Artwork by THOMAS POLLART via Easy Rider
VARIETY: The first significant step Fonda took in the path toward the success he would achieve through “Easy Rider” was a starring role, with Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern, in Roger Corman’s 1966 Hells Angels drama “The Wild Angels.” It was the first of a series of successful biker pictures produced by American International Pictures that screened at drive-ins across the country.
The next step was the 1967 feature “The Trip,” directed by Corman and written by Jack Nicholson. This piece of what has been termed psychedelic cinema follows a young director of commercials played by Fonda who goes an LSD trip together assisted by Dern’s character. Later Fonda’s character visits the groovy pad of a guru-dealer played by Dennis Hopper.
In his 1998 autobiography, “Don’t Tell Dad: A Memoir,” Fonda said that he got the idea for “Easy Rider” while staring at a poster for “The Wild Angels.”
“I understood immediately just what kind of motorcycle, sex, and drug movie I should make next,” Fonda wrote. “It would not be about one hundred Hell’s angels on their way to a funeral. It would be about the Duke and Jeffrey Hunter looking for Natalie Wood. I would be the Duke and (Dennis) Hopper would be my Ward Bond; America would be our Natalie Wood. And after a long journey to the East across John Ford’s America, what would become of us? We would be blasted to bits by narrow-minded, redneck poachers at dawn, just outside of Heaven, Florida, and the bed of their pickup would be full of ducks. I mean really full of ducks.”
With Fonda and Hopper exchanging ideas and planning the film, Fonda went to Europe to appear in “Metzengerstein,” a segment of the film “Spirits of the Dead,” starring Jane Fonda and directed by her then husband, Roger Vadim. On-set he met author Terry Southern, with whom he became fast friends. Fonda, Southern and Hopper would together write the Oscar-nominated screenplay for “Easy Rider,” and Fonda would produce. Hopper directed. (Jack Nicholson scored the film’s second Oscar nomination for his supporting performance.)
The film won the “best first work” award at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1969. And in 1998, “Easy Rider” was added to the National Film Registry, having been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Fonda and Hopper would fight for decades over who really came up with “Easy Rider.” MORE