Ed’s son Cecil Koupal interviewed by Dwayne Hunn around March 1995
On Dad’s music:
“Ed Snake Koupal,” became one of big haunts. His band was pretty popular — like Les Brown Band… Trio too. Played Catalina Island Ballroom – I’ve seen pictures of him and his tux standing by his bass.. With a bunch of entertainer types.. At 19-20, before she became news, dad dated Shirley Temple…
Mom had lot of material about dad. I once found a black book with her name in it… On one page there’s Shirley Temple’s number in the back……..
On Dad’s egg collecting invention:
Dad’s invention was before chickens were organized in cages going the length of the coup. When dad was there chickens were in nests; they had to be converted from nests — eggs, cart on wheel water out on metal troughs…. or go up on wire racks… A worker hand-gathered eggs out of nests…
What dad did do was invent sheet metal carriers, enabling them to carry more eggs and have less broken… Dad was fairly inventive.
Sheet metal construct, had handle on it and with square, compartments… Like golf balls in rubber metal basket… Sheet metal box, twice the height of eggs, veterinary caddy, long and narrow…..That was his invention…
On parents entering politics and coming of age:
Dad was in car business, worked in management. Toward end of regular working life, mom and dad got inkling that they were upset about things. Ronald Reagan became governor. Soon after that they went ballistic over taxation on property. They owned a home and weren’t working full time. Around 62-64, taxes were starting to gag them.. They met other people who were more concerned than just average people. When they got wind of some corruption they started filing lawsuits vs. a development corporation in Rockland area, and the flied lawsuits got in the papers… From there I recall watching television and watching a nurse from San Francisco who started a Recall Reagan campaign . Parents met her and volunteered and then soon jumped ship when she wasn’t very capable and took over her effort. Ran fist and second Recall Reagan campaigns… They taught themselves the ropes of initiative action… Using initiative as major tools Dad got to believe that initiatives would be good for lots of things.. Then he figured out that he needed to print his own petitions because he couldn’t afford the printing costs that were so expensive…. Formed People’s Lobby’s own printing presses, and did his own photography stuff… They accomplished a lot.
I was 18 graduated in June and they moved to LA a week later… Came home and saw note on table “Moved to LA — follow when you can…” They literally walked out of their house, but apparently they hadn’t made a house payment for awhile. Of course, I didn’t know all those internals..
House was upper middle class — result of the later part of his working life. Mom had stated going to college, got a couple years under her belt. But she was basically self-read and self-taught. She was a voracious reader. Paperbacks were spread all over the house, tons of ’em… My Dad was more charismatic than intellectual. Mom, on other had, was more intellectual and more of a follower type. Two together were a complete person…
Stayed that summer and opened it up as a party house… Basically I trashed it, being 18 and totally free and all the rest. Got friends to feed me that summer. Didn’t get involved in any People’s Lobby things, although prior to that while still in high school I had run petitions for my dad in LA, just errands mostly. … I was not that interested in what they were doing…
When I left the house, I didn’t go to college. Goofed off that winter, spiraling down to no-place. By next summer I was just working odd jobs. Then I decided I wanted to go to college.
Friend of my parents in Roseville, Isadora and Ward Simpson, had been involved in their taxpayer association and they offered to take me in as border if I would go to college.. That was pretty neat. Lived with them couple months that spring and enrolled in second semester and worked in gas stations and paid them room and board. Then in LA slept on People’s Lobby couch, worked in gas stations, and saved money for college… Then came back to Roseville and went to Sierra College and then Sacramento State… Never moved back in with my parents…
Also had started a vocational computer programming school – that’s what I did for a living, write software for a living.
During that summer I had a donated ratty studio apartment. I slept on couch and my sisters shared the same room.. Never really visited them for any length of time for 2-3 years after that. Till last year of my dad’s life, then suddenly I happened to get job in LA as a programmer…. Had to work in LA in first professional job when dad got sick…. And I was needed to be around.
You hate Ralph Nader?
Oh, No. At that time, I probably wouldn’t have had an opinion one way or another and probably just thought that what Ralph was up to was a reasonable thing and gee that’s nice to have.
Today, when I hear Ralph talk, for most part I disagree with most everything he thinks.. For example, I resent having to wear a seat belt.. I consider it an intrusion on my personal freedom. I think if I had a motorcycle I would resent wearing a helmet. I think RN was the pioneer of that kind of public safety, where government dictates to me. Being a conservative, a conservative would say this, ” Government dictates to me that I have to wear a helmet or seatbelt.” Ralph would say, on other hand, that “The government is protecting you.”
I get this terrible feeling that government has become intrusive, paternalistic, overprotective… I admire Ralph form standpoint that, and the same as I did my parents, that he is an action guy.. And he has spent his entire life like a Mother Teresa of politics. I happen to know, because I have seen it up close, what people like that actually receive for their efforts. From an economic standpoint it is incredibly minimal. I admire that… So from the self-sacrifice standpoint, you could admire Ralph or my parents for at least living the true ethic of what they represent. They didn’t have a double face, and they actually did, almost in a religious way, believe what they were preaching…. So just from a peer stand point, you have to say in history that’s the type of person you should be able to admire, even though you don’t agree with them…That’s way I feel..
Isadora and Ward Simpsons.. were your surrogate parents?
It’s odd. Growing up in my parents’ house. They came from a rural background and, of course, my dad came from a more worldly background in that he had left early and gone on the road and traveled all over the country playing music.
The ethic that they developed was self-taught, didn’t receive it from their own parents… They passed on certain ethics to their kids. Well, at least I can recall that. They would recite things like … You don’t steal, you don’t lie and those things were passed on.. But they weren’t able to maintain the kind of, I don’t know what you call it, sort of a coveting lifestyle where parents are real concerned with kids and activities.
For instance, I joined Little League myself one day. I went down as a 12 year old and figured out how to do sign up and did it and forged my dad’s name and started playing baseball.. Because my dad was never around to do that kind of thing with me… And, my neighbors would take me on fishing trips, not my dad. You know, that kind of thing. I didn’t resent it that he couldn’t do it. I just accepted it that a) he wasn’t around or b) he didn’t really want to.
When I moved in with Isadora and Ward, my views of things, you know, how I thought the world went, changed. I first learned it was not a locked deal. Ward would make fun of some of my views on life…. For instance, with my mom we did our own laundry, we bought our own clothes, that sort of thing… Isadora would make my bed, and I’d freak out, I’d say, “What are you doing… You’re in my room, why are you doing that?” She’d say, “Why you bed needs making.” and I’d say “Make it? Why, just throw the blankets in a corner.. “ You know that’s how I grew up — didn’t make your bed, didn’t sleep with a cover sheet… I don’t today but that’s how I grew up.
Wards gave me a close-up example of what that kind of family life was… To actually have Christmases where the whole family was over. Where everyone sits around and chats , makes small conversation and opens gifts. That was interesting and necessary for me. It calmed me down a lot….
Dad’s brothers are more family oriented.. But no, I didn’t get (that family stuff) from them. Had No contact with them. Occasionally, as a kid they’d come to visit.
When I turned 18 and moved to LA I started to make my own life… Started working jobs and going to school and when got to 21 I got married and stayed married for ten years the first time… Basically never really moved back home again and never really had contact with family except for sporadic phone call, or once and awhile see my mom when she happened to be near by..
On how he saw his political dad:
He thought of himself not as the shaker-mover as people thought him to be, but he thought of himself as promoter, person who would see how to motivate and rally energy and get it to go down on a certain thing. It’s ironic because in a certain way, he was real successful because he didn’t just bring the idealism. Idealism alone is fine, but idealism is not enough to get it accomplished. If you look at Ralph Nader closely and examine his personality you’ll see that there’s that little kernel of anger that pisses him off…. My dad had that too. It’s not clear what it’s about, but it’s clearly a thing that says that he won’t tolerate something… With my dad there were a few things he wouldn’t tolerate. One of them was what he thought of as being crooked behavior…. He always says that, he hates that.
I don’t know how much idealism he actually had when it came to the causes. I think mainly he was into the process. The bigger the mountain and harder it looked the more he wanted to go crack it. And especially when it came to the political web, the network that people construct around politics. You’ll notice that he sued companies like Standard Oil as well as city councils. It wasn’t just pure politics for him. I think a lot of it was just chiseling away at the power base.
It wasn’t also just crusaderism either. Also, I think it was his perspective that he could create a campaign; he could make that happen from nothing; he could build it like he could build a house….
“I’m promoter.. I Promoter..” He Did it in the car business, did it at Cameron Park (Cameron Ranch Development in Sacramento area).
On an example of his Dad’s promotional ability:
My dad worked for Sungstead Car Dealership just before the owner’s managing son went to jail. Manager was son of a lady who owned a lot of car dealerships. She got them through marriage, etc. She was old lady terror type. Her name was Mrs. Wearing…
Her husband was called ‘Daring Dick Wearing.’ Because of that she ended up with several car businesses — million dollar businesses. One of her sons was owner or manager of Sungstead Car Dealership. Some how dad got involved with their business. (Ed became Manager of Used Car Sales)
Then Mrs. Wearing’s son, the General Manager, got jailed for turning odometers back. Everyone always suspected it but when he actually got caught — it was a big deal..
When Mrs. Wearing’s son got caught, my dad, instead of caving into the disaster… Well, this is a cool example of my dad taking on the challenge of what should have been a disaster and making it a miracle… It should have been a disaster. Here is the guy, he owns Sungstead (Car Dealership) going to jail, and no one should buy cars there anymore. What does he (Dad, Ed Koupal) do? He goes out and buys all these jail shirts with stripes on ‘em, surplus rifles and helicopters and police cars and has a three-day weekend jail sale.
He ships cars in from LA and literally sells cars right off the truck, because so many people are interested.
In other words, he really had a command of publicity and knew how to make it work…. Here’s a guy that understands how to work the press and oh, by the way, he’s going to get into politics and show you politicos how it’s done.
Gingrich reminds me of my dad a lot. He talks fast, full of energy, gives short, curt statements designed to get a reaction from you…. The two are very much alike except Gingrich is more articulate. My dad would use words wrong all the time. But he’d have the same kind of approach to it. Basically he had a lot of tools and he used them very effectively. The jail sale was all about
“Turning disaster into sales”.
…Look at my Dad’s action….. They defy protocol… He’d do almost the opposite…
From standpoint of lying, he had this huge hard on.
He was in car business and hated it because everyone in the car business was crooked. For that reason, he wanted out….
I told story of Ed eating a Standard Oil Exec in a debate at KGO Radio in San Francisco. Afterwards I commented on how Ed had caught the guy in lying and destroyed him and how good it was that “We never lie like they do…” Ed looked at me with his wake-up look and said, “What are you talking about? I knew that guy was lying, so I lied because I knew he would keep lying. He lied again, so I lied. He kept going and I pulled the rug on him. I lied because Standard oil Exec lied…. He was putting out bullshit… so I gave him some of his own. His problem was that I pulled the rug on him and he got caught with with crap all over…”
I was so naive I said to myself, Jesus is that right?
Cecil: No, he’s pulling your leg. That was one of the interesting things about the guy. On the one hand, just as you start to crawl up a little bit of idealism inside of you, he’d try to knock it down. He was like this huge realist all the time and he knew what the real world was. Face it, this guy came up through the real world, the guy didn’t finish high school. So from that standpoint he might have sensed that you were getting a little sheen of idealism around you and that you weren’t going to be lean and tough enough to take on some of the bad guys, so he’d tell you something like that…
He would do that. I used to watch him do that with some other people in People’s Lobby too, some of the young kids around him. He wouldn’t like really angle it. I mean I don’t think he was that sharp, but he’s definitely a realistic guy. He understood that these guys who had these facades, these political figures were really down inside battling turds who really knew how to go for the jugular behind the scenes. He probably wanted to make sure that you didn’t get too idealistic…
In a way, I prefer to look at his actions more than a lot of times what he was saying, although he didn’t really have a loose tongue that way. He would constantly use sharp language and curt, aggressive statements that would put off most people because you don’t run around every day listening to people call you a ‘jerk’ of a ‘shit’ or whatever. You just don’t do that in ordinary society, but he didn’t mind doing that in really odd situations like in a board meeting where it had a protocol that he would just defy. And a big part of what he did which people didn’t understand was just that — defy protocol. You know where certain propriety might have been called for — he would do almost the opposite.
But from the standpoint of lying he had this huge hard on, and he would call it that for — basically, for you didn’t steal, didn’t lie and ultimately.. It wasn’t like you do the right thing like a soldier, but it was more like… Well, for example he was in the car business and he really hated it, and my Mom said to me one day the reason he hated it was because everyone in the car business was crooked. And I said okay. The implication was that there was big pressure to be crooked in the car business, so for that reason he wanted out.
He might have done some things. I don’t think he ever did anything big, but he might have done some white stuff. You know mostly to just push it along. But he wouldn’t for a minute accept even in himself that that was either a thing to do officially or consciously — that that was okay to do. It might have been expedient or necessary of something like that. I don’t think he was real… You know a lot of times in politics sometimes people will justify a really bad act by its so-called outcome.
You know the ends justify the means, and I don’t know that you could go that far with him. He did some odd-ball things, shocking things that weren’t in themselves shady or crooked or corrupt. For instance, he never took money from anybody, which ultimately, if someone is going to be corrupt, he’s going to take money from somebody.
He had his share of bucks in the past, but that wasn’t his motivation. He wasn’t into that. He wanted to chisel the power… you know, really, I don’t think anybody will understand his motivation. He wouldn’t divulge it. And if he told anyone it was my mom. She was his ultimate confidant. And they were like this inseparable pair. And they would strategize. I’d hear them in there talking all night. They were deliberate about everything they did. Sometimes you’d think something was an accident, but most of the time it was not; it was usually thought out or discussed between the two of them and they never really completely confided in anyone else in a serous way. I never saw that happen. And they cut their own kids out too.
Tell you what they thought about Nader?
They liked Ralph. I think my Dad even admired him and you didn’t hear my dad say that about a lot of people…Even real hard working guys who worked their asses off for him, he didn’t necessarily admire that way. He might of liked them, encouraged them, be loyal to them, but when it came to actually admiring somebody I sort of saw my dad do a little bit, I think, do the hero worship with Ralph. I think he thought Ralph was swell.
I said at Board meetings Ed would knock Ralph:
That’s so funny. He could say that about anybody at anytime and part of it you couldn’t rally take serious, because a lot of that was all the time to even keep himself from getting too idealistic, or too unhoned. It was to keep the edge on. Editorial in the Times one time called him “one of the last angry men” and that really is it. It’s a great phrase. The guy was pissed off all the time. He was mad in private and mad in public.
Me: I said that Ed had once told me that he, “Gets up in morning, reads LA Times, gets pissed off and that starts my day.”
That’s it. And then he goes to bed pissed.
Lots of that was to keep the edge on … He was one of the last angry men….
Me: Once I said in while we were walking the streets in Santa Cruz..”well, at least they couldn’t buy you off…” And he stunned me when he said something like, “If they had been smart, they could have bought me off easy. If they would have given me my own 21 piece band, I would have been out of their hair the next day.”
That tells you something about his true love. If there was something he could have stayed dedicated to it would have been music probably, which I didn’t hear too much of growing up.
In fact, did you know that when he was dying, when he was almost dead. in fact the last 5 or ten minutes of his life he had to pop in one of his tapes. I think it was a Glen Miller … They brought a little cassette recorder into his room, because he wanted to hear jazz. And that was not a common thing. He didn’t own a stereo and didn’t sit down and listen to jazz or anything. When he was dying the last thing he wanted to hear was jazz. I think it was Glen Miller. That should tell you right there.
“We got it made babe, were among his last words?”
That’s right. Those words are carved on the copper box that his ashes are in… “We’ve got it made.”
Cemetery in Altena Dena and he’s in the plexi-glass covered mausoleum. In the box and there is the phrase in there…