13 Wild Facts About Easy Rider

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (1969)
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (1969)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Easy Rider’s tagline of “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere” transcended moviedom. Once called The Loners, Dennis Hopper co-wrote, directed, and starred in the Oscar-nominated biker flick about two men riding motorcycles from Los Angeles to New Orleans to Florida during the tumult of the Vietnam-era ’60s. Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson also starred, and Fonda co-wrote the script with Terry Southern and Hopper, and produced it.

Shot on a budget of well under $1 million, the 1969 guerilla film went on to gross more than $60 million worldwide; the Criterion Collection referred to the movie as “the definitive counterculture blockbuster.” After filming finished in 1968, it took Hopper one year to edit 80 hours of footage—which included scenes of real drug use and a jaw-dropping conclusion—into a 95-minute feature that premiered at Cannes on May 12, 1969. Despite a difficult shoot, it launched the prosperous New Hollywood period of moviemaking, and ignited a revolution in cinema that we haven’t recaptured since.

1. Easy Rider was made for the youth of the time.

Before Easy Rider, Hollywood was churning out happier films starring the effervescent Doris Day, but Dennis Hopper’s film changed that. “They were making films like Pillow Talk and The Glass Bottom Boat. Gidget? That’s not a kids’ film. Beach Blanket Bingo? C’mon,” Fonda told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “Those were not really films of the youth that I had grown into and up with, shutting away the establishment, going on their own. We made a movie for these people that didn’t have their own movie.”

Karen Black, who co-starred in the film, agreed with Fonda’s sentiment. “When you went to see a movie like Easy Rider and when you saw these guys really smoking grass by the fire, and really the camaraderie was warm, real, and rare, you went, ‘What the hell am I looking at? This has value! This has a completely different kind of value than Pillow Talk,” she said in the documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. “This is something extraordinary. I want more of that. And then I think it went a bit far, because I kept seeing movie people vomit.”

2. The film's original ending involved Bill and Wyatt sailing into the sunset.

One of the most shocking things about Easy Rider is its ending, where both of the leads violently perish. “The initial idea had to do with a couple of young guys who are fed up with the system, want to make one big score, and split,” Terry Southern told Creative Screenwriting. “Use the money to buy a boat in Key West and sail into the sunset was the general notion, and that was slated to be the film’s final poetic sequence. It wasn’t until the end that it took on a genuinely artistic dimension—when it suddenly evolved into an indictment of the American redneck, and his hatred and intolerance for anything remotely different from himself—somewhat to the surprise of Den Hopper: ‘You mean kill ‘em both? Hey, man, are you outta your gourd?!?’ I think for a minute he was still hoping they would somehow beat the system and sail into the sunset with a lot of loot and freedom. But of course, he was hip enough to realize, a minute later, that their death was more or less mandatory.”

3. It was one of the first films to integrate found music.

Instead of hiring a musician to compose a score for the film, Hopper decided to use pre-recorded music from Bob Dylan, The Band, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack. “No one had really used found music in a movie before, except to play on radios or when someone was singing in a scene,” Hopper told Interview Magazine. “But I wanted Easy Rider to be kind of a time capsule for that period, so while I was editing the film I would listen to the radio. That’s where I got ‘Born to Be Wild’ and ‘The Pusher’ and all those songs.”

The filmmakers had to show the movie to the different bands involved in order to get licensing approval, and each band received $1000. They showed it to Dylan, whose song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was in two scenes, but Dylan said they couldn’t use it. “He said, ‘Have [Roger] McGuinn do this first part, but you can’t do it after that,’” Fonda told Daily Camera. “I said, ‘But, Bob, any good fight’s a combination of punches.” McGuinn covered Dylan’s song, and Dylan and McGuinn wrote the closing credit song, “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” which was sung by McGuinn, and didn’t have Dylan’s name on it.

4. Dennis Hopper claimed Terry Southern's only contribution to the film was the title.

“Terry Southern never wrote one f***ing word of Easy Rider. Only the title Easy Rider came from him,” Hopper told The Guardian in 2001. “He broke his hip; he couldn’t write. I used his office and I dictated the whole f***ing thing in 10 days.”

But Southern saw it in another way. “Peter was to be the actor/producer, Dennis the actor/director, and a certain yours truly, the writer,” Southern told Creative Screenwriting. “After they had seen a couple of screenings of it on the coast, I got a call from Peter. He said that he and Dennis liked the film so much they wanted to be in on the screenplay credits. Well, one of them was the producer and other was the director so there was no way the Writers Guild was going to allow them to take a screenplay credit unless I insisted.” Not listening to the WGA, Southern allowed them to have their credits on the film, which was largely improvised.

However, Fonda had more positive things to say about Southern’s contributions: “He gave us dark humor and a literary panache that Dennis and I did not have,” Fonda told The A.V. Club. “Having him with us as a writer on the script put it above periscope depth. People would say, ‘Wow, Terry Southern co-wrote that. I wonder what that's about?’” All three of them received Oscar nominations for the film’s screenplay.

5. Rip Torn sued Hopper over the Jack Nicholson role.

As the story goes, in 1967, Rip Torn had dinner with Fonda and Hopper, who were considering casting him in the role of lawyer George Hanson. Hopper went on The Tonight Show in 1994 and recounted how Torn pulled a knife on Hopper during the dinner, thus losing the gig. But Torn said it was the other way around: Hopper pulled the knife on him. (It was supposedly a butter knife.) “Dennis jumped back and knocked Peter on the floor, and I said, ‘There goes the job,’” Torn told The New York Times. Fed up with Hopper ruining his career, Torn sued Hopper for defamation and won almost $1 million.

Bert Schneider, one of film’s executive producers and financiers, then suggested Hopper cast Jack Nicholson as Hanson—as long as he agreed to work for scale, which was $392 per week. “I’ll tell you one thing mister, it was the best $392 I ever spent,” Fonda said at the AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute To Jack Nicholson banquet.

6. Nicholson knew the movie would be a hit.

Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider (1969)
Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider (1969)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an interview with Film Comment, the interviewer asked Nicholson if he knew the film would be a hit, and he said yes. “Bob [Rafelson] and I were involved in writing Head when Dennis and Peter brought in a 12-page treatment,” Nicholson said. “I felt it would be a successful movie right then. Because of my background with Roger Corman, I knew that my last motorcycle movie had done $6 to $8 million from a budget of less than half-a-million. I thought the moment for the biker film had come, especially if the genre was moved one step away from exploitation toward some kind of literary quality.”

Before Easy Rider, Hopper had starred in a biker movie called The Glory Stompers, Fonda did the Corman movie The Wild Angels, and Nicholson acted in Hells Angels on Wheels.

7. Fonda tried to get Hopper fired before the movie was even written.

Schneider and Rafelson created The Monkees and used that money to fund the film. They gave Hopper $20,000 to do some preliminary shooting in New Orleans, and if they liked what they saw, they would give him more money to shoot the entire thing. Hopper filmed the NOLA scenes using Bolex 16mm cameras, which gave the movie a psychedelic sheen. “Peter and Bill Hayward are recording me,” Hopper told Interview Magazine. “Every time I turn around they’re filming me—and I’m not sure why—but I’m saying things like, ‘We’re going to win Cannes, man! We’re young! We’re going to take our energy and our strength and we’re going to take this thing all the way! Just trust me and do what I’m saying! Nobody shoot any film until I tell them to!’ I mean, we were all in open fights with one another at the time. I didn’t find this out until Bert called me into his office after the movie was released, but Peter and Bill apparently wanted to pay him back the money he’d given us for Easy Rider and fire me. This is Peter and my brother-in-law, okay? This is before we’ve written a screenplay.”

Schneider didn’t care about the footage and told the guys, “Well, Hopper sounds really excited. He says he’s going to win Cannes. That sounds like a hell of an idea.” And of course the movie ended up winning a Best First Work award at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, where it was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.

8. Fonda and Hopper had a falling out over money.

Fonda and Hopper clashed over writing credits and how Southern’s money should be split between the men. When Southern left the project, Fonda gave a percentage of Southern’s money to the production company and Hopper’s brother-in-law, Bill Hayward, who was an associate producer on the film. This made Hopper feel like Fonda cheated him. “I just think that [Hopper] was so caught up in his own megalomania and his own bitterness that he couldn't see that I treated him quite fairly and that I respected his genius and his work,” Fonda told The Independent.

Unfortunately, Hopper held a grudge until the day he died, in 2010. “Well, I knew that Dennis was dying and I made many attempts to see Dennis as did Bert Schneider,” Fonda said. “But he refused to see us. The funeral service was in a chapel in Taos, New Mexico. I rented a private jet and flew in, but I was not allowed in the chapel. So as much as I wanted to pay my respects, to Dennis and his family, I was not allowed to be a part of it.”

9. The "We blew it" line was filmed after the movie wrapped.

Near the end of the film, Wyatt and Billy sit around a campfire, and Wyatt’s excited about how rich they are. Wyatt looks into the fire and utters, “You know Billy, we blew it,” which foreshadows the ending, though is also open to interpretation. “It was two weeks after we wrapped the movie, we realized we didn’t have the last campfire scene,” Fonda told Daily Camera. “So we assembled the crew and went into the Santa Monica Mountains—if you don’t light it, you can’t see the difference—and we said we’re in Florida.”

Hopper and Fonda argued about the dialogue. “He wanted me to say all this stuff about how we blew our inheritance, we messed up our heritage ... We were elevating the level of our conversation.” Fonda wanted to mumble his line in a Warren Beatty way, and Hopper was at first against the idea, but once they filmed the scene Hopper was amenable.

“Lots of people have asked me over the years, ‘What did you mean by ‘we blew it’?’” Fonda said. “And I say, ‘Look out the window. If you don’t think we’ve blown it, you’ve got to take a closer look.’”

10. Fonda's famous dad didn't understand the movie.

The esteemed Henry Fonda saw a screening of his son’s film. “I had him come down and look at an early cut,” the younger Fonda told Daily Camera. “We had to get Dennis out of the room to get it below four hours. My dad watched it and then I went over the next day to his house. He was very serious. He said, ‘Look son, I know you have all your eggs in this basket. And I’m worried about it because the film is inaccessible. We don’t see where you’re going and why? I just don’t think many people will get it.’ Even after [it was successful] he thought I was just a loose cannon, until he worked for me for one day.”

11. You can pay to take the Easy Rider motorcycle tour.

If you like riding motorcycles, have 15 days to spare, and about $4300 to $7700 burning a hole in your pocket, you can sign up for the 50th Anniversary Easy Rider Movie Tour. The 2589-mile path ventures to some of the movie’s real filming locations, from L.A. to Death Valley to Colorado to New Orleans. According to the tour’s website, they’ve worked with Sony Pictures in authenticating the locales.

12. An original Captain America motorcycle sold for $1.35 million.

There’s been much dispute over who designed and built the four Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a.k.a. choppers, used in the movie. Cliff Vaughs said he did it, but Peter Fonda said he designed the sketches and built them: “I built the motorcycles that I rode and Dennis rode. I bought four of them from Los Angeles Police Department.” Vaughs worked on the movie for about a month before being fired, therefore his name doesn’t appear in the credits. Three of the bikes were stolen, and the final one was destroyed in the film’s finale but was later restored. Fonda gave the bike to actor Dan Haggerty, who eventually sold it to a collector named Michael Eisenberg. In October 2014, Profiles in History auctioned off the bike; the bike sold to an anonymous winner for $1.35 million and became the most expensive motorcycle in the world.

13. In 2012, an Easy Rider sequel was made.

Phil Pitzer, an Ohio lawyer and producer, realized the sequel rights to Easy Rider were available, so in 2007 he sued Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to prevent them from claiming they owned the rights. Pitzer won the case and moved forward with the sequel. The original title was Easy Rider: Scarlet Cross, but he changed the title to Easy Rider: The Ride Back. Unlike the first film, the sequel went straight to DVD and didn’t make a dent in American culture.

This story has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Will Varys's Letters Matter in the Game of Thrones Finale?

Conleth Hill as Lord Varys in Game of Thrones
Conleth Hill as Lord Varys in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Warning: Spoilers for all aired episodes of Game of Thrones ahead.

The final episode of Game of Thrones is upon us, and after last week’s episode, “The Bells,” most of our biggest questions now revolve around Daenerys Targaryen’s fate. The Mother of Dragons made the controversial decision to burn King’s Landing to the ground, and that move—combined with the fact that she’s not the true heir to the Iron Throne—might result in an ending that is not in her favor.

While viewers know that Jon Snow is actually the person with the rightful claim to the throne, very few people in the show do (and not all of them are still alive to tell the story). Lord Varys tried to right that wrong by writing letters presumably to people across Westeros in the beginning of the most recent episode, but was executed soon after.

Did he manage to send any of the letters, and if so, who will even receive them?

During the episode we see two scenes in which Varys is writing letters, and PopSugar argues that this means he must have sent at least one batch. Writer Andrea Johnson also poses a theory that he informed the new Prince of Dorne of Jon’s true claim. The mention of this new character in the previous episode, “The Last of the Starks,” seemed very random to fans at the time, leading many to believe that the Prince of Dorne—whose identity is still unknown to us—might play a part the finale.

Varys already had an established relationship with the people of Dorne and, as PopSugar points out, if the new prince is a member of House Martell, who have historically been allies with the Targaryens, he would likely support Jon, a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen, as king.

ScreenRant speculates that Varys could also be sending letters to the Vale and Riverrun, looking for support from Edmure Tully and Robin Arryn. As neither have been loyal to Daenerys, they would likely be open to accepting Jon’s true claim. Plus, back in February, a cast list leak included both Tobias Menzies and Lino Facioli (who play Edmure and Robyn, respectively) among the actors who would appear in season 8, though they've been no-shows so far.

Despite how those in the other kingdoms would feel about Daenerys, even considering her most recent actions in King's Landing, whether or not they’ll learn the truth in time is still a question mark. With only one episode left, the First of Her Name will have to act fast if she wants to live, let alone win the Iron Throne.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER