[20 September 2007]
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)
DALLAS—Four decades after “Easy Rider” merged low-budget biker flicks with art-house sensibilities, the man who gave life to the iconic “Captain America” is selling off some of his cherished memorabilia from the film.
Peter Fonda—son of Henry, brother of Jane, and the producer/co-writer/co-star of the movie named among the 100 best by the American Film Institute—“just decided it was time to share some of his treasures with collectors and fans,” said Doug Norwine, director of music and entertainment memorabilia at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas.
Among the personal and professional items up for auction Oct. 6:
The American flag taken from the back of the jacket Fonda wore throughout the film, with an estimated value of $50,000.
A Department of Defense pin that adorned the jacket, valued at $15,000.
Fonda’s gold record for the film’s soundtrack album, valued at $2,000.
His personal collection of six movie posters, including those for “Easy Rider” and “Ulee’s Gold,” Fonda’s most honored performance, with an estimated value of $500.
For many who came of age in the 1960s, “Easy Rider” and those items from the movie stand as touchstones for a time when the counterculture tried to break free from society, the conflict that formed the film’s framework.
One scene, hinting at the freedom Fonda’s character hopes to find, shows him peeling off his wristwatch and throwing it away. But it wasn’t the prototype Rolex GMT Master that Fonda wore in the movie’s earliest scenes.
“There was no way Peter was going to risk damaging the watch, naturally, so a different one was used for the scene where his character tosses it away,” explains the catalog listing for the Rolex, part of the auction with an estimated value of $10,000.
Rick Worland, chairman of the Division of Cinema-Television at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, shows “Easy Rider” to his students as part of a course on films from the 1960s and `70s.
Though dated in some ways, it remains a powerful and beautiful film, Worland said.
“‘Easy Rider’ had two main influences that were almost contradictory,” he said. “The first were the postwar films from Europe, especially the French New Wave. And secondly, you had the (American International Pictures) biker movies.
“If you took `The Trip’ and `The Wild Angels’ from AIP and combined them, this is what you’d get.”
Not coincidentally, Fonda starred in both. Naturally, when he and Dennis Hopper began work on “Easy Rider,” they took the idea to Samuel Z. Arkoff at American International.
“He was a shrewd businessman,” Worland said, “but he turned them down. He wasn’t ready for them to be auteurs.”
Undeterred, Fonda and Hopper pushed on, completing the screenplay with noted writer Terry Southern.
One memento of that period, a cigarette lighter bearing Fonda’s initials that was presented to him by the Canadian motion picture industry, is a part of the auction, at an opening bid of $500.
With the film written and private financing in place—an estimated $440,000—Fonda and Dennis Hopper hired cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs to film the story of a couple of hippie bikers from Los Angeles who plan one last drug score to finance a leisurely retirement in Florida.
But it is much more than a biker movie.
“It’s funny,” Fonda once said. “People call `Easy Rider’ a biker movie. It wasn’t a biker movie at all. It was a Western. I wore spurs.
“Those were just different types of horses.”
The Western ties are unmistakable, Worland said, right down to the characters’ names—Fonda’s “Wyatt” and Hopper’s “Billy.” And Kovacs’ camera captures sites seared into the American memory in a series of classic Westerns from director John Ford, including several that starred Henry Fonda.
“You see those scenes filmed in Monument Valley and it’s Old America and New America, worked out in film terms,” Worland said. “And when I show this to students, they get it and they like it.”
Several years ago, Kovacs came to Dallas for a special showing of the movie and spoke about the challenges of filming it, Worland said.
“They traveled across the Southwest from L.A. to Louisiana, and he said they could never devise a system for seeing the `dailies,’” Worland said.
“They would take the footage and send it back to a lab in L.A. And Kovacs would call them the next day and all they could tell him was whether it was in focus.
“Kovacs praised the actors for their work, especially since everyone was stoned. He said, `It’s 30 years later. Why lie about it?’”
With other films from the same period—notably “The Graduate,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “Bonnie and Clyde”—Easy Rider ushered in a new era in American filmmaking.
“After the old studio system in Hollywood had died, and after very low box-office results in the `50s and `60s, suddenly there were these very cheap movies being made that appealed to young audiences and crossed over to the art crowd,” Worland said.
“And when the studios decided to let these young directors do what they wanted to do, they discovered there was a market for these films.”
The old guard was “clueless” about what made these films appealing, Worland said.
“But they were willing to gamble on this type of movie,” he said.