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Hang ‘em high and watch ‘em swing
by Andrew Barbano
May 22, 2010 | 1219 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By the time you read this, former Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Al Gunderson’s private memorial service will be over. If the crow flies right, the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise, I will have attended.

As I noted last week, having worked for Big Al on his election campaigns and several others provided me with insight that has informed this column since inception.

My baptism into the wacko world of Nevada follytix started in 1970 with Gunderson.

My boss, former Las Vegas Review-Journal editor and future North Las Vegas Valley Times publisher Bob Brown, came rushing into my office at the Vegas ad agency where I labored as boy wonder copywriter.

“Andy, Al Gunderson is due to tape a campaign commercial at Channel 3 and I can’t make it. You handle it.”

“I don’t know anything about his campaign,” I protested.

“Don’t worry about it. Just go hold his hand.”

In the sun-bleached foyer of what was then KORK TV, I met a rather square lawyer who didn’t seem quite comfortable in a suit, his beautiful wife and his campaign manager.

The floor was covered with photos they were reviewing for inclusion in a new spot. Gunderson started asking my opinion.

Me? What the hell did I know?

I made a few stumbling suggestions before we were called into the production studio. First order of business was previewing background music to go with a script voiced by muscle-throated Buzz Jones.

The preferred passage started with three gavel raps followed by something lugubriously somber. Perfect for a judgey spot. Gunderson and his campaign guy, Mike Nicosia, liked the track.

Always willing to stick my neck out, I noted that the opus seemed to fit, but something bothered me.

Just as we were finishing the commercial, the awful truth hit me like a cold shower on a hot day.

“My God,” I blurted, “that’s the theme to the movie ‘Hang ‘em High!’ ”

Too late.

That was only the beginning. Shortly thereafter, I had to make a run to the Las Vegas Sun and told that story to advertising director Bert Buy (his real name, perfect for an ad salesman).

The next day, I opened the paper only to suffer cold shower number two.

The lead item in heavyweight writer Paul Price’s front page column was about Gunderson’s curious taste in music.

It went something like this: “Our spies report that supreme court candidate Al Gunderson was looking for some profound music for a TV commercial. He finally settled on the perfect background, complete with a banging judge’s gavel. It was too perfect. Turned out Gunderson chose the theme from the Clint Eastwood film ‘Hang ‘em High.’ Oops.”

I started to feel very, very sick. I just knew that my fledgling career in the media business was about to come to an abrupt and untimely end, hung by my own big mouth. I hustled to the office and confessed.

“It’s okay, just learn from it and watch what you say,” the wise Mr. Brown stated in allowing a reprieve from the professional gallows.

I had to make a run to the Sun later that day and got in Mr. Buy’s face. How could he do such a thing?

Ole Bert looked at me like I was crazy.

“First of all, you never told me to keep it quiet. Second, it’s a great story. Third, do you know what the lead item in Paul Price’s column is worth? You couldn’t buy it for 600 bucks cash and I got it for your guy free.”


Thus ended my baptism into the real world of Nevada politics. Hang ‘em High became a standing joke between the judge and me for the rest of his life.

Movie Trivia, Part Deux.

The Industrial Workers of the World are showing two free films at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mountain Mike’s Pizza, 1601 Vassar St. across from KRNV TV-4 in Reno.

“DIRT! The Movie” is not about Nevada politics but environmental stuff. The second feature is “Viva La Causa,” the story of César Chávez and the great California grape boycott of the 1960s. Call 323-6060 for directions or to pre-order a pizza for your group.

All in Favor of Letting Bushyland Secede?

Hot on the heels of revelations of the racist leanings of Tea Party Senate nominee Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, this arrived from Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe: “Texas sets national standards for school textbooks. The state board of education is casting its vote on updated social studies and history textbooks, changing the record on slavery, celebrating the Confederacy, shedding a positive light on Jim Crow laws, downplaying the contributions of nonwhites and ignoring atrocities committed by groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Our children won’t learn that Texas seceded from the union to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Rewriting history in the name of national pride isn’t patriotic. It’s ignorant.”

By the time this column prints, it may be all over, but sign the Not in My State Pledge anyway at

If you think we live in the post civil rights era, wait ‘til I share some of my recent hate mail with you in a future column.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan, second vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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