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On Vegas' Strip, Siegfried & Roy Enjoy the Paws That Refresh

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The cast of the NBC special from the Las Vegas Strip includes Loni (WKRP) Anderson, Fabergé Tigress Lola Falana and 100 luscious Blue Bells from the local edition of the Lido de Paris. Yet its strongest animal magnetism comes, unexpectedly, from a couple of characters named Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn. The German-born Siegfried and Roy, as they are billed, have been stars in Europe and in Vegas. Now, presumably and belatedly, after their Feb. 1 network exposure, they will be established throughout America.

At the Vegas Stardust Hotel, where they are currently fulfilling a million-a-year contract, there has never been an empty seat at any of their 15 weekly performances. Part magic show, part circus, their act features a menagerie of tigers, lions, elephants and birds. Presto, and a scarf turns into a flock of doves. Presto again, and an elephant evanesces. There is also now a lady who vanishes: Lynette Chappell, a former Blue Bell who joined the act and later took over as business manager. She always emerges unscratched—but not so the men. Siegfried, who has suffered 82 stitches in five years, has sometimes been bloodied but never bowed. “When I am standing there covered with blood,” he says, “I know that I am going to get a standing ovation.”

Their heroic animal show dates back to an unlikely ark, the German cruise ship Bremen. Siegfried, 39, the son of Munich hotelkeepers, was a magician hired to entertain the passengers. Roy, 34, a banker’s son, was a steward with a fondness for big cats who suggested they put together an act. Siegfried concedes: “The first time I saw Roy’s pet cheetah I was scared to hell.” But, like magic, they assembled a show to tour Europe. Their breakthrough was an invitation to perform before Princess Grace and Prince Rainier in Monaco.

Since settling in Las Vegas in 1969, they have adopted royal trappings of their own. The pair live with Johanna Horn, Roy’s mother, in an antique-filled Spanish-style hacienda. It has a $150,000 wing for the menagerie, which includes nine big cats and 100 variegated birds (the elephant is put up at the hotel). Should Roy be away for long, he calls home and has the phone hooked up to a special amplifier in the animal quarters. “I use a sort of baby talk,” he explains sheepishly. “They like hearing the sound of my voice.” As for why he shares a house with Siegfried, Roy also has an answer. “Our work is our mistress,” he says. “It is stronger than a marriage.”