If ever a Nevada political figure embraced the Reno Rodeo, it was Rex Bell, the state’s lieutenant governor from 1954 until 1962.
Bell, a Hollywood film star of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, was an avid supporter of the Reno Rodeo, participating in the parade every year he was in office and being honored as the grand marshal for two years.
“He loved the Reno Rodeo,” said his son Rex Bell, Jr., of Las Vegas. “That’s why he always participated. He was always in the parade. He always looked forward to that.”
Bell was an avid horseman. In Hollywood he worked with western stars Tom Mix and Buck Jones before becoming one of film’s leading men himself. In 1931, he married film star Clara Bow, Hollywood’s “It Girl” and the most popular female film star of the era.
He3 left the film business in 1944 after appearing in more than 50 movies. He and Bow settled on their huge Nevada cattle ranch, in Searchlight.
In 1954, Bell, a Republican, was elected lieutenant governor by a wide margin, and re-elected by a landslide in 1958, despite a sweep by Democrats in other statewide offices.
He presided over the state senate in colorful western dress, and his flashing smile and friendly manner helped establish him as one of Nevada’s most popular politicians.
In 1962, he was the Nevada Republican Party’s choice to challenge Governor Grant Sawyer for the state’s top office. On July 4, shortly after a party fund-raiser in Las Vegas, Bell suffered a heart and died. His death was mourned throughout Nevada, and Hollywood, by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Honorary pallbearers at his service at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles included Richard Nixon, Gene Autry and Tex Ritter, among others.
At the 1962 Nevada Day parade, a float commemorated his memory. It included his famed silver saddle and trademark white hat – relics familiar to anyone who had seen him in a Reno Rodeo parade.
“The Reno Rodeo was one of his favorite,” his son said. “ He enjoyed seeing the people he knew in Reno and the cowboys he knew from around the country.”