In happened in 1993 when the Professional Polo match was held at the Reno Livestock Event Center. Russell became involved because he had previously managed a successful polo club in Texas. I was promoting the match with Dr. Robert Walton, former head of the United States Polo Association. The doctor and I had approached the RSCVA for underwriting on the project. Unfortunately that entity turned us down and we were about to shelve the event when we decided to call on Bud.
He came up with the idea of contacting the major casinos and offering them a 50% discount on future slot purchases if they would contribute that discount to underwriting the polo match. We met representatives of the clubs in Bud’s office and consummated the deal successfully. The polo match was held on December 11, 1993 during a heavy snow storm that canceled flights into Reno. Despite the weather, there was the greatest concentration of limousines ever assembled in Reno pulled up in front of the RLEC. The indoor Pro Polo match was probably the most sophisticated Special Event ever staged in Reno.
When speaking of special events one of Reno’s top attractions has been in dire jeopardy lately. That would be the Reno National Championship Air Races. Due to the tragic accident last year during the races, the insurance premium has more than doubled for this year’s races. Air Race Director Mike Houghton had a September 1st deadline to raise the increased premium. In addition to that, the Airport Authority has only granted a one-year extension for the races. It would be a shame if we were to lose what has been a very lucrative event for this area.
Over the years, special events have come and gone with the Reno Rodeo being the longest living. When it comes to the rodeo, it is the greatest example of the rich Western heritage of Northern Nevada. One of the attractions of the current Rodeo is the awarding of Reno’s famous Silver Spurs for the Top All Around Cowboy. The Spurs themselves were created in 1950 and for a period of about 15 years gained international publicity for The Biggest Little City. In their current manifestation they are only covered by the Rodeo press. For a complete history of the Silver Spurs when they were a premiere event, the following story from the Reno Rodeo Program of 2011 is offered.
“One of Reno’s most successful Western styled promotions was the annual award of the “Silver Spurs” which ran from 1950 to 1965. The original presentation was made by the Reno Chamber of Commerce in 1950 to John Wayne and Director John Ford.
The idea was to create a Western “Oscar” to be awarded to the most popular cowboy movie star in America for the preceding year. Later, as Western motion pictures fell out of favor it was awarded to the most popular TV Western stars.
Many of the locals who participated in the 16-year run of the “Spurs” have long advocated that if a Celluloid Cowboy Hall of Fame is ever established the logical location would be somewhere in Reno, Nevada.
The initial award was an easy choice for the Chamber since Wayne and Ford had worked together on such epic films as “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “Fort Apache”, “The Searchers”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “The Horse Soldiers”, and “Rio Grande”. Even today Wayne still reigns as the top iconic American cowboy.
The awards themselves gained national and world-wide notoriety when the late Judd Allen became CEO of the Reno Chamber of Commerce. Allen had been a press agent in Hollywood and was well connected with the Movieland Press. He hit upon the idea of polling those writers in Hollywood and then counting the ballots, ala the “Oscar”, and announcing the winner. That move alone gave the awards greater credibility and prestige. Oft times the winner of the “Spurs” would serve as the Grand Marshall of the Reno Rodeo parade.
Working with the Chamber’s Promotion committee on numerous “Spurs” awards I can recall one of the highlights of the presentation days was to take the recipient to Sundown Town, which was located halfway to Carson City up in the hills west of the highway. It was operated by Bob Talmadge, the son of Buster Keaton and Norma Talmadge. Constructed much like the false front sets in Hollywood, it featured a saloon, quick draw booth, live stagecoach rides, a small lake and several other buildings and corrals. Former Governor Paul Laxalt and Lt. Governor Rex Bell were usually in attendance.
The “Spurs” themselves were a work of functional art. Mounted on a handsome wooden plaque they could be removed and actually worn by the recipient. They were handcrafted by Newman’s Silver Shop in Reno.
The list of “Spurs” winners reads like a pantheon of prestigious performers. It includes Wayne and Ford (1950), Gregory Peck and Henry King (1951), Jimmy Stewart (1952), Gary Cooper and Fred Zinneman (1953), Alan Ladd and George Stevens (1954), Spencer Tracy (1955), Jimmy Stewart again (1956), Glen Ford (1957), Glen Ford and Jack Lemmon (1958), Fred McMurray (1959), Jim Arness (1960), Richard Boone and Ward Bond (1961), Dan Blocker (1962), Lorne Greene (1963), Michael Landon (1964), and Glen Ford (1965). Ward Bond’s award was posthumous and was accepted by his widow and John Wayne, his longtime friend. Glen Ford’s award in 1965 was changed to the “Golden Spurs” since he was a three-time winner.”
Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.