EVEL COMES TO COOPPERVILLE …
Done To Death Publications, New York, 2014
60 Pages, Paper Bound Hardcover
Edition of 250
“Color Me Lucky.”
That was the lifelong motto of Evel Knievel. The phrase adorned every helmet he ever wore as he deﬁed gravity and catastrophe time and time again, captivating audiences all around the world for decades. It is a good motto for a man who broke over 433 bones, still a world record, and whose career highlights include leaping cars by the dozen, plummeting into the Snake River Canyon while strapped into a steam powered rocket, and the occasional brush with a massive tank of live sharks.
A couple years ago I was back in Oklahoma visiting my family for Christmas when Evel’s classic slogan really hit home. I always love exploring the attic of my grandparents, Jack and Barbara Cooper. It is inevitable that I’ll unearth some family relic that reveals yet another facet of the many exploits of the Cooper family. Jack is my grandfather. He is an American classic. He’s as nonchalant and charismatic as they come. He approaches every person in the same way–he’s an absolute straight shooter–and he has never been one to shy away from a good time. Cooperville was the name of the first car dealership that he opened in 1965, and as I learned that day while rummaging through the attic, it was in 1972 that Evel came to Cooperville.
The dusty box of slides and ﬁlm was plainly marked: “Evel Knievel slides & ﬁlm, 1972.”
I opened up the box to find shots of Jackie chauffeuring Evel around in a pace car, Evel popping wheelies on his classic red, white and blue Harley Davidson XR 750, and Evel signing autographs in the Oklahoma summer heat. I couldn’t believe the piece of history that my grandfather was not only apart of, but had orchestrated. I needed some answers so I went straight to the source.
In typical Jack Cooper fashion, my grandfather matter-of-factly explained: “Oh yeah, we did a couple things with Evel. He was a buddy of mine.”
Simple as that. One of the foremost entertainers of the 20th century, a man who had his own line of action figures, an internationally celebrated treasure who was a proud embodiment of that classic American fusion of entertainer, entrepreneur, and daredevil, was a buddy of Jack’s and somehow this had never come up before.
They had been introduced in Las Vegas by their mutual friend Johnny Oakes, the general manager of the Hilton hotel at the time. Evel and Jack hit it off instantly. “They are one in the same. Both salesmen.” That’s how my Uncle Jon summarized the mutual respect and admiration the two men had for each other. Before their first meeting was over, Evel told my grandfather, “I may just come to Oklahoma and jump your cars.” My grandfather remembers this with a smile.
It was only a couple of weeks later when the local switchboard operator got a hold of my grandfather to tell him that she had someone on the line who was asking where he could buy tickets to see “Evel Knievel jumping over Jack’s Oldsmobiles.” This is how Jack first learned that Evel was on his way.
The shots that make up this collection document one weekend in June of 1972 when the Knievel clan came to town. My family excitedly hosted them. Jack had Evel sit at the head of the dinner table where he entertained the kids with napkin tricks. Their stay resonated so much with my Uncle Jon that he was compelled to include the story when applying to business school many years later. When the application asked for the three most interesting things about him, he had to recount the time he rode motorcycles with Evel and Robbie Knievel. He got in by the way.
Evel’s appearance at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds coincided with a professional motorcycle race organized by Jack. But it wasn’t just dust covered gear heads and two-wheeling diehards that turned up for the action, people of all stripes converged to see Evel perform in person. This was a special event in a corner of America too often ignored. This was THE EVEL KNIEVEL in my hometown, reeled in by my grandfather Jackie Cooper. People wanted to bask in the energy and experience the excitement that Evel’s antics inspired.