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Movies represented only one side of cowboy Rex Bell.

During the 1920 and '30s, Rex Bell epitomized Americas image of cowboy movie idol in the white hat. His warm personality, easy-going manner and wavy hair caused many female hearts to flutter, keeping him high on the list of box-office favorites.

Born George Francis Beldam, Oct. 16, 1903, in Chicago, Bell was still young when his family moved to Southern California. He graduated from Hollywood High School and was perhaps one of the few graduates who yearned to be a real rancher rather than an actor. Movies represented only one side of the multifaceted Rex Bell.

It was Bell's good looks and love for horses that led to a job with Fox Studio working alongside established actors Tom Mix and Buck Jones. Then he changed his name and became a cowboy hero and romantic lead in his own right.

Early in his career Bell starred in four back-to-back films: "Wild West Romance," "The Cowboy Kid," "The Girl-Shy Cowboy, and "Taking a Chance," all released in 1928. Bell was performing in "True to the Navy" in 1930 when he met Clara Bow, a movie star who defined the liberated woman of the 1920s.

Bell and Bow soon became a Hollywood couple. They eloped to Las Vegas, then just a rail town, in December 1931 and sealed the town's potential fate as a place for celebrities to wed quickly and quietly. The couple remained married for more than 30 years.

After a honeymoon in Europe, the couple established themselves on Bell's 350,000-acre ranch near Searchlight, Nev. Bell appeared in films only occasionally after settling on the ranch. In .1942, he played Virgil Earp in "Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die," and he hosted a television anthology of vintage sagebrushers, "Cowboys and Injuns," in 1950.

From the time of her 1922 film debut in "Beyond the Rainbow," Bow had remained in the spotlight, but she was most relaxed outside of Hollywood. She wanted to keep her private life private, and Bell's "Walking Box Ranch," 60 miles south of Las Vegas, provided that seclusion. She retired from the movies after the first of their two children, Rex Jr., was born Dec. 16, 1934. Their second son, George Robert Bell, arrived June 14, 1938.

Though remote, the couple's comfortable Spanish-style two-story house was considered a jewel in the desert. It had more than 5,000 square feet and was filled with southwestern furnishings and antiques. During the 1930s, many of the couple's Hollywood friends visited, including Clark Gable and his wife Carole Lombard, Errol Flynn, Tex Ritter and Lionel Barrymore. Guests arrived at the tiny Mojave Desert train stop in Nipton, Calif., which was 16 miles from the ranch.

The train stop was also the site where Bell, who at one time had 12,000 head of cattle, personally drove his cattle for transport by rail to the slaughter yards. Bow accompanied the cowboys into Nipton, where she picked up the couple's fan mail from the post office.

As Bell became less involved with ranching, he sold a portion of the ranch in the mid-1940s and moved his family into Las Vegas. With his move into the city, Bell became active in the Boy Scouts and Chamber of Commerce, opened a Western clothing store and entered Nevada politics.

After entering politics, Bell encountered a political defeat when he lost a Congressional bid in the 1944 election. Using that as a stepping-stone to continue in politics, Bell became leader of the Nevada Republican Party and in 1948 was an alternate to the Republican National Convention.

In 1954, he won the lieutenant governor's office and served two terms as the elected lieutenant governor of Nevada. Even with his political career gaining momentum, Bell occasionally made a cameo movie appearance. His last film was "The Misfits," filmed in 1961. It was partially filmed in Reno and starred his friend Clark Gable. It would be the final movie for both actors.

Bell was 57 when he died July 4, 1962, of a heart attack while at a picnic political rally in Las Vegas during his campaign for governor. The following year, in 1963, the community honored him with the opening of Rex Bell Elementary School.

Bell's funeral was Bow's last public appearance. Three years later, in September 1965, the once vivacious girl of the 1920s passed away in California. The couple is buried side by side in a family plot at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif.
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Author:Manney, Kathy
Publication:Grit
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:741
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