Among those extolling the many virtues of Link Piazzo were University of Nevada athletic director emeritus Dick Trachok, local radio and TV personality Bob Carroll and the writer.
For those not familiar with the Link Piazzo story it began in Reno in 1918. As a youngster Piazzo had to fend for himself and, along with older brother Chet, for the family since their father had died early on. Doing all sorts of odd jobs they finally scraped enough money together to open a small sporting goods store in 1938. They called it The Sportsman and following their return from World War II (the store had been operated by their sisters while they were in armed forces) the store soon blossomed into the largest such facility in the state of Nevada, as well becoming one of the best-stocked sporting goods establishments in the country. Their famous logo, which was created by all-time Reno artistic great Lew Hymers, was seen all over town, mostly on scoreboards at various fields of play.
Link’s own story is the stuff of which Horatio Alger’s heroes were made.
In addition to building a highly successful business with his brother they both became real estate magnates and accumulated a goodly fortune in the process. One of Link’s signature accomplishments occurred in 1956 when he and four partners bought a ranch in the eastern foothills of the Truckee Meadows and turned it into Reno’s first country club and golf course. He and his brother also starred in their own TV show in Reno for 28 years and Link served continuously as the voice of the Nevada Wolf Pack for football and basketball on Reno’s premier station, KOH. Link also rose to the top in his profession, being named the president of the National Sporting Goods Association. He also chaired the first celebrity golf tournament to appear on the Reno scene, the Holiday Hotel “Mug Hunt.” The list of his business and civic accomplishments would fill several pages of this newspaper. Among other things he was a highly decorated Army Air Corps pilot, flying some 67 missions in the Pacific during World War II and logging more than 300 combat hours. Among his many decorations was the distinguished Flying Cross.
During the past few decades Link has become the largest individual benefactor of his home town. Giving millions of dollars to such charities and institutions as the YMCA, the Nevada Humane Society, St. Mary’s Hospital, the University of Nevada and a long list of others.
He can easily wear the title of “Reno’s Favorite Son.”
Back to the Turner Classic Movie Channel for another glimpse of the celebs that used to frequent the northern Nevada area. Last week the channel featured screening of the Technicolor epic, “A Thousand and One Nights,” which was made in the mid-’40s when the star Cornel Wilde was the top box office draw in Hollywood. In it the swashbuckling Wilde played the role of Aladdin and the film was a bit of a departure from the norm at that time in that it featured a comedic twist to the age old tale. Most of the comedy offerings fell to Wilde’s co-star Phil Silvers, one of the better stand-up comics of that era who later became most famous for the TV series “Sergeant Bilko.”
Wilde himself dove onto the scene locally a few years later in 1949 when he was a regular visitor to the Flying ME guest ranch, which was located off old 395 halfway through the Washoe Valley en route from Reno to Carson City. I recall one snowy winter eve, well after midnight, when most of the guests of Emmy Woods, the owner of the ranch, had departed a dinner party that was staged in honor of Wilde. Along with several other hangers on I observed Cornel as he burst through the front door, having spent some 12 hours on a slow trek from Lo Angeles through a blinding blizzard. Though exhausted, he was still a charming individual, possessed of a good sense of humor and the ability to speak seven languages fluently.
We learned that he had come to Hollywood at the behest of famed actor, Laurence Olivier. As the story went, Wilde was a pre-med student at Columbia University in New York. As an expert fencer, one day he got a call to give fencing lessons to Olivier who was starring on Broadway in “Romeo and Juliet.” Olivier, impressed with Wilde’s good looks, strong physique and ability as a swordsman, made a call to Tinseltown to arrange a screen test and the rest was history.
Much later on, in 1975, Wilde was a guest/player in the Clint Eastwood celebrity tennis tournament at Incline Village in Lake Tahoe. I reminded him of the earlier meeting we had almost three decades prior and he recalled every minute of the evening.
One of the rarest and more cultured of Hollywood leading men.
Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.