In 1968 Jessica Atwater(1910-2008) was commissioned by the popular underground magazine, “Mother Nature News,” to write an article about the making of 'EASY RIDER.' She spent two months with the cast and crew.
ジェシカは映画イージーラーダーの撮影に2ヶ月間密着し、その様子を前衛的な雑誌”Mother Nature News”に寄稿。 この記事は、ハプニングや出演者の人間像は言わずもがな、彼女の随行が映画内容に大きな影響を及ぼしていた事を露にした。 彼女の言動は、シーンのアレンジや出演者の台詞に滲み込んでいる。
On The Road with Peter, Dennis and Jack
" The Making of 'EASY RIDER' "
Reprint from “Mother Nature News”, December, 1968 by Jessica Atwater
I awoke to the incessant ringing of my phone. I had fallen asleep in front of the TV again and my back was aching, my apartment was freezing so my mood was already on a downward spiral. It was my agent. Apparently, “Mother Nature News” wanted to commission a piece from me. There were a lot of rumors filtering up from New Orleans about a new project that had just started second unit production during Mardi Gras amid stories of drugs, sex and infighting. Principal filming was slated to begin next week in Los Angeles. It sounded like another run of the mill biker movie and the magazine wanted me to report from the trenches, so to speak.
The production was going to feature Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and a relatively unknown (but not to me, wink wink) Jack Nicholson. I wasn’t too crazy about it since I had just finished the research and the first draft of the book I was ghostwriting for Tom Wolfe about Ken Kesey. I had spent three months “touring” with Kesey and his merry pranksters and frankly, I was a little sick and tired of “the road”. This whole “on the road” thing started 15 years ago when I foolishly agreed to “proof-read” Jack Kerouac’s rambling, drug induced, semi-biography. Poor “Sal” and “Dean” had pretty much fried their brains with a combination of sex, drugs and road tar. It took me almost 14 months to finally organize his notes into something resembling coherency.
But this time I was promised that this would be my “road” story, no one else’s. So I foolishly agreed. It was going to be a short shooting schedule, probably no more than two months. When he told me that the total budget was less than $400,000 I almost choked but visions of spending time with my Jack (Nicholson, this time) on a romantic cross-country adventure helped me make up my mind.
So, with some apprehension and, I’ll admit, some excitement too, I reported to the “set” for the first day of shooting.
Day One (In the Flight Path)
The location was a frontage road bordering LAX International airport. The incoming flights came screaming in over our heads at the rate of one every 30 seconds. Two limos with smoke tinted glass and a Rolls Royce pulled up simultaneously. Dennis was the first one out. It looked like he had just woken up. I introduced myself, and he, very cordially, offered his help with anything I needed. I was a little surprised to hear that he has a very refined British accent. When I remarked on it and asked him where he was raised in England, he admitted that he mostly grew up in Dodge City, Kansas and he had developed the British accent because he felt he needed some sort of affectation.
While we were talking, Peter joined us. He seemed very jittery. As each plane flew over, he would drop to the ground and cover his head. In between these frequent interruptions, we managed to exchange introductions. Dennis took him around and introduced him to the crew. Interestingly, with each hand shake he said, “Hi, I’m Peter Fonda, you know?…Henry’s son?” It was a little sad.
The Rolls, I discovered was to be used in the scene. Phil Spector, who would be playing a drug dealer, was sitting quietly inside listening to some Hank Snow tapes and twirling a six-shooter.
As I stood off to the side, out of everyone’s way, Dennis quickly took charge. He donned his trademark director’s beret (another admitted affectation) and directed the grips and gaffers where to set up.
There were a few brief rehearsals. Before the actual shooting began, I had a private word with Dennis. I told him that, in my opinion, with all his directorial demands, I felt that he hadn’t given much thought to his character, Billy. During the rehearsals, he had been playing the character very laid back. I told him that if he continued this tack, he would be competing with Peter’s character. I suggested he move to the other end of the spectrum and play Billy as an extremely uptight and paranoid stoner. He immediately agreed and said he would give it a try and see how it looked in the dailies.
Our conversation was interrupted at this point. Peter stormed up to Dennis. A heated argument ensued. I could only hear bits and pieces over the deafening roar of the landing planes, but apparently, Peter was refusing to wear a leather jacket with an American flag stitched on the back. He said it was disrespectful to the symbol of our great nation and that if Dennis wanted someone to desecrate our country and everything it stood for, he should contact his sister. Dennis patiently explained the theme of the movie and how it was crucial that he wear the emblem of the country they were taking such great pains trying to “discover” throughout the movie. Finally, Peter reluctantly gave in and the scene was shot without any more interruptions.
Day Five (Breaking the Ties that Bind)
The last four days were filled with tedious “movie-making”. Frankly, I was a little bored by it all. I spent most of the time playing cards with the crew while Dennis did his “director” act and Peter did his “actor” act.
An interesting thing happened today, however. We were in the Mojave Desert filming the scene where Wyatt takes off his watch and throws it to the side of the road. This was supposed to symbolize freedom and the casting off of bonds of society or some silly thing. Well, Peter, who was wearing a very expensive Rolex, refused to toss it on the ground. Dennis kept assuring him that after the scene was filmed he could pick it up again. Peter refused to budge. Finally, in frustration, Dennis tore off his cheap Timex, stood off camera and flung it to the ground as the camera s whirred. By this time, the sun had set so Dennis thanked everyone and called it a day.
To tell the truth, this was Dennis's cheap Timex
Peter Fonda wore a yellow gold Rolex GMT Master in Easy Rider.
Refer to rolexmagazine.com Rolex Coolness: Peter Fonda
Day Seven (The Big Score)
Dennis was attempting to shoot the film in chronological sequence to preserve the “growth” experience that his and Peter’s characters were to undergo as their journey progressed across the country. Aside from the infamous “Mardi Gras footage”, that was the impetus to this story; there was one other scene that was filmed out of sequence. It was used in the opening of the film. It is the scene where Wyatt and Billy score the drugs that they eventually sell to Phil Spector to finance their trip. The script said it took place in Mexico. Dennis is, if nothing else, a slave to the written word so even though the scene could have been filmed on the outskirts of Pomona, he insisted on shooting it in Tijuana. Since there was still an outstanding warrant for my arrest in Mexico (thank you, Anthony Quinn), I decided to take the day off.
Day Eleven (The Rancher and his family)
I had developed a bit of a crush on Warren, the actor playing the rancher, and I was hoping there would be a little spark between us. Dennis was having trouble setting up the scene in the farmer’s barn where Wyatt changes the tire on his bike. He said that the scene was flat and it needed some kind of punch. Thinking that this was my chance to impress Warren, I suggested that he have the rancher change his horse’s shoe in the foreground just to add some flavor to the scene. Dennis immediately agreed and went off excitedly mumbling something about symbolism or something.
Peter bored everyone with stories about his dad’s horse riding prowess. “My dad had a way with horses. They would do anything for him. My dad was the greatest, blah, blah, blah…”
Day Fourteen (A Simple Meal)
Peter got the day off to a bad start by refusing to come out of his trailer. He said that unless he could start the day with a “proper” breakfast of eggs, ham, bacon, pancakes and hash browns, he just wasn’t going to report to the set. Dennis tried to lighten the mood with a lame joke about “hash” browns, but Peter just stomped his foot petulantly and stormed back into the trailer. We were literally out in the middle of nowhere. I think it was near Four Corners, New Mexico. Dennis sent one of the grips into town to fetch Peter’s breakfast.
Today’s schedule called for shooting the dinner scene at the commune. Unfortunately, Peter’s breakfast didn’t do much for his mood. When he saw that he would have to actually sit on the ground for much of the scene, he flatly refused. He said he didn’t want to get his new pair of chinos dirty. To keep the peace, Dennis scared up a throw rug from somewhere and the rest of the shooting went off without a hitch.
Day Twenty-One (I Love a Parade)
I awoke with great anticipation. Today was the day that I would be reunited with my erstwhile amour, Jack Nicholson. “Nibbles” and I had met at the premier of “Hell’s Angels on Wheels” and we had hit it off marvelously. When we saw each other on the jailhouse set, it was as if all those months since the last time we were together had simply vanished. We were Jack and Jessie, “J & J”, again.
While the others filmed the parade sequence, we spent sometime on the jailhouse cot doing some “catching up”.
That night we got on the back of his hog and set out into the desert. We smoked a little weed and talked about life. Out under the vast panoply of stars, our discussion turned to the possibility of other worlds. I told Jack something in confidence, something I had never told anyone before. I swore him to secrecy. I confided that for the longest time, I had been convinced that there were aliens living among us. I told him that I was almost convinced that they were from the planet Venus. "They've been coming here ever since 1946,” I told him, “when the scientists first started bouncing radar beams off the moon. And they've been living and working amongst us in vast quantities ever since. The government knows all about them. But they have decided to repress this information because of the tremendous shock that it would cause to our antiquated systems. So now, the Venusians are meeting with people in all walks of life -- in an advisory capacity."
Afterwards I felt foolish and forced Jack to swear that he would never tell anyone about what I had said. He smiled a strange little smile, and promised that he would never tell a soul.
Day Twenty-six (Sittin’ ‘round the old campfire)
Dennis had this thing about “Easy Rider” being a cowboy movie without the horses, so he had a special affinity for shooting the campfire scenes. Jack and I decided to play a little trick on Peter and Dennis. They were both extremely paranoid about being seen smoking what looked like pot. It was actually re-rolled lettuce cigarettes (they were also paranoid about getting lung cancer). Anyway, I had been watching the supposedly “stoned” sequences that had already been filmed and, to me they just weren’t convincing. Neither Dennis nor Peter had ever gotten high on grass so all they had to base their acting on was second-hand stories from the crew and numerous viewings of “Reefer Madness”.
I still had some of the dynamite stuff that Kesey and his gang smoked, so with a little help from Jack we rolled some joints and substituted them for the “prop” lettuce joints that were supposed to be used in the campfire scene where Jack’s character, George Hanson smokes dope for the first time. Naturally, Jack also used the real stuff too but since he was an old pro, he could maintain his character quite well. If you watch Peter very closely when he first lights up, you can see a look in his eyes that tells a whole story. Dennis, on the other hand, seemed completely unaffected by it.
Suffice to say, that after the filming of that scene, all the lettuce “joints” mysteriously disappeared. The only unfortunate outcome was that the experience caused Peter to drop out of sight for the next 20 years.
Day Fifty-Three (The final shot)
Everyone was excited. If everything went well, today would be a wrap. All that was left to shoot was the final campfire scene with Peter and Dennis. Little did I know this was to be my final day on the set also.
My curiosity overcame my better judgement and I did something that got me banned from all movie productions for the next five years. I had heard so much about the raucous events surrounding the Mardi Gras shoots that preceded my joining the entourage that I kept pestering Dennis to screen them for me. I know that my piece would not be complete if it did not include my impressions of that footage. He kept brushing me off, saying that he had been so busy that he hadn’t even seen them himself. As everyone was busy setting up for the final scene, I took the film canister labeled “Mardi Gras”. Since Peter hadn’t seen it yet, I convinced him to come along to my private “screening. Unfortunately, as we came out of the trailer with the canister under my arm, I bumped into one of the grips. The film was knocked right out of my hands, the top came off and the film started to unspool right there in the sun-drenched parking lot. Dennis saw it all. He came running up screaming at the top of his lungs, “You idiots! That film hasn’t been processed yet! It’s undeveloped! You’ve probably ruined everything we shot in New Orleans.” Peter quickly reeled in the film and clamped the lid on the can, but the damage was done. He got so upset that all he could say was, “We blew it. We blew it. We blew it.” over and over again. By the time everything settled down, the sun had set and it was time to film the final scene. Dennis knocked on Peter’s trailer door but Peter wasn’t coming out. Dennis let himself in and spent the next 15 minutes trying to convince Peter to report to the set. Finally, the door opened. Dennis and an obviously still shaken Peter stepped out. Peter was still repeating his new mantra, “We blew it” and he continued doing so until Dennis sat him down by the fire. Dennis said, “Roll ‘em” and started the scene with his lines. It was obvious that Peter wasn’t able to pull himself together. He kept staring at the fire and refused to say his response lines to Dennis. All he would say is, “We blew it.” Realizing that there was nothing he could do, Dennis called, “Cut. That’s a wrap. I’ll try to save this scene with editing.”
It was a sad ending to the two-month endeavor. I snuck off the set to write this article. Fortunately for all concerned, Dennis was able to piecemeal the final scene into something resembling reality (although moviegoers would debate the meaning of Peter’s enigmatic phrase for years to come). Dennis also salvaged the overexposed Mardi Gras film and was able to use it, as washed out as it was. Ironically, he was lauded for his “courageous use of a pioneering film technique”. The film went on to win the Cannes Film Festival and Dennis was able to bask in its glory for a few months.
Peter, as I said, disappeared into the sunset and… I never saw Jack again.