During the 1960s, thanks to the efforts of the late Max Dodge, one of the old school public relations men in Reno, a special junket was put together for 60 Reno baseball fans. The junket consisted of a round trip flight on United Airlines to the Bay Area, housing at the St. Francis Hotel, brunches at Lefty O’Douls, luncheons at Fisherman’s Wharf and excellent seats at Candlestick Park for the game. Additionally, there was a hospitality room at the St. Francis, which enabled the lucky attendees to get primed for an evening on the town in San Francisco.
When I got involved with Dodge in promoting the annual sortie, we relied on the members of the Prospector’s Club to fill all the allotted spaces for the trip. A couple of constant attendees were the late Hughes Porter and the former Washoe County District Attorney Jack Streeter. By and large, the trips were convivial affairs and Dodge was the perfect Major Domo. He had been an outstanding athlete at his university in football, basketball and track and was possessed of an exuberant personality, much like that of famous Toots Shor of New York saloon fame.
A huge physical specimen, he towered over 6 feet tall and weighed well over 200 pounds. His legs alone were of such huge proportions (a 24-inch calf) that we once shot some publicity photos with him and a couple of the Riverside Hotel showgirls where the tale of the tape revealed that his prodigious calves were bigger around than the waists of the dancers.
For many years, he worked for the Ford dealership in Reno and his business card proudly claimed, “The only Dodge selling Fords in Reno.” Eventually, he found his true calling in the public relations field and spent several years promoting the Holiday Hotel, now the Siena, for Newt Crumley and in later years, the Riverside Hotel. He was one of the founders of the Reno Jaycees, a junior branch of the Reno Chamber of Commerce, and lent his promotional talents to such offbeat clients as the El Borracho Mexican restaurant on South Virginia Street. When he was doing his thing there, after-work cocktail hour was so busy that it was said that should you faint inside the El Borracho between 5 and 7 p.m., it would take you 30 minutes to hit the floor.
Some of my fondest memories of Dodge occurred on the basketball courts of the junior high schools in the area where Reno city league games were played in the old days. Dodge was a member of the reigning powerhouse team of Roy’s Clothiers and we would go up against them two or three times a season. If you happened to “drive the key” when Dodge was stationed on defense under the basket, there was a good chance that you would wind up on the steps outside the double set of doors that were located at the entrance to the old Billinghurst Gym.
Dodge moved on to his native Northwest and eventually passed away there at a far too early age.
It is always interesting to catch old segments of the long-running TV series “Gunsmoke” that starred James Arness and that are currently featured five nights a week on the cable Western Channel. Arness himself was one of the top winners of all time of the Reno Silver Spurs that used to be awarded to the best movie or television Western leading man. When he arrived in Reno to receive his award, he was ensconced in the Mapes Hotel and I found him to be one of the most unassuming of the hundreds of celebrities that stayed at the hotel over the years. Extremely soft spoken, he was up for whatever publicity assignments we pressed on him and spoke highly of John Wayne, who was the first winner of the spurs. Arness said Wayne had helped him get his early start in the movies and that when he hit the big time in Western television he called Wayne and suggested “The Duke” take a shot at the new medium. Wayne’s response was that we was too big a guy, physically, to fit on a 17-inch screen. Arnesss’ reply to the megastar was, “Heck, John, I’m at least three inches taller than you and the little screen suits me just fine!”
Many years after his visit here, I chanced to run into him in a popular Hollywood club of that era, Whiskey a Go-Go, and was surprised when he recognized me and said, “I use those Reno spurs every chance I get.”
But where is the connection between Spock played by actor Leonard Nimoy and the “Gunsmoke” program? The other night on the Western Channel, there was an exciting episode of the show that featured some gun play and lots of brawling. In one such scene, one of the minor supporting actors was fighting it out and in the close ups the distinctive Nimoy profile was obvious. Unfortunately, his character not only lost the fight but also his life as the result of a fatal gun shot. This segment was obviously shot long before Nimoy rose to fame in the “Star Trek” series.
These days, Mr. Spock is often spotted in person at the Raley’s grocery store in Incline Village where he is a part-time resident.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.