Twice a year, Jim Jalet takes the podium to share war stories with undergraduates enrolled in Cal State Fullerton’s Entertainment and Hospitality Management (EHM) program. The seasoned hotelier has noticed that, packed though they are with juicy references to classic show business icons, his stories are eliciting more and more glazed expressions.

“I tell them about the time in 1971 that I ran into Bob Hope and escorted him to the grand opening ceremonies at Walt Disney World so that he could cut the ribbon,” said Jalet, “but they don’t have a clue who he is.”

Jalet is hoping that his memoir, “From the Mouse to the Mob,” an anecdotal, behind-the-scenes look at his 50 years in the hospitality business, will shed light on the evolution of the industry as a whole. While the book promises to provide historical perspective for university students at EHM and other programs, Jalet penned it primarily for his grandson, Jack, who at 11 seems a natural for the business. “He’s a people person, a born negotiator,” he said. “I want him to know all the stories.”

At the Irvine offices of JNR Inc., Jalet’s incentive and event planning company, a wall of photographs stretching from floor to ceiling commemorates the hotel business of the 1970s, particularly in Orlando, Florida, and Las Vegas, where Jalet launched his career.

These early photos show him with the era’s best-known entertainers, including Jay Leno, Robert Redford, Gladys Knight, Glen Campbell, Johnny Mathis, Donna Summer and Bill Medley.

“I played golf with Mickey Mantle,” said Jalet, “and with Dean Martin, who was one of the nicest guys on the planet. That drink in his hand was apple juice,” he added. “The drunk thing was an act.”

Jalet’s office is a photo archive of his encounters with the who’s who of Las Vegas, including Peter Falk, Arnold Palmer, Andy Williams, Johnny Carson and Dean Martin. [Above:] “From the Mouse to the Mob,” co-written with Michael Ashley, will be published in late 2018.
Growing up in Albany, New York, Jalet had no idea what his future might hold until 1965, when a friend got him a summer job as a bar boy at the Hotel Dennis, one of the “great dames” of Atlantic City, New Jersey. “All I wanted was to get a tan and chase girls,” he said, “but I liked the hotel atmosphere.” After a stint in the Air Force, Jalet graduated with the first class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, earning a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration. While in school, he interned at the Dunes Hotel and spent summers in Atlantic City. “I did it all,” he said, “from desk clerk to busboy to night auditor. I wasn’t going to be a bar boy for life.”

When recruiters came calling, Jalet talked his way into a marketing position to help launch Walt Disney World.By 26, he had become Disney’s director of tours and travel. But, convinced that the growth of the hospitality industry would depend on corporate and organization events, he returned to Las Vegas as national sales director at the MGM Grand, and later hired on as vice president of sales and marketing at the Aladdin Hotel.

Las Vegas in the 1960s was a gambling and entertainment mecca under mob influence. Among the famed hotels were the Sands, Desert Inn, Flamingo and Aladdin. Jalet remembers the Rat Pack singercomedians as regulars both on stage and in the casinos. “Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Dean Martin – they were there all the time.”

During his time on the Strip, Jalet lunched with boxer Joe Louis and “the fascinating” Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Comedian Don Rickles pulled him onto the stage. And, six years post-Disney, Hope arrived at the Aladdin and greeted Jalet like an old friend.

He met Redford when the actor came to speak to the National Association for Parks and Recreation. “Redford arrived at the back door alone, [with] no handlers [and] one suit bag over his shoulder,” said Jalet. “I made sure to walk him past the sales office so the girls could get a peek.”

In 1976, Jalet booked Neil Diamond into the new, 7,000-seat Aladdin Theater for the hotel’s grand re-opening. But the deal wasn’t sealed until Jalet jetted to Los Angeles and drove to Diamond’s home carting an enormous scale model of the theater. “Neil was a great guy, but he’d never played Las Vegas because he didn’t want to sing where people were dining and drinking. The model changed his mind.”

In the late 1970s, when the FBI took on the mob and arrested the owner of the Aladdin, Jalet would manage the media and help coordinate the sale of the hotel. He met with Johnny Carson, who represented a group of investors, but, in the end, singer Wayne Newton acquired the property.

By this time, Jalet “knew the business inside and out and decided it was time to go out on my own.” In 1980, along with his wife, LuAnn, he founded JNR. Now a $50 million company with 150 employees and a worldwide clientele, JNR’s success has as much to do with vision and tenacity as it does with Jalet’s roots in the hotel business. He likes to tell students that he launched with $5,000 in the bank and a large Rolodex. “The kids don’t know what a Rolodex is either,” he quipped. His grandson, however, will know exactly what it is, for he will one day inherit not only JNR’s vast contacts, but a story to go along with each one.

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