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Spencer Remembers: Bad news for the RSCVA and golf with a Scarecrow
by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist
Apr 24, 2009 | 1035 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AP photo - Actor and dancer Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the film "The Wizard of Oz," takes an unorthodox swing at a golf ball on the lawn of a Las Vegas hotel on May 8, 1959.
AP photo - Actor and dancer Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the film "The Wizard of Oz," takes an unorthodox swing at a golf ball on the lawn of a Las Vegas hotel on May 8, 1959.
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If the recent loss of three conventions and some 30,000 room nights wasn’t gloomy enough news for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, now comes more bad news. Since the skybridge between the Atlantis Resort and Casino and the convention facility opened, there has been a noticeable drop in parking revenue for major events at the RSCVA.

Heady attendees at these events are using the free parking offered by the spacious Atlantis grounds and walking the new bridge to events. It has also affected the sales of food and drink on the part of the RSCVA’s on-site concessionaire. Going back across the bridge, event attendees can drop down to the handy New York-style deli that recently opened in the hotel where much tastier offerings are found at more reasonable prices. Could this be Reno’s version of “the tail wagging the dog”?

While on the plight of the RSCVA, one local TV station aired a comprehensive story this week on the status of tourism in the Biggest Little City. Weighing in were Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, Bill Huhes of the Peppermill and RSCVA CEO Ellen Oppenheim.

The state of the economy was blamed as a major factor, the scaling down of conventions another and the continuing loss of flights to Reno as yet another reason.

It was even suggested that the much maligned motto of the RSCVA, “America’s Adventure Place,” may no longer be the best clarion call to bring visitors here.

Whatever the approach to luring more tourists to the Truckee Meadows may be in the future, it might be well for the current gurus of marketing to revisit some of the things that worked in the past. Particularly, in the decade of the 1960s when former Hollywood publicity man Jud Allen moved onto the scene and took over the reins of the Reno Chamber of Commerce. Armed with room tax money that now goes to the RSCVA, Allen was able to develop a number of programs and special events that not only drew considerable crowds but also generated reams of publicity at the time “Reno” was a red-hot dateline.

Oppenheim might do well to root through the old chamber files.

Celebrity Corner

One of Doris Day’s earliest movies was on the tube the other night. What made this one completely different from her future films with Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, James Garner, Jimmy Stewart and other stars of that stature was that in this particular film her unlikely leading man was dancer Ray Bolger.

Bolger was a regular starring act in the SkyRoom of the Mapes during the 1960s and his amazingly nimble feet were worth the price of admission. Most long-time movie fans remember him best for his role as the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland (also a sometimes performer at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe).

Bolger played a rather timid state department assistant who signed Day up for a tour of France to cement U.S.-Franco relations. After a few drinks, the Bolger persona changed to that of a romantic and carefree devil in pursuit of Day.

What was also remarkable about the film was that Doris, who preferred dancing to singing at that point in her career, stayed toe to toe with Bolger in several athletic numbers.

Bolger started out his career on Broadway and pretty much ended it there with his famous rendition of “Once in Love with Amy,” a number he performed to perfection in his SkyRoom appearances.

When I interviewed Ray for some publicity stories, I asked him why he was not staying at the Mapes during time in Reno as most performers did. He said, “Because you don’t have a swimming pool!” I asked what that had to do with anything and he just laughed and said, “How do you think I keep this old body as limber as it is?” I shook my head in ignorance. He went on, “I have to spend several hours a day – every day – in the pool to keep my leg muscles stretched and elastic. Without that time in the pool, I probably couldn’t kick higher than my waist.” I knew what he was talking about because when I watched his show, he could extend either leg higher over his head than the best NFL kicker today.

One day while Bolger was here, I got a call from the owner of the hotel, Charles Mapes, noting that he needed a fourth for a golf match. As it turned out, I was paired with Bolger against Mapes and a scratch golfer named Al Bello (a lounge performer of note). With a little on-course instruction from Bolger, who was very adept on the links, we were able to take the match.

Easily one of the best natured and charming live performers ever to appear here, Bolger had that engaging personality that some of his peers – former vaudevillians themselves – like Milton Berle and Jimmy Durante possessed. They were a far cry from what passes as superstardom status today.
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