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Famous people have called Searchlight their home: Edith Head, Clara Bow, Rex Bell, James Cashman, Louis Meyer, John Macready, Lt. William Nellis and retired U.S. Senator Harry Reid.
Famed composer and pianist Scott Joplin did not reside here, but he composed The Searchlight Rag inspired through stories shared by his friends and fellow musicians - brothers Tom and Charles Turpin - of their experiences prospecting during the early 1890s. Their stake, called The Big Onion Mine, was located in Camp Thurman on the outskirts of Searchlight.
Edith Head is one of the most celebrated costume designers in Hollywood. During her career spanning over 50 years, she was granted 35 Academy Award nominations and took home eight Oscars. Edith came to Searchlight in 1903 with her mother and stepfather, who was employed as general manager for the Pompeii Mining Company. She spent her early childhood in the thriving mining community and retained fond memories of Searchlight throughout her life.
The first major star Edith designed for was another noted Searchlight resident, Clara Bow, for her starring role in the silent film Wings (1927), the first movie ever to receive an Academy Award for best picture.
Clara Bow rose to stardom during the silent film era of the 1920’s and successfully transitioned into “talkies” during the Golden Age of Hollywood. She met cowboy actor Rex Bell in 1930 during the filming of True to the Navy. After getting married in a secret ceremony in Las Vegas on December 3rd, 1931, Clara and Rex established the Walking Box Ranch 7 miles outside of Searchlight, which became known as an escape destination for the couple’s Hollywood friends.
Rex was active in the Boy Scouts and the state Chamber of Commerce, and in 1954 was elected as the 21st Lieutenant Governor for the state of Nevada.
Jim Cashman began his illustrious career repairing the neglected telephone system that served the mines in Searchlight. He also hauled ore from the mines and established a ferry service across the Colorado River. He opened an auto garage in Searchlight in 1910 along with a car dealership, and became known as The Searchlight Automobile Magnate. As business slowed down in Searchlight, Big Jim, as he came to be called, moved the family business to Las Vegas and became a successful businessman and civic leader in the burgeoning city.
Louis Meyer was the first three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. He was only 23, and a rookie, when he won in 1928; he went on to win again in 1933 and 1936. He was also the first driver to drink milk in Victory Lane, a tradition that continues today. He retired in 1972 and relocated to Searchlight where he could soak up the dry warmth of the Nevada desert until his passing in 1995.
An accomplished early aviator and test pilot, John A. Macready was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1968. He set many high-altitude and endurance records, but his most notable achievement was the completion of the first nonstop transcontinental flight in May, 1923. He was acknowledged for his contributions to aviation as the only three-time winner of the Mackay Trophy, awarded anually by the U.S. Airforce for the most meritorious flight of the year.
John developed his work ethic and tenacity working in the Quartette Mine, established by his father in 1897. He was elected twice, in 1914 and 1916, as justice of the peace in Searchlight and worked in freight and ferrying prior to his active duty in the Great War.
Another famed aviator with ties to Searchlight was William Harrell Nellis. Lieutenant Nellis was a United States fighter pilot who flew 70 World War II combat missions before being shot down during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. For his service he was granted two legions of merit and twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1950 the Las Vegas Air Force Base was officially renamed to honor him as Nellis Air Force Base.
William’s parents relocated to Searchlight when he was a child. For a time he lived with his grandmother and helped her run the Searchlight Hotel. After completing 8th grade in Searchlight, and graduating from Las Vegas High School, he returned for a time to work in the mines before relocating to Las Vegas where he began his flying career.