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When the stars fell on northern Nevada
by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist
Apr 17, 2008 | 1201 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AP Photo/Warner Bros. - In this photo released by Warner Bros., actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the film “The Searchers.”  Director John Ford and frequent leading man Wayne forged one of Hollywood's most enduring partnerships.  Wayne was the first recipient of Reno’s Silver Spurs award.
AP Photo/Warner Bros. - In this photo released by Warner Bros., actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the film “The Searchers.” Director John Ford and frequent leading man Wayne forged one of Hollywood's most enduring partnerships. Wayne was the first recipient of Reno’s Silver Spurs award.
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For many years this area of northern Nevada was host to a steady stream of celebrities from the world of entertainment, sports, government and business. The Reno International Airport received its worldwide status in order to be the official debarkation point of the foreign visitors who would have to clear customs inspection when they arrived here to attend the 1960 Winter Olympics in nearby Squaw Valley. Notables such as the Prince of Sweden and the 40-man Russian Press Corps were among those using this service.

The Olympics also saw the biggest deluge of top-ranked press to ever descend on this area. Names like Walter Cronkite, Red Smith (the New York Times), Dave Condon (the Chicago Tribune) and Jim Murray (the Los Angeles Times) were just a few. Columnists such as Herb Caen and Stan Delaphane (to name only two) from the Bay Area set up camp for a full fortnight.

Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe and Reno were constant datelines in papers all over the world and people were able to view the Winter Olympics, albeit in black and white, for the first time in history.

The greatest wave of entertainment celebrities in the history of the area descended here in 1960 for the filming of “The Misfits.” The sheer star power of the cast that included Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, et al along with director John Huston and writer Arthur Miller drew press coverage from all over the globe. Fan magazine writers, TV interviewers, wire service reporters, Paris Match magazine, Reuters, Life and dozens of others were on hand during the three months of location shooting to pen thousands of words about the most expensive black-and-white film ever made. In addition, many stars of the entertainment firmament arrived regularly to visit the company. Among them were Burl Ives, Tony Randall, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Another important star-studded event that occurred at almost the same time here was the world premiere of a new TV show entitled “Bonanza.” The original cast and several of the stars of the show’s first two segments, including Yvonne DeCarlo, were on hand when they were screened back to back at the now-gone Granada Theater. The father and three brothers of the Cartwright family, who were portrayed by Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon, proved to be among the most popular stars ever to visit here as they traveled from social events and dinners to schools, the veterans hospital and anywhere else they were pursued by the overwhelming number of members of the Hollywood press. To their credit they all returned later, on many occasions, for filming at Lake Tahoe, celebrations at Virginia City and as recipients of Reno’s annual Silver Spurs awards.

Speaking of the Silver Spurs, which were known worldwide as the “Western Oscar,” brings to mind the list of prestigious western movie and TV actors that traveled here to accept the cherished award (a pair of Silver Spurs mounted on a handsome plaque with the spurs being actual functioning items that could be removed from the plaque and used). The leadoff winner was the iconic John Wayne, who returned in later years to accept the award on behalf of the departed Ward Bond. Other winners included Jimmy Steward, Gregory Peck, Richard Boone, Jim Arness and Glenn Ford, to name just a few.

Staying in the Western genre, one of the biggest world premieres in Reno occurred prior to World War II when the classic oater “Virginia City” was first shown in Reno. Among its stars who arrived were Errol Flynn and the future president of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

Gary Cooper, another legendary Western star, was one this writer met in the cramped quarters of the old Reno Airport (a large quonset hut).

Well-known prizefighters of yore, who were huge celebrities until TV and Cassius Clay relegated the manly art of self-defense to the same level as pro wrestling, had Reno on their “must-see” list. Sonny Liston trained in the Sky Room of the Mapes Hotel. Archie Moore, who was a great friend of the late sports editor of the Nevada State Journal Ty Cobb, visited the local sportswriters and broadcasters association (SNSBA) on more than a half dozen occasions. Many years prior, heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey took up residence here. Sugar Ray Leonard and Boom Boom Mancini were two other recognizable names that made Reno a regular stop.

The world of politics say Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (both as governor of California and as president) made frequent stopovers here.

Other prominent politicians that frequented the area included Nelson Rockefeller and “Butch” Powers, long-time lieutenant governor of California, who had his own suite in the Mapes Hotel.

Another famed radio man, Lowell Thomas, did several of his broadcasts in one of the corner suites at the Mapes while Del Webb, then owner of the New York Yankees, had a very private wedding in a similar Mapes suite.

Pro footballers also liked to call Reno home. Names like John Brodie, Dandy Don Meredith, Y.A. Tittle, Gordy Soltau and Daryl Lamonica were regulars. Baseball’s Joe Dimaggio, Willy Mays, Lefty O’Doul and Jackie Jensen came here often to participate in celebrity golf events.

An ode to the passing of the presence of major celebs on the local scene might be paraphrased by the words of the famous song by Paul Simon: “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?”

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
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When the stars fell on northern Nevada by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist


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