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Jack Elam, the Baddest Guy in the West
Author Joseph Caro Interviews Elam

During an interview with actor Jack Elam who is billed as "The Man We Love To Hate" because his historic rolls as the "bad guy" Jack told me how he loves to play poker on Friday night and uses aluminum Hoppy coins as chips! I was determined to get to the bottom of what seemed to me a highly ironic story about how the "baddest of the bad" (jack) ever crossed trails with the "goodest of the good" (Hoppy).

Like many film stars, Jack Elam began his career in a totally different line of work. Jack was a Hollywood accountant with the proven ability of the financial workings of film-making in Hollywood. Jack actually went to work for Bill Boyd in the fledging Hopalong Cassidy productions company that Bill started when he bought the 'rights' for the films in 1945. Boyd needed someone who had the savvy to get film production money for at least 12 more Hoppy films.

Jack's story as told to Joe Caro:
"We were small, really small back then" Jack stated, "but we all saw the potential and worked almost around the clock". In the beginning, there were only three of us in a small rented office on Vine street. Bill had the middle office with connecting doors to my office and that of the film producer, Lou Rachmil. Getting financial interest in a new company was really my job. Anyway, Bill had this idea to promote his new film interest by starting a series of Hopalong Casssidy Rodeo's and selected Hawaii to be the location of the first one, because nobody had ever done a rodeo there. So we all flew down.

As a promotion for the rodeo parade, Bill and I got the idea to design a keepsake coin that he would pass out when in the parade and guest appearances. We came up with the idea of having Hoppy's head stamped on both sides and he could toss them out to the crowds of fans. So I went to work, on short notice, and had 100,000 made from aluminum. The cost us somewhere around 1/10 of a cent each.

To make a long story short, the rodeo idea really bombed. On the first day, we had maybe 2,500 folks there in a stadium that sat 25,000. The next day we were down to 1,500 and by the third day it was less than 1,000. We lost a lot of money on the rodeo scheme, and remember, it was all borrowed funds. Anyway, we ended up flying back to California with a few buck left, and nearly 94,000 Hoppy coins!

I left Bill in 1948 because my eyesight was failing as an accountant and under my doctors advice. I decided to try acting and do a western or two myself. I was cast as the 'heavy" in a few films and presto, I became the ultimate bad guy in films.

Oh, the Hoppy coins . . . I end up throwing them all away except for one bag of 1,000 which I kept as a memento of the Hawaii disaster! I built a coffee table in the shape of a horseshoe and inlaid about 300 coins there and used the rest, to this day, for poker chips! I've been offered $15.00 for any of the first Hoppy coins made, but I won't sell 'em. But I sometimes wish I could remember just where I dumped the other 94,000!

More Resources:
Hopalong Cassidy Collectibles by J. Caro
Dan Spiegle, Hopalong Cassidy Illustrator More Cowboy Heros

About the author:
Joseph Caro, a well known expert on Hopalong Cassidy, is the author of Hopalong Cassidy Collectibles and the editor of Cowboy Collector Network, a newsletter for Cowboy enthusiasts.

Images supplied by J. Caro

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