The Lamb Behind the Legend


Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Who in their right mind pilfers Sheriff Ralph Lamb’s peaches?

“They must have come with a bucket,” says the legendary local lawman, gesturing toward the fruitless tree on the lawn of his North Las Vegas home. “They took every one.”

Bad move, whoever you are, because at age 85, Lamb looks like he could still kick your keister into tomorrow. True, his eyesight is poor and fading, a victim of macular degeneration. “It’s the worst thing in the world,” he says. “If you lose a leg, they can give you another one. Not your eyes. I can’t even watch television.” Somehow, though, his eyes look alive and alert, holding you in their steady gaze.

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Surrounded by family photos mixed among autographed pictures of Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover, Lamb sits down to discuss how he may be on the verge of national celebrity as Dennis Quaid portrays him in CBS’ upcoming series, Vegas:

Are you ready to become a media star?

[Chuckles]: Well, I don’t know about that, but I feel wonderful about it. I’m really honored when they take a guy like me when there are so many other people they could have taken and made a movie of them. Only in this country could this happen.

Has CBS asked you to promote the series?

Not so far, but I’d do it in a minute. Somebody throw me up on the stage. Never been much of a public speaker, though. Did you see that big banner in California on Sunset Boulevard? They got a banner on a 12-story building, hangs down the whole thing.

How did the idea for the series come about?

Nick Pileggi’s a great, warm, nice guy. So we started sitting around having lunch and talking about my career, and he jotted it down. You know how writers get. He took it home and wrote it and said he was going to try to sell it to CBS. One day he called me and said CBS picked that up. The people working on it say it’s great. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. But they got some very nice people working on it. Dennis Quaid is just a class guy. I’m anxious to see what the critics have to say about it. There’s everything in it—there’s the Wild West, there’s the city here. I don’t know how it will take, but it should be good.

In the pilot episode, your character shoots out the tires of a speeding car, carries a shotgun into a hotel and confronts a gang of bikers. How realistic is that?

The shotgun in the casino, that’s a far-fetched thing. I don’t know how it got in there. But we shot out a lot of tires. I know they had the Hell’s Angels stuff. That was a big thing, because people were complaining about those guys racing up and down the street, 60 of ’em. It looked like the end of the world.

Did you give Dennis Quaid tips on how to portray you?

We sit and talk and he’s very observant and watches you very closely to pick up everything he can. He said, “One day I go into a bar and order these two guys out of there. What would you say to them?” I said, “It depends on how tough they were and what they’d done. I would have gotten rid of the first one, then thrown the second one out. You can’t throw them both out at the same time, you might get whipped.”

Did he pick up your distinctive, growly voice?

That might be a little tough on a guy.

Is Michael Chiklis’ mobster character based on any wiseguy you dealt with?

I don’t know if they’ve really made up their minds yet on who it might be. I would assume with all the publicity that it might be Johnny Roselli, and you guys all know about him. That was kind of a fiasco, because I had to physically throw him out of that hotel, you know.

How do you think you’ll come across to viewers, who are accustomed to shows about modern police work?

Today there are things they can’t get away with that I done.

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