily carnival games.
A city of glamour, Las Vegas is one of the few places of the world where tuxedos and sand seem to go together naturally. This image shows famed English playwright Noël Coward, who did a stint singing on stage there in 1955, suited and booted and smoking a cigarette in the desert.
Las Vegas is a hotspot for weddings, because it's quick and cheap to acquire a wedding license. A license can be obtained within minutes: photos below show a City Hall secretary putting the stamp on a couples wedding license in 1940. The ceremony took place at 4:15am. It's also a popular option to be married by an Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson impersonator.
The city is known as the "Entertainment Capital of the World" for its glitzy shows, mesmerizing spectacles and for hosting some of the world's biggest names in the business. These images are from the French Revue floor show at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino.
This photo shows a performer balancing some glasses on top of a tray that's precariously placed on top of a sword, which is standing on the tip of a dagger he is holding in his mouth – as he does the splits halfway up a ladder.
Las Vegas show girls may just look like Amazonian models kicking their legs in the air, but to achieve the graceful elegance, balance and precise movement involved, they are normally trained in ballet and other classical dance.
International acts flocked, as they still do, from all over the world to perform on the Las Vegas strip. The show Lido de Paris came from Paris, attracted 19 million people for 22,000 performances and ran for over 32 years.
One of the biggest names of the era was leggy dancer Juliet Prowse, who rose to fame after her role in the film Can-Can. She was a staple of Las Vegas night club acts as well as a darling of the gossip columns after romances with Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
The epicentre of Las Vegas was not always the infamous strip: its historic centre and original gambling district used to be based around Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas. You can see the abundance of neon signs, like cowboy Vegas Vic that earned the street the nickname of "Glitter Gulch".
This unique pool featuring a series of glass portholes was an iconic sight back in the 1950s. It was situated at a typical roadside motel called The Glass Pool Inn and was featured in many movies, before it was closed down in 2003.