Production Notes on “Easy Rider” Film – Cliff Vaughs

Augus, 2012: Cliff Vaughs attacked by pirates off the coast of honduras.  His boat was forced to the beach and he escaped with his life into the jungle.

Easy Rider 

Cliff Vaughs

I was working in the News Department at KRLA when Henry Fonda’s son, Peter, was arrested for possession of marijuana. I was mildly amused that so much interest was engendered by the incident, considering the number of citizens detained and incarcerated for smoking “pot”.

We chatted for a while at the courthouse and I called in my story. He was interested in my hobby: designing and building motorcycles. It turned out that we lived in the same neighborhood, West Hollywood. I told him I was usually found in my back yard enjoying my hobby.

He came by a few days later accompanied by Dennis Hopper whom I hadn’t seen since his performance in “Rebel Without A Cause” with James Dean. We talked and I learned that they had been planning to develop a movie that centers on motorcycles. I agreed that the themes of the western were careworn but an American adventure with the protagonists riding motorcycles instead of horses was apt. We ad libbed a story line: two friends,(not quite “bikers”) travelling across America seeking adventure. I offered the name “Easy Rider”, taken from the Mae West performance of “Where Has My Easy Rider Gone”, ” …in the production “She Done Him Wrong”… ”.The title had been an adornment of my house, on the wall; a tapestry with a hidden message, sent to me by Susan Mansour, erstwhile friend.

We had several discussions about the project at my home in West Hollywood and agreed that we would have to develop interest in the movie outside my parlor. We were not particularly known well enough to raise interest or financing. Peter and Dennis had a long background in the industry they would raise the money. I would design and build the motorcycles and develop the visual themes. Captain America and Bucky, costumes, colors: red-white-blue.  I was accorded the title of associate Producer.  We named our company Pando.

Through Pando, I was instrumental in hiring Baird Bryant as Director of Photography and agreed to have Paul Lewis as Production Manager. Subsequently, Les Blank, Virgil Frye, Karen Black, Seymour Cassel, Francine Reid, Larry Marcus, were included. Jack Nicholson was hired after the New Orleans “shoot”. I never met Raphaelson and Snyder (?) who backed the film. Neither did I formally meet Terry Southern, credited with the screenplay. From my apercus the production proceeded admirably until the New Orleans shoot when there was a dispute about how much film was being used by the Director, Dennis Hopper.

I was summarily fired from the production.

The critics praised the film. Dennis was awarded “Best New Director” for ER.

There were no African Americans in the film as actors or participants in the production

I didn’t have any contact with the production long after ER was released.  The casualty rates on motorcycle accidents were so high that I asked Peter Fonda for a  letter of intent to use to fund “Not So Easy”, an educational film on how to ride a motorcycle safely. Filmfair financed the film with full support of Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson provided Evel Knievel, who was under contract to them at the time. I had Evel Knievel’s Coliseum jump on film, and a performance by the LAPD motorcycle drill team. Two of my cronies from Hollywood Chosen Few appeared on film:“Rabbit, and “Billy Diamond” (deceased). It was required viewing at judicial traffic school for quite some time.

The motorcycles were designed and built by me in my back yard. My longtime friend and mentor Mr. Ben Hardy assisted me wholeheartedly. We had met when he taught me how to wire my first motorcycle, a 1947 “knucklehead, in 1961. He had contacts developed over years of repairing motorcycles in his shop on West Florence Ave. Jim Magnera of MC Supply was a valuable asset. He had arranged to act as my agent when Harley Davidson sold me an unnumbered engine (shovel head) which required a new law from the California Legislature. Mr. Magnera was also active in financing the burgeoning black motorcycle enterprise in South Central Los Angeles. Mr. Magnera and Mr.Hardy were instrumental in my relationships with motorcycle specialists in Los Angeles.

In the creation I had: Buchanan for frame fabrication, Dean Lanza, art work, Larry Hooper, upholstery, LAPD junk yard engines: rebuilt by Mr. Hardy. I don’t remember the chrome shop. Mr. Hardy also designed and constructed one of the fine points on the motorcycles. I had wanted something unique and he built the curved tail light brackets. I don’t remember the shop that tailored the leathers for ER.

After I had completed the construction of the machines, the registration (pink slip) was in the name of Pando Company. I asked Mr. Hardy to assemble the two disposable motorcycles in his shop. I was simply too busy with the daily task production of ER at the time to complete them at home.

I have never actually seen “Easy Rider”. It represented only a few months out of my 74 years. I had a lot of fun with the bikes and with the talented people I met while working on the film.

I have special regard for Mr. James Magnera a man with foresight, who personally helped aspiring entrepreneurs in South Central Los Angeles

Mr. Ben Hardy who worked for me as a mentor and skillful craftsman on a dozen designs of my own motorcycles.

Mr. Buchanan, the man to go to for excellent frame modification.

Mr. Dean Lanza, The Artist: Brilliantly designed my marijuana plant on candy-apple petrol tank.

Mr. Larry Hooper, ever a fugitive…the best leather craftsman ever.

Mr. Larry Marcus knows more about tools than anyone.

Mr. Dennis Hopper, Director, underlined my contribution to the production of “Easy Rider”.

There has been a remarkable marketing of “custom motorcycles” since ER.

Items and modifications I worked out with Mr. Hardy et al are now manufactured on a production line. Harley Davidson had “Low Rider”. Innumerable entrepreneurs have made a good living popularizing and promoting the so called “chopper”.

I missed my fifteen minutes of fame…..

As an addendum to ER: 

The fiery ending is an example of art imitating life.   

I was riding my “chopper” on the highway between Pine Bluff and Little Rock; pursuing an assignment for SNCC to initiate a school boycott there. 

I had with me a staff member of the Arkansas Project a Miss Iris Greenberg. A pickup truck passed us going in the opposite direction; stopped and turned around. They took a shot at us from behind and missed. They didn’t pursue us any further…so I lived to tell this tale.

Captain America

Added:  “Mae West I wonder where my easy riders gone” From “She Done Him Wrong”

About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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