When I was a youngster the many games we played were always topped by pretending to be cowboys. Our favorite costumes were authentic western duds that were ordered from the Montgomery Ward catalogue. Tops among movies of that era were the Saturday western serials. Watching those heroes ride and shoot it didn’t seem possible that over the ensuring years I would actually interface with some 5 dozen or more western stalwarts.
The most famous of those would have to be John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. I enjoyed a bout of cocktails with Wayne at the Reno Airport when he was here for a Silver Spurs presentation in honor of his departed friend Ward Bond. As for Eastwood I spent a lot of time with him on the Tennis Court and at other functions when I persuaded the Hyatt officials to host his Celebrity Tennis Tournament at Lake Tahoe.
One of the earliest western movie stars I met was Dale Robertson, the syrupy voiced actor who was here for a film shoot and showed up one afternoon at the old Wolf Den on the University of Nevada campus.
The greatest gathering of western types occurred when Reno was the site of the World Premier of Bonanza. Because it was a promotion of the Reno Chamber of Commerce we met with Lorne Green, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon during the 3 day celebration.
Another trio of western stars were housed at the Mapes Hotel in 1960 for the filming of The Misfits. They included Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach. I spent most of the time with Wallach at the lunch counter at breakfast in the Mapes coffee shop. He was a wealth of information on how the troubled production was going. When I asked him what he was going to do after the movie was finished he said he would probably go back to Broadway. I inquired why he would give up a movie career to go back East. He told me he had won the role of Maggio in “From Here to Eternity” but that somehow he had been dropped when Sinatra got the part, which won him (Sinatra) an Oscar.
One of Reno’s longest running Special Events was the annual Silver Spurs award. The first one was sponsored by the Reno Chamber and was awarded to John Wayne. Among the winners from movie land that I happened to meet were the Cartwrights, Jim Arness, Richard Boone, Jimmy Stewart, Fred MacMurray, Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon and Gary Cooper. Of the list, I first met Peck in the early a.m. at LAX when he and other actors in the crew were departing for a Florida air field where Twelve O’clock High was to be shot. The most embarrassing meeting I had was with Gary Cooper, when we were both doing our business in the men’s room at the old Reno Airport. When western movies fell out of favor the award was given to the stars of TV “oaters”.
One night as I was having dinner in the Coach Room of the Mapes I got a call from Bill Peachart, our casino manager, asking me to come up to the Sky Room because he said he had a celebrity that was doing some pretty heavy gaming at the 21 table. Peachart and I had a system which he had invented that put me at the 21 table in order to converse with heavy players in order to keep them playing. Peachart would bank role me and if I happened to win I could keep the winnings minus the bank roll. Calhoun was an amiable fellow and quite talkative. The most interesting thing he told me was about how he was first discovered in Hollywood. An avid horseman he had been galloping about in the hills of Southern Cal. when he chanced to meet a fellow rider who happened to be Alan Ladd. Ladd was so taken by the looks of the handsome Calhoun that he arranged a screen test for him and the rest was history.
When we were students at the University of Nevada our favorite trips for Christmas and Easter vacations were to Southern California. One time we were staying at the ATO house and one in our group said that he was a shirt tail relative of Hoagy Carmichael, the famous piano player who had written the hit song “Stardust”. He also said he had Hoagy’s phone number and was going to call him in hopes we would get a visit. He was successful and we motored out Wilshire to Hoagy’s residence and spent a pleasant hour or two with the star. Many years later I spotted Hoagy as he had a continuing part on the western TV show “Laramie”.