Monday, August 24, 2015

Bulldogs, bikes and Jackasses: Not your typical Hollywood movie premiere

I recently had the honor and privilege of attending an exclusive movie premiere in Hollywood, Calif. Yes, it was a work trip, technically. And even though I’d never been to a premiere before, I can say without a doubt that it was anything but typical.

A glance at the motley cast of characters reveals all. We had Mack Trucks and their iconic Bulldog, stunt performers from the “Jackass” movie and TV show empire, and genuine motorcycles, leathers and other memorabilia used by none other than the iconic Evel Knievel, all in the same place.

All of these and more were in Tinseltown to promote a new documentary, “Being Evel,” a no-holds-barred look into the “brash, bold and daring” life of Evel Knievel, the King of the Daredevils. The movie is produced by Johnny Knoxville of “Jackass” fame and “Jackass 3D” director Jeff Tremaine, and directed by Daniel Junge.

“Big Red,” a 1974 Mack and custom trailers, fully restored to its original glory. 
Photo by Ryan Cavanaugh, courtesy of Mack Trucks
The trucking press, at the invitation of Mack Trucks, was on site to report from the red carpet on a fully restored “Big Red” – the very 1974 Mack FS786LST and trailer that Knievel used to transported his Evel Empire around to stunts to act as his personal dressing room.

Mack featured prominently in the documentary as well, as “Big Red” was Knievel’s homebase during the infamous Snake River Canyon jump. The Mack Bulldog logo appears on the tailpiece of the rocket built for that controversial stunt. You’ll have to see the film to get the true essence of the controversy and the fallout from it.

Mack is quite proud of “Big Red” as a movie star. The company has provided two Mack Pinnacles to haul it around to events.

“Seeing Evel’s restored Mack FS model in the film, and then experiencing the rig in real life, adds a great dimension to Evel’s fascinating story,” said John Walsh, Mack vice president of marketing.

The “Big Red” truck and trailer may have shined up the streets of Hollywood, but it only got there through a tireless restoration effort, according to the people who stopped at nothing to acquire the truck and get it fixed up.

Johnny Knoxville on the red carpet for the premiere of “Being Evel”
Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine
One is Mike Patterson, owner of Historic Harley-Davidson in Topeka, Kan., a company that has been in the Harley business for 90 years. The other is Lathan McKay, the world’s foremost Evel Knievel collector, an actor, former pro skateboarder and self-proclaimed “passion victim.”

“We restore vintage Harley-Davidsons,” Patterson said in an interview with members of the trucking press at the Los Angeles event.

“We did a bike for Jerry Lee Lewis. Through his family, Lathan had a connection. After we completed that job, they had acquired the truck. I was a big Evel fan but this wasn’t anything on the radar for us.

“They called simply for advice to see if I knew anybody that could restore the Mack truck because we had restored the motorcycle to see if we might know who else does restorations,” Patterson continued. “In just kind of a moment, I blurted out that we restore Mack trucks, and they believed me. And now we actually do.”
Lathan McKay and Mike Patterson talk about restoring the “Big Red” Mack truck 
and how McKay’s collection of Evel Knievel memorabilia will end up in a museum 
being built at Historic Harley-Davidson in Topeka, Kan.
Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine

The restoration took about a year and a half, they said.

On tour this summer, it rolled into town for an emotional homecoming at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Mont. It went to Sturgis, S.D., and then movie premiere. Next stop: Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

McKay, with inspiration from Robb Mariani, host of “American Trucker” on the Speed Channel, decided “Big Red” needed to be pulled out of retirement (at one point it was rotting away in an overgrown in a field in Clearwater, Fla.). It needed to be put back into service promoting the Evel Knievel brand and to help stock the Evel Knievel Museum being built at Historic Harley.

Closeup of one of Evel Knievel’s canes, with Mack Bulldog logo
Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine
“We always kind of had (Knievel) in a place of starting what we chased, which was individuality, the American dream, and he was a poster child for that,” McKay told us.

“Three years ago, I wondered where his memorabilia were. I did some research and found out that it was all over the world in pieces. A lot of it was hidden. Much of it was gifted, given away, stolen, auctioned, you name it,” he said. The truck was literally plucked from the field and given a complete bolt-by-bolt makeover. The engine and powertrain were intact but needed to be rebuilt.

“There was more sky than roof when we started,” Patterson proclaimed. Ninety-six people and businesses worked on it, he added.

A set of Evel Knievel leathers on display 
at the “Being Evel” afterparty in Hollywood.
Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine
McKay owns a great deal of the Knievel memorabilia now: the leathers, the bikes, the helmets, his canes and many lesser-known or forgotten items. He owns Knievel’s medical X-rays, for goodness sakes. It’s all headed for the museum, but for now, it’s on tour, building momentum.

“That was the most important thing for me was the reconnecting of the people that worked so hard for him,” McKay said. “They really didn’t get to embellish or enjoy much of the fruits of their labor back then because it was such a roller coaster for them. Now, they’re able to be appreciated again.”

That sentiment was similar for Knoxville who jumped at the chance to produce the documentary.

“In the ’70s, for me, he was it. There was Muhammad Ali, and Elvis Presley, and I loved those guys, but he was just as big as them in the ’70s,” Knoxville told me.

“He really got into my bones. I don’t know if there would be a ‘Jackass’ without Evel doing what he did, going for it like that,” Knoxville said. “And we looked at his career and thought, wow, everyone showed up to watch him crash. Why don’t we just crash?”

“So all of our stunts are designed to fail,” he laughed. “So we appreciate Evel doing all of that lead work for us ahead of time, all of that R and D ahead of time.”

In the early evening, we arrived at the Archlight Cinemas for the premiere and the red carpet arrivals. On prominent display were two Knievel motorcycles and leathers. The full Mack truck and trailer were on the adjacent street in the “truck parking” area of Hollywood.

BMX stunt rider Mat Hoffman
Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine
All were there with equal billing and to support the film and the Evel Knievel name, including other stunt performers.

“His legend needs to be reintroduced to audiences,” world-record BMX stunt rider Mat Hoffman told me. “Having this here makes it even more real than when I was a kid.”

Hoffman helped get the Knievel family on board for interviews for the documentary. They give a lot of credit to Kelly Knievel for helping put the family touch on the film.

“What should we take away from the ‘Being Evel’ experience?” one trucking journalist asked Knoxville.

“I want them to know about a man who meant a lot to me in my life and who I consider one of the largest characters of the 20th Century, and to know the complete story of him,” Knoxville said.

A shot of the “Big Red” in Hollywood after the movie premiere
Photo by David Tanner, Land Line Magazine
“We wanted to celebrate all the things he did and inspired, but also be honest about the person he was. Some of it was great, and some of it is hilarious, and some of it is disappointing. You pull back the curtains on anyone’s life and you’re going to get your share of it, but Evel had everything times 100.”

“Being Evel,” distributed by Gravitas Ventures, is being screened at select theaters and is available on various online streaming services.

Play a game and count the Bulldogs.