Publicity pioneers helped expose Las Vegas


Celebratory toasts at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce's 100th birthday party at the Palms tonight probably won't include mention of Maria Langham and Bob Kaltenborn.

But there's no denying modern-day Las Vegas owes the duo a debt of gratitude for influencing the city's rich history as a celebrity haven.

Langham is better known as the second wife of Academy Award-winning actor Clark Gable, who was 11 years younger than the wealthy Texas socialite.

Known as Ria, she arrived in Las Vegas in 1939 to divorce Gable. He was busy filming "Gone With the Wind" and courting Carole Lombard, one of Hollywood's top stars.

The Legislature had changed the divorce law in 1931, stipulating one had to reside in Nevada for at least six weeks.

At that time, Reno was "the big city and had Lake Tahoe nearby and dude ranches, so Las Vegas wanted to get in on the action," according to Michael Green, professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.

Langham took in all that wide-open Las Vegas offered and was anything but media shy.

"She goes to the lake, goes gambling, and it got a lot of attention," Green said.

She talked to reporters about Gable.

Kaltenborn, the chamber president, took note of the publicity Langham was generating and convinced his fellow chamber executives to spend $500 on an experimental publicity campaign.

"The Chamber proceeded to turn out a press release that said, 'Look why she's here: We've got the sun, we've got the fun.' " Green said. "It sparked interest and in turn helped the wedding chapel industry."

A few years later, Green added, the chamber also started the Live Wire Fund to raise money to promote Las Vegas.

"They finally got tired of ad agencies and brought it in-house, and that was the genesis of Las Vegas News Bureau and all the great celebrity photos," he said

Much of the image of present-day Las Vegas, Green said, "grew out of this little seed the chamber planted."

THE SCENE AND HEARD

While in New York earlier this month, I caught film legend Woody Allen playing clarinet with The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band at the hallowed Café Carlyle in The Caryle Hotel. Here's the video of "I'm Just a Gigolo" a la Allen: lvrj.com/woodyallen.

Hoist a stein of German beer with me on Saturday when I tap the keg at 7 p.m. as honorary burgermeister at Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas.

MAY I RECOMMEND

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce centennial celebration takes place in the Palms ballroom from 5:30-8:30 p.m. tonight. Wayne Newton will be handling the official welcome. The public is invited. Admission: $50, which includes live entertainment, food and libations.

SIGHTINGS

Poker legend Doyle Brunson and veteran gaming executive Jack Binion, having lunch at Vintner Grill on Thursday. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, with guests Wednesday at Kokomo's in The Mirage. "America's Got Talent" judge Sharon Osbourne, at Elton John's show (Caesars Palace) on Wednesday. She dined nearby at Spago. Former U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., stopping in First Food & Bar (Palazzo) with his son and two aides Tuesday after the GOP presidential debate. ... Texas Gov. Rick Perry showed up Wednesday to address a group of supporters at a private reception at First Food.

THE PUNCH LINE

"Earlier this week, a protester at Occupy Wall Street proposed to his girlfriend. His exact words were, 'Will you occupy my parents' basement with me until I get a job?' " -- Conan O'Brien

Norm Clarke can be reached at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find additional sightings and more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke.

 

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