With the beginning of a new year, we’re going to start looking at Bop City from the beginning…or at least from one beginning. The Park can be said to have many origins, but it wouldn’t exist without its founder Sam Bop, so we’ll begin with Sam’s history. As a veteran Sam felt his duty to country strongly; his military service represents a large part of the training he received to achieve his technical accomplishments. He also felt the friends and connections he made in the military were the most important in his life, crucial for his later and ongoing successes.
While his status as a veteran informed his nature, the fact that he was an orphan was perhaps more significant. Sam felt that he had started with nothing, even less than those who typically invoke that phrase because he didn’t even have a family. His earliest years spent in a children’s home were difficult for Sam. Always a social being, he was frustrated by the company of children who wanted nothing more than to get out, get away. Ironically, Sam left many of those children behind when he ran away from the South L.A. Orphans’ Home. In 1938, after seeing the first King Cougar comic book, he realized orphans could be much more than he had thought.
After leaving the orphanage, Sam began the itinerant existence that made him so relatable. He had met Abe Goodie in 1936 when the Dust Bowl Minstrel had visited the orphanage, and briefly joined him in his travels in 1937. In 1938 Sam travelled east and sneaked into the Spirituals to Swing concerts in New York. He also met John Roberts, who was on his way to a recording studio. The combination of the lifestyle and technology of recording music, the fantasy opened up to Sam in the comic pulps he saw beginning that summer, and the cartoons he saw in the theatre outside which he shined shoes all molded Sam into the media captain he would become.
By 1940 Sam had met the Parker Family in Texas, Chris Charleston in Oklahoma City, Mon Williams and Tad Dowd in Tennessee, Stovall Farmer in St. Louis, and was like a mascot to Jordan Lewis on the streets of New York. He had bussed tables for Dr. Byrd in the French Quarter, fetched sandwiches for Jet Nourre in Kansas City, and bird-dogged for Coy Carson one night in Birmingham. He walked horses for Len Lewis and Ray Vontour, tuned Paul Stellar’s guitars, and of course was Blind Vernon Jellison’s assistant for several months in San Antonio. No one questioned the reason of a boy with no apparent home or family; Sam was always big for his age and had been able to handle himself in any situation for a long time.
Seeing the country through the eyes of youth but at the side of entertainers who had seen much more, and all at a turbulent time in history (aren’t they all?), gave Sam an appreciation for the national character few others of any age could have matched. Sam was back in California when the nation come under threat; he saw Jet Nourre perform the night before he shipped out. The Navy would give Sam yet another perspective on the people of America, this time from different economic classes and a wide variety of educational and experiential backgrounds.
I never met anyone who loved his country more, or had a better grasp on how that country was composed and how to reach its people. In my opinion, that was Sam’s greatest skill: knowing, loving, and reaching America.