Ace of Spades
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Alias Soapy Smith

It's In The Genes.


When we recently discovered our long-lost relatives,
a few things suddenly seemed to fall into place.


Coleman Miller

Starring Phil Johnson as Le Croupier
and Award-Winning Filmaker
Coleman Miller as The Kid!

Directed by Craig Johnson

Watch Le Croupier

The movie above, filmed in Super 8 around 1975, might give you an inkling why I feel a special connection to the brothers Belonger. The movie set was, in fact, the craps table of le Chateau Royale, the casino I operated in jr. high and high school back in Elgin, Illinois. We were preparing for the night's business — Phil and Coleman were two of my trusty croupiers — and shot the short on a whim. If only I had filmed the real action...

Chateau Le Royale Program

As you can see, above is an itinerary for an evening of gambling at my casino. This was April 19, 1975, so I'd be just shy of sixteen.

Chateau accounts  Chateau accounts  Chateau Royale News  Letter to the Editor  The Sting script

The Painter Kid

These are from the account books. Also, the front page of the first Chateau Royale newsletter, a letter to the editor, and the cover of a script for Tom Hrubec's new video production of The Sting, circa 1975, starring Bob Nelson, writer Jeff Wisser and Keith Rauschenberger (Illinois State Senator Steve Rauschenberger's brother). I myself was to play the role of Kid Twist, whose look may have been influenced by this shot of Lou's own William Sturns, The Painter Kid, taken from Fighting the Underworld.

Sturns, a steerer for the Blonger gang for about three years, was thought by his fellow Denver grifters to have been the writer of a series of letters sent to Van Cise early in his investigation, laying out the gang's structure and methods. He claimed to have been double-crossed on a payoff and wanted to see the operation go down.

This is from the second newsletter:

What's In A Name?
The Chateau Royale (la Château Royale, meaning 'the Royal Castle', loosely) has been around for a long time. In name, since 1973 if not before. Originally called Château La Royale, the name was changed because of the incorrectness of la, actually le, and it's position in the name. The originally title is still preferred by some.
It is felt by some that long after the death of the casino, the name shall live on elsewhere.

One share Chateau La Royale common stock

Above is a stock certificate, issued in 1976. I had 200 of these made at an offset print shop, and sold 100 to friends at 50 cents apiece. I kept the other 100 myself. Wouldn't want a hostile takeover, now would I?

The money raised would bankroll the house — and since the money wasn't all mine, I could gamble too, without simply trying to take my own money.

Friends were always willing to be croupiers; sometimes the casino was set up at my house, sometimes at theirs. We had a big roulette table, craps table, blackjack, chuck-a-luck. The parents were usually out of town.

My inspiration was the movie Casino Royale, and the purpose, originally, was to give me and my buddies something to do at night on Boy Scout campouts. It grew into a rather classy affair, a show we put on for friends for several years.

For the record, I never made a dime at it — I was more interested in a good time than taking my classmates cash — and I ended up buying the shares back at their original value. Sam and Lou would have been disappointed, ultimately.

Of course, this was long before we knew about Lou Blonger — though my interest in the subject, and the release of The Sting, a favorite of mine, did lead me to read Hustlers & Con Men as a young man. I remember wondering how to pronounce Blonger.

Mount Chrysolite

That's me (Craig) on top of Chrysolite Mountain with my friend Thom Palmer, around 1985. The peak is near St. Elmo, Colorado. The Mary Murphy mine is just down the back side.

In the Seventies I was a suburban teen, and like many of my kind I devoured movies like Jeremiah Johnson and Little Big Man. Though the Johnsons, like the Belongers, are Midwestern born and bred, we all seem drawn to the Rocky Mountain West. Siblings Jeff and Linda have lived there for years with their families, in Boulder and Wellington, and Scott and I have visited on many occasions. I've lived there myself, a few times, though I always wind up back in Illinois.

In the mid-Eighties, I spent a summer and winter on Mt. Princeton, in the Collegiate range not far from Leadville, alone, most times, at a place called Frontier Ranch, near Silver Cliff. I spent the summer in this comfy little hideaway here:



See the cat in the Chrysolite picture above? Look in the clouds, at upper left. That fall, a visitor brought Tiger to the ranch, and he stayed with me. That winter he and I had to fend off a mother bear and her two (rather large) cubs with nothing but an old Ruger Blackhawk six-gun loaded only with blanks. Actually, Tiger ran and hid, but I never blamed him for it.

We sometimes wonder what these guys looked like in their prime. Any picture of Sam or Joe would be a prize. For Lou, we can get rid of the wrinkles, shrink the nose a bit, tighten up the cheeks, etc.

Then it started looking a bit like a Johnson boy. Not a dead ringer, but the facial features were similar.

Lou old and young

The second picture is Lou spruced up a bit. Over the next three, I progressively layer my own face over Lou's. I wouldn't expect to resemble a great-great-great-uncle, and don't think I do, really, but we aren't that different, either.

I'm not gonna look like Lou when I'm seventy, am I?

Here's my best effort at taking Lou back in time:

Lou old and young

Finally, here's a song I recorded about 1990: Don't Tread On Me (mp3)

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