By Harry Spencer
Of all the events canceled by COVID-19 the one that I miss the most is the annual Reno Rodeo, Reno’s original Special Event. As a director emeritus of the rodeo association, I still remember the professional bronc busters who attended during Reno’s golden era.
In addition to the pros, I recall the numerous film wranglers who I encountered over the years. I suppose I should start with the actor who reached the highest office in the land, Ronald Reagan, whom I met in Sparks when he was Governor of California and Paul Laxalt was Governor of Nevada.
Because the majority of cowpokes I met were at the Mapes Hotel I remember, Robert Redford and Gene Hackman in the SkyRoom who were here for the premiere of Downhill Racer. Three guys who appeared in Westerns were here for the filming of the Misfits. They included Clark Gable, Montgomery Cliff and Eli Wallach. A silent movie Western star, who owned a store in Reno, was Lt. Gov. Rex Bell. The four stalwarts of Bonanza were here for the world premiere of the long running TV show. They were Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Mi- chael Landon and Pernell Roberts. Tallest cowboy to receive Reno’s Silver Spurs was Jim Arness. Two actors I happened to meet while at the U of Nevada were William Holden and Dale Robertson.
Getting back to the Mapes it’s amazing how many A-list actors donned Western duds. Those stars included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mickey Rooney, Richard Boone, Tony Curtis, Jim Backus, John Carroll, Burl Ives, Roy Rogers, Dick Shawn, Dennis Morgan, Keenan Wynn, Rory Calhoun, Ken Murray, Raymond Burr, Richard Widmark, Jimmy Stewart, and Bob Wilke.
During the middle of the last century there was a strong connection between Reno and Hollywood. Many top entertainers appeared on local stages and this area was the scene of locations for many motion pictures. In those days I spent a great deal of effort in Tinseltown. While there
I interfaced with a lot of cinema cowboys. The top would have to be Gregory Peck. Others included Dean Jagger, Jack Lemmon, Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Wagner, Forrest Tucker, John Carradine, Hoagy Carmichael, Peter Brown, Jack Elam, Brian Keith, Robert Walker and Clint Walker. Along with
Reno, Lake Tahoe was the scene of many Western celebrities. Most famous one was probably Clint Eastwood followed by Bob Hope, Stu Whitman, Lloyd Bridges, Jim Garner, Van Johnson, Jerry Van Dyke, Cornel Wilde and Greg McClure.
The Reno Airport was the spot where I met the top Hollywood cowboy, John Wayne. He had come to Reno to receive the posthumous Silver Spurs award for the late Ward Bond. Richard Boone received the living award that year. When Wayne and I arrived at the airport we found his flight delayed by several hours, so I asked him if he wanted to grab something to eat or visit the bar. Naturally he said, “The bar”. While we put a severe dent in a fifth of Jack Daniels, he reminisced about his days in Hollywood particularly with his best friend, Ward Bond. Another Western type I met at the Reno Airport was Dana Andrews who was in his cups at the bar and had been refused boarding his flight because of his condition. It was my job to sober him up at the adjoin- ing coffee shop so that he could catch a flight home. Another Western legend I bumped into when the old Reno airport was located in a Quonset hut was Gary Cooper. Along with the many male stars there were several on the distaff side who made their way to Reno over the years they included Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds and Inger Stevens
Two Western actors I ran into at the Eldorado were Rod Steiger and William Smith.
I saved this individual for last because I spent a great deal of time with him when he first came to Hollywood. His name was Paul Newman and he had been lured from Broadway to play the lead in a movie entitled The Silver Chalice. We met at Bob Patten’s, a struggling actor himself, where Newman had dropped in with his current girlfriend Joanne Woodward. As the party was breaking up Newman asked me if I knew of a cheap place to eat in L.A. I replied that “Steaks-R-Us” on La Cienega was probably the cheapest.
(Harry Spencer is a 75-year resident of Nevada and a freelance writer living in Reno. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune.)