Tales of two sheriffs tell much about past, current Las Vegas

Sometimes the things I hear are jaw-dropping.

For instance, in a recent editorial board meeting, Sheriff Doug Gillespie made this matter-of-fact statement: “There were legislators in past legislative sessions who refused to meet with me.”

Gillespie is not a kiss-and-tell kind of guy; he refused to name names. But he said this on May 20, while his “More Cops” bill was still pending.

He thought this crop of legislators wasn’t bad.

“Speaker (Marilyn) Kirkpatrick is very approachable and willing to engage in conversations. My interaction with her has been good,” he said.

He thought it was unfair to compare this group of legislators, including four new leaders who have never closed a legislative session, to sessions where the leaders of both houses were more experienced and there were fewer legislative novices.

I’m still curious about which legislators dissed the sheriff. A source said when Steven Horsford was state Senate majority leader before he was elected to Congress, he wouldn’t return Gillespie’s calls, which amazes me.

Times change, but when Ralph Lamb was sheriff of Clark County from 1960 to 1978, when he was considered more powerful than the governor, no legislator would have refused to meet with him or ignored his calls.

Dissing the sheriff would have been a foolish and potentially life-threatening move.

Of course, his brother, Floyd Lamb, was the most powerful state senator, who controlled where the state’s money went. Another brother, Darwin Lamb, was a county commissioner. And Lamb himself chaired the Liquor and Gaming Licensing Board, enhancing his power.

“Vegas,” the CBS television story supposedly based on Lamb’s career, was a one-season wonder. It didn’t get picked up by the network for a second season despite the huge advertising campaign promoting it. “Eleven million people watched it, but they couldn’t get the right crowd,” said Lamb, who wasn’t pleased with the show at first, particularly the first two or three episodes. He thought it improved, however, as did I. “I said they’ve gotta have a little rough stuff.”

I grew to like the show, despite early misgivings, once I realized it wasn’t posing as the truth, but was just telling tales.

It started with more positive than negative reviews, but younger viewers drifted away from the theme of the frontier cop solving cases each week, engaged in a running battle with a Chicago mobster. When the network moved it from Tuesdays to Fridays, viewership dropped even more from it’s high point of nearly 15 million viewers.

Lamb, 86, is recovering from a broken hip from tripping outside his home after picking up his Review-Journal. “I’m a 225-pound guy and I hit the ground pretty hard,” he said Friday.

He is hoping they find another network interested in the show. “I had a lot of fun with it, and they were great to work with. But Dennis (Quaid) has gotta change his cowboy hat. He wears one of those tractor-trailer driving cowboy hats, all rolled up.” It was clear he thought that reflected badly on the Ralph Lamb character.

The story Lamb and I wanted to see dramatized in “Vegas” was the one where he had a confrontation with mobster Johnny Rosselli at a Strip coffee shop. Rosselli hadn’t registered as an ex-felon and Lamb entered the coffee shop, seized him by his necktie and slapped him around before sending him to jail and humiliating him by ordering him deloused.

That’s a story for a second season if another network picks up the show.

Quaid never fully captured Lamb’s good-old-boy charm but his trademark grin carried him far.

The tale of two Las Vegas sheriffs, one from the 1960s, another nearly 50 years later, shows how the town has changed.

One used his fists and his family’s vast power, another uses face-to-face persuasion and logic.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.