What’s Goin’ On

Throwback: 'Easy Rider'

Today in 1969: The dawn of New Hollywood


"Easy Rider" rolled into movie theaters and pop culture history on this date in 1969. Some fun facts:

· The movie was made with Monkees money. The film's $360,000 budget was financed primarily by co-producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, who created the 1966 NBC series "The Monkees."

· A real-life photo of Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern on their motorcycles inspired Fonda to produce the film. He recruited co-star Dennis Hopper by promising he could also direct. Fonda and Hopper wrote the screenplay with satirist Terry Southern, whose screenwriting credits include "Dr. Strangelove" and "Barbarella."

· The film's original title: "The Loners."

· The main characters Wyatt (aka Captain America), played by Fonda, and Billy (Hopper) were named after Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. Billy only calls Captain America by his real name once, at the campfire scene near the end.

· Fonda bought four 1962 1200cc Harley Davidson motorcycles from the Los Angeles Police Department. They were customized by two African-American chopper builders in Los Angeles, Ben Hardy and Cliff Vaughs.

· Word is that Harley refused to supply free bikes over concerns that the movie's outlaw heroes would be bad for the company's image.

· Three of the bikes were stolen from the set. The "Captain America" Harley Panhead chopper that burned at the end of the movie was purchased and restored by actor Dan Haggerty, who sold it in 2001. Last fall, it sold at auction for a record $1.35 million, the most ever paid for a motorcycle.

· The role of drunken lawyer George Hanson, a breakthrough for Nicholson, nearly went to Rip Torn. Hopper later claimed that Torn lost the part because he pulled a knife on the director when they met over dinner to discuss the project. Torn, who maintained that it was Hopper who brandished the knife, eventually sued him for defamation—and won. In the end, Hopper was ordered to pay Torn $475,000 in damages.

· Yes, it's true: Fonda, Hopper and co-star Jack Nicholson really did smoke weed on camera. But no one was actually tripping on LSD during the acid scene.

· Fonda spent more than a year editing "Easy Rider." The original rough cut was reportedly four to five hours long. All deleted scenes have been lost.

· Legendary record producer Phil Spector, now in prison for murder, makes a cameo appearance as a cocaine buyer. Spector's previous acting experience: He played himself in a 1967 episode of "I Dream of Jeannie."

· Hopper asked Stephen Stills to write a song that could be played as the camera panned up to the sky in the final scene. But "Find the Cost of Freedom" didn't make the cut. It later became the B-side of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 1970 single "Ohio."

· Fonda asked Bob Dylan to write a theme song for the film. Dylan said no—but then scribbled on a paper napkin what would become the opening lines of "Ballad of Easy Rider" (The river flows/It flows to the sea/Wherever that river goes/That's where I want to be"). He told Fonda to give the napkin to Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, who finished and recorded the song. Later, at a screening, Dylan saw his name in the credits and demanded that it be removed.

· In 2007, "Easy Rider" was No. 84 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time.