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Carson City well-connected to the movies

Editor’s Note: Nevada 150 is a year-long series highlighting the people, places and things that make up the history of the state.


Nevada’s capital city and its immediate environs has had a long relationship with the film industry, both in abstract and hands-on ways.

The films “Virginia City” and “The Carson City Kid” for example, portrayed the area in name only and were filmed in Southern California.

But many notable films had actual production work in the area, including John Wayne’s last film, “The Shootist,” filmed at the Krebbs-Peterson House in the capital and released in 1976.

Robin Holabird, now retired from the Nevada Film Office, said “The Shootist,” which also had Lauren Bacall and future director Ron Howard in the cast, was a big deal for Carson City.

“They put dirt on Mountain Street,” she said. “They were here a long time.”

The film was somewhat old-fashioned in its approach and got lukewarm reviews when it was released, she said.

“But as the decades have passed, and people long for and feel nostalgic, it is being appreciated more,” Holabird said. “It was a good strong last film. Wayne went out in style.”

“The Misfits,” starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, was filmed in the area, including Dayton, east of the capital, and was released in 1961. It was the last completed film for both stars.

Holabird called it probably the most important film shot in Northern Nevada, although it was not well-received by critics when it was released.

Given its association with director John Huston and screenwriter and author Arthur Miller, who was Monroe’s husband at the time, it has a lot of prestige, she said.

The region’s historic buildings, as well as its wide open spaces, have attracted filmmakers for decades.

Some films, such as “The Remarkable Andrew,” filmed in Carson City’s Rinckel Mansion, are obscure at best but fun to watch to see the community as it existed in the 1940s.

The now-closed Nevada State Prison, which dates back to 1861, has served as a backdrop for at least two films, “State Penitentiary” released in 1950 and “An Innocent Man” starring Tom Selleck and released in 1989.

Holabird said Clint Eastwood also liked to shoot in the area, including parts of “Pink Cadillac” released in 1989 and “Honkeytonk Man” in 1982.

“I worked with Eastwood on Pink Cadillac,” she said. “He had fond feelings for the area. He was very professional.”

The area’s biggest claim to fame comes from television and the long-running series “Bonanza,” Holabird said.

The outdoor shots for the series were shot at Lake Tahoe in particular because the early color television show wanted to highlight the brilliant hues in the area, she said.

Eventually a set was built and the cast and crew would come up every August for three weeks of shooting during the last several years of the show, Holabird said.

Many other movies, including “The Godfather: Part II,” were filmed in part at Lake Tahoe, but as in this case, the shooting occurred on the California side of the lake.

Film stars could be found in Carson City and surrounding areas for other reasons as well in the 1930s and 1940s. Nevada’s six-week residency requirement for a divorce led to the growth of the “dude ranch” industry where stars could relax while awaiting the six-week waiting time to expire to finalize a divorce.

One such ranch was called the “Flying M E” north of the capital in the Washoe Valley.

Carole Lombard stayed in Carson City in 1933 to obtain a divorce from “Thin Man” actor William Powell. She later died tragically in a plane crash near Las Vegas in 1942.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.

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