Tag Archives: sal mineo

Romance of the Motorcycle

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James Dean with his motorcycle

Today motorcycles are common. It has become a common mode of transportation for young people, and middle class families. It is no longer the exclusive domain of biker gangs and misfits. Of course, this has always been the case outside of the United States. But this post isn’t about the business executive who takes rides on his motorcycle on the weekends. This post is about the motorcycle as a romantic icon. A symbol of American independence. A symbol of the American male mojo. The motorcycle of the Hell’s Angels and Marlon Brando. I mainly wanted to share some great photos with you, that give you a better idea of motorcycle lore than any words I can type. My brain hurts lately, and my well of inspiration has dried up a bit, so I am allowing other media to tell the story. My first photo is a wonderful moment in American cultural history. This is Hunter Thompson long before his gonzo days. He is gazing out at the unforgiving sea at Big Sur with his motorcycle. For me, this captures some of the mystery and romance of the motorcycle. Of course, it helps to know who the kid is.

Hunter at Big Sur

The romance of the motorcycle began after WW II, when so many veterans came home and needed something exciting and somewhat dangerous to do. So they formed motorcycle clubs. It didn’t take long for these clubs to develop a seedy reputation. “The Wild Ones” established the idea of the motorcyclist as a rebel. Someone asked Marlon Brando’s character what he was rebelling against and he said “Whadda ya’ got?” The motorcycle reinforced the loner image. One man and his bike. This was the message of ‘The Wild Ones’. It was not a celebration of gangs, it was a celebration of individualism. The combination of the mysterious and virile Marlon Brando with the motorcycle was magical. I don’t think there has been a more perfect marriage. Although ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ focused more on daredevil car racing, the same spirit of individualism pervades that film. Of course, James Dean had his bike, and so did Elvis Presley after him. It is interesting how that image changed as Elvis’ image changed. In the beginning Elvis had a Harley, but when he needed to be more family friendly he rode a smaller, less controversial motorcycle. But check out the road hog he has in his final years! This is an icon of a different sort, and the subject of a different blog. I managed to find a photo of Natalie Wood on a motorcycle but it isn’t entirely clear to me what brand it is. Is it a Harley? And while I am on the subject of Natalie Wood, I found this adorable picture of  her and Sal Mineo that I wanted to share even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with motorcycles. It just captures some of what made those two so special.

Natalie Wood on a Harley?

Steve         McQueen redeemed the image of the motorcycle in The Great Escape. It became wholesome again, and associated with good old American virtues. Michael Parks revived the loner image for the motorcycle in the seventies. He was kind of a James Dean Light. Arlo Guthrie made the motorcycle seem harmless and fun with his ‘Motorcycle Song’. Thankfully, we had Steppenwolf to remind us of what motorcycles should be about. ‘Born to be Wild’ became

Elvis gives her a ride on his hog

the motorcycle anthem, although I really liked their much more obscure motorcycle related song, ‘Screaming Night Hog’. You can see in the videos I posted,  the transformation in just one year of Steppenwolf, from hippie band to a biker band. John Kay didn’t just wear those shades to be cool, he had severe vision problems. But he also looked totally cool!

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found three photos of famous icons with their bikes. Brando, Elvis, and Springsteen. Nuff said.

 

 

Hunter Thompson with his bike

 

Michael Parks as Bronson

James Hurley in Twin Peaks

Margaret Cho keeping the spirit alive

 

 

 

 

 

Hunter Thompson made motorcycles dangerous again, by  writing about his misadventures with the Hell’s Angels. Here he is with his bike.  And it comes full circle with James Hurley in Twin Peaks with his bike, echoing Marlon Brando. So today, although motorcycles are everywhere, there still remains a romance attached to the idea of the motorcycle. That spirit continues with Margaret Cho’s blog about her motorcycle adventures.

The Rebels Curse

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I was just thinking about Natalie Wood. She was my earliest childhood crush. She had a dark, mysterious allure. For me, at the tender age of ten, she represented all that I wanted a woman to be. Then I thought about James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Dennis Hopper. All of these people appeared in Rebel Without a Cause. Each of them have had a tragic history, three of them died young. It gives that film a macabre overtone. James Dean had been long dead by the time I even realized who he was. One of my earliest memories is of the horror of seeing a picture of the wreck of his Porsche Spyder. I could imagine his mangled body inside. I thought about how good he must have felt racing down the nearly deserted highway, his career was taking off, and he had his whole life ahead of him, then Wham! James Dean seemed dislocated, like he belonged in a better world, and was condemned to this one. I related more to Sal Mineo, when I finally saw Rebel. I responded to his vulnerability. I, too was bullied every day at school, except I didn’t have a James Dean to look out for me. The adults in that film were so out of touch. They reminded me of all the adults I knew. And they killed Plato. Sal Mineo had such a difficult time in the entertainment industry. He was always pegged for some stupid ethnic part, He was rebelliously bisexual long before it was the hip thing to do. After many lean years, he was just beginning to succeed in theatre. Then he was killed. Dennis Hopper only had a small role in the film, as one of the high school ‘hoods. But he developed into one of my favorite actors. I remember him doing a superb job on an episode of twilight zone, as a neo-Nazi. Of course, I loved his crazy role in Easy Rider, but his ultimate achievement had to be as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. The role was meant for him, as he said, he was Frank Booth. It is a shame that Dennis never got the full recognition he deserved. He died sick. It was sad.

Which brings me to the person I originally intended to post about. Natalie Wood. She was so beautiful. As a kid, I adored her. I loved her early sixties movies, when she had that really cute hair style, and the puppy dog eyes. She was so cute in Sex and the Single Girl. Later, as an adult, I was very impressed with her in Love with the Proper Stranger, with Steve McQueen. She was adorable in Gypsy. I remember feeling embarrassed when she did her strip tease at the end of that movie. Even though it didn’t show anything, I felt that ‘my’ Natalie would never do such a thing! I was such a prude when I was a kid! I would daydream about kissing her, all this long before I reached puberty. I lost track of her in later years, until I saw her in her last film, Brainstorm. She haunts that film, and not just because she died before it was completed. She seems disconnected from the film. She is there, but also not there. It is hard to describe. She had a deep fear of drowning in dark water, and that was how she died. I will always think there is more to tell about that night, but we will never hear it told. And so, there you have it, the Rebels Curse. How strange that these people had a dark cloud over their heads. Their spirits serve as an inspiration to me, as to millions of others.