Archive for the ‘Reno Divorce Era’ Category

Mapes Hotel vintage champagne glasses

Vintage champagne coupes from the Mapes estate 

Deb Geraghty and James Stavena gifted Bill and me with these vintage champagne coupes (saucers) from the hotel Mapes estate. 

The elegant Art Deco hotel was the place to go when Reno society and the divorce seeker colony wanted a night out for cocktails, dinner, dancing and a show. 

As Bill and I toasted each other, we wondered whose lips – famous and infamous – had sipped from these glasses back in the day. 

Bill was at the Mapes on opening night, December 17, 1947. Here’s his story…


“I was in my second month of working as the head dude wrangler on the Flying M.E. dude and divorce ranch, twenty miles south of Reno. 

The newly-completed hotel Mapes, overlooking the Truckee River, was twelve stories high, the tallest building in Nevada at the time. Until then, the El Cortez Hotel was the tallest at seven stories. The Mapes changed the Reno skyline. 

On opening night, December 17, 1947, Reno society and Hollywood celebrities turned out en masse.

Emmy Wood, the Flying M.E. proprietor, Allie Okie, the ranch hostess, and I escorted two carloads of ranch guests to opening night. Emmy took some of the guests up to the Sky Room on the top floor. Reservations were not taken for opening night, but Emmy, who was a legend in the Reno divorce ranch business, had pull and she and her guests were seated at a coveted window table. Emmy said the views through the large picture windows overlooking the lights of Reno and the surrounding foothills and mountains were magnificent. Joe Reichman, billed as “The Pagliacci of the Piano,” and his orchestra were playing and the dance floor was crowded. 

Allie and I stayed in the ground floor cocktail lounge and casino with the guests who preferred to drink and gamble. We spotted actors Bruce Cabot and Johnny Weismuller, and the boxer Maxie Rosenbloom. Johnny Weismuller was easy to spot with his longish and unmistakable physique. He had just begun his six-week residency at the Donner Trail Ranch in nearby Verdi to divorce San Francisco socialite Beryl Scott.  During the next six weeks, Weismuller spent so much time at the Mapes gambling, drinking and dining, a newspaper reporter dubbed him “Tarzan of the Mapes.” We got a kick out of that.”


Excerpted from The Divorce Seekers — A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler

Read more about the Mapes by historian Mella Harmon at

Click on the link to read…

“A Place to Split: Nevada as divorce capital is a legend of our time” by Sandra V. McGee, ROUNDUP (October 2018)


Roundup Magazine contributors to the October 2018 issue

Deb Caletti's new novel "The Secrets She Keeps", front cover


Deb Caletti, best selling author, sent Bill and me a copy of her new novel set on a Reno divorce ranch in 1951. The inscription read


“For Bill and Sandra, Divorce ranch royalty! With gratitude.”




Deb shares what it was like doing research for this novel: 

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Bill and Sandra McGee’s wonderful book The Divorce Seekers, which was an invaluable resource for information about the Nevada divorce ranches. . . . This book is a treasure if only for the photos alone—images of cowboys, the ranch, old Reno, and Moscow mule-sipping socialites in the midst of their six-week cure.

Bringing that time period to life was trickier than I’d anticipated because of exactly what I’d found so thrilling—how little there was out there about the divorce ranches. Luckily, I discovered The Divorce Seekers, a stunning coffee table volume of photos and memories by Bill McGee, a former dude wrangler at the famed Flying M. E. 

The images—with their smoky, black-and-white, retro allure—are what brought the time and place alive for me so that I could bring them [my characters] to life in the novel. Not only was the book an invaluable resource for information on day-to-day life on a divorce ranch, it also set the mood. I’d open the book to an image of two sleepy roommates in the middle of their Reno cure, wearing silky chemises, drinks in hand, or to a photo of one of the gals in her party-night finery, and I’d be just where I needed to be.” -Deb Caletti



When the curtain fell on the third season of Mad Men, Betty Draper was on her way to Reno to get a divorce.

This created some buzz about Reno’s six-week divorce era and inspired Priya Jain’s story for SLATE.COM (see link below).

After all, how many of today’s younger generation know about this slice of history in the American West that eventually empowered women in their marriages?

Click on the link to read…

“Betty Goes Reno: A visit to the glamorous divorce ranches of the Mad Men era” by Priya Jain (July 21, 2010)


Note: In 2014, Christopher Spata wrote a piece in the Tampa Tribune about the screenwriting and attention to historical accuracy in AMC’s highly-successful television series (“Mad Men respectful with details from the past”, Tampa Tribune, April 13, 2014). Unfortunately, this piece is no longer available to read on the Tampa Tribune’s site, but as an example of historical accuracy, Mr. Spata addresses Betty’s going to Reno and why it fit historically with the script. As part of his fact-checking, Mr. Spata contacted Bill McGee for a comment or two and included a nice plug for The Divorce Seekers in his story.

Related Post
Priya Jain and the Reno divorce era for BUST Magazine

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

Scripps student Theresa Iker interviews Bill and Sandra McGee for her thesis on the Reno divorce industry. June 2013

Scripps College student Theresa Iker first learned about the Reno divorce era from a story in Vogue magazine by novelist Lily Tuck about getting her divorce at the Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi, Nevada (See link below to read “On Her Own” by Lily Tuck, Vogue, June 2012).

Theresa was then a student at Scripps College in Southern California. Like others of her generation, she  was unfamiliar with Nevada’s six-week divorce era and thought it would be a good subject for a thesis. What was so different about getting a divorce back then? Why did women – and some men – want to go to Reno for a divorce?

Theresa applied for and received a fellowship to conduct a research study about people’s experiences with the Reno divorce industry from 1915 to 1970.

There aren’t many individuals around today who experienced the Reno divorce era firsthand. However, Internet research led Theresa to Bill McGee and our 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 Reno divorce era.”

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

Related post
“On Her Own” by Lily Tuck, Vogue, June 2012

Novelist Lily Tuck stayed on the Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi in 1970 to get a six-week Nevada divorce

She never expected to have a wonderful time.

The heydays of the Reno divorce ranch era had already faded out, and the Donner Trail was the last of the legendary half-dozen divorce ranches that had been scattered outside of Reno from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Click on the link below to read Lily Tuck’s story…

“On Her Own” by Lily Tuck, Vogue Magazine, June 2012 issue



Ed Pearce of KOLO-TV, Reno, interviews former 1940s Nevada dude wrangler Bill McGee on the site of the famous Flying M.E. divorce ranch, Washoe Valley, Nevada. November 2004.


This documentary short was produced by acclaimed documentary filmmakers John Cork and Lisa van Eyssen for Twentieth Century Fox. The exclusive featurette (as it’s called on the DVD) accompanies the re-release on DVD of the 1939 film Charlie Chan in Reno. Former 1940s Nevada divorce ranch wrangler and author Bill McGee provides on-camera commentary. Posted is a 2-minute clip from the 15 minute docu.

The Charlie Chan Collection, Volume 4, is a 4-DVD box set and includes Charlie Chan in Reno, plus three other Charlie Chan movies and many exclusive featurettes. Available from Amazon.

Take a listen to this interview on Nevada Public Radio’s KNPR in Las Vegas, March 1, 2011

Tales from Reno’s Divorce Ranches 

The interview includes commentary by the following Reno divorce era experts:

  • Author Bill McGee – former 1940s dude wrangler on Nevada’s Flying M.E. divorce ranch
  • Author Marilu Norden -divorce seeker at the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch in the 1950s
  • Beth Ward – former owner of the Whitney Guest Ranch in Reno
  • Mella Harmon – Reno divorce historian

Opening page of Priya Jain's Reno divorce story for Bust magazineBrava to Priya Jain on her compelling, six-page feature story in BUST MAGAZINE (December/January 2010)

Click on the link below to read the story…

“The Six-Week Cure: Remembering the era when Reno ‘divorce ranches’ helped unhappily married women start new livesby Priya Jain

More by Priya Jain


TRUE WEST Magazine, opening page of Sandra McGee's Reno divorce story, June 2010


Thank you to editor Meghan Saar for including my story in TRUE WEST Magazine (June 2010)

Click on the link below to ready the story…

“The Divorce Seekers – An old-time wrangler recalls Reno, the ‘city of broken vows’, through his days at the Flying M.E. ranch” by Sandra V. McGee


Carson City, Nevada, September 19, 2009 – Bill and I were among a host of Nevada authors invited to sign their books at the Carson City Library’s 11th Annual Oktoberfest.

That evening, we celebrated our 29th anniversary at our favorite Carson City restaurant, Adele’s. Bartender Mark always takes good care of his patrons.


Writer/wrangler Bill McGee talks about his book, The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler and his time from 1947 to 1949 working on the Flying M.E., the famous dude and divorce ranch twenty-one miles south of Reno that catered to wealthy Easterners, socialites, and Hollywood celebrities.

Interview at Western Writers of America Mega-Book Signing
June 19, 2009
The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
Oklahoma City, OK

Sandra McGee, co-author of The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, shares her thoughts on the Reno divorce era.

Interview at Western Writers of America Mega-Book Signing
June 19, 2009
The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
Oklahoma City, OK

As seen in PRECIOUS METAL, Magazine of Harrah’s National Automobile Museum (June 2005)

Click on the link below to read the story…

“The Cowboy’s Saddle” by William L. McGee 


As seen in PRECIOUS METAL, Magazine of Harrah’s National Automobile Museum (June 2005)

Click on the link below to read the story…

“Nevada As A Place To Split Is A Legend Of Our Time” by Sandra V. McGee