There was a tremendous amount of pre-auction mainstream media coverage about the motorcycle put on the auction block by Profiles in History last month, a lot of it generated from an AP story picked up by many news outlets that was titled “‘Easy Rider’ chopper at auction might be phony” (as of this time, that keyword search is resulting in 22,500 hits on Google). The day of the auction, and for a few days following, the most used headline was a variation on proclamations that it sold for $1.35 million. But, as a matter of public record, did it really sell? And if not, why has no media outlet (to my knowledge) reported on the sale falling through?
As mentioned in my recap of the Profiles in History Hollywood Auction 65 (67 and 68?) and Expendables auction a few weeks ago, I noticed that Lot 1121 (“PETER FONDA’S “WYATT” ICONIC SCREEN-USED “CAPTAIN AMERICA” PANHEAD CHOPPER FROM EASY RIDER”) was not listed in the official “Prices Realized Detail” for Hollywood Auction 65 published on the official Profiles in History Website:
It was also not mentioned in the official post-auction press release about the sale:
There was a post on the official Facebook page for Profiles in History on the day of the auction stating that it sold for $1.35 million, and a few days later I posted a comment asking the company if it had sold, and my comment and the post itself were subsequently deleted.
Yesterday, I posted a new inquiry on Twitter (copied below), which has also gone without response:
So where did the concept about the motorcycle not being made for or used in the film come from?
This was the most concerted and voluminous mainstream media attention I’ve seen regarding the authenticity of a movie prop, leading up to an auction, as far as I can remember, with significant public debate about the high profile public sale of this motorcycle.
As republished in this October 18th Newsday article, the main story broke via the Associated Presss (see “Easy Rider motorcycle being auctioned may be a phony”). Below are excerpts from that article:
The red, white and blue, chromed-out Harley-Davidson to be auctioned off late Saturday in Calabasas comes with certificates of authenticity, according to the auction house, Profiles in History.
More than one version of the bike was built for the movie but according to the auction catalog, the one for sale is the only one that survived.
According to the catalog, it was used in the climactic crash sequence at the end and restored by Dan Haggerty, who had a bit part in the film and vouched for its authenticity. Peter Fonda, who played Wyatt and rode the bike in the movie, also vouched for its authenticity, according to the auction house.
The seller, Michael Eisenberg, also has a letter from the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, which displayed the bike for 12 years, saying Eisenberg’s is the only surviving “Captain America” bike.
But another collector, Gordon Granger of Texas, says he owns the authentic chopper and also has a certificate signed by Haggerty to prove it.
Haggerty acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times this week that he authenticated and sold two “Captain America” bikes.
Now Haggerty says just one of the bikes is legitimate, and it’s Eisenberg’s — the one going up for sale with a $1 million minimum.
For his part, Fonda says he has no idea which bike is the real one.
“There’s a big rat stinking someplace in this,” the 74-year-old actor, who co-wrote “Easy Rider,” told the Times.
Eisenberg, a Los Angeles real estate agent and collector of Hollywood memorabilia, bought his chopper earlier this year from John Parham, a Midwestern motorcycle parts magnate who had purchased the bike from Haggerty 12 years earlier.
Haggerty did not deny that he also signed Granger’s authenticating documents. He now says he signed something that simply was not true.
“That was my mistake,” Haggerty said. “It’s not the real bike.”
Granger, furious at the prospect of this weekend’s auction, insists he owns the genuine article.
“They know damn well they don’t have the real bike,” Granger said. “I own the original remaining “Captain America” bike. The one to be auctioned is a replica.”
Much of the reporting from the AP story that was widely circulated came from original reporting by the Los Angeles Times that was published the day before (see “Uneasy riders: Which ‘Captain America’ chopper is the real film relic?”). Excerpts from the article follow:
FOR THE RECORD:
“Easy Rider”: An article in the Oct. 17 Section A about the auction of a motorcycle said to have been used in the film “Easy Rider” said that the auction house Profiles in History offered actor Peter Fonda a share in the proceeds to promote the sale. It was the motorcycle’s owner, Michael Eisenberg, who made Fonda that offer.
Its principal authentication comes from “Grizzly Adams” actor Dan Haggerty, who had a bit part in “Easy Rider” and claims to have taken possession of the only bike that survived the filming of the druggy road movie.
But Haggerty admitted this week, in an interview with The Times, that he has authenticated and sold two Captain America bikes.
Haggerty sold the first bike to Gordon Granger, of Texas, in 1996. Granger said he paid $63,500 for his version of Captain America — authenticated by Haggerty, in person at the sale, and then again in 2005 with a signed certificate. Haggerty confirmed that he signed this document, but he now says it was false.
Peter Fonda — who co-wrote “Easy Rider” and rode Captain America in the movie — once authenticated that bike, at Haggerty’s request, after Parham bought it. Parham said the sale was contingent, in fact, on Fonda’s blessing.
Believing it to be the real machine, Fonda signed the gas tank. But he retracted that authentication in an interview with The Times this week, saying Haggerty duped him.
onda said he has no idea which bike — if either — was the one actually crashed in the movie. “There’s a big rat stinking someplace in this,” the 74-year-old actor said.
The history of the “Easy Rider” motorcycles is a twisted one.
Before filming began in 1968, Fonda and Dennis Hopper, his “Easy Rider” director and costar, bought four used Harley-Davidson motorcycles at a Los Angeles Police Department auction. They commissioned two chopper builders in Watts to fashion two Captain America bikes for Fonda’s character and two “Billy” bikes for Hopper’s. The extra bikes were to be ridden by stunt doubles, or by the stars in case of mechanical difficulties.
The Captain America stunt double was crashed and almost destroyed in the filming of “Easy Rider’s” final sequence in which Hopper and Fonda are shotgunned off their motorcycles by a hippie-hating redneck.
The three remaining bikes were stolen from the film’s stuntman — at gunpoint, from Tex Hall’s home, while he and his wife were bound and gagged, Fonda and Haggerty said. They were never seen again. After the movie shoot, Haggerty said, Hall gave him the remains of the crashed Captain America. The burly, bearded actor used those remains, he said, to restore the chopper to its original glory.
The problem is that Haggerty has said that twice — in writing. At a 1996 auction, Haggerty told Granger he was buying the real deal. Granger got a “Certificate of Declaration,” signed by the auctioneer but naming Haggerty and his partners as the sellers, stating, “This Captain America motorcycle has been certified and guaranteed by the seller as the original motorcycle used in the crash sequence on the 1969 film ‘Easy Rider’ …”
That document added that Granger’s acquisition had been rebuilt using 90% of the parts from the bike used in the movie, and that the remaining parts “were damaged beyond use and were destroyed.”
Five years later, Granger asked for and received a more specific “Certificate of Authenticity” from Haggerty. The document reads in part: “This motorcycle was used as a double of the ‘Captain America’ bike … and was the motorcycle ridden by stuntman Tex Hall in the crash sequence.”
Haggerty did not deny that he signed Granger’s authenticating documents. He now says he signed something that simply was not true.
“That was my mistake,” Haggerty said. “It’s not the real bike … The bike with me here [at Profiles in History] is the bike Tex Hall gave me.”
By the time he gave Granger that second certificate, Haggerty had already sold the other Captain America bike to Parham, who planned to exhibit the chopper at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.
That Captain America, Haggerty now says, is the one true “Easy Rider” motorcycle.
Fonda authenticated that bike, and autographed its gas tank, after a cursory examination.
But this week, Fonda told The Times that he relied on Haggerty’s word. He had no reason to doubt him — until a few years later, Fonda said, when he learned about the earlier Captain America sale in Texas. Now he wishes he’d never lent his credibility to the other motorcycle.
“It’s embarrassing, and infuriating,” he said in an interview.
He hopes the weekend sale of that machine — being auctioned with a $1-million minimum set by the auction house — is called off. Fonda said Eisenberg offered to give him a 10% cut of the bike’s sale price if he helped promote the auction, which the auction house confirmed. He declined.
Fonda wanted to warn potential bidders at the auction.
Eisenberg, Haggerty and Profiles in History executive Brian Chanes said the auction will go forward as planned.
Fonda, who sketched the original Captain America design and rode the bike in the movie, is reluctant to take sides.
“I’m no expert, and I can’t tell you which one is real,” he said. “I know there are two bikes out there that are both authenticated by Haggerty. That’s not right.”
Granger, in Texas, would rather not be talking about motorcycles. He was in mourning last week after his wife died just days ago. But Haggerty, he said, jeopardized his investment and his reputation with the auction.
“There are only three possibilities,” Granger said. “Either my bike is the real one, or the other one is the real one, or neither one is the real one.”
The L.A. Times published a follow-up feature on October 21st – “Dennis Hopper pal Michael Madsen cries foul on ‘Easy Rider’ bike sale” – adding more to the story. Additional excerpts:
“Reservoir Dogs” and “Kill Bill” actor Michael Madsen was so outraged by our story on the auction sale of a motorcycle purportedly used in the filming of “Easy Rider” that he telephoned, from a movie set in Romania, to voice his concerns.
The veteran actor became close friends with “Easy Rider” director and costar Dennis Hopper while the two were working on the 2008 biker movie “Hell Ride” and Hopper, Madsen said, told him the whole story of making “Easy Rider” and what happened to the motorcycles used in filming it.
And the bike sold in Calabasas on Saturday night, for a whopping $1.62 million, including auction fees, isn’t one of them, Madsen said.
“That thing they sold?” the gravel-voiced veteran actor said. “Dennis Hopper, from his grave, is telling you, through Michael Madsen, ‘That ain’t the Captain America’ bike.'”
Madsen, who was shooting a movie in Romania before heading to Colorado for the December production of his “Reservoir Dogs” and “Kill Bill” director Quentin Tarantino’s western, “Hateful Eight,” said Hopper told him many stories of the making of “Easy Rider.”
Indeed, Madsen had told Hopper he was interested in acquiring the “Billy bike,” the motorcycle that Hopper had ridden in the drug-filled, 1969 road movie.
But Hopper told him the four bikes used in the making of “Easy Rider” had all been stolen or destroyed. Madsen said Hopper disputed the lurid story of how armed gunmen stole three of the motorcycles from “Easy Rider” stuntman Tex Hall, who, the story goes, later went hunting for the thieves with a machine gun.
“They were in a storage unit,” Madsen said. “They got stolen, and sold for parts. They were never seen again. They don’t exist.”
Given all the questions about the “Captain America” motorcycle’s provenance, why would anyone pay $1.62 million for it?
“Everyone wants to believe that’s the bike,” Madsen growled. “They’re willing to pay $1 million to imagine that’s the bike. That’s kind of nostalgic and nice, but the truth is — it isn’t.”
Madsen, a married father of five who lives in Malibu and rides Harleys when he’s not making movies, said he heard the voice of Hopper telling him to set the record straight for anyone who thought the real Captain America bike had been sold — or was out there waiting to be sold.
The only other substantive post-auction article I found that added to the story was the New Zealand magazing site Stuff. They published “Did someone pay $2m for a fake Easy Rider bike?” on October 23rd. More excerpts:
Eisenberg and auction house Profiles in History cited Haggerty as their principal reference in authenticating the bike, even though Haggerty admitted to The LA Times that he had already sold and authenticated a different “Captain America” bike, years before, and provided written assurances to its owner that it was the one true remaining Easy Rider chopper.
Auctioneers at Profiles in History, overseeing the Calabasas sale of “Captain America” at the weekend, displayed documents signed by Haggerty to establish the bike’s bona fides.
The bidding was brisk. Lot 1121 opened at 10.15pm, with a reserve price at US$1m. Within minutes, the bids jumped by US$25,000 increments through US$1.1m to US$1.3 million, finally coming to US$1,350,000.
It appeared multiple parties, bidding from the auction house floor, had taken an interest. The action at the extremely brisk weekend auction, where Hollywood artefacts from gowns to original movie scripts typically take less than one minute to sell off, lasted a full seven minutes.
The Easy Rider action was over. The winning bidder was not identified.
Whether or not the bike is authentic, it seems that it is now the most expensive motorcycle in the world.
A few pre-auction videos produced by other outlets: