Two Reno Divorce Era “Survivors” – Now and Then

Marilu Norden and Bill McGee are on a short list of Reno divorce era survivors.

In 1947, Montana cowboy Bill McGee (fresh out of the Navy) hired on the famous Flying M.E. dude ranch outside of Reno. For three years, he entertained East Coast socialites with names like Astor, du Pont, and Vanderbilt, and Hollywood celebs like Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, on trail rides and nights out at the saloons of Virginia City.

In 1951, the glamorous singer/dancer Marilu Norden registered at the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch even further outside of Reno, with her young son Phil, to wait out her six weeks for a divorce.

Though their paths did not cross back then, the two met up in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2012 (Photo: Chris Norden).

In honor of Marilu’s upcoming “forever 42” on July 28, I thought a tribute to Marilu and Bill – now both in their early nineties – was in order. They may be two of a dozen or so who lived through the glimmering days when Reno was the “Divorce Capital of the World” and have the stories to tell.

Marilu recounted her time at Pyramid Lake in her fictionalized memoir, UNBRIDLED: A TALE OF A DIVORCE RANCH. Bill combined history with memoir to tell his stories in THE DIVORCE SEEKERS: A PHOTO MEMOIR OF A NEVADA DUDE WRANGLER. Both books are available on Amazon.

Singer/dancer/showgirl Marilu Norden, 1950s


Flying M.E. dude wrangler Bill McGee, 1947

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