LAS VEGAS -- The story of a two-fisted sheriff who takes on the mob in a frontier town sounds like something Hollywood might dream up. But this time, the story is real and right from the pages of recent Las Vegas history.
The CBS network is evaluating a star-studded pilot based on the life of former sheriff Ralph Lamb. He was known for duking it out with the mobsters, outlaw bikers, and anyone else who crossed the line.
No one in the world bristles more than Ralph Lamb when they hear that old cliche about how Las Vegas was better when the mob ran it. As far as former Sheriff Lamb is concerned, the mob never ran things, at least, not while Lamb was around. For 18 years Las Vegas was his town.
"I was here when the mob came. I was here when the mob left, with some help," Ralph Lamb said. Maybe the title of Ralph Lamb's television drama could be cowboys and gangsters.
When he joined the police force in 1947, Las Vegas was a cowboy town, with a mere 15,000 people in the entire county. It was also the year, the mob formally arrived with the opening of Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo. The lanky ranch hand from Lincoln County rose thru the ranks to become sheriff for 18 years, longer than anyone, and like the town, learned to co-exist with the Mafia men who ran the casinos.
"We had a set of rules we went by, and if a guy at the DI (Desert Inn) wanted to let somebody come to town, he had to come down and find out if it was okay," Lamb recounted.
Some of the mob guys who came to town didn't like reporting in to the sheriff, so there was trouble. The sheriff was known for punching it out with troublemakers.
"If there was some kind of show of force, I was always there. I wanted them to know I was around, and something was gonna (sic) happen if they did not abide by the rules."
Such as the day two torpedo men showed up at his house.
"I hit one of them and knocked him out thru the door and the other one ran off. I don't know who was driving the car or what they had in mind but it didn't look good."
Or the day Lamb got a warning from a gunman outside the Desert Inn.
"One of the guys we figured was a triggerman walked up to the car and I had my two little boys with me, and he said, 'don't worry about what happens to your family or these kids? You kind of put the muscle on a few people around here, you know.' I said, I don't really worry about it because if anything happens to one of them, I will personally kill 10 of you every day.'"
The first Hollywood type to talk about putting the Lamb story on the big screen was famed film director Sam Peckinpah who planned to sign Clint Eastwood to the role. More recently, famed writer Nick Pileggi got hooked on the real life tales of frontier justice. Lamb told him enough for several television seasons.
"When a guy throws his pad and pencil and falls out of the chair, you assume he liked whatever it was."
Ironically, the producers chose Las Vegas, New Mexico as the place to shoot the television pilot. Lamb was present for what he says was a huge production, which had issued a casting call for showgirl types, biker types, and gangsters.
Actor Dennis Quaid totally immersed himself in the Lamb legend to portray the sheriff. Michael Chiklis is the Mafia adversary, modeled after mobster Johnny Rosselli, and Karrie Ann Moss will easily be the best looking district attorney Clark County has ever had.
Lamb says he was overwhelmed by the cast and crew and that he's already seen the small screen versions of events that really happened.
George Knapp: "People are going to see the sheriff knock them on their butt and think, oh, that's just Hollywood stuff, but it's not just Hollywood is it?
Ralph Lamb: "No. I was on the scene of those things."
The buzz about the series is good. A decision about whether it will be included in the CBS Fall line up is expected any day.
When Ralph Lamb left the sheriff's office, he earned a salary of $32,000 a year so he is not a wealthy man. The show would make a big difference in his life.
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