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Peter Fonda

I played hookie from BR yesterday to go to Toronto with a lot of special Buffalonians in order to film an infomercial with Peter Fonda for Time-Life Music.
This, after a phone call on Sunday from a friend saying that they had cast the whole thing with Canadians, much to the dismay of the producer, who wanted American voices. Eh? Add the fact that this would put me one degree of separation from Jack Nicholson, and I was in!
The era Mr. Fonda is hawking is the 60’s. How fun is that? But we were asked not to wear black or denim. What? The fabric of our lives to discuss the music of our lives is a no-no? After seeing Fonda in denim and a black leather jacket, I realized that it was a uniform that would have been repeated over and over if not for the ban.
Fonda was business-like at first, but when someone (was it Dwayne Hall from Sportsman’s?) asked him during a break if the bike on the set was the real bike from Easy Rider he became very animated and told this great story.
The following is Reed Rankin’s (RPM Productions) transcription of Fonda’s reminiscences about his bike:
“We called them ‘Hardleys’ in those days, because they hardly every started… We bought 4 used police bikes and got five black guys from Watts to customize them. We had 2 that looked like Hopper’s and 2 like mine. So if one didn’t start one morning, we’d get the other one off the prop truck. But I loved that they were actually made from police bikes.
“Then I sat in a bathtub full of water in my leathers to get them to mold to me. I sat in that position in the sun, and let them dry on me.
“I had to get used to the [high rise] handlebars, so I was out riding for hours. At 60 or 70 miles an hour, it was no problem, but we couldn’t film at that speed. We had a Chevy convertible with the back seat removed and a plywood platform bolted in, and the tripod attached to that. We put the Arriflex on there and had two special lenses; Lazlo Kovacs had one, and Vilmos Zsigmond had the other, and they’d shoot us on the road at about 25 miles an hour. That was the optimum speed, but it’s much harder[ to steer]. We let some air out of the [car] tires to smooth it out, and they’d get all these fluid shots without any special rigs, stuff that they use a Shotmaker for today.
“So I rode all day and we got to Kingman [Arizona]. Hopper wanted to go for a swim at the hotel pool, but when I took my pants off, my legs were purple. I went to the bar and ordered the tallest, coldest beer they had. I reached out and gripped the stein of beer in my right hand, lifted it up, but could not bend my elbow to get it to my mouth. No problem, I’m left-handed. I grabbed it with my left hand, lifted it but could not bend my left elbow either. I wasn’t going to be beaten, so I asked for a straw, and they laughed, but I leaned over and drank that beer with a straw.
“We couldn’t afford the big lights for fill or night shooting, so we had to do everything during the day. I was out riding all over to get comfortable with the bike, and I had the flag on my back. I kept getting pulled over by the cops. They’d stop me because they didn’t like me wearing the flag- they thought I was being disrespectful- and they’d charge me with vagrancy- you had to have at least a dollar on you. I didn’t have any cash on me, but I had a Platinum American Express Card. And they’d take me before the judge, and somebody’d say, ‘Don’t you know who he is?’ And they’d let me go. Then a little while after that, everybody started wearing the flag on their uniforms- police, firemen, everybody. And I thought, ‘Yeah!’.
“I just got a new MV Agusta, an Italian racing motorcycle. It’s made to go 200 miles an hour. I’m 67 now, and people say to me, ‘Why the hell would you want to go that fast?’ Well, I know how to, and I like to, and I can.”
Fonda went on to say that the first bike was blown up in the movie, and he was the person who pressed the button. Unfortunately, they were premature, and the second bike was stolen, so they shot the final scene by the campfire with no bike in the frame. He also said that if the person who has that gas tank knew what they had, they could probably sell it for $5M to some guy in Asia.
If you happen to be sleepless and watching 3 AM television, you might catch a lot of Buffalo notables in the infomercial. Those of you who were there…sign in and say hello.


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