I first met Bill in 1957. He was an assistant district attorney for Washoe County at that time. The reason I had sought him out was that I had a collision with a California highway patrolman on the way to Los Angeles, and I figured I needed legal representation.
When I explained to him what had happened, he said, “Did you have to hit a highway patrolman?”
“Let me explain what happened,” I told him. “I was headed to Los Angeles with the reigning Miss Nevada, Loni Gravelle, and my wife to appear on a segment of ‘Queen for a Day.’ We were about to enter the Walker River Canyon when a CHP car pulled out into the oncoming traffic and stopped in my lane. I slammed on the brakes of my car but could not avoid him. Both cars were totaled. Loni put her shoulder into the windshield, and I put my chin into the steering wheel. As I was about to pass out, someone said, ‘The car is on fire.’ That got all of us out of the car. The CHP gave me first aid and the ambulance took us to Bridgeport to be sewn up.”
Bill asked, “Do you have any proof that it was his fault?”
“Just this,” I said as I pulled out a blood-stained scarf that had been given to me by the driver of the car behind the CHP. He had reached over and said, “It was entirely the CHP’s fault.”
Bill said, “Good we have something. I’ll have a private investigator contact this man and get a statement.”
The eventual outcome was that the late Hal Lipset, who was a good friend of Raggio’s in San Francisco, got the statement and the State of California settled all of our claims.
From that time on, Bill and I become inseparable buddies. I was at the Mapes Hotel and he was at the DA’s office. When he decided to run for DA in 1958, I handled his campaigns for the next 12 years.
During the time he was DA we had many adventures together. The scenes of these adventures included San Francisco and Las Vegas, as well as Reno. For a brief time I handled the Riverside Hotel account and that was the scene of the famous Raggio-Conforte imbroglio. I remember the Conforte case because Lipset and I taped the recording of the famous meeting between the two adversaries.
On another occasion the late Frank Petersen, Raggio and I went to Carson City to get the blessing from Gov. Paul Laxalt for Raggio to replace him because Laxalt was retiring after one term. After a leisurely lunch in his office, Laxalt informed Raggio that it was Lt. Gov. Ed Fike’s turn. He did his best to dissuade Raggio from running. As it turned out, Fike was defeated by Mike O’Callahan, who several years later told Raggio that he would not have run against him.
Laxalt tossed Raggio a crumb by matching him against Howard Cannon for U.S. Senate. Cannon handily beat Raggio and Bill later filed for his first Nevada Senate term.
Another interesting experience that Bill and I had together occurred during a DA campaign. Raggio, who had become friends with singer Frank Sinatra, called me in my office one day and asked if I could go to Los Angles the following day. When I asked him why, he replied that Frank had offered to produce the television spots for his campaign, but we would have to do it in Hollywood. The reason was that Frank was shooting a film, “Come Blow Your Horn,” at Paramount and we could use his crew. The following day I met Raggio at the airport. Fortunately, I had a yellow legal tablet with me. During the flight to Los Angeles we wrote several commercials. One of the commercials was 30 minutes in length, and I told Bill that it would be hard to place unless he wanted to tell the complete story of burning Conforte’s whore house down.
When we arrived in Los Angeles, several men met us. Raggio was placed in one black limo and me in the other. In my limo I found the director of the spot in the back seat with me and he said, “Do you have the copy?” I handed him the yellow tablet, which he perused. He said, “This looks pretty good. I don’t think I’ll have to change anything.” His name was Howard Koch. He directed Frank in The Manchurian Candidate, one of Frank’s best performances. The two limos entered the gates of Paramount Studios, and Howard and I went to a huge sound stage. I was amazed when we entered because they had recreated Raggio’s office.
Howard and I huddled down by the camera and he said, “I’ll have this copy put on a teleprompter.”
I asked, “What is a teleprompter?” We always used ‘idiot cards’ in Reno for television programs. I was amazed that they could adjust the speed of the teleprompter to Raggio’s cadence.
Finally, they brought Raggio back from makeup, and he looked a little like Tammy Faye Baker.
Howard turned to me and said, “What spot should we do first?”
I said, “We better do the 30-minute one while he is fresh and then we can do the 60-second ones.”
Accordingly, Raggio began and completed the spot in one take. The full crew, which was working on overtime, gave him a standing ovation. Once more Howard turned to me and said, “I have a dinner engagement. You can obviously handle this so you direct the other spots.” He told us the crew would stay as long as we needed them. With that he left, and we shot the other spots rapidly and went to our hotel within the hour.
I could go on forever with the many stories that happened in that period, but I should close now by saying that while he lived, Bill Raggio accomplished a great deal.
Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.