The Harolds Club contact lenses

ManoguePowersSensing that half of writing a decent column is 95 per cent graphics (thanks, Yogi) I set out to find a photograph of a person – preferably a drop-dead gorgeous cocktail waitress – wearing the Harolds Club contact lenses.

I failed. This just in: in the blue type I add my thanks to Steve Ellison, who in 2019 probably knows more about Harolds Club than anyone alive right up with Karalea Clough and the late Dwayne Kling — Steve occasionally hosts a video about the casino and has spoken of the club often around Reno. Therefore – please ignore all my banter relative to the photograph of the dancing girls wearing the contacts, or whatever I wrote – the picture Steve sent me is now posted! Facebook users, search Harolds Club Movie and learn more of the casino’s glory days. And thanks again, Steve!

contactskarl (1)In 1969 finding such a shot would be a piece of cake – they were all over the town and the Bay Area in print publications and billboards  –  pictures of attractive people wearing the things. I did, however, find a Harolds Club cocktail napkin, pictured somewhere on this site, which imparts the basic look of the lens – a decorative border around the outside of the lens, light in color to contrast with the darker cornea of the wearer. 

The lens campaign was the brainchild of Roy Powers, natch, the creative advertising genius that took over the account from adman Thomas C. Wilson, who dropped the apostrophe from Harold’s Club. Then Powers put Harolds Club on the map, and our little village of Reno along with it. I don’t know for sure, but would bet the ranch that Roy brought this stunt to fruition at the Riverside Hotel’s vaunted Corner Bar, in conversation with George Hamilton, dispensing optometrist extraordinaire who put glasses atop the snoots of everybody in Reno from his store next to the Crest Theater on Second Street.

As a side note, sort of: I got what George later told me were the first contact lensesin Reno, in 1955, when American Optical and Bausch & Lomb had a pilot program to put contact lenses into the orbs of we McGoos the world around. They sought out active, youthful and constructively blind youts like me, to be guinea pigs for these nascent devices (yout being a Joe Pesci term).

They covered the entirety of the eyeball and occasionally even stayed centered over the iris, and worked pretty well. The pain – more a mild itch – dissipated rapidly and I actually shed the Coke bottle frame-glasses that I was saddled with in the first grade. I could see!

Then George called my dad – would Karl like to try some “contact lenses?” Yup, I would. And I did. Then 13 years later, George called me again, direct. “How would you like a pair of free contacts?” Yup. (By then, the lenses were shrunk to the same size as the wearer’s corneas.) I presented myself to George and his team of Roy Lear and Frank Higdon, and a week later had the Harolds Club lenses.

They came in two flavors – both with the broken ring aroud their rims, but some Logowith and some without the Harolds Club “H” in the center. I got the ones with the “H” but soon after, as did most others, traded them in for free on the sans-“H” model. The letter over the iris didn’t really restrict vision, but it sure made life annoying.

I – although not as pretty as the airline stewardesses and cocktail waitresses modeling them in the casino’s advertising – wore them with great style and élan for a couple of years until the program petered out and my H contacts went the way of all contacts – scratched, dinged up, lost down the washbasin drain… I replaced them with normal lenses, but still occasionally miss the extra effort that some people took to try to figure out what in the hell I had in my eyes!

George Hamilton, Roy Lear, Roy Powers, Frank Higdon and  George Magee Sr., the doctor who prescribed glasses for everyone in Reno that didn’t get their refractions from Dr. Sam Clarke – all became part of the fabric of mid-century Reno. Hamilton was also a pillar of the local Lions Club and the club’s vision program, and put glasses on every kid in Reno who needed them, whether able to pay for them or not. Lear and  Higdon opened Lear-Higdon Opticians on Wells Avenue and remained active for many years. George Magee, and his son George Jr., did most of the local optical refractions and George Jr.’s daughter Catherine now heads the Nevada Historical Society.

Then there’s Roy Powers – not ‘nuff can be said for or about Roy – he PR’ed Harolds Club to national note. He was one of the fathers of air racing with Bill Stead, George Vucanovich, Stan Brown and a few others. And his soft paintings of some buildings around our valley are highly desired and collectible – his painting of the original Manogue I attached above as a sample – his widow Jackie Manoukian Powers has always been most gracious in allowing me to use them in columns.

And Roy gave us the Harolds Club contact lens program – a stroke of genius!

color painting of Bishop Manogue High School artwork © Powers family

ladies wearing contact lenses © Steve Ellison





July 5 – A Kodak moment

The July Artown 31 posts-in-31 days challenge continues;  the following was inspired by a tangential reference to “film” a few days ago. By the end of 31-in-31, God only knows what you’ll see here as I struggle for inspiration!

A trip back to the home my family moved into in 1955  – affectionately known as the “Puzzle Palace” – always held a fascination for me. I usually threw in a piece of raw meat to ascertain the mood of those who dwelt after I left it in 1961, and by 1971 my mother was the last to occupy it.


On a pleasant summer Sunday afternoon in 2004 I visited the home and was engaged in hand-watering a piece of lawn that defied the home’s sprinkler system. I was reclining in a folding chair that either I had stolen from the Reno Air Races or donated to them – I was never sure – downing a bottle of Mickey’s Hard Cider and quite content to just watch he world pass by. Life was good.

A nice-looking car drove up, then stopped. Two young well-dressed gents got out; one with his camera started taking pictures, the other approached me. “We need your house,” he proclaimed. “You’ve got it,” I  responded. “The old lady in the master bedroom goes with it.”

“No, no, no,” he countered. “We’re with Hot August Nights’ publicity firm, and this house is configured just the way they want it.” He described what they had been driving around, seeking: They wanted a south-facing white or light-colored house with a generous two-car driveway and windows on a second floor above the garage. The Puzzle Palace had all these attributes.

The scenario for the forthcoming 2005 poster was that the young chick/daughter of the home’s owners, had been forbidden to see a certain rowdy dude with a hopped-up jalopy. But, as lovebirds will do, he and she elected to violate this edict and by prearrangement, he would show up with a ladder and she would exit a bedroom window to join her swain. At sunset. Risky Business, it was to be called. Made sense to me.

“We will need the total run of your house and yard from about 3 o’clock to 10 o’clock at night, to prep the house and driveway then restore it to the way it was before we get here.”  So, deal was done. “A contract will come to you with releases for our crew and…….blah blah blah.” “Just tell me the date,” I asked. They said that the graphic director would have to compute the optimum time of sunset, and then they’d let me know. Made sense to me, said I.

Compute the optimum time of sunset? I thought that they were turning fun into hard work, computing the right time of sunset for a snapshot. I had no idea…

So, back into their car they went, and back to my watering went I. Thinking that I probably should tell the old lady in the master bedroom. Naahhh, not yet, I decided, and popped another Mickey’s.


The contract and the agreement arrived to turn the Puzzle Palace over from the old lady in the master bedroom to the Hot August Nights publicity firm. I executed it on the “owner” line and put it back into the mail – no sense having to explain anything. Yet. The day for the shoot – weather permitting – as I recall was near June 21, longest day of the year.

As the owner I felt an obligation to make the parties comfortable. A trip to Raley’s resulted in a supply of soft drinks and beer with few bags of chips. I dragged an extension cord out of the garage for power. The hose reel was close by. I hid my purloined, or donated, Air Race lounge chair. I was ready.

Three o’clock came and went. Maybe I got the wrong day. Or they did. The first sign of life came when the catering truck – Pinocchio’s or Nothin’ To It – I forget which – rounded the corner. A catering truck? Yup. I offered them the extension cord. They had their own generator.. In the ensuing six hours, they’d  make sandwiches and nosh for the cast of thousands apparently headed this way. And mixed drinks. So much for my trip to Raley’s!

The neighbors started to appear, two-by-two. A crew appeared in a pair of vans – some began hosing down the driveway, others went in the house, taking screens off windows, tying back drapes and placing light fixtures that they’d brought. Another truck appeared, towing a small trailer. Within the trailer, a generator. So much for my extension cord.

More neighbors showed up – the number grew to maybe 40, eventually 100 or so – all were offered a sandwich or a drink. A police car drove up – I thought this ought to be good…the cop got out and said, “Just came by to see the photoshoot – we heard it was this afternoon…what time do you need to close the street?” “Have a sandwich,” I said.

An hour later, the street all but blocked by vans, food trucks, theatrical lamps on dollies that would later allow the home to show even although it was to be dark outside, the generator trailer with cords snaking all over the vista, came the stars of the show: the rods. A candy-apple orange ’32 Ford two-door sedan, and a ’57 Chevy ragtop.

And the personalities on the double date arrived: one guy who would sit in the sedan, rolling a joint or whatever, awaiting the others; a young couple, he to climb the ladder and help his breathless date with her poodle skirt climb out my old bedroom window, while the dude in the sedan’s date, a young lady of extreme beauty with bodacious ta-tas would hold the ladder for the escaping couple. And all dressed right out of Reno High School authentic 1959 Under-the-Dome garb, one dude with a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in his sleeve. I think the Luckies went bye-bye in the name of political correctness. They all arrived in one car and posed with the neighbors for photos.

I peered around at this specter. Yike’s…what have I enabled????

Various camera positions were tried, and the orange sedan was relocated several times until all was just right. The camera was a large-format industrial film camera, with a digital camera mounted to it to capture the same image as the main unit for use in aiming the units. Many of the strobe lights in place – those in the sedan – were slaved to the camera.

The old lady in the master bedroom asked, “What’s going on in the yard?” “Oh, a few people taking pictures of the house, Mom.” No sense going in to a lot of detail.

The hour for the photo was drawing nigh. There was really no need for the Bel Air Chevy in the poster, but it was parked in the driveway where the signature “V” on its trunk could be seen. Lights were placed in the orange sedan, and beneath it on the chassis, to fill in the shadows. Large silver umbrellas were placed to bounce light onto all in the scene, and the generators cranked up and the floodlights came on, to wash the house in a dim light. Note that the photo was taken with a tiny amount of daylight still visible through the tree brances above the car…


The poster appears again here for the convenience of deciphering what I’m attempting to convey in the text       

One on-the-scene, seat-of-the-pants decision was made, occasioned by the home’s window fenestration behind the Ford, which is actually the dining room of the home. There was a dark void above the trunk of the Chevy, so a lamp was placed to illuminate it. It still appeared awkward, so a neighbor lad was seized and placed in the window, portraying a little brother, holding his hand over his mouth in awe of his big sister’s tawdry behavior!

The field review of the shots, made by the inspection of the digital twins to the actual film captures, revealed that there were sufficient shots to work with in the darkroom and computer, to make into a poster for the HAN event the next year. And so, the task of restoring the Puzzle Palace to a residence and not a movie set, began. Piece-by-piece, item-by-item, window screen-by-screen, peace once again reigned over the manse. Sort of.

The vans, food trucks, generator trailers, the police car and others left one-by-one (did I mention that good ol’ Engine 5 from the Mayberry firehouse dropped by?); the ’57 Chevy and the ‘34 Ford rods cruised off and the two young couples went up Windy Hill to neck for a while then off to the Mapes Coffee Shop for a sundae.

And in time I got a handful of posters in the mail. I framed one, and showed it to the old lady in the master bedroom. “Why, that’s your old room,” she remarked. “And who’s that climbing out your window? And who owns that orange jalopy in our driveway? When was this? What kind of people are you bringing over here, anyway?”

As I wrote, peace reigned again at the Puzzle Palace, sort of …

text © Karl Breckenridge … poster art © Hot August Nights

A Fourth of July with President Reagan

During this Artown month, we turn the clock back to 1982, in the early days of July.  We planned to travel to Palmdale, California. The high point of a normal Palmdale weekend would usually be the bookmobile arriving from Los Angeles, or tickets to the matinee performance at Western Auto, but on that weekend the space shuttle Columbia, on its fourth mission STS-4, was arriving on Sunday, July 4th, astronauts Ken Mattingly and Henry Hartsfield at the conn.

            747 shuutle

          With that in mind, I went to Senator Howard Cannon’s office then on Booth Street and wrangled a VIP invitation to Edwards Air Force Base, where the shuttle was landing. No problem, I was a good Nevadan. We journeyed to Palmdale on July the second, and on the third, a Saturday, we went to the large NASA hospitality building in Lancaster – adjoining Palmdale as Sparks adjoins Reno. To give credit where due, the name “Cannon” rocked the staff due to his advocacy of the Senate aerospace and defense committees, and the kids were treated like kings – tours of past Gemini capsules, “rides” on moon landers, and other courtesies – and we left with four human passes, one for my Suburban’s windshield and some cool NASA baseball caps like the big guys wear. We were advised the landing had been delayed until 9:02 AM that Sunday (tomorrow) morning, from 8:53 AM, so we changed our plans accordingly.

            The view of the Mojave Valley foothills that Saturday night was breathtaking – the firelight of Coleman lanterns and campfires ringing the valley – Caltrans estimated that a million people had camped in the surrounding hills to watch what was planned to be the last west coast space shuttle landing, ever. At oh-dark-thirty on Sunday the Fourth of July we left for Edwards AFB, and upon entering the base, the Suburban was checked from cellar to attic, and beneath with mirrors – for at 9 o’clock the night before it was announced that President Ronald Reagan was coming to witness the shuttle landing. We walked interminably across a parking lot, and I have a photo to this day of a large – make that huge – Rosey Grier look-alike Secret Service agent, who met all at the gate with “Take my picture!” then smiled a display of Ipana-ad white teeth – the purpose to make sure all cameras were indeed cameras and not guns or bombs or whatever.  Nice guy.NASA_T38

            At thirty minutes before 9 AM three tall young pilots, ramrod-stiff, flat-bellied in their powder blue NASA flight suits, arrived at their parked blue-and-white T-38 jet chase planes; the assembled ladies en mass all went ga-ga, the pilots kicked the tires and lit the fires, taxied out, rolled, and climbed out like a trio of homesick angels to points unknown. A moment later, the baseball-stadium-sized Diamondvision TV screens came to life, and the PA system carried the voice from NASA Houston, who was controlling the shuttle’s landing. The shuttle was then over the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, the chase planes transmitting images of it. “You are angels one-oh-two, four miles downcourse” – basically 102,000 feet straight up from Edwards. “Valve off your hydrazine,” and the shuttle complied with a vapor trail; the chase planes laid orange day smoke – all four aircraft now in full view from Southern California.

            “We’re coming down,” announced Hartsfield laconically, and did they ever – straight down, 40,000 people on the Edwards tarmac puckered, expecting the craft to bury itself in the desert. At the last moment, it leveled, its gear fell, the tail split into a brake, and the three T-38s strained to stay above it, using their dive boards, landing gear and full flaps to slow down.  The shuttle rolled to a stop. 9:02 AM. How did they know that a whole day earlier? (And I know,  most T-38s don’t have dive brakes. These were NASA birds, not your grandfather’s T-38s…)    

            Ronald Reagan, in the same western-cut informal duds he’d wear on his ranch on a Sunday morning, and his Nancy approached the podium and made a few remarks. He then cleared the NASA transporter for takeoff, a modified 747 with the shuttle Challenger recently completed at Palmdale’s Plant 41 mounted atop it, to fly the new shuttle to Florida. The 747 rolled, rotated, then lifted gently off the desert floor. I watched it – but it never climbed out – just flew across the desert. Curious…

            A few minutes later, joined by the crew of the Columbia that had just landed, Reagan made a few more remarks. Then, turning to the audience, he concluded his speech with that great Reagan smile and “Nancy and I want to thank you all for coming out in this hot sun, and we want you to go home now and have one Hell of a Fourth of Jul….”

            The 40,000 people, and millions at home watching TV, never heard the “y” in “July”, only the deafening whine of the transporter’s four massive engines and the roar of the three T-38s, all four planes in a tight formation, coming up from behind the audience treetop-high at over 250 knots and pulling with MEDO power.  They all dropped their right wings in unison to the American flag behind the podium, just as the Marine band from NAS Miramar cued the Stars and Stripes Forever – John Phillip Sousa never heard it played any better.  The planes leveled their wings then climbed rapidly over Reagan’s shoulder as we viewed him, holding their formation in a left departure into the haze.

Our Fourth of July weekend had begun; the Challenger was away on its first trip to Cape Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, in his western White House Levis and a goat-roper shirt on that hot Sunday morning, had shown us the nexus of presidency and showmanship in its highest form. Dry eyes among 40,000 people: zero. Photos of the flyover by the surprised crowd: zero. Offers to re-enlist into the services: 14,307. Pride in the US of A: Priceless.

  • • •

Thanks for that morning, Dutch, and God bless America on her 243rd birthday. And a happy and safe holiday to all on this 2019 July 4th!

© Karl Breckenridge  … photo credit NASA


July 3 – The Beret

Artown continues: This piece appeared in the 1931 Reno High School yearbook, the ReWaNe RHS2009(REno/WAshoe/NEvada).  No attribution given to the student author, who might have penned it on a solitary night at the Santa Fe Hotel.  Some reader might claim it as their work – they’d be 100 years old now. The text begins:

“Introduced into this country about five years ago, the beret has become the sensation of the hour and the inveterate choice of the hoi polloi.  Tennis players have affected berets ever since Jean Boratra, better known as the “Bounding Basque,” made such an outstanding success with his pancake-shaped top-piece. Golfers took it up close on the heels of the tennis fans. And nine-nine and forty-four hundredths per cent of the miniature golfers – or should I say tiddely-winks experts – have adopted the beret as their badge.

BasqueBeret            “There is something uplifting and comforting about the fit of a felt beret on the old cranium. No matter how old or how battered it is, you feel qualified to strut with the best of the crowd when you wear it.  It gives an inexplicable feeling of confidence and self-esteem, which is puzzling, since there are so many other numbskulls wearing “critters” who must be in about the same mental frame.

            “A beret is one of the least distinguished pieces of head-gear ever created. Designed originally for sports, it goes to school, to five o’clock tea, to prize fights, to dances, to weddings and funerals, and even to church.  Every stenographer boasts of a half-dozen in her wardrobe; the screen stars have a beret for e very costume – everyone from the gray-haired dowager to the year-old tot sports one.

            “There are as many ways of wearing a beret as there are of tying knots n a piece of string.  Straight up from the eyebrows, it resembles a French chef’s cap, from which it may have been derived. Placed squarely on a mop of shoulder-length hair, it brings visions of the inverted-bowl and pruning shears haircut popular in our youth, before we were old enough to object.  Placed on the back of the head with hair bushing out at front and sides, a clever impersonation of an Airedale dog is achieved. Worn forward over one or both eyes, it gives that natty, natural aspect, ad infinitum.

            “As to there being anything sissyish in a man’s wearing a beret, we would advise you to say nothing about it if you think so. People have been run out of town for less, and besides, we know a football player who wears one.

            “The beret is ideal for yachting and speeding in a roadster. It sticks like a MilitaryBeretleech in the teeth of the strongest gale. It is the mainstay of the rumble seat rider as well as his protection from the elements. There doubtless would be many more bald pates in this country if the beret had not happened along, just in time to offset the evil effects of hatless rumble seat riding. In B. B. (Before Berets), if a man rode hatless in a rumble seat he was certain of losing at least half his hair combing knows out of it afterwards. Now he doesn’t even lose his dandruff.

            “White berets are considered conspicuous until they have acquired a generous coat of grime. From then on, the object seems to be to get an agent-in-the-dirt effect punctuated by swipes of lipstick and chocolate, with an occasional gleaming white place in a fold. Other colors, particularly tans, are considered bourgeois. Trying to age a tan beret is like trying to sunburn an Australian bushman.

            “Only initiates wash berets; the dirtier they are, the better they feel.  Seasoned veteran say that to wash a beret is net to the sin of washing a sweatshirt, which, according to old theater tradition, brings bad luck to the wearer.”

2001 copyright by somebody, God knows who…



July 2 – a Mackay and a murder with a shake, and who is “Delongchant”?

JohnnyFeverThe Artown challenge continues! If you’ll bookmark this URL I won’t have to post it all month..

I have it on fairly solid authority that the John Mackay statue was originally destined for the Statuary Hall of the State Capitol Building in Carson City. Upon arriving with the statue aboard a V&T train, its creator, Gutzon Borglum, was informed A) that there was no statuary hall in the building, and B) that if there were, it still would not stand there because the State as a whole was still not enamored with Mackay, Fair, Flood, O’Brien nor their ilk for the waste they had laid upon the Comstock while lining the streets of San Francisco with gold. Say goodnight, John.


Following some frenzied cabling back-and-forth between Carson City and New York City, and conversation with the officials at the fledgling Nevada State University, it was decided that the statue would be placed at the north end of the Thomas Jefferson-designed Quadrangle.

The donor of the statue, John Mackay’s son Clarence, subsequently came to Reno to view the statue and was displeased that its background was a ramshackle corrugated tin shed. Clarence then endowed the Mackay School of Mines structure in its place, and commissioned the famed New York City architect Stanford White to design it.

That was supposedly 1906. Several other events happened that year: Stanford White was caught in flagrante delicto on the roof of a building that he had earlier designed, Madison Square Garden. He was caught in the act of, er, winding the clock of Evelyn Nesbit, the toast of Broadway celebrity style and élan, by her husband Harry Thaw, described by most as not a well man upstairs, that being charitable.

So – Stanford White met his maker, after accepting the contract to design a building for the Mackay family, and sending off his design for another building he’d designed as its basis, which I think was a Carnegie Library in Framingham, Massachusetts. I think. That design was sent to architects Faville & Bliss, prominent in San Francisco (and yes, principal partner Walter Bliss was from the Lake Tahoe Bliss family). The firm had designed quite a few buildings in San Francisco, and later some buildings for the University of Nevada.

It gets better: On April 18th 1906, an earthquake of epic proportions reduced that city – and many Faville & Bliss buildings including Charles Crocker’s St. Francis Hotel – to charred rubble. The firm had more to contend with than a tiny university’s building in Reno.

Here, I prove the theory that one finds more when he’s looking for something else, than the original quarry of the research: Once while seeking out a fact for a story about San Francisco in the SF Fire Department’s excellent museum/library, I inadvertently saw a listing for “Faville & Bliss, Architects” in an old Polk’s City Directory, c. 1905. Down the hall in the same building, on Franklin Street, as I recall:

“Frederick Delongchant, Architect”

Delongchant was Delongchamps’ original surname. It challenges reality to think that Faville & Bliss, with a good percentage of their architectural works in San Francisco in ruins (and at the University of California in Berkeley, I might add; the East Bay caught it also), and, a young architect who graduated from the Nevada State University two years before, right down the hall, and sensing that they needed one more infinitesimal job 200 miles away like Custer needed Indians, didn’t take White’s rolls of plans to Delongchant and say, “Good luck!”

I don’t know that for a fact. Some of what I write is incontrovertible fact – White was a goner, we know that; Delongchant graduated from the School of Mines, not yet the Mackay School of Mines. The earthquake. The years fit: Mackay graduated in 1904; the earthquake and White’s demise were 1906, the statue and the building were dedicated on Mackay Day 1908, but could have been there a year or two longer.

And why did this assortment of stuffy University mavens bristle when I speculated at that meeting that Delongchant/Delongchamps was the horse behind the Mackay School of Mines’ design? EVERYONE wants a Delongchamps work. Unless they have to surrender a Stanford White design to get it – Delongchamps was  prolific and a hot item locally, but far short of a Morgan, Williams or a Lloyd Wright. A White design on one’s campus ranked it up with a modern Piano, Saarinen, I.M. Pei or Gehry design.

I could hear them cackle: “This upstart columnist says the Nevada campus lacks a Stanford White design…” Not what I said, Dearies:, what I inferred was that Frederick Delongchamps influenced the Mackay School of Mines building…

This story is offered with the reminder that no less than Mark Twain borrowed from me his credo, “Never let the facts interfere with a good story…” Much of it was told me by an elderly lady with an indelible memory, whose father had had an integral relationship with both the early University of Nevada and with the Mackay family. But – take it with a grain of salt, and enjoy the totality, if not the yarn’s most-minute details. And if you want to dispute it, bring some facts, not the thin air that a university professor hung his hat on a decade ago!

© Karl Breckenridge 2019



July 1 – of restaurant photographers…

kb_thingIt’s July; Artown commenced several hours ago as I scribe this inaugural offering of a story that I thought I wrote a while back but as usual can’t find in my laptop. So I’ll type what I recall:

The tale concerns the photographers who once worked the finer dinner houses in Reno – Don Dondero, Gitta, Gene Christiansen to name the most ubiquitous, working nightly at Eugene’s, Vario’s, the Sword Room, Harrah’s Steak House, the Mapes’ Coach Room and other venues where the valley’s finest would don their finery, make a reservation, put on a necktie or nylons – hopefully not both – and join one or two other couples for a planned meal, often to celebrate an engagement or the resulting marriage, an anniversary, a dissolution of another marriage or some other life-changing amendment to their lives. Or in some cases they were just hungry.

SinatraIISo off they would go to the above-mentioned venues – one reader once asked about the Sparks Nugget’s various high-end restaurants’ photography, and I think I recall that John got annoyed with the photographers and gave them all the Basque boot. I’ll probably hear about that, hopefully from John. The swells would arrive and the squirts like me, Lynn Gerow Jr., Don Richter, Dave Blakely,  Ingo Nikoley and other such minions would park their automobiles, and in the case of Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg arriving at Eugene’s with their god-dam slobbering St. Bernard named T-Bone Towser, I or II, park him also. Then, all would go within and be seated.

Enter now, the aforementioned photographers. For two to five bucks, they would take a photograph of the diners, at their tables. The cost was added – usually – onto their dinner bills. Now it gets interesting:

The photographers – while the diners were enjoying their meals – would drive like bats out of hell to their darkrooms – usually downtown. A footnote to the reader: This was the 1950s era, boys and girls; and continued for about 25 years following that period of time. Therefore, their cameras used film – which some of you may remember – not digital. (Film is still around, I should point out; my childhood home, the Puzzle Palace, formed the backdrop for the 2005 Hot August Nights poster, and the image was shot on, a drum roll please: Film). The saga of that photoshoot might be desirable for this 31 columns-in-31 days task I’ve bitten off.

So, into the darkrooms the photographers disappeared. They were good. In almost no time at all, they could print and dry a 5×7 inch, or 8×10 inch for the bigger spenders, image and mount it into a cardboard frame with the restaurant’s name printed on it. Many of such are still around.

Back they’d go to the restaurant while the diners at the target tables were finishing off their dessert. The photographs, plural because a table of four couples might have ordered a photo for each couple (one more thing for the photographers to keep track of!), and then been delivered with the bill to each table.

An incredible amount of work, to be sure, six nights a week for most restaurants – most closed Monday nights in that period of time.


This account of the photographers’ task so far omitted one element vital to the job: Imaging the patrons at the table who asked for a photo, while omitting from the photo the guy up from Sacramento seated at an adjoining table having a repast with the airline pilot’s wife while the pilot was enroute to Hong Kong. This period of history and dining out still embraced a certain presumption of privacy, and the images captured thus included those choosing to be included, to the exclusion of the Lothario from Sacramento and his companion.

This was done in the darkroom by the photographer employing a spoon-like wand, holding it over those not included in the photo to darken their image, so that there’s a pleasant “halo” of light around the target table, but no discernible image of the others.

All that said, one night it didn’t happen that way. Reno photo icon Don Dondero, early in the maturation of dining room photography, 1951 it was, snapped a shot for AP in the Riverside Hotel’s nameless dinner house. The picture was seen worldwide and by this scribe a dozen times in a dozen different publications. Then on my 13th viewing, I looked at it.

Well, sumbich, I thought with a chuckle.

Over Ol’ Blue Eyes’ right shoulder, in the table behind him, was a guy I knew. A good-lookin’ man, unmistakable. He set and casted my left wrist from an ice-skating crash at Lake Park in 1950; he cared for my entire family for years and I think even delivered my brother into the world (a doctor, by the way, delivers the mother, grammatically, when a child is born but I quit beating that drum in the 1980s in print. Kind of like a high school graduates a student, the student doesn’t graduate, but all that’s for another column).

Don had snapped Frank and Ava,  and the world saw them dining right here in Reno, Nevada, but the world also saw Dr. Wesley W. Hall, practitioner extraordinaire, and probably his bride E’lise less prominent to Don’s camera. And their image was never dodged out of the AP photo. Yes, they’re the dad and mom of the vascular surgeon in Reno, Wes Jr., and the grands of the plastic surgeon, Wes III.

What’s it all mean? Who knows – I’m a drive-by columnist with a deadline. But I gotta tell all – I laughed like hell when I realized a favorite Reno family doc had snuck into the world’s spotlight, but no one ever knew it.

See ya tomorrow….

Sinatra/Gardner photo © AP