“…the motorcycle came to function both as an object of desire
and a symbol of unrestrained Eros.”
–Art Simon, The Art of The Motorcycle
–continued: The city of Los Angeles is a punchbowl rimmed by the San Gabriel Mountains. The home of the Lakers is at the virtual center in the bottom. From Hollywood at the upper left end of this basin, the Santa Monica Mountains take over and run about 30 miles north to the L.A. county line. Leaving the Rock Store, on top of the part of the Santa Monica range that didn’t slide into the ocean in the mud of winter storms or get burned down in the late summer fires, the road is rougher than Godzilla’s complexion, but for a little piece of plastic-covered foam no bigger than Arnold’s old Speedos, the Triumph’s seat is comfy and the cockpit fits like a perfectly broken in pair of 501s.
Why did the bad guys in The Wild One have Harleys? I asked myself.
Surfers, movie stars, hippies and cowboys; pot growers, monks and divorced moms with Meg Ryan haircuts driving monster SUVs carrying Save The Planet stickers on the bulldozer sized bumpers all live up here. I am on my way over the hill to meet someone with a real story.
With a smile on side of his face Whitey Hughes, 82 at the time, confirmed that he knew the story. “I know all about the motorcycles in The Wild One. I was the head stuntman. Columbia came to us for this motorcycle movie because we were cowboys. Not many guys in movies rode bikes. So the studio asked the cowboys if they could learn to ride a motorcycle. Me and my brother already did. We lived in Chatsworth when it was way out in the country. Nothing for miles. You could ride from L.A. to Tucson then El Paso. Off the road.”
“What kind of bikes?” I asked.
“Triumphs. They were light. They revved way up there. too. Foot shifters and hand clutches. Suspension. Riders bikes.”
“Could Brando ride a motorcycle?”
“Marlon could ride. One of the guys. Rode a bike in New York before he came to Hollywood. Funny thing though, his double couldn’t. So he taught him. Marlon would always eat lunch with the crew. Not the big guys, just us below the line people. So one day on the way to lunch with us he puts his double on his motorcycle there in front of us all. The guy has his hands on the bars but Marlon is sitting behind him and has the controls. Brando motors over to the top of this here hill there in Burbank. By the lot. Where we shot the picture. Marlon says to us that he will now teach his double how to ride. Brando twists the gas on and that bike flies into the air and Marlon just slides off the back of that Triumph!”
“Why did Lee Marvin, the bad guy in the movie, ride a Harley?” I asked.
“He didn’t ride anything because he couldn’t ride. But he learned, got hooked on it and went racing.” said Whitey.
“On a Triumph,” I stated. “I looked that up in the book Triumph in America.”
“But on the show we just rode what turned up. Nothing special about that Harley of Marvin’s.”
“We found where Chino’s outfit came from,” I said. “But who did the wardrobe for Brandon?” There is no costume designer or wardrobe listed in the credits for the movie.”
‘’Don’t know,” said Whitey. “Marlon always wore jeans. T-shirt and a leather jacket. People in Hollywood back then called him The Slob. He invented that look in Streetcar.”
I recalled that in his autobiography Charles Mingus tells a secret – that he invented himself in a dream. But who invented Johnny? I asked myself again.
“What about Hollister?” I continued with my questions. “Was that real? Where did the Wild One story come from?”
“Wasn’t there. Can’t really remember.” Whitey said. “We did the movie in 1954. Hollister was what…1947?”
“OK…but why did Brando ride the Triumph?” I asked.
“Well, like his clothes, everything he did was always different. He just might have used the T’Bird because it was different.”
“Or just because he got it free?” I offered. “Someone told me that.”
“I know that Jimmy Dean got one free, but he wanted one because Marlon had one first,” Whitey replied. “Robert Taylor had a Speed Twin before Brando came to town.”
“But why did Johnny Strabler ride a Triumph in The Wild One?” I asked insistently. “What is the story of that motorcycle?”
“Ever tell you how I was there when Steve McQueen started riding Triumphs?” asked Whitey.
“That,” I responded, “is another story.”
It is nearly nine by the clock on the bike’s dash and quite dark as I coast silently down towards the Pacific. I head south. Down near the edge of the city at Sunset Boulevard, the all night eruption of electric light the almost ten million people cause in L.A.county, explodes over the dark coastal mountains like hot whitewater rapids and cascades down into the foggy glow under the tall street lamps of the Coast Highway as it curves softly inward around Santa Monica Bay and escapes the collision on its way north out of town. All alone on the Coast Highway. Just me and the motorcycle.
I throttle down to think of what I found on this search for the secrets of dreams. My face shield fills with the honest reality of sage rising from the empty hot road. Perfumes created by the cool drifting veil of ocean breeze. I think about the road. Eternally tortured by fire, floods and betrayed by the convulsions of the moving, falling earth itself, PCH still feels loyally attached to the bike. This old friendly road carried me to other secrets before. The year before I got serious after full-time surfing. The year before college, before a real job…before kids and divorces, the road took me to the secrets of another invented dream.
I was in the T’bird daddy didn’t take away. She was drivin’. I can’t admit to what I was doing on The Coast Highway that spring break evening when the City of Newport Beach hired the Beach Boys to play free at Newport High to keep us away from surf music. I don’t think it was legal. Down the hill from the high school on the Balboa Peninsula, the rotting Rendezvous Ballroom was shaking like a trembler with too many blonde surfers who weren’t convinced the Beach Boys were the answer. The only dark-haired guy was on the stage, in a haze of eye-straining yellow light speed picking a Lebanese folk song upside down on a Stratocaster.
At my first real job later I would help invent the dream of that guitarist as a real surfer. I would help invent more dreams. These dreams wrapped in fashion, fashioning culture. Some fade, some define a generation, some define a subculture, some define you.
It was an adventure finding the secret of dreams. Like the trophy on the fender of his bike, the secret to Johnny is the real prize. The success of finding the origins of biker cool that came from the fashion of bad and power, its Prussian origins of aristocratic cool. The real story of The Wild One is the jacket. It’s enough for bikers that Brando rode a bike; the Triumph is for some significant by being there. Being under Brando, being in the Hollywood version of Hollister, which is the only one our culture knows or care of. Is it accidental cool? We won’t know. But for most what is significant is just that on it he’s a biker. And anyway, the jacket is the story. Biker is universal, but the concept of jacket isn’t. Black leather is, even more so by its Prussian lapels, officer epaulets, zippers, and a badass warrior fit.
The wet air thrown off the waves breaking in the moonlight at first point in Malibu pushes the smell of the sage in my helmet back to the hills. I pull the zipper up on my black leather jacket. Johnny Strabler lives.
“Had Hollister not happened, had Life magazine not written their article, had Hollywood not glorified it,
I don’t know if we would be here today.”
–Tom Bolfert of Harley-Davidson, Smithsonian Magazine
Thanks to Patrick Cook ; Mark Brady, Todd Andersen & Monika Boutwell ; Peter Jones, Whitey Hughes, Harvey Keith,Boyd Elder.
“He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever be – any good
He’s a rebel ‘cos he never ever does – what he should
And just because he doesn’t do what – everybody else does
He’s a rebel…”
Wouwch! Shotgun exhausts crack my eardrums like 50mm cannons fired in a storm drain. Gears are found down low to slow a mysterious train. Motorcycles. Leather. 15 maybe 20. Harleys mostly. Snaking north along the Pacific Ocean passing me on the Triumph by the lifeguard station where Pam Anderson jiggled her invented plastic dreams into the sharply focused eyeballs of families around the world.
The pack snaps over hard starboard, ducking out of the sun into tunnels of oaks at the bottoms of narrow canyons. The road to the Rock Store. Like Alice after the White Rabbit, the Triumph easily falls in line, hanging back unseen in the shade of the ferns creeping cautiously over the edge of the corkscrewing blacktop. Under the tires, the ice of the last cold mornings is slowly melting.
Kathy: “I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle before.
It’s fast. It scared me, but I forgot everything, it felt good.
Is that what you do?’’
A long chrome Slinky with more than 6,000 cubic inches of two-piston power bends around 359 degree turns–barely the radius of a schoolyard merry-go-round. Not one darkened brake light turns red. Up into the cloudless blue of the sky sitting on the treetops. Up almost a mile, the road flattens to horizontal between twin rows of naked pink rock. On top of this skinny mountain that cradles a wide valley big enough to hide Manhattan, in front of Ronald Reagan’s old ranch just outside of normal America, more motorcycles. Five-figure sport bikes, cruisers handmade of unpolished iron crosses, a stretched candy apple custom with a ‘57 Chevy rear end, purple painted faux leopard skin covered hooligan bikes, a jet powered cycle and a milk crate hard wired to the remains of a rotting chrome fender stuck to some kind of charred frame. All rumble, roar, hiss, whine and puff two wheels at a time onto the parking strip below the store made out of rocks. A small city of metal and leather on a narrow splatter of asphalt that is melting in the heat of the dry sun. A lot of bikes. Mostly cruisers. The biggest part of the motorcycle market. All in black leather jackets like The Wild One. I recalled that in his autobiography, Charles Mingus tells a secret – that he invented himself in a dream. But who invented Johnny?
Johnny: “We jus’ go.”
No one cares that they don’t sell rocks at the Rock Store. The Santana wind blowing hot from the east, whipping the trees beside the road, violently shoves the erratic painful noise of the eternal parade of motorcycles through the wall of heat rising from the barely two lanes of broken blacktop. Stopping the wind across the road on this ridge of mountains running above Pacific Coast Highway from the 24/7 of L.A. north to the strawberry fields of Ventura County, is the Rock Store. A café of the greasy spoon persuasion is on the south side, married to the store –a half empty gift shop– uphill on the north with a busy outdoor saloon and barbecue pit on the hill rising up from both. All made of big round rocks.
I don’t know which is Vern or which is Ed, but they own the place and open it only Saturday and Sunday. In front of the buildings stretching about a football field distance in both directions is a wall of motorcycles parked facing the road. Choppers and hogs are always on the right side in the shade under the only trees near the store. A pair of dead old gas pumps rusts in the heat of the naked sun on the narrow parking level below the café to the left of the cruisers. The pumps are always buried in tricked out sport bikes and exotic European collectible hardware. Japanese with video cameras are usually in there somewhere and Jay Leno usually shows up to pose beside the pumps for them. Jay sometimes drives one of his weirder old cars or sometimes bikes here. He is fast enough on the corkscrew road to the store to have passed my jailable speed on his Buell.
Sometimes lines of exotic cars on some kind of poser rally pass by the store. They gawk at the bikes. The bikers don’t really pay much attention to any cars. In a city built on cars like L.A., there aren’t really any as exclusively cool as a motorcycle anymore and the Rock Store is the Big Rock Candy Mountain of Cool. You can see fit-as-a-yoga-instructor baby boomer babes in conchoed vests and chaps with nothing under them but tan skin hanging with bearded outlaws in top hats and chains on the cruiser side. Segregating themselves on the sporting side, are the young and restless in skintight full racing suits. And it’s all wrapped in leather, including Jay.
Boyd Elder is an artist. He lives somewhere in Texas just south of nowhere close to ZZ Top. “Where did Brando’s Wild One outfit come from? Harvey said to ask me, right?” Boyd launched.
Never-washed tailored black Levis are slit to fit Boyd’s Lucchese boots custom made from some kind of endangered small black animal. Over the temples of prescription lens Persols he slicks his hair back behind his ears and down to the top of his collar. He has on a short sleeve black shirt with orange and red little flames all over it that he designed. Under a black leather jacket.
“Thanks man, for coming.” I said.
A large black envelope shows under Boyd’s arm as he raises his hands to light up an American Spirit. The label on the envelope is printed with one of his pinstriped steer skulls from the cover of an Eagles album. “I have customized cars, built hot rods, made a motorcycle from pistons and parts found buried under chickenshit, “ Boyd said. “And I wore that jacket and jeans with the big cuffs over those boots when I rode it.”
Boyd casually flips his unused cigarette into a long glide across the blacktop and drawls, “I collect old motorcycle jackets, you know,” he continues. “And I have pictures of every damn person with that look. The Beatles, The Ramones, Francesco Scavullo, Mel Gibson, Bruce Springsteen, Freddie Mercury, Jean Paul Gaultier, Madonna, Dolce Gabbana, Britney Spears and more queens of Halloween parties than you could find in the complete works of Tom of Finland.”
“And Brando first had the look back in 1954?” I ask.
“Well, yes and no.” Boyd opened the black envelope. He puts one knee on the asphalt and lays out photos backside up and like a blackjack dealer, flips over one to show its face. “Hollister. 1947,” he says. “Before somebody named Perfecto designed the One Star for Schott.”
It is an old photo. A western town. A mess of gals and guys hanging out under the verandas of the shops on the high walk.
In the front of the photo is an Indian bob job. The front fender is gone with most of the rear one. Standing just behind the Springer front end holding a longneck bottle at the end of a striped sleeve is someone wearing the sweater Lee Marvin wore in the movie.
“The same bumble bee striped jersey Columbia Pictures sort of donated to Frisco Frank of the San Francisco Angels after Frank convinced the studio that was the charitable thing to do,” said Boyd. “He wore it every day until it turned to dust.”
“Then Chino was no Hollywood dream,” I said. “Was Brando?”
Boyd points to the rider on the Scout in the picture. He is turned to the crowd while reaching out to the ape hangers. His arms in sleeves of black.
“Johnny’s black leather jacket.” I said.
“In the late forties Buco had the design and so did Indian.” Boyd said.
The guy in the old photo is wearing not just the jacket, he has the engineer boots too. A suicide shifter is sticking out from under the right leg of faded jeans rolled up to show about 8 inches of cuff. “Everything Johnny wore. Everything.” said Boyd.
“Everything except that cap?”
Watching my eyes, Boyd sees that question. He flips over another glossy. In the center of the photo, cocked at the same angle as Johnny’s in that poster with the trophy and the Triumph. Right on top of Manfred von Richtofen’s Teutonic head, is that cap. “The Red Baron,” Boyd said. “His Luftwaffe cap. And look at the lapels on this coat of his.”
“The One Star? But it’s an overcoat.” I said.
Boyd turns over another shot of von Richtofen. “He cut his off. To be cooler than the others when they went partying after a hard day of dogfightin’. Like a Catholic schoolgirl does to her uniform skirt. Shit, man,” he mutters out of the corner of his mouth as he fires up another smoke. “The Red Baron was the baddest. His look had to be cool.”
“It makes sense for motorcyclists,” I argued defensively, “because of the protection against the cold. It won’t tear like cloth and you slide in leather. You don’t get stuck on the asphalt waiting for an Acme semi to flatten you like The Roadrunner.”
“Nice try.” Boyd smirks. Opening a black hardcover book he says: “Mick Farren writes in his book The Black Leather Jacket that it is just better protection against knives, brass knuckles, chains and straight edge razors. Mick says that juvenile delinquents adopted the jacket as their own, as did the local police department, but first the Nazis firmly cemented the relationship between menace and black.
“You don’t make this shit up, dude,” said Boyd.
“Hollister happen?” I ask.
“Dunno,” he said.
“So who put it all together? “ I asked. “Who created Johnny’s look?
“Dunno,” said Boyd again. “But I’m getting the feeling of impending entrapment by the morals police with all this salacious talk of men in leather,” he laughed. “Had Hollister not happened, had Life magazine not written their article, had Hollywood not glorified it, I don’t know if we would be here today.”
‘An old boy from Oklahoma, Whitey Hughes.” said Boyd. “You can find him in Chatsworth,” Boyd said as he tore off a part of the American Spirit pack and wrote Whitey’s phone number on it. “He knows.”
Thanks to Patrick Cook ; Mark Brady, Todd Andersen & Monika Boutwell ; Peter Jones, Harvey Keith, and Boyd Elder.
…to be continued…
“There was a myth before the myth began,
Venerable and articulate and complete.”
“This bike has a story,” said the kid in the jeans with a big cuff rolled up over his old school engineer boots as he pushed the
black motorcycle across the dock into the back of the pickup.
“What’s the story?” I asked.
“Dunno,” the kid said. “It’s the bike in that really cool poster back in the showroom. It’s famous.”
“The really cool poster of the guy in the leather jacket and the hat with the motorcycle?” I went into the showroom to take a look at the poster. I know it well. The black and white photograph of Marlon Brando leaning on the tank of a motorcycle with a trophy tied upright to the top of the headlight. A cap is cocked to one side of his head showing a black sideburn on the other side. Johnny is lettered in script on his black jacket. The bike is a 1950 6T Triumph Thunderbird. Its name is in front of Johnny’s on the most indelible motorcycle image ever. The Wild One.
The first motorcycle cool. Even the kid on the dock wore the jeans rolled up like Johnny.
“Hollywood bullshit.” Turning around, I see a bandanna of a very different color covering most of the grey on long black hair. President is stitched in the same color on the sleeveless jean jacket. Under the jean jacket is black leather. “The movie is supposed to be a real story. But it ain’t,” the graying biker said. “Never happened.”
“What never happened?” I asked.
“Hollister,” the biker answered. “There was no riot and no bad bikers in leather jackets with caps like that either. And that actor guy never rode a motorcycle.”
I stumbled on the words as the graying biker turned and walked away. On the back of the faded blue denim, a seriously bad biker gang’s ID is embroidered in gothic lettering on a patch of that color.
I shut up.
What is the story of this bike that had a trophy on the fender and its name in front of Johnny’s? Was it just a Hollywood invention? Whose? Who dreamed Johnny Strabler, the motorcycle rebel in the cocked grey cap on that poster? Johnny, with his name on the most notorious jacket in history? A jacket the cops of New York City would be banned from wearing.
And Hollister? What was this Hollister all about?
I pulled the phone out of my Levis and punched in a 323 area code and telephone number. “Harvey around?” I ask. I pause. “Harv? Found you. The Wild One. If anybody knows about movies and icons and motorcycles it’s you. What is the story?” I paused. “Brando’s look. Where did it come from? The jacket. The hat and boots. The jeans.” I listen. “Why the Triumph?” I go on. “What was Hollister really all about?” I pause again. “Was the movie that brought them together –that motorcycle, that jacket and Hollister —really just a Hollywood dream? All phony?” I pause, “Ok. Thanks. See you there.” I stick the phone back in my jeans, zip up the black jacket.
The front wheel of the Triumph lifts in spinning slow motion at the bottom of the Santa Monica Incline. Turning north, it drops at an angle onto Pacific Coast Highway in front of the black motorcycle. I am on the road back through time to the secrets. Secrets of invented dreams. On a black motorcycle, like Johnny. In black leather like him. To find Johnny, The Wild One. To find secrets of black leather and chrome dreams. Hollister and Hollywood .
Faded mansions of dead movie stars that hide the beach on the clutch lever side become a streaky Painted Desert wall of sand colored stripes. I am over the posted speed limit. What are you rebelling against, Johnny?
“Who created the famous line of Johnny’s?” I ask myself.
Blue sea glitters hot where the houses end at the Santa Monica city limit. Arid cliffs a quarter mile high on the right fall straight and fast to the highway. Halfway up the dirt walls, dry scabs of pastel plaster are crucified on the thorns of the cactus that will always survive. Bits of a cardboard dream hanging in the air above the abrupt western dead end of L.A. Someone invented a place they called home on an overpriced unnatural lawn at the top of this naked dirt. The unreal house that nobody ever wanted to believe would fall down the cliffs, fell. Down to the highway where the sun sets on the secrets of Hollywood dreams.
Johnny’s look –the black leather jacket, the cap — may be the most copied clothing in the history of world popular culture…where did Johnny come from?
Leaning my left knee into the tank, I push the bike to the right. The bike’s slow moving front end feeds back the news that that the ends of the turn have more ripples than a Sumo wrestler’s ass so I hammer it up Sunset Boulevard.
What really happened July 6, 1947– what the San Francisco Chronicle called the worst 40 hours in the history of a town?
I have a meeting in Hollywood to find out. First stop back to the future of motorcycle cool. The story of Hollister.
Harvey Keith, writer, director, actor, is standing over the bar guarding straight Chopin in a martini glass like a cat overseeing a goldfish bowl. “Of the 57 people listed as cast and crew of The Wild One, three are still alive and Brando apparently ain’t talking anymore,” Harvey said smiling. “I’m in the DGA and the Writers Guild and SAG…I called ‘em all for you. And I sat out the Vietnam War getting shot as a New York City cop, so I got that kinda records access too.”
His black leather sport coat is hanging on the back of the barstool behind him. Black muscle-tee, black slacks, the shoes are black and thick silver chains are stacked on his wrists. Tattoos have faded into hard biceps twisted with age like anchor rope for a tanker. “You know I was in a motorcycle gang too,” he says. “In Brooklyn.”
“That’s why I’m here,” I said.
“We took our whole thing from The Wild One. We looked bad. The movie was banned in England, that’s how bad we thought it was. We rode Harleys.”
“Why not a Triumph like Brando?” I asked.
“Sonny Barger [founding member of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels] said he liked The Wild One too. But he cheered for Chino–Lee Marvin–the bad guy.” Harvey answers. “Brando was the good bad guy, he had a Triumph. The bad guys had Harleys. We thought we were bad. We did wear black jackets like Brando. No way did we wear that Village People hat.”
“Was any of it for real?” I asked. “The Wild One. The leather. The bikes. Bad bikers. What is the story?”
“In 1947, Fourth of July,” Harvey said, “the AMA held a motorcycle race in Hollister, California. Just a race. Sportsmen. But bikers came in from L.A., from San Francisco, all over, to party.”
“A riot?” I asked.
“According to the papers from back then,” Harvey replied. “4,000 people got a little more than out of hand. Life magazine took a shot for the cover of a guy lying on a bike with a beer bottle in his hand. The street around the motorcycle was covered with beer bottles. The main street of Hollister. The AMA freaked out. That is where the one percenter came from. The AMA said that was not a true picture. The percentage of bad bikers was only “one percent” of all the motorcyclists. Then Frank Rooney wrote a piece in Harpers called “Cyclists’ Raid” that he said was based on Hollister. That became the screenplay for The Wild One.”
“With biker gangs tearing up the town.” I said. “But, Harvey, everyone now says the thing was blown way out of proportion. Even people who lived there said in interviews that these were all good boys back from the war just having a little fun spending some money in the community.”
“Bullshit,” Harvey comes back. “How can you make that shit up? Jerks who never rode a bike and presume to be intellectuals also say that motorcycles were just cheap transportation after the war, nothing more. An alternative to the overpriced used cars that were hawked on TV by Mad Man Muntz. That the guys who rode were displaced youth–alienated after the war, innocents confused, choosing a free life on the road instead of settling down to a slow middle class death in a grey flannel suit. The police reports from Hollister say different.” Harvey went on. “There was a lot of shit that happened in Hollister that had nothing to do with being confused about whether or not the bikers should live in Levittown. ‘Let’s just fuck over Hicktown!’”
“And motorcycles were the best horses for that Apocalypse. ” continued Harvey. “Wino Willie Folkner [Founder of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club and rumored to be the model for Brando in The Wild One] was interviewed in the L.A. Times just before he died. He said different. He should know. He was there. One of the last L.A. Boozefighters.”
“Boozefighters?” I asked.
“Sound like the name of a good little boys club?’ Harvey laughed. “Having hung around bad guys on bikes, I can tell you that some guys were bad before Hollywood ever dreamed of ‘em. I don’t think the Hell’s Angels are a halfway house for case studies of misguided youth rebelling against the constraints of a square society. The Boozefighters became the Hell’s Angels. Willie said they went to Hollister to drink. A lot. To fight. He said they got drunk and drug a guy behind a car. Tipped over a police car. Rode bikes into bars. Tried busting other bikers out of jail. Basically all the stuff that the ‘Cyclists’ Raid’ is about and a lot of the stuff that is in The Wild One.”
“As an ex-cop, that shit seems kinda felonious to me,” Harvey said. “At the least, by today’s standards I see a few D.U.I s there. In his biography, Stanley Kramer – the producer of the movie – says that real bikers gave them the lines ‘…whatta ya got…’ and ‘…we just go…’ Confused, my ass…like I said, you don’t make this stuff up. Cheap transportation..right! Dude, everyone at Hollister was riding choppers and bob jobs, that ain’t cheap wheels. That’s a statement. And if they were all really so fucking naïve and sweet, how come you had to buy a Honda to meet the nicest people?”
“Even some tough old biker guy in gang colors told me it was all crap this riot stuff, the bad motorcyclist at Hollister,” I said.
“Weird.” Harvey said.
“Why?” I asked.”
“Because why would a one percenter, a guy whose reputation depends on creating bad news about motorcycles, why would he not want to be a part of the first bad news about bikers–Hollister?” said Harvey.
“But that still doesn’t answer the question about why there’s so much divided opinion about what really happened there,” I persisted.
“Who conceived the jacket and the hat and the boots for The Wild One?”
“There is no costume designer or wardrobe listed in the credits for the movie,” I answered.
“I know a guy who collects motorcycle jackets; you can find him Sunday morning at the Rock Store,” Harvey said. “I told him you would be there. He has the answer.”
To be continued….
Thanks to Patrick Cook; Mark Brady, Todd Andersen & Monika Boutwell; Peter Jones and Harvey Keith.
If you have a good beginning, go out with a bang.
There have been commercials and TV graphics with head-butting, exploding football helmets, one beer bottle crashing into another and exploding; endless other things crashing into each other and exploding. But the exploding gloves image we created with Sylvester Stallone for the teaser trailer for Rocky IV was the first (although I did work on blowing up Jack in The Box).
Rocky IV is a metaphor for the Cold War and the trailer we created, and more specifically the ending with its exploding red and white boxing gloves, is its visual metaphor, a logo; one that was ultimately so popular the film didn’t need the title for identification. Just show those exploding gloves and people knew what movie you were talking about. That visual metaphor became my most copied graphic.
Unlike most movie trailers, traditionally constructed of images culled from existing footage of the film, our teaser trailer was developed like a commercial, from storyboard to execution, every image shot specifically for the trailer.
MGM Senior VP of Advertising, Greg Morrison, and Bill Loper, the studio’s Director of Advertising, were my clients. To shoot, I hired cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, whose credits include The Deerhunter, Close Encounters, Life Is a House, and Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda. I produced and directed. We got Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren in a simple empty garage in Culver City and created our mini-movie.
I had Vilmos position the camera low to push the height of Dolph to visually loom large over Stallone. We wanted to build on the legend of ‘Rocky’ and symbolize the concept of Rocky IV being bigger than life.
“Stallone liked the trailer but thought the ending needed more of a punch.” – Betsy Sharkey, ADWEEK
We had powerful footage of the two men boxing but I agreed with Sly and brought in R&B Efx of Burbank. With them we created the live exploding gloves image with the multi-dimensional movie title emerging from the smoke.
“We built four sets of plaster gloves and had some pyrotechnic guys blow them up with dynamite caps.” – Michael Morreale, Efx’s executive producer.
Since we were shooting independent footage not cut from the film itself, we had to carefully match the closing action sequence shot days earlier: the gloves were in a certain hanging position and had to be perfectly duplicated for continuity’s sake. For an entire day Efx blew up gloves but it was actually the second set that made the final cut.
At a time when only about 40% of the traditional movie trailers actually got played by exhibitors, MGM took special care to make sure this trailer would be seen, latching it to its very popular James Bond franchise, which had A View To Kill as its major summer release that year.
“Rocky IV, The Trailer has had audiences screaming in the aisles, exhibitors begging for copies and TV stations crying for behind-the-scenes interviews.” –Betsy Sharkey, ADWEEK
I was told that cynical movie marketers were waiting to see if our mini-movie would work to sell a major feature.
Tracking studies assessing impact indicated our teaser trailer pushed awareness of the movie past 36%, well beyond the 5-10% public awareness a trailer typically generated. Rocky IV went on to become the highest grossing of all the Rocky movies, opening with the best weekend of all. We got ‘em in the doors and the movie kept the audiences coming to the theaters.
“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” — Winston Churchill
(A tip o’ the hat to Betsy Sharkey for all the word help.)
(Gloves available for purchase at ScreenUsed.com)
Mike, I was 10 when this movie came out. The movie poster brings me back to those lovely ’80s. I will miss them again and again. The trailer is a film in itself. Pure drama, stunning angles, lights and effects. Cold War metaphor with gloves, heat & sweat. I will trade this one with tons of trailers we have now. Richard L.
Hey Mike – FYI: your log0 for Gordon & Smith was listed as one of the top 100 of the most widely recognized logos from San Diego companies EVER! (http://bit.ly/kRB4Fx). Thanks again for the classic Gordon & Smith logo. 52 years and who’s counting? Larry & Gayle Gordon
Wow! Thanks, Gayle! MS
Richard Lecocq has released his newly published book, Michael Jackson KING, a detailed documentation of Michael Jackson’s historic solo career as the world’s number one entertainer from 1979 – 2009. Richard takes the reader through the exploration of how the albums, films, tours, TV appearances and collaborations with other artists were created and became a part of the legacy of this great entertainer.
Michael Jackson KING includes in-depth interviews with Steve Barron who directed the plate-shifting “Billie Jean” video; choreographer Vincent Paterson of “Beat It,” “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Black or White,” “Jam,” “Blood on the Dance Floor” and several TV performances; “imagineer” Rick Rothschild who worked on Captain EO; Matt Forger, the sound engineer from Thriller to HIStory; Buz Kohan, writer of the TV shows Disney 25, Motown 25, Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 60th Celebration, Elizabeth Taylor’s 65th Celebration, and Tom Bahler, writer and arranger of “We Are the World” and “She’s Out Of My Life.”
In addition to those interviews Richard interviewed me regarding the creation of Michael Jackson’s image for the cover of his first hugely successful solo album, Off the Wall. The look Michael and I created together at that time was a graphic metaphor of his coming of age, of his stepping out as a man on his own. Those images, the black and white palette, the socks and glove and all the other trademark elements we came up with, were kept in some form as the symbol of Michael Jackson throughout his career. His branding.
Michel always used the look we created for Off the Wall as a logo. A brand icon.
Until The Wiz I had only thought of Michael as the kid in The Jacksons and The Jackson Five. In The Wiz he was grown up and a person of his own. He out-danced, out-sang and out-performed the rest of the cast and with a personality bigger than the screen. I was struck by lightning–I knew the look for Michael. I begged his agent to let me to create the cover for Off the Wall!
At that time, young Michael was a gangly kid with an Afro. Literally a kid. But I wanted to put that kid in a tuxedo – a tuxedo and white dress shirt, looking like Sinatra walking into the spotlight to the applause of a sold-out Vegas performance.
I was not only designing and creating a cover; I was branding a person.
We tried several times to get the shots for the cover. After a shoot at the Griffith Park Observatory under the Hollywood sign that didn’t work for me , we tried a re-shoot in photographer Steve Harvey’s Hollywood studio. Nothing was happening. The photograph in the theatrical tuxedo, with the Gene Kelley white sox and loafers, needed something more than just a white background.
I needed a background to support the metaphorical symbolism of the tuxedo and the young kid with the big talent.
In an urban alley against an old wall of real brick, I directed Michael to be more animated in his pose. And I told him to smile. Voila!…Off the Wall. Perhaps after the Great Wall and the Berlin Wall, one of the most famous walls in the world. A wall I picked to be our backstage alley door of a Broadway theatre.
I added the white glow to the socks for emphasis before the album cover was printed. Those, along with the black tuxedo pant cuffs and the black penny loafers, are the most iconic parts of the brand image and when the album was reduced to CD size, that was the most indelible visual, particularly in that smaller size.
The printing of the original cover sucked. The glow of the white socks was not handled to be as soft and cloudlike as I intended. Michael’s likeness suffered. Worse I was never asked to proof the printing.
And until an interview I did after Michael’s passing, one focused on my involvement in creating his look and the cover of Off the Wall, I never understood exactly what I didn’t like about the title lettering. Looking at the CD back cover there was another – newer – photo of Michael, still in a tux but in front of a faux brick wall. He is holding a pre-school style chalk holder with a big piece of chalk in it as he affected a visibly awkward “Michael Jackson pose.”
Kindergarten chalk lettering on the original Off the Wall cover of mine? That’s what bothered me: another denial that Michael Jackson was not a child but a major entertainer.
Discussing this with Richard Lecocq I emphasized that I felt this lettering was as big a mistake as the printing quality of the original cover…and I wanted to redesign that title lettering in present time, for Michael Jackson KING.
So I decided I would. The kiddie school chalk was infantile and wrong but what would work? Graffiti? Wrong message at the time.
I discovered Toril Bækmark, a Danish illustrator. She created new lettering for me and, as a place holder, created this wonderful drawing of Michael, in that same pose he made for me for Off the Wall.
Michael would like it.
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Hey, Mike – Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your story about Michael! Inspiring stuff, as I’m an art director in the early stages. I was drawing in my sketchbook this morning, and found a drawing I did from an old photo of you. Thought I would share and hope you’re having a rad spring so far! Daniel C.
Wow. Great. Thanks, Daniel. MS
Michael would have liked it! Mark A.
Thanks, Mark. MS
Great story, Mike. All the best. Toril B.
Thanks, Toril. MS
This is wonderful, Mike. Thank you!! Hope you are well. Shari
Thanks, Shari! MS
Holy great! Received tracking info as well. Richard L
Sweet swagger…Tim G.
Thanks, Tim. MS
Awesome! Great piece. It’s so cool that the many aspects of branding you developed for him, he kept. He always seems to have been a consummate professional besides his gargantuan talent. Something else struck me reading this piece. He must have been quite the humble genius to listen to others. Even though he was already a superstar since a young child, he obviously listened to you, keeping branding trademarks. This shows insight and great taste. Judith Ellis
Thank you, Judith. MS
Very cool, thanks. Bruce T.
Broad white walls of welcoming space. Great Italian food and friendly service. Venice Beach location. Capri restaurant owner Alona Cooke told me some of my celebrity portraits would be a perfect complement. A show. An exhibition. “Celebrity Access” she titled it.
We went through my photographs and she ultimately picked those with a turn of the head, a back turned, eyes shut or with baseball, the American flag and apple pie. I like her choices. The twelve that are currently hanging each have a story of their own.
Alona did a good job…they look nice up on those walls. Work may be viewed every day from 5:30pm or by appointment, through April 15th. All of the pieces are available for purchase if you’re so inclined:)
Address: Capri Restaurant, 1616 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, CA 90291. For information call Alona Cooke @ (310) 392.8777. Stop by for a drink, dinner, or a just to take a look.
Tell Alona Mike Salisbury sent you.
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Love those old round gas pumps (Tom Wolfe photo)….David L.
“I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate!”–Black Helmet, Spaceballs
From the Mayflower, the Irish Potato Famine, to the first Police Chief of New York City, the New York Yankees, and the stealing of the holy grail of sports — the Yankees’ justifiably titled iconic logo. Happy St. Patrick’s Day from our family to yours.
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Jack Kerouac, Buckwheat, Tony “Two-Ton” Galento, Gianni Agnelli, Agent 99-Barbara Feldon, Salvatore “the Bull” Gravano, Liza Minnelli, Mitt Romney, Darryl Strawberry, Jon (Timmy of Lassie) Provost, Marlon Jackson, John Andretti…
…add my cousin — who won’t cop to being related to me — Joseph. (He always had this Anglo Saxon family side vs the Irish side thing…and to make the point visually, he never took that black ash dot off his forehead — all year long it was there. I just think he just really didn’t want me to tell anyone he knew me. And I knew that his brother ran guns to the IRA out of his florist business. Explain that to anyone, let alone the cousins with the big eagle-encrusted agency rings in the FBI, ATF, Secret Service, CIA. But I really think he was more sensitive about having the florist thing in the family rather than the IRA thing.)
Also list my late uncle, Gordon Dunning, CMDR, USN, and James Taylor and what do we learn, kids?
That we all have the same birthday.
It was a March 12th afternoon after a Norman Seeff photo shoot for one of the two album covers we created for James, all totally wrangled by Grammy-winning producer, Russ Titleman.
In their big Tudor house, James turned to Carly and me and said, “Happy one more birthday to us,” chugged down a Heinekin, and with a burp and a satisfied smile said, “Nothing takes the edge off like beer and a Valium.” Hmm. I never thought of James Taylor as edgy.
I thought about what Carly said and asked myself, how could anyone say “no” to that, especially coming from her. So I did it. Cut it all off. Right there in Sweet Baby James’ Beverly Hills bathroom, singing to myself, “You’re so vain…”
Not much later, on location at a classic period hacienda right in the best of the old L.A. left from the days of Cecil B. DeMille – Los Feliz – at another shoot for the marketing campaign of “Zorro, the Gay Blade,” I took my picture with George Hamilton. (I think I took all these photos with celebrities for the wall of the eventual pizza take-out or barbershop or Hollywood dry cleaners I would own.)
Looking at that picture I took of George and me by holding the camera in our noses, I realized George is a really good sport and that this was the first time I had seen my beardless face in a photograph. This is why he is the movie star, I thought. He actually looks like one.
With Superman speed, grabbing my Sharpie before anyone found the evidence of my facial nudity, I quickly retouched the picture to make my naked face more dashing…like Zorro.
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I read Spirits in the Sky and Happy Birthday to Us today, in your honor. Amazing prose, detailed experiences and a wonderful life well lived—cheers! Best, Eric P.
Happy Birthday, Mike. The blog is great. Bob G.
Oh, not “you probably think this song is about you”? Ha ha! Happy Birthday! Jill B.
(The following text was originally published in One Hell Of An Eye on January 21, 2010: The Quiet Beatle)
At 12 years of age my son Christopher was trailing slightly behind me in the long hallway of George Harrison’s Crackerbox Palace at Henley on Thames, England.
With slightly perplexed attention, he was studying the gallery of Beatles pictures stretched all the way down the walls–a complete history of John, Paul, George and Ringo. George had met us at the front door and was silently leading us through the hall to the kitchen where Stevie Winwood and guitar hero Alvin Lee were hanging out over morning tea. George and I were to discuss the photos I was shooting for his album “George Harrison,” an assignment given to me by the late, great Warner Bros. Records art director, Ed Thrasher, and producer Russ Titelman.
As we approached the kitchen, Chris ran up beside George and I and – not quietly – said, “Dad, those guys in the photos…I thought they all were dead.”
Mike, I really love this photo. Great! Mike F.
Thanks. Just found it and Lorraine cleaned it. MS
I love George! My favorite Beatle always. I didn’t even know that we were birthday mates practically. Annie F.
Wow. Cool, Annie. MS
Mike, thank you very much for that photo. We framed the photo of George you gave us. It is one of our favorite things. Regards, Mike P.
Thanks, Mike. MS
Pure romantic deep pop at its best…thanks. Richard L.
Thanks, Richard. MS
I loved Thrasher…Barbra WB.
Great guy. MS
I just watched The Concert for Bangladesh the other day. The first concert to raise money for a social cause. George Harrison brought us awareness of the world. Happy Birthday, George. Bob S.
Superb shot. One of the better ones of him I’ve seen. George was a more interesting and compelling talent solo than any of the others except for John. Sad he had to leave early. rcc
Thanks, Robert. Just found that shot. MS
Great pics, Mike. George seemed like a kind, sweet person. Your pictures reflect that nicely. Mark A.
Thanks, Mark. MS
Hi, Mike, I’ve been listening to him a lot as I paint away. Much appreciated…finding inspiration is a wonderful thing~ Thanks and warm wishes. Trish.
Thanks, Trish. I like your book a lot. I will think of some possible directions for you. MS
Mike, I am always amazed about the work and talent you collaborated with – your creations are legendary – thanks for keeping me updated. Miss you my friend and only the best. Franz
Thanks, Franz. MS
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER is a world on water of every color in the rainbow. Six foot tall birds walk like clowns on stilts past rodents the size of Jack Russell terriers. Spoonbills nibble the edges of a swamp inches from the staring eyeballs of submerged crocodiles. Hawks hover above forty-foot tall trees with Barbie pink flowers. The land that time forgot.
Species from a lost world survived here because South America was cut off when the land bridge to Central America closed over four million years ago. In this upside down world below the equator, summer is winter, downstream is north. The entire Amazon basin was once a great isolated inland sea. The rivers still feed eels, rays and pink dolphins. In the jungle, be careful not to trip over a ten foot long Anaconda, who is still king. (Rescuers are rumored to have discovered that a large bulge in the middle of one captured Anaconda was a Japanese dentist missing from an eco-tour.)
Our escort trucks get stuck with the skeletons of dead cattle on seas of drying mud that are the remains of perennial winter flood lands.
A few turn back. Some take the planes out before we enter the deep tunnels made by the trees of the jungle along the Amazon. I last saw the Hulk sleeping on the seat of his ATV looking a part of the vehicle like a centaur as curious Indians inspected this alien being with the big knife by moonlight.
But Lee, Jeff, David and I kick ass. Sort of. Jeff went in circles. I get lost. And then follows the scariest part of this adventure…
A BIG BLACK BAT THE SIZE OF AN EAGLE stares at me with a toothy grin and flutters to within an inch of my face. Dark. All alone. The path rises up to a muddy hump and is suddenly closed in on both sides by split rail fences keeping any jungle away. There is nothingness in front of me. I slowly creep into the dark then like a roller coaster fall straight down. Into water.
The river water is over my knees. Tires slither in the mud below, almost pulling the ATV out of my grip, but I make it to the dry bank and gain traction. The wall of mud now in front of me seems to go straight up and over backwards at the lip but the Honda drives into the sky, falling down to all fours on the other side. There is Jeff and David. I’m relieved but breathless, scared witless.
Spooky? Yes. Dangerous? Probably not. It should be said that while it’s true that the Amazon defines remote, about the worst thing that happened to any participant on the Caravana was a broken leg. The doctors patched him up and he was flown out later the same day. Some riders try to make the Caravana a race but most go slowly – I don’t think I ever hit 50mph. The weather, the terrain and the effort it takes to ride a vehicle that has as much torque as an ATV make the Caravana more exhausting than dangerous.
And what’s the point of racing through a jungle as mythic as the Amazon? Forests. Jungle. Jaguars. Tapirs. Wild pigs. Eagles. Egrets. Moths the size of doormats and beaucoup bugs if you stand still and let them have you for dinner. We ride the Hondas under tall ferns with leaves as big as grand pianos. Looking down at piranha, we cross bridges made of rotting wood slats almost too far apart for the axle width.
REST WILL EVENTUALLY COME in a lakeside resort with a bar right out of Casablanca. In Cobija, where hot pink and aqua buildings sun on hilly streets that circle down under shady palm trees to a winding river. The shops seem to have no doors and cash registers are wooden drawers under the counter. After a night in a bar right out of Casablanca, we sleep past noon in hacienda-style hotels with our doors open to the heat radiating from a tiled patio.
We are in Cobija for two nights of rest from the trail. Every hour brings some new variation on Bolivio’clock, but who cares? In Riberalta, Guayaramerin and Cobija there is a big public social club. Like a big western dance hall. The roof is open. The Brazilian cook and his lieutenants will outdo themselves with each meal. Fruit. Salad. Bread and rolls. Pate. Shrimp. Cornichons. Lox. Tomatoes. Roast suckling pig. Duck. Steak, fish, chicken. Rice, pasta, corn, every bean that ever came from South America, yucca and potatoes, carrots, asparagus, aubergines, beer and wine. Parking lot sized tables of deserts. Brazilian coffee. And wine, lots of wine. The mayor and the police will escort us to dinner and join us. Monkeys try to steal food from our plates. Musicians play guitar and sing to us of Bolivia.
We camp the last night on a 150,000 acre ranch someplace where they butcher a steer for our dinner because the supply trucks can’t get through the jungle. Beneath a grapefruit tree as big as a hotel lobby, our chef has been flown in to prepare the feast. (If we did that here, how many permits do you think it would take?)
Tomorrow morning we’ll return to the jungle and in five days we’ll be back in Trinidad, where we started. Lee and Jeff will fly home to their routines in the States, where, we all agree, you’re no longer allowed to have that kind of fun. Who knows where Mick, our CIA cohort, will end up next? Probably as Prague station chief.
TAKING TOO MANY PICTURES, Lee and I have fallen half a day behind the others. We are late. Bolivio’clock. But we are out of the path of the killing sun on a barge hand cut from hardwood jungle trees and held together with hemp ropes. Turned around and punted upstream into the mighty Amazon River with maneuvers of a cattle dog by way of a funky tug that could be the sister of the African Queen.
The sun is setting under a silently gliding flock of pink flamingos. My head is in a cloud of butterflies of any size and color they could be. This is the Amazon. I am in the Amazon. Like the birth of my kids–this is a moment that takes my breath away. A moment at Bolivio’clock.
JEFF AND DAVID ARE LEADING A CONGA LINE around the village square of Trinidad. Under Japanese lanterns blowing in the warm night wind, a loud band plays Latin music. Kids dance like Americans in MTV videos while sloths hanging in the trees watch –upside down. Rushing me from behind, Miss Trinidad pours beer over my head. Lee laughs until he gets his. Looking at the others, they are all wet too. Everyone is laughing. It is our victory party. We all win.
But in this upside down world, who could lose? No elapsed time records. No clocks. There are no deadlines. No real schedules. No maps. We have radios and phones and trail markers. I get lost, but someone always finds me. Hungry? Food shows up. If it is harmless fun, we do it. Stop on the trail for a small party with some other lost riders. There is a guitar. We sing. I try to be understood in bad Spanish or teach dirty words in English. Ride a country road to the store. Ride to the lake for a swim. No tickets. No lawyers. No lawyers’ lawyers. No fast FedEx or fast food but we are free to go fast or slow. Be first or last.
In the land that time forgot, they forget about time.
…just do it.
www.caravan-atv.com; e-mail: email@example.com
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Hiya, Mike. Sometimes I forget what a cowboy you are. When it comes to crocodiles, my preference for them is on belts. In the Adventure Dept., you are miles ahead of many of us and those animals close up would scare the shit out of me! Some people called Steve Erwin brave; I called him a kook! Enjoy your weekend and stay away from crocs, both the animals and the goofy shoes, too! Best, Pete B.
Thanks, Pete MS
Living a part of my life vicariously (and safely) through you. Thanks for a great Amazonian adventure! Fred D.
Thanks, Fred. MS
Great lead – I’ll read the rest at leisure, later. Keep ‘em comin’! Best, Jim
Thanks, Jim. MS
Mike, what a story! Felt like I was there. Thanks for sharing! Jeanie S.
Thanks, Jeanie. MS
Is this where you had your picture taken with a crocodile that your secretary sent to the class reunion? You were certainly brave…like I told you, it could have turned its head and chomped your leg off! Rudi L.