As January 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of my first arrival in Reno, it might be a good time to review a few of the highlights of those years before they depart from memory forever.
My earliest memories here were playing roundball and football for crusty Coach Jim Aiken. At that time, Reno was a sleepy little cow town that had some 21 thousand residents according to the 1940 census. Because World War II was raging, the bright lights of Reno were dimmed, what was known as a brownout. Also at that time, the enrollment at the University was some 900 females and only 90 males—half of which were 4F. I remember that Coach Aiken was only able to find some 20 fit males to participate in the intense spring football practice.
Following the war, the major news story in Reno was the opening of the Mapes Hotel in 1947. Two of my college roommates and I arrived for the ‘47 school year after a nonstop automobile trip from New York to Pasadena which took 44 hours.
In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, the Mapes and the newly enlarged Riverside Hotel were such glamorous places that they became worldwide in recognition. That was mainly due to the high class entertainment offered in the two showrooms. Famous names such as Mae West, Jimmy Durante, Ted Lewis, Sophie Tucker and Milton Berle were just a few of the headliners. Four shows were twice a night with three on Saturday. A typical floor show would include a house orchestra, opening act usually was a comic, a chorus line of some eight beauties and the star. Most popular of the shows was the dinner show which occurred at 8 p.m.
Going back to the University days, the campus was a hot spot for major motion pictures. The reason being was that the architecture at Nevada could easily resemble a school back East or a Midwestern college. A number of the stars who appeared included Loretta Young, Van Johnson, Gene Crain, Edmond Gwenn, William Holden, Shirley Temple, Clifton Webb and the inimitable Mickey Rooney. In the Shirley Temple flick, my roommate and I got 10 days of work as extras through our friendship with the location manager. I got to escort Shirley and her double to dinner at the Mapes for three nights. Also at that time, we were fortunate enough to gain the friendship of a bit player named Bob Patten, who invited us to spend part of our Christmas vacation at his large home in Hollywood. In the middle of that visit, Patten invited us for an early morning sojourn at LAX where he would be boarding a plane along with stars Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger and others for a flight to Florida where they were going to film the movie “Twelve O’Clock High”.
1950 was a banner year for me, as I got married and two weeks later quit my full time job at Herd and Short Men’s store. The reason for the career move was that one day Father Maurice Welsh, who had been in one of my journalism classes at the U, came in to the store. When I informed him we did not stock clerical garb, he said that he was not looking for clothing; but that he had just been appointed Editor of the Catholic statewide newspaper and he wanted me to join him as Associate Editor. I told him I would have to have a little higher salary than I was making at my present job and we agreed to the terms. On the plus side, as I later explained to my wife, I would be making more money working five days a week instead of six. The change in jobs fit in with the degree in journalism I had earned at the University.
During the seven years I spent at the paper, I ran into a couple of moonlight jobs. The first one occurred when I bumped into one of Reno’s best disc-jockeys, Ray Bohannon at the post office one morning. In addition to his DJ duties, Ray was the publisher of a pocket sized entertainment guide called “Reno This Week”. Prior to that time, Ray had sought me out to do a column in his publication. That morning, Ray informed me he was moving to a bigger media market. When I asked him what was to become of his popular guide he replied, “I’m going to give it to you.” “How much?” I asked. “Nothing,” he responded. I asked, “How much do you owe the printer?” Again he responded, “Nothing.” I checked with Reno Print and found it to be true. (To be continued)