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In the Loop

A Wild West Rope Slinger Finds His Niche in Show Biz

January 26, 2003|MICHAEL T. JARVIS

The Will Rogers legacy is getting a workout with champion trick roper and show biz cowboy Kalvin Cook of Huntington Beach. Cook broke cowpoke Montie Montana's single-loop record of 75 feet in 1994 with a 95-footer. He has since logged a 99-foot single loop, and "I can twirl a 100-foot rope standing in the saddle," says Cook, who takes on the world's best in categories such as the "Texas Skip" each year at the Wild West Arts Club's International Convention in Las Vegas.

He learned the ropes from his grandfather, Evert Cook, in the southwestern Oklahoma town of Apache, population 1,600. "He was the real deal," Kalvin Cook says. "He was born in 1909 and traded with Indians. He had more shtick than you can shake a stick at." Kalvin worked at a fish hatchery and practiced rope tricks after earning a bachelor's degree in natural science from Panhandle State University. He studied the films and books of Rogers, the legendary writer, humorist and cowboy, and dreamed of leaving the Sooner State for Hollywood. "I'd never seen the ocean and I was going to try to surf."

He arrived in Southern California in 1993 and was living in his truck when he was chosen as a contestant on "The Price Is Right" game show. "I went wearing my favorite cowboy shirt and hat. I won almost $30,000 on my fourth day in L.A." After a job as a tour guide at Universal Studios left his throat raw, Cook changed his name to Kowboy Kal, landed an agent and started making commercials. "Kowboy Kal snowballed," he says with astonishment. Today his resume is packed with TV and movie appearances as well as commercials.

Cook's seemingly endless menu of tricks includes the Two Foot Spoke hop, where he jumps in and out of a spinning lariat with both feet, and the Handshake Switch, where he switches hands with the rope like a juggler. Cook, 38, who sells his own how-to video, admits it's not a cinch. "The biggest misconception is that you need a trick rope. I use a standard calf rope. It's polystring with a grass core. That's what cowboys use," says Cook, who also does a variety act with Easy Dancer, a psychic horse that counts by hoof.

"I'm the last Buffalo Bill," says Cook, who lists his most unusual gig as a world Buddhist convention. His favorite was being a "living centerpiece" at the 1997 economic "Summit of the Eight" with then-President Bill Clinton and then-Russian leader Boris Yeltsin in attendance. "I had to get a CIA clearance. They said, 'No roping people.' "

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