"The divorce ranch culture seems now like part of a bygone era... Today, maybe no one needs to get away to get divorced, they just divorce. But Nevada as a place to split is a legend of our time.--Charles Champlin, former film critic Los Angeles Times
San Francisco, CA (PRWEB) July 22, 2010
Reno’s divorce boom started in the days of the Comstock when, in 1871, state courts established a six-month residency period and allowed divorces without proof of adultery. Three sensational divorce cases followed—those of Lord John Russell in 1899; Mrs. William Ellis Corey in 1906; and the noted Hollywood actress, Mary Pickford in 1920. These sensational cases, followed by others, put Reno on the map as catering to the wealthy and famous.
In 1931, in the teeth of the Depression, the Nevada legislature reduced the residency period for a divorce to six weeks. The floodgates opened and divorce seekers came running to Reno by the thousands. Reno became known as the “Divorce Capital of the World.” Publicity about the Reno divorce created its own jargon like taking the “Reno cure” and “getting Reno-vated.”
If you had the money and the need for privacy, a divorce ranch was where you wanted to stay. The divorce seeker’s attorney in the East would arrange for their client’s stay. In the 1940s, during the heyday of the six week divorce era, there were four leading divorce ranches: the Flying M E, Pyramid Lake Ranch, Donner Trail Ranch, and Washoe Pines (the latter best-known for its original resident, the cowboy artist/writer Will James and then later as the inspiration for Clare Boothe’s “The Women.”)
The Flying M E was considered the most exclusive of all the divorce ranches. Located 20 miles south of Reno, the Flying M E was run by Emily Pentz Wood, an Eastern blueblood herself, and catered to wealthy Easterners and Hollywood film stars seeking total privacy from the local stringers and celebrity photographers.
In town, the top hotels at the time were The Riverside and the Mapes. The Riverside was next door to the Washoe County Courthouse and divorce seekers would head for the Riverside’s Corner Bar to celebrate – or commiserate – after receiving their divorce decree. Some of the ladies tossed their wedding rings – or a fake one purchased at a dime store – into the Truckee River from the nearby “Bridge of Sighs”.
In the 1950s, Nevada’s divorce ranch culture began to fade away with the liberalization of divorce laws elsewhere. By the time Betty arrives in Reno, her choices will be the Donner Trail Ranch in Verdi, the Mapes and Riverside Hotels, and an assortment of less-expensive boarding houses. Since Henry -- Betty's next-intended husband-to-be -- works for then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Betty might stay at the Donner Trail where, in real life, Mary Rockefeller stayed in 1962 to divorce the Governor.
For more on Nevada’s divorce ranches and to view video clips about the era, visit BMCpublications and click on the book cover for “The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler” by William L. McGee and Sandra McGee. The book is illustrated with 500+ photos, most from private collections and never-before-published.
Publisher’s Special: Send a check for $25 (includes shipping) to BMC Publications, PO Box 1012, Tiburon, CA 94920, and receive a signed copy of “The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler”. This offer good through August 31, 2010 and is only available from the publisher.
“The Divorce Seekers” is also available from Amazon for $39.95 plus shipping.
To interview former 1940s Nevada divorce ranch wrangler, Bill McGee, email BMCpublications(at)aol(dot)com or call 415-435-1883.
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