Archive for the ‘Sandra V. McGee’ Category

Cowboyin Years

The Cowboyin’ Years, 1947-1950
by William L. McGee
as told to Sandra V. McGee

Bill McGee recounts “three of the best years of my life” cowboyin’ at Yellowstone, Lake Tahoe, and on the legendary Nevada dude and divorce ranch, the Flying M.E. 154 photographs and illustrations


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 “NEVADA as a Place to Split is a Legend of our Time

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Marilu Norden in the 1950s (Photo courtesy Norden family)

Marilu Norden in the 1950s (Photo courtesy Norden family)

In May 2013, Bill McGee and I were interviewed by Theresa Iker for her Scripps College thesis about the Nevada divorce ranch era. (See my June 2013 post: “Fascination with the Reno divorce era continues”)

For her blog debut on Huffington Post, Ms. Iker writes about her interview with another Nevada divorce ranch era survivor, Marilu Norden…   Click the link to read the Huffington Post story… “Divorcing at Dude Ranches”


Sandra McGee with Mark P. Hall-Patton (left), Clark County Museums Administrator and a regular guest on the hit TV series “Pawn Stars”.

Las Vegas, Nevada, June 25-29, 2013 – Hundreds of the country’s top Western writers gathered in Las Vegas for the 60th Western Writers of America Convention.

Western novelists, historians, screenwriters, songwriters, and the agents and editors who represent them, enjoyed five days of Western camaraderie and networking. This year a much-debated topic was the recently released Johnny Depp movie, “The Lone Ranger”. WWA members are serious researchers and they know their history when it comes to the “old West”,  So there were lively debates about the movie and just who was the real Lone Ranger. You can follow the discussion on Western Writers of America’s facebook page.

A new book idea is explored with Lynn Bueling (left) and Sandra and Bill McGee.

A new book idea is explored with Lynn Bueling (left) and Sandra and Bill McGee.

The remarkable true story of how a small town in Nevada redefined divorce and marriage, and changed the role of women in American society.
“This documentary will not glorify divorce. It will examine the personal, political and historical aspects of Nevada’s divorce trade, and how changing the  divorce laws created a more equal society between men and women. It’s a great story about a chapter of American history few people know about today.”  —John Cork, Writer/Director/Producer
San Francisco Film Society, Fiscal Sponsor
KNPB (PBS) Reno, Sponsoring Broadcaster
Anticipated Completion 2014

Your tax-deductible contributions of any amount are welcome!


John Cork, Director/ Producer/ Writer, has directed over 300 documentary shorts and two feature-length documentaries for clients such as the James Bond film producers, MGM, Fox, and Sony. He is the screenwriter of the acclaimed civil rights drama, The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Academy Award-winning actresses Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg. Mr. Cork is president of Cloverland.

Lisa van Eyssen, Producer, has produced a wide-range of projects for The History Channel, AMC, BRAVO and HBO, as well as writing/producing biographies for A&E on Mary Tyler Moore, Paul Newman, Harrison Ford and Elizabeth Taylor. Lisa joined Cloverland in 2006 and has served as producer, writer and director on over 50 film projects.

Creative Consultants:
Bill McGee and Sandra McGee – Authors of The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler
Mella Rothwell Harmon – Nevada Historian and Author of “Divorce and Economic Opportunity in Reno, Nevada During the Great Depression”
Guy Louis Rocha –Nevada State Archivist (ret) and “2012 Distinguished Nevadan”
Deb Geraghty – Reno Events Coordinator

Today, no one needs to get away to get divorced; they just divorce. But “splitting blankets” was not always easy.

The creation of the “quickie” divorce.     In 1931, in the depth of the Great Depression, the Nevada legislature passed two bills: one for the legalization of gambling; the other for the six-week divorce. Both laws set Nevada apart from the rest of the Nation — morally and legally — and would color the popular image of the State for decades to come.

In most states at the time, divorce required a wait of a year or more and sometimes required proof of adultery.

In 1931, Nevada made it simple: six weeks’ residency anywhere in the state (reduced from three months residency); a short list of nine legal grounds that required little or no proof (the most popular was mental cruelty); and an average of six minutes in court before the judge to get the divorce decree.

When word got out about Nevada’s six-week divorce, the State’s divorce business exploded. Thousands of divorce seekers from all walks of life — socialites, working class, movie stars — came running to  Reno for a “quickie” divorce and soon Reno was known nationwide as the “Divorce Capital of the World”. (Las Vegas would not get in the act until 1939.)

Hotels, boardinghouses and dude ranches sprang up to accommodate the influx of six-week residents. Divorce seekers spent money on food, lodging, gambling, drinking, lawyers, Western wear and more. Some divorce seekers fell in love during their six weeks — some with the wide open spaces of the State, others with a local lady or gent they met. Many wealthy Easterners settled in Nevada after their divorce, bringing their wealth and culture with them.

Nevada’s migratory divorce business helped Nevada get through the Depression years.

Las Vegas gets in the act.   In 1939, Ria Langham Gable went to Las Vegas to divorce her movie star husband, Clark Gable.

Boulderado Ranch brochure, 1941.

Boulderado Ranch brochure cover, 1941.

At the time, Las Vegas was in need of a publicity angle to attract visitors and business. In 1936, the Hoover Dam workers had left the area and legalized gambling had not yet taken hold in the small town.  When Ria Langham Gable showed up in Las Vegas to get a divorce, her lawyer leaked the word to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and a plan was conceived.

John Cahlan, the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Florence Lee Jones, a reporter, and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce agreed to keep the Gable vs. Gable story out of the papers for six weeks. In exchange, Ria agreed to pose for photos that could be used for publicity after her divorce. Ria was photographed boating and fishing on Lake Mead, and dealing craps and blackjack at the casinos. She enjoyed the attention and the press quoted her as saying her six weeks had been “the finest and shortest vacation I ever had in my life”.

When Ria’s divorce was final, the Review-Journal released the big story to newspapers nationwide and Las Vegas got the publicity boost it was seeking. By the end of 1939, a record number of Las Vegas divorces were granted (738). Everyone, it seemed, wanted to get a divorce where the Gables had gotten theirs.

Soon, havens for divorce seekers sprang up. In July 1939, Edwin Losee opened the Boulderado Ranch, the first divorce ranch for Las Vegas divorce seekers. Located at what is today Losee Street and Carey Avenue in North Las Vegas, the Boulderado Ranch brochure offered “splendid accommodations for only an even dozen guests” for $35 per week, American plan, including the use of a saddle horse. (Today, all that remains of the original 400-acre ranch is an adobe structure, the oldest standing building in Las Vegas.)

In the late 1940s, Tule Springs Ranch opened for divorce seekers. Today, Tule Springs Ranch has a collection of 23 buildings, mostly built in the 1940s, and is undergoing historic preservation. (Both the Boulderado and Tule Springs ranches are on the National Register of Historic Places.)

Throughout the 1940s, Reno continued to retain its title as “Divorce Capital of the World”. However, in the 1950s, Las Vegas began to catch up, and by the 1960s, was granting half of Nevada’s divorces.

Preserving Nevada’s remarkable divorce history.    Today, the need to go to Nevada to get a divorce is no longer necessary. However, the remarkable story of Nevada’s divorce business and how it changed divorce in America is a part of history few know about today.

Authors Bill and Sandra McGee are passionate about preserving Nevada’s divorce history. From 1947-1950, Bill , a Montana cowboy, worked as the head dude wrangler on the Flying M E, an exclusive divorce ranch 20 miles south of Reno.

As Bill McGee likes to say, “I may be the only former Nevada dude wrangler — still above ground — who lived during the heyday of the Nevada six-week divorce.”

CoverThe Divorce Seekers-jpgIn 2004, Bill and Sandra co-authored  The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler. The coffee table book is a collection of Bill’s personal stories — laced with names like Gable, Gardner, du Pont and Astor – mixed with sidebars about Nevada’s migratory divorce business and other pertinent history. The book has 500 photographs (most from private collections) providing the reader with an up-close glimpse into life on a Nevada divorce ranch.

“The Divorce Seekers is the best and most complete book yet on Nevada’s famous divorce ranch business”.
–Nevada Historical Society

In another effort to preserve Nevada’s divorce history, Bill and Sandra McGee are currently consultants on RENO and The Romance of Divorce, an upcoming documentary that tells the remarkable true story of how Nevada redefined divorce in America. To view the documentary trailer, see the Category,  “Documentary Shorts & Interviews about the Reno Divorce Era”. 

Emmy-winning screenwriter Kirk Ellis (HBO's "John Adams") and Sandra McGee at Western Writers of America Convention, The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK, June 2009.

Emmy-winning screenwriter Kirk Ellis (HBO’s “John Adams”) and Sandra McGee at Western Writers of America Convention, The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK, June 2009.

More than 70 of America’s top Western writers will be signing their books on Friday, June 28, at Barnes & Noble in Henderson, Nevada.

The book signing is part of the 60th annual Western Writers of America Convention being held at Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, June 25-29, 2013. The signing is scheduled for 4-6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

A short talk by Mark P. Hall-Patton, Clark County Museum administrator and a regular guest on the hit TV series “Pawn Stars,” will kick-off the signing with a short address at 4 p.m.

“This is a rare opportunity to meet some of the best known writers of the old and contemporary West,” said Bob Wiseman, the Las Vegas author of the award-winning cookbook “Healthy Southwestern Cooking.”

Representing the contemporary 1940s West will be Bill and Sandra McGee, authors of The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler. Bill McGee worked as a dude wrangler in the late 1940s on the exclusive Flying M E divorce ranch 20 miles south of Reno. The coffee table book is a collection of Bill’s stories — laced with names like Gable, Gardner, du Pont and Astor — mixed with sidebars and mini-histories about the local sights, Nevada history and the migratory divorce business. Stories are illustrated with more than 500 photographs, most never-before-published and from private collections.

Passionate about preserving a part of Nevada history fewer and fewer people know about today, Bill and Sandra are currently consultants on an upcoming documentary, RENO and the Romance of Divorce“. (To view the trailer, see Blog Categories, “Video Clips about the Reno Divorce Era”.)

Other writers expected to take part in the signing include Thomas Cobb, author of “Crazy Heart”  which was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie starring Jeff Bridges, and Kirk Ellis, Emmy-winning screenwriter of  HBO’s “John Adams”.

The nonprofit Western Writers of America, which has approximately 600 members, was founded in 1953 to promote and recognize literature of the American West. The membership includes novelists, historians, essayists, journalists, songwriters, screenwriters, editors, agents, and others. Annual conventions are held each June in a different Western community.

Theresa Iker interviews authors Bill and Sandra McGee, June 2013.

Theresa Iker interviews authors Bill and Sandra McGee for a thesis on the Reno divorce industry. (June 2013)

Theresa Iker’s interest in the Reno divorce era started when she read a VOGUE Magazine story about getting a divorce at the Donner Trail Guest Ranch outside of Reno, Nevada (“On Her Own” by Lily Tuck, VOGUE, June 2012).  Like others of her generation, Theresa, a student at Scripps College in Southern California, was unfamiliar with this part of history and decided it would be a good subject for a thesis. What was different about getting a divorce back then? Why did women go to Reno for a divorce? Theresa applied for and received a fellowship to conduct a research study about individual experiences within the Reno divorce industry from 1915-1970.

There aren’t many individuals around today who experienced the Reno divorce era firsthand. However, Internet research led Theresa to Bill McGee and his book, The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler.

As Bill likes to say, “I may be the only former Nevada dude wrangler — still above ground — who lived through the era.”

Bill McGee worked as a dude wrangler from 1947-1950 on the legendary Flying M E divorce ranch 20 miles south of Reno. Bill and his co-author/wife, Sandra, compiled his memoirs along with other personal divorce ranch stories and produced what is today regarded as the only complete book on the Reno divorce ranch era.

We wish Theresa the very best in her work to preserve this part of Nevada history few people know about today!

–Bill and Sandra McGee

Sandra McGee, creative consultant and Reno divorce expert

October 2012 – The cameras rolled this month as producer/writer/director John Cork shot four interviews for his upcoming documentary RENO and The Romance of Divorce .

View the documentary trailer on this blog… See “Categories: Videos About the Reno Divorce Era”. 

Creative consultants on the project include authors Bill and Sandra McGee who co-authored the book, The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler.

From 1947 to 1950, Bill McGee was the head dude wrangler on the Flying M E, an exclusive divorce ranch 20 miles south of Reno.

Since meeting Bill 30 years ago, Sandra has become passionate about the Reno divorce era history and is regarded as an “expert” on the subject.

Other interviewees included a woman who stayed at the Flying M E for a divorce in 1948, and a young man whose grandmother got a divorce at the TH Ranch in Sutcliffe in 1938. The “TH” was Nevada’s first ranch to take in paying dudes and divorce seekers.

To get your glossy 4″x9″ bookmarks for RENO and The Romance of Divorce, send an email with your name and mailing address to Sandra at