Former state archivist Guy Rocha is back in northern Nevada and the local Good Old Days (G.O.D.) club has booked him as its featured speaker on Friday, Nov. 11, for its noon luncheon at the Tamarack Junction Casino on South Virginia Street.
G.O.D. club meetings are open to the public for the $15 cost of the luncheon but attendees need to contact Bill Berrum by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8 to make reservations. Berrum’s contact information is 787-1663, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rocha is one of the most highly regarded speakers on the G.O.D. list of celebrity attractions. The club itself is entering its 20th year, having first been formed by a dozen or so former PR and legitimate newsmen in order to meet monthly and hash over famous 20th Century stories that never saw the light of print or broadcast. Over the years, the club grew and now lists more than 200 on its membership rolls. Its avowed purpose is to keep alive the memories of the area’s “Golden Age,” which lasted from 1945 until 1970. The organization was founded by longtime local radio and TV personality Bob Carroll, along with the late premier photographer Don Dondero.
As for Rocha, he is the recognized authority on all things historic about the Silver State. His forte, which is expressed in his columns in various papers around the state, is debunking many of the longstanding myths about famous Nevada personages and places. He has been called a “mythbuster” on more than one occasion and he says his research and writing has but one purpose: to bring out the factual accounts that may have been embellished over the years. In that respect, he is much like the Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb, on the long ago “Dragnet” TV show, whose most famous line was always, “Just the facts, ma’am!”
Since his retirement from state office, Rocha has embarked on a very busy travel schedule as he is an inveterate softball player and is also in constant demand as a speaker and as an on-air authority for the many TV specials that have been screened regarding the state of Nevada. Some of the more sensational of those have dealt with the early mob influence on gambling in Las Vegas.
What was he thinking?
The football purists who gather on Monday mornings for java to discuss coach Chris Ault’s conduct of the previous Saturday’s Nevada football game are still talking about the coach’s decision in the waning minutes of the New Mexico State encounter a week ago. At a point late in the fourth quarter, Nevada had the ball on the New Mexico State 20-yard line. It was fourth down and 10 yards to go and Nevada was ahead by 14 points. The Ault critics have been saying that 100 percent of coaches would have opted for a field goal try in order to make it a three possession game for the opponent. Even the two television commentators were in agreement with that strategy. However, Ault decided to leave freshman quarterback Cody Fajardo in and called what appeared to be a busted play until the scrambling quarterback flipped a short pass to running back Lampford Mark. Mark scampered down the sideline on what looked like a stroke of genius call, however, as he approached the goal line, he had to lunge and extend the ball, which barely cleared the goal line marker. At that crucial moment, the ball squirted loose and was fumbled forward. After an excruciatingly long review by the officials, it was ruled that the ball had been fumbled forward into the end zone and possession was turned over to NMS on its 20-yard line. The Cowboys quickly marched down the field and scored, turning it into a one possession game. Fortunately, Nevada was able to prevail, scoring another TD and winning the game by 14 points. Still, many wonder, Why no field goal attempt when it was fourth and 10 on the opponent’s 20-yard line?
Probably the most popular movie star to ever visit this area was the late John Wayne. The “Duke,” as he was best known, made his signature local appearance in Reno when he was the recipient of the first “Silver Spurs” award in 1948. The event was sponsored by the Reno Chamber of Commerce, held in the Sky Room of the Mapes Hotel and also honored famed motion picture director John Ford. The Silver Spurs went on for a number of years and was recognized nationally as the “Western Oscar” that was given annually to the top western film or TV actor as determined by polling the Hollywood press. Many years later, Wayne made a second Silver Spurs trip as he accompanied the widow of his good friend and fellow actor Ward Bond, so that he could accept the Spurs on behalf of her departed husband. At that time, this writer had occasion to drive Wayne to the Reno airport to catch his return flight to Los Angeles. As was all too common in those days, the flight was late to begin with and then had several delays after that. When I asked Wayne if he would like to wait in the restaurant area and grab a bite to eat, his response was, “Where’s the bar?” We then went to the Ambassador Room lounge and through the good efforts of the manager, Dale Kramer, were treated to an adequate amount of adult beverage refreshment. During the several hours that we awaited for the arrival of his plane, I was able to get a firsthand account of his career from the famous star. He scoffed at most of the public acclaim and adulation he had received over the years and preferred to reminisce on his long friendship with Ward Bond. His best stories concerned the times that he and Ward would tool along the Sunset strip after working all day and visit any number of the small bars that proliferated along that famous thoroughfare. “Basically,” Wayne noted, “as the evening progressed, we started looking for some persons to fight. If we couldn’t find any, then we would start to brawl with each other. When we were exhausted, we asked the owner what we owed for the damages and took care of it right there.”
Wayne’s next big time appearance here was when he showed up in Carson City to do the bulk of the shooting for his last film, “The Shootist.” I always regretted that I never got a chance to visit with him again. In that particular flick he was joined by his good friend, actor Jimmy Stewart, who was also an early Silver Spurs winner, and they reprised a celluloid friendship that was first seen in the famous black and white flick “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
All of this Wayne history was recalled when I read of the recent auction of his Hollywood memorabilia. During his time, the Duke truly was larger than life.
Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.