We finally settled on 1960 as the top year for significant anniversaries that would come up in 2010.
Our first choice overall was the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley that were held in February of 1960. While the venue was in California, the cities of Reno and Sparks, as well as other locations around Lake Tahoe that featured housing, were packed and overflowing.
The Reno airport also received “international” designation so that U.S. Customs could be established there to service the thousands of foreign visitors that showed up.
Through the good efforts of Walter Ramage, the manager of the Mapes Hotel in Reno, the official Olympic press club was established on the top floor of the hotel. The permission came from Olympic press agent Pete Rozelle, who later went on to a long term as commissioner of the NFL.
A Nevada Olympic commission was established to work with its California peer and the chambers of commerce in both Reno and Sparks performed handsomely to promote the area during the games.
Walt Disney had been picked to be in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies and for his point man, months before the start of the games, he chose popular TV personality Art Linkletter.
Linkletter was in Reno on an almost weekly basis to supervise a myriad of details at Squaw Valley and since he chose the Mapes as his home base, this writer got to interface with him on a regular basis.
Squiring him through the hotels and clubs of that era, he never failed to draw a goodly crowd of appreciative fans and he might have developed carpal tunnel because of the hundreds of autographs he signed.
The world press descended on northern Nevada and many of them were whisked to the press club at the Mapes to get their official membership cards. On one late night occasion, we were able to charter a bus and literally “hijack” the entire Russian press corps to visit the Mapes and have their picture taken with the prince of Sweden and his entourage.
Literally outdoing the athletes themselves, when it came to press coverage, were the Hollywood celebrities that arrived here to attend the games.
The most popular one was Janet Leigh, who was red hot because of her then recent appearance in the Hitchcock classic “Psycho.” Next in line was her husband, Tony Curtis, who also was riding high because of his role in “Some Like It Hot.” Sammy Davis, Jr., Debbie Reynolds and Mickey Rooney were other famous names.
Invariably, when we got the stars to Squaw Valley, they would visit the anchorman for CBS-TV that was broadcasting the Olympics for the first time, Walter Cronkite.
His colorful interviews with them spiced up the on-site coverage of the games. Avery Brundage, head man of the International Olympic Committee was a nightly visitor to the Reno area as was Squaw Valley owner, Alex Cushing.
While there was a plethora of big names, many Renoites also played a permanent part in the actual staging of the games. Karl Breckenridge and Chelton Leonard were two of the more prominent.
Sticking with 1960, Rocha and I then picked the summertime filming of “The Misfits” starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe as the second most significant event.
The long-location shoot had the cast and crew ensconced in the Mapes and once again, correspondents from all over the world arrived in Reno to do stories on the film, the stars and director John Huston as well as screenwriter Arthur Miller.
“The Misfits” also spawned the first Virginia City Camel Race, which was a two-man affair featuring Huston on one camel and his good friend, professional horse racing jockey, Billy Pearson, on the other Ship of the Dessert.
This year also marks the 45th anniversary of the opening of the Tahoe Racquet Club at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe. Owner and developer, Peter Paxton, was able to get songstress Dinah Shore, who was appearing at Harrah’s Tahoe, to sign up for membership card No. 1.
On opening day in June of that year, Governor Grant Sawyer tossed out the first tennis ball to start the professional players tournament that featured names like Pancho Gonzales, Rod Laver and the six other top-ranked pros in the world. A lot of their time between matches was watching the Wimbledon Tournament, which at the time was open only to amateurs players. Laver beat Gonzales in the finals at Lake Tahoe.
Just 10 years later, and still at the Tahoe Racquet Club, the famous Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis Tournament was staged by the Hyatt corporation to celebrate their takeover of the former Kings Castle at Incline. This year is the 35th anniversary of the event.
It would be difficult to find any year in the history of Nevada that marks so many significant anniversaries of events as does 2010.
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.