The Rich and Famous

Reno’s divorce colony included many prominent names and faces.

Audio Tour
Project curator Mella Harmon discusses the generally outsized attention paid to celebrities seeking a divorce in Reno.

What do the actress Rita Hayworth, General Douglas MacArthur, the illustrator Norman Rockwell, and the mobster Bugsy Siegel have in common? Each got a Reno divorce. Over the course of 70 years, scores of movie stars, writers, politicians, industrialists, artists, and celebrities of all types did the same.

The press was as enamored of celebrity a century ago as it is today, making the exploits of the rich and famous ample fodder for newspapers and news agencies across the nation. The parade of wealthy divorce-seekers to Reno began as a trickle in 1900 with the exploits of Earl Russell, but the floodgates truly burst open with the arrival of Laura Corey, prominent wife of a Pittsburgh steel magnate, in 1905. An avid press documented Corey’s every move, inspiring as they did a new focus on Reno’s fashionable side and encouraging its further development.

The wealthier class constituted a higher proportion of Reno’s divorce colony in the years prior to 1927, when Nevada’s state legislature reduced the residency requirement from six to three months. The prospect of relocating for half a year was more feasible to those enjoying a life of leisure than to the average citizen. However, as the residency period continued to shorten, eventually to six weeks, a Reno divorce became a more democratic enterprise, filling the ranks of divorce-seekers with everyone from countesses to short-order cooks.

As Reno was not a large city, the upper echelon for the most part inhabited the same landscape as everyone else. Still, the rich and famous could have their pick of places to live while establishing Nevada residency, and beginning in the late 1920s, divorce ranches held appeal for many. Most of these ranches were located outside of town, offering privacy, exclusivity, and a certain amount of pampering that one could not receive in a Reno hotel or boardinghouse.

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