Archive for the ‘Reno Divorce Era’ Category

Postcard of Flamingo Hotel and Bugsy Siegal

Dick Wolf preps American Babylon

Dick Wolf is prepping a new series, American Babylon, a period drama chronicling the story of the creation of Las Vegas. The series is inspired by the book, The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America by Sally Denton & Roger Morris. Mixing fictional characters and historical figures, the series explores the dreams, the power, corruption, and redemption of the “Miracle in the Desert”.

“I have always been fascinated by Las Vegas, a city that has the most colorful history of any in our country,” said Dick Wolf.

Drum roll, please

It’s been a few years since Bill and I collaborated on The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler. And I am still fascinated by the Reno divorce era and the romantic image of Eastern socialites mixing it up out West with cowboys.

The Divorce Seekers became the source book or “bible” (as it’s called) for an upclose glimpse into life on an exclusive Nevada divorce ranch  – the six-week residence of choice for wealthy Easterners and celebrities, who wanted to avoid the prying eyes of the press.

I am pleased to announce in May 2020, The Divorce Seekers was optioned by Emmy and Humanitas Award-winning writer/producer Judd Pillot for a broadcast, cable or streaming series. “Dick Wolf’s American Babylon bodes well for our project,” said Judd Pillot.

If I were in the studio or network casting department for this series, who would be my choice to play the Bill McGee character – the handsome and young dude wrangler on an exclusive Reno divorce ranch surrounded by all those wealthy and beautiful women? The late star of two-dozen-plus Westerns, Glenn Ford.

Please let me know your casting choice in the comments…

Best from Casa McGee,

Bill McGee and Flying M.E. guest taking a beer break on a trail ride, 1948 (Author Collection)


Don your Western wear and watch a classic Western movie

Owen Wister is said to have created the first romantic cowboy in 1902 with his best-selling novel The Virginian. The hero, known as “the Virginian”, was brave and honorable, tough but soft-spoken. The Virginian was portrayed on the big screen in 1929 by Gary Cooper, in 1946 by Joel McCrea, and from 1962 to 1971 by James Drury in a television series of the same name.

Back when: Bill McGee cowboyin’ on the Flying M.E. guest ranch, Franktown, Nevada, 1947-1949

Mapes Hotel vintage champagne glasses

Vintage champagne coupes from Mapes Hotel estate 

Our dear friends, Deb Wiger Geraghty and James Stavena, surprised Bill and me with these vintage champagne coupes (saucers) from the Mapes Hotel estate. Deb and James are Reno divorce era history buffs and always on the lookout for vintage items from Reno and Carson Valley antique shops.

It was easy to imagine the elegant Sky Room at the Mapes, where Reno society and the divorce seeker colony went for dinner, drinks, dancing and a show. 

As Bill and I toasted each other with these beautiful glasses, we wondered whose lips — famous and infamous — had sipped from these glasses back when.

Bill was at the Mapes on opening night, December 17, 1947



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

The newly-completed Mapes hotel, 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 Hotel 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.

Allie and I stayed in the cocktail lounge and casino with the guests who wanted to gamble. Emmy took the others up to the Sky Room on the top floor. Reservations were not taken for opening night, but Emmy, who was already a legend in the Reno divorce ranch business, had pull. She and her guests were immediately seated at a window table. Joe Reichman, billed as “The Pagliacci of the Piano,” and his orchestra were playing and the dance floor was crowded. Emmy said later the views through the large picture windows overlooking the lights of Reno and the surrounding foothills and mountains were magnificent.

In the ground floor casino, Allie and I spotted actors Bruce Cabot and Johnny Weismuller, the boxer Maxie Rosenbloom, and other familiar faces. Weismuller was easy to spot with his long hair, dark glasses 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, he spent so much time at the Mapes gambling, drinking and dining, a newspaper reporter dubbed him “Tarzan of the Mapes.” We all got a kick out of that.”


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

The Secrets She Keeps


Best-selling author Deb Caletti sent us a signed copy of her latest novel, The Secrets She Keeps. The inscription read:

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


The story is set in 1951 on a Nevada divorce ranch. Ms. Caletti, though too young to have lived through the Reno divorce era, shared what it was like doing research for her 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.”

A decade has passed since The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler was published in 2004, but the Reno divorce era and that unique Nevada institution — the divorce ranch — still continue to fascinate.

Brochure for the Boulderado Ranch, circa 1940s. (Courtesy Nevada Historical Society)

Brochure for the Boulderado Ranch, circa 1940s. (Courtesy Nevada Historical Society)

On Monday, April 20, 2015, Time Traveling premieres on the Travel Channel. 

The first episode in the new series features a visit to the sites of two former Las Vegas divorce ranches, Boulderado Ranch and Tule Springs Ranch. 

In spring 2014, Bill and I were contacted by the producers who were seeking information on Las Vegas divorce ranches of the 1940s and ’50s. Our book, The Divorce Seekers — A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, is set in Northern Nevada, specifically the Reno area, where Nevada’s divorce business began. However, we do write about how Las Vegas got into the act years after Reno, and sent the producers a copy of our book.

In April 2015, in an interview for the Las Vegas Sun, Brian Unger of the Travel Channel told Robin Leach, “a book fell into the hands of someone in the home office, and they thought this would be a great story.”

We’re betting that book was The Divorce Seekers. 

What did we think of the first episode? We have to say, it was a disappointment. To our surprise, Reno’s role in the history of Nevada’s unique divorce ranch business was omitted completely. In fact, the program claimed Las Vegas as the town where Nevada’s divorce ranch business began. Shame, shame.


Related Post 
“A Place to Split” by Sandra McGee




The glamorous divorce ranches of the Mad Men era

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

This created some buzz about Reno’s divorce era and what was it, and inspired Priya Jain’s story for

Click on the link below to read the story…

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

After all, how many of the today’s younger generation know about the famed Reno six-week divorce era and how it eventually empowered women to get out of a bad marriage?

In 2014, Christopher Spata wrote a great 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

Theresa Iker’s interest in the Reno divorce era was sparked when she read novelist Lily Tuck’s story in Vogue magazine about getting a divorce at the Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi, outside of Reno, 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

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.

However, as Ms. Tuck writes, she never expected to have such a wonderful time.

Click on the link below to read the 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.