THE DIVORCE SEEKERS
A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler
by William L. McGee and Sandra V. McGee
Foreword by William W. Bliss
BMC Publications, 2004
444 pp, 502 B/W photographs (many never before published), plus maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index.
Hardcover 8.5” x 11”, $49.95.
Available on Amazon
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the 1930s to 1960s, if you wanted a quick, simple exit from marriage, Reno, Nevada was the place to go. Divorce seekers by the thousands—Eastern socialites, movie stars and housewives—came running to Reno to seek a six-week divorce. Reno was known worldwide as the “Divorce Capital of the World” … and “I’m going to Reno!” became synonymous with “quickie divorce” and “the cure”.
Author Bill McGee experienced this epic era of the contemporary American West firsthand. In 1947, McGee was hired for the coveted job of head dude wrangler on the Flying M.E., twenty-one miles south of Reno in Washoe Valley. The “M.E.” was regarded as the most exclusive of Nevada’s divorce ranches (as they were called) and catered to wealthy Easterners, socialites, and the occasional Hollywood celebrity, most seeking a six-week divorce. References were required.
McGee’s collection of stories—laced with names like Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, a Roosevelt, du Pont and Astor—are mixed with sidebars about the Reno divorce era, the local sights and watering holes, the business of divorce in Nevada, and more.
THE BOOK IS WELL-ORGANIZED IN FOUR PARTS
Part I, Cowboyin’ Memoirs – Bill McGee’s years in the 1930s and postwar ’40s cowboying in the West in Montana, Yellowstone National Park, and at Lake Tahoe.
Part II, The Famous Flying M.E. and the Changing Cast of Characters – A profile of the fascinating guests and how they spent their six weeks on the Flying M.E.
Part III, Gettin’ Untied – The serious business of getting a divorce in Nevada.
Part IV, Other Leading Nevada Dude-Divorce Ranches, Circa 1930-1960 – Profiles of the TH Ranch in Sutcliffe (Nevada’s first ranch to take in paying dudes in the late 1920s), and the Pyramid Lake, Washoe Pines, and Donner Trail guest ranches that catered to divorce seekers in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s … the heyday of the Reno divorce era.
“At the age of 22 and surrounded by all those women on the ranch, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Today I may be the only former Nevada dude ranch wrangler ‘still above ground’ who lived through the Reno divorce era and can tell the stories.”
—William L. McGee
(Photo: Bill McGee on the Flying M.E., 1947. Author’s Collection)
The Flying M.E., Washoe Valley, Nev., circa 1947. Photo Gus Bundy Collection
“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 my characters to life in my novel … This book is a treasure if only for the photos alone.”
—Deb Caletti, bestselling author of The Secrets She Keeps
“Former dude ranch wrangler Bill McGee may have written the ultimate Western kiss-and-tell … A firsthand account of the epic era of the Reno six-week divorce.“
—Cowboys & Indians Magazine
“Best book yet about Nevada’s famous dude-divorce ranch business.”
—Eric Moody, Curator of Manuscripts, Nevada Historical Society, Reno
MORE EDITORIAL REVIEWS
COWBOYS & INDIANS Magazine, April 2005
Divorce Western-Style. One thing we can always be sure of, the West is full of fascinating, little nugget-like niches and unusual stories. Given that, former dude ranch wrangler Bill McGee may have written the ultimate Western kiss-and-tell book in his and Sandra McGee’s recently released The Divorce Seekers—A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler. The title alone is enough to make you pick this hefty volume up, but the fact that this is a firsthand account by someone who saw that epic era of the six-week Reno divorce makes this book tough to put down. McGee had a front row seat during his years working at the Flying M.E., an exclusive dude ranch south of Reno that catered to wealthy Easterners and the occasional titled European or Hollywood celebrity—many of whom “were seeking a quick ‘cure’ from their matrimonial bonds.” Yikes! Everyone from Clark Gable to Frank Sinatra as well as Eleanor Roosevelt shows up in this page-turner.—William C. Reynolds
LIBRARY JOURNAL, March 1, 2004
Getting Reno-vated. From 1931 to the early 1960s, Reno, NV, with its six-week residency requirement, reigned as the quickie divorce capital of America. William McGee, born on a Montana ranch, landed a job as wrangler at the renowned Flying M.E. dude ranch in Washoe Valley in 1947. Much of his job was taking the divorce-seeking ladies out riding the Nevada mountain trails to lift their spirits. (If one of his charges, carried away by the mountain air and her impending freedom, made a pass at the young cowboy, well, he was only human.) The book is filled with candid shots of East Coast women with names like Rockefeller or Roosevelt or du Pont modeling their crisp, new Levis and silver belt buckles. And inserted period press coverage turns up visiting stars like Rita Hayworth going native. The real star of this scrapbook/memoir, however, is the longtime owner of the Flying M.E. ranch, Emily Pentz Wood, who entertained, even mothered her wealthy clientele of “six weekers” for more than three decades. Though it is put together rather patchily, this casual, heartfelt history of the Nevada divorce ranch era is a fascinating social document spangled with many of the period’s socialites and movie stars at their most vulnerable. With a handy Reno divorce glossary, it is recommended for social history collections.—Nathan Ward
NEVADA MAGAZINE, March/April 2004
Bill McGee spins funny and fact-filled tales of his days as a young wrangler at the Flying M.E., a Washoe Valley ranch for prospective divorcées, in the late 1940s. The reader meets Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, New York heiresses, and other ranch visitors at their most relaxed. The excellent photos, like the words, capture the rustic glamour of that bygone era.
RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL, March 23, 2004
Former wrangler rounds up stories from dude ranch. When Bill McGee and his wife, Sandra, started writing the book, it turned into a three-year research project, a sort of scavenger hunt for people and pictures. The Divorce Seekers became the story of an era as well as of a man.—Susan Skorupa
NEVADA APPEAL, Carson City, Nevada, April 4, 2004
Book captures Nevada’s dude ranch history. McGee’s book is full of history, and, even better, short tales about his time at the ranch giving us a glimpse, from a wrangler’s point of view, into Nevada’s world of divorce, divorcees, and romance. The book is filled with Nevada—its memorable characters who might otherwise have been forgotten.—Kelli Du Fresne
LAS VEGAS SUN, May 10, 2004 Dude, divorce is made easy. The photos show East meeting West in a way most people don’t envision, but in a manner that documents a chapter in how the modern migration West actually happened.—Susan Snyder
THE RECORD-COURIER, Gardnerville, Nevada, September 22, 2004
“Divorce Seekers” authors tell story of Nevada’s past. It was like an old Hollywood movie coming to life as McGee recounted the stories of what it was like to live and work on the Flying M.E. The Divorce Seekers is a superb representation of some of Nevada’s colorful past and the McGee’s have compiled it all into a beautiful book of historical worth.—Jonni Hill
THE SACRAMENTO BEE, August 5, 2004
McGee covers a lot of ground, from anecdotes about the rich and famous who came to Reno to get un-hitched, to life on a dude ranch and the old-time barroom scene. The 500-plus vintage photos are telling.—Allen Pierleoni
NEVADA TRAVEL NETWORK TRIP REPORT, March 2004
A monumental and fascinating memoir of the Nevada divorce ranch era. Bill’s recall is phenomenal, and the people he brings to life with his warm and detailed prose are icons of another age. The hundreds of photographs assembled by Bill’s wife and co-author Sandra make this a highly desirable addition to your Nevada bookshelf.—David W. Toll
SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS, June 20, 2004
The Nevada gold rush: D-i-v-o-r-c-e. In the bad old days, divorce was a long and grueling process: In a few states the wait was five years; in many (including California), the divorce process took a year. When Nevada shortened its waiting period to a six-week residency, the rush was on. Many divorce seekers came and worked for the duration of their stay, some stayed in minimal accommodations, but much of the divorce trade consisted of the wealthy who spent their waiting time reflecting and often partying in the relative comfort of secluded dude ranches….Mr. and Mrs. McGee have quilted together an account of the Reno area, the dude ranches and the people who ran and stayed in them during the heyday of the Nevada divorce. Names of the rich and famous fall like rain in this often gossipy kiss-and-tell, but the McGees’ book is also a folksy ramble through part of the domesticating of the Wild West…Over 500 photographs chronicle the place and its history. The McGees have pulled from dozen of sources for period pictures that enliven this account. The leading attorneys of the time, the other dude/divorce ranches of the era, the famous local private railroad and the characters both prominent and notorious receive their full due….Nostalgic, indulgent and well researched, this slice of our history will appeal to those who knew or participated in it.—Lin Rolens
PRAISE FROM READERS
“The best book yet about Nevada’s famous dude-divorce ranch business.”
—Nevada Historical Society, Reno
“Delightful reading about bygone times and glamorous people…a valuable history of a unique epoch of the West.”
—Barnaby Conrad, Author, Matador
“The dude ranch culture seems now like part of a bygone culture. It feels like a past more colorful than the present (but most everything is these days). I can’t think of it now without envisioning Clark Gable meeting a new divorcée or two beneath the tall pines, and romance developing. It was a special culture where marriages ended and new romances began. Maybe today no one needs to get away to get divorced; they just divorce. But certainly Nevada as a place to split, is a legend of our time.”
—Charles Champlin, former film critic and Arts Editor, Los Angeles Times
“One of the most remarkable cultural times in the American West…and helped to define the West. Bill and Sandra McGee recount a magical and untold story of Nevada during the 1940s and ’50s—the good old, bad old days of café society. This book is an absolute must for any Western, literary or social historian’s bookshelf. Not unlike Mark Twain’s recounting of his own Nevada days, Bill’s stories are ‘filled to the brim with the wine of life.’”
—Andria Daley, National Trust for Historic Preservation
“As the current owners of the famous Flying M.E., we are thrilled that Bill and Sandra have documented the ranch’s robust history in what is now the most complete history known to exist.”
—Norman and Rhonda Azevedo, Flying M.E., Franktown, NV
“We were always a bit jealous of dude wranglers. What was really going on in those dude ranches and wouldn’t that be the job for a young fella like me! This book is a wonderful sharing of an inside perspective. Real cowhands, famous Hollywood actors, the business powerful, the low profile rich, the watering holes, and the special sightseeing areas. It’s all here with the best of photos and the colorful commentary that brings them to LIFE. A must read for its entertainment and historical value.”
—Neal Cobb, Sheriff, Westerners International Nevada Corral
“The McGees have documented a significant period in Nevada’s history with splendid research, photographs and personal stories. Their slide show presentation holds the attention of the audience and converts any doubters that the subject matter is not only worthy of historical review but essential to understanding an important aspect of Nevada and national history.”
—Mary Ellen Conaway, Director, Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center
“The McGees’ slide show presentation was one of the most interesting, informative and entertaining programs that the museum has hosted. The heretofore little-known story of the divorce ranches is covered…a treasure trove of photographs depicting life and times at these Nevada institutions during the 1940s and ’50s. Bill McGee’s knowledge of the era is encyclopedic—after all, he was there! The book is highly recommended.”
—John Frink, Nevada State Railroad Museum, Carson City, NV
“Growing up on my family’s ranch in Washoe Valley—the Bundy Ranch—I can say that the divorce seekers themselves contributed to our community. Many of them were from the East and they either stayed when they came here, or returned with their spouses to make a life here. Our community was vastly enriched by their presence because they helped found institutions or contributed to the arts in many ways. Our ranch and our lives were very much enriched by having divorce seekers come here. The McGees have combined personal memoirs with extensive interviews and historical research, and have uncovered hitherto unknown information and photos.”
—Tina Bundy Nappe, Reno, NV
“This book contributes to the culture of America’s post-World War II period. The research and photos are priceless.”
—Janice Goodhue, Reno, NV
“The TH Ranch history is exciting, well done, and very accurate. I’m looking forward to reading about the other dude ranches.”
—Jack Horgan, TH Ranch, Sutcliffe, NV
“A book waiting to be written about an era that will never be repeated and will go down in history as one of Nevada’s fascinations. The McGees’ research, stories, and photographs are priceless Nevada history.”
—JohnD and Kay Winters, Ophir Mill Ranch, Dayton, NV
“Not only entertaining, this book is historical and portrays a fascinating era—national and international in scope—which was here, is now gone, but will never be forgotten.”
—Harry B. Swanson, Attorney at Law, Reno, NV
“My parents met at the Flying M.E. when my mother was staying there for a divorce. Soon after her divorce was final, she married my father. Your book gives me insight into a time in my parents’ lives that I did not know and wanted to learn more about.”
—Nikki M. Demas-Butz, Carson City, NV
“In Chapter 16, ‘Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, Enterprising Journalists,’ the text recounts the early days of my brother Chuck Clegg, and Lucius Beebe, and brings back vivid memories of my first visit with them in Virginia City in 1949. I had been curious about the dude ranches we drove by in Washoe Valley and now at last, thanks to Bill McGee’s remarkable reminiscences, we can learn what really went on there.”
—Ann Clegg Holloway, Virginia City, NV
“There’s one less hole in the Nevada bookshelf and now it’s filled with gold (or silver). This book captures one of the last great glimmers of Nevada’s history.”
—Paul Cirac, 5th generation Nevadan, White Sage Studios, Virginia City, NV