This story originally appeared in the May 13, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone with Peter Fonda on the cover
Scene 1—’The Young Lovers’ (1964—produced and directed by Sam Goldwyn Jr.; Peter’s first film on a bike; he gets a coed pregnant; “mildly touching but without any great insight into the problems of today’s youth.”)
It started out as simple as this: I wanted to take a vacation. No sooner had I arrived in Lahaina, Maui — Hawaii’s first capital and former whaling center (see Michener’s Hawaii) — than I wandered under a banyan tree (see Hesse’s Siddhartha). An incredible banyan tree whose ponderous branches, having been sent out on their own, had faltered, had burrowed back to earth, only to spring up again, enabling the tree, as a whole, to become the 747 of trees. A massive, many-trunked gazebo. No sooner had I wandered under the banyan tree than I found myself offering a guava sherbet to a girl who, in the course of things, asked if I had seen Peter Fonda’s boat, parked a block away.
So we walked over to this J. P. Morgan yacht, with red, white and blue pennant flying a mile high above teak decks; psychedelic spinnaker mast lying on the bow like a retired harpoon; life rafts stowed in neat, plastic kegs. And I asked Peter, when he emerged from the cabin, if he wanted to do an interview. Sure, he said. But maybe tomorrow; you know, this is kind of happy hour.
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Tomorrow, Peter never returned from venturing out with a carload of the crew. But Tom Russo, the no-bullshit first mate of the 80-foot Tatoosh, was around, keeping an eye out. Mellow as only a Southern Californian with true talent (handling this giant ketch) can be. And he said:
There are so many assholes Peter has to put up with all the time, he really needs to get away. He’s not what everybody makes him out to be. He really isn’t.
But I guess when you’re in the entertainment business you’ve got to keep a front.
It seems to me, it’ll murder you after a while. Constantly got to be on the move and constantly entertaining people and keeping a lot of people happy. And it seems like a lot of bullshit to me.
It was the day after when Peter explained:
I’m coming here for a single-minded purpose — to find some land. I want to bring my family out of L.A. and put them in a place where they can have some good food and good air. And Maui will be good for a year and a half. The people who have established themselves here can’t understand. “A year and a half?” they say. “Yeah,” I say, look where you guys are living. You’re not living on the beach, you’re halfway up the side of a volcano. A year and a half this place will be POW.
And it’ll be on to some place else.
Scene 2 — ‘The Victors’ (1963 — Carl Foreman’s bloated attempt at the definitive, three-hour anti-war film; “Peter Fonda is a standout as the exasperatingly juvenile newcomer to the squad”, also in the cast: George Hamilton IV, George Peppard, Vince Edwards, Albert Finney, Eli Wallach, Melina Mercouri, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Elke Sommer . . . all wasted.)
Peter Fonda’s mother killed herself when he was 10. If you want to trace his diffuse rage somewhere, you could start there.
He was told, to spell it out, that she had died of a heart attack; actually, she was in the nut house and cut her throat. …
And so now Peter places little truth in words. Or the adult world. The truth having been withheld when it mattered.
He talks a lot, and fast, not at all like Captain America. But he throws his monologues to the wind, never quite sure there is anyone listening. Not even Peter. One of his first stage roles was in Harvey, opposite the invisible, 8-foot rabbit. . . .
To begin to talk to Peter Fonda, you have to submit for a while to his basic rap about finding himself. Which includes, an inch beneath the surface, an assertion that no one can — or should — claim to understand him, because that would only end up making him into something he is not:
I dropped out when I was 25. Before that I was in a total conflict thing with what I should be and what I was.
And what I should be was what had been laid out to me all those years: you gotta be a right-thinking person, do the right thing, belong to the right place. And always be smiling and honest and straightforward.
All those principles my father shined on me through his characters. Not through his words or his conversations with me. You know, the roles he played: Honest Abe Lincoln, the President, Mr. Roberts. All that shit
. . . my father with his characters that I had to live up to. Like everybody thought they knew who I was from the time I was born. I was Henry Fonda’s son. And that carried a handle with it. Well, he’s obviously this. Or, he’s obviously that. What eventually went down was I would try to be what those people wanted me to be, so I could be accepted instead of rejected. And having them run numbers on me according to what they thought was happening. I wanted to be like everybody else. And, like, get it on. But I ended up being 25 years old, trying to be what other people thought I was.
* * *
“Are you Peter Fonda?” asked a grey-tag gentleman-tourist from dockside.
“May I shake your hand?”
“Do you have arthritis or something?”
“No, sir, I don’t.”
“All right. Have a good time on Maui.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Scene 3 — ‘Tammy and the Doctor’ (1963 — Peter’s screen debut, opposite Sandra Dee; he resembles “a cross between his Dad and Fred Astaire”; in later life he refers to this piece of work as `Tammy and the Schmuckface.’)
The first order of business doing an interview is to establish the agenda — what’s the level of talk going to be? When our interview concluded, Peter said the best one he ever gave was with Playboy; in like manner, he led off letting me know how not to deal with him:
When I lecture to students, I never prepare anything. About Communications. Or The Madness. I just ask, what the fuck are you all doing? Sitting here. Are you all just a bunch of freaks who want to see a movie star?
Then somebody comes up with a question: was that real marijuana you smoked in Easy Rider?
… all those kids everybody’s counting on, all this young revolution, aahhrr, they’re full of shit. They wanna know if I smoked real marijuana. Is that a good question, is that important or relevant to anything at all?
What are you gonna do? somebody’ll ask.
Why do you want to know what I’m going to do?
Then somebody in the back says: you got a boat, you’re going to run away. Is that right?
And I say, I’m sitting here in this fuckin’ auditorium. What do you mean? —
Judge me when I’ve made my actions, not before.
Or I say, OK, you guys, go get a farm and come back and talk to me about running away.
Meantime, I have to deal with boogies like the FBI coming and asking if I know Angela Davis. Wha? How could they possibly be so stupid, I’m too up front about that shit. Now if they wanted to know about overthrowing the government of South Africa! But they never asked me about that.
Angela Davis, Are you hiding her? Does your sister know her? Or people coming on the boat. Sure this here is the J. P. Morgan front, the yacht number, but that doesn’t stop them. Nothing stops them.
Scene 4 — ‘Lilith’ (1964 — Peter pleaded for the role “of the sensitive young mien-ml patient whose suicide triggers the final descent into madness of the girl he has loved.”)
The thing that had struck me about ‘Easy Rider’ was Captain America’s freak-out acid trip in the New Orleans cemetery. When he shrieks, “Mother, why did you…” I thought that if Peter Fonda could ever work with that material directly, he would be home free. So I asked about that, the trip sequence, that it seemed the closest he had come to getting himself off:
Yeah, on the statue. Well, of course there was no character between me and the film at all. I was right there, asking my old lady why did she do it.
I didn’t want to. We had the shot set up and I was in the back thinking — you know, there was no script — and Hopper comes over with tears streaming down his face.
Oh, man, you gotta get up on the statue now. I want you to get up there and ask your old lady why she copped out on you.
And I said, Come on, Hoppy, you’re taking advantage of knowing personal things about me. It’s all right to have me do that under the table and make it come out to something else a la Stanislavski. But to actually pop that question out. Are you serious, man? I’m hip to Captain America having a mother complex, but do you wanna take Peter Fonda’s complex and put it out there on the screen?
Everybody’s gonna know, man, they all know what happened.
And he said, You gotta do it for me.
And I said, That’s gonna be the farthest out thing I’ve ever done.
So I climbed up there and I thought, I’ve gotta put myself in the most vulnerable, thin position I can think of. So I started moving my feet back and forth, pushing them together, which was a thing I did when I was a kid. And I do it in my sleep if I’m having a very tough dream. And started asking my mother why she did it. Never having asked, you know, and there I was 28.
…That was it. That was the high point of the whole thing. That was real tears, real time, a real question. And being filmed, not doing it as a performance.
I put everything I had out, so there’s no flies on me. I can sit in this boat all day long and look at these people with their hands out saying, “Gimme a dime, motherfucker.” And I can say, “Go look at the film again!”
Captain America was a name given me by the guy who was riding next to me. And every time he referred to me as Captain America I’d get embarrassed and look down. I laid out what was happening in as few words as possible.
But anyway that was three years ago.
But Captain America lives! As we sat around on the red satin divans that flanked Tatoosh’s lounge, a crew member wandered through. Wearing a Marine fatigue jacket with Captain America stenciled on the back in orange and yellow. Days later, I was tripping with friends by the so-called Seven Sacred Pools. We wandered into a small cemetery, graced with plastic flowers. In a flash this beautiful girl, Colleen, leaned over the largest tomb, clutching a plastic bouquet to her breast. And said: Morn, why did you blow it?
Later still, the concierge at the funky Lahainaluna Hotel was wearing a red-white-and-blue-with-stars T-shirt, with matching pants. And, exiting my room, I said, Wow, Yeah, she replied, I’m Captain Cosmic America. Meanwhile, in a barbershop window on Front St., whose facade it is illegal to alter to that history may never die, there remained a poster from last November’s concert featuring . . . The Silver Bike.
Scene 5 — ‘Spirits of the Dead’ (1969 — Jane and Peter together in a medieval Poe story, under the direction of Vadim; said Jane: “When the time comes for incest, we will do it head on …”)
I like Peter Fonda. He was brighter than I thought. (He’s reported to have an IQ of 160.) He is not as pretty and delicate as I expected. Of course, the beard and long hair he’s worn since Easy Rider help. He now looks weathered. Aged for the first time in his life. No longer Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up. His suffering, ineptly disguised as “sensitivity” early on, is no longer the first thing on his mind; he knows he can make the world respond. He knows how to make art out of his hang-ups.
He knows his way around the boat too, having learned his lessons in the year he’s had it, driving around L.A., tooting over to Catalina. He is almost desperately lean. Full of energy, lots of energy. Full of scars. He is all busted up. Evel Knievel has a lot of scars, he says, as if to shrug off that observation. But he identifies the long scar on his gut as where he shot himself as a little poke (that is, in the liver, with a .22, shortly after his mother…) And he pushes down the waist of his jeans — put his hip through the skin in a bike crash. He sticks out his left ankle — tore the ligaments stepping off his terrace one night, arms full of ten-speed. And he sticks out the right ankle — broke it throwing a Frisbee on location in New Mexico last summer, shooting The Hired Hand, due for release in June.
At one level, being on the street and getting rapped over the head is part of his image, part of the image that has stuck. At another level, it is still Peter Fonda. He is still very much concerned with destruction-trips, but slowly, not altogether surely, it seems, the agent of destruction is shifting away from being himself …
One night in New Mexico a guy came out to his trailer in the middle of the night, carrying a copy of The Prophet, saying he had to kill him. But the moon and the sun were in the sky, so not right now. …
My old lady, said Peter, runs the assassination trip whenever I go away: Well, they came and shot Andy Warhol …
But they don’t know beans about what I’m up to. How can they assassinate me? Dennis is sure of it, packing a gun all the time.
Maybe it’s part and parcel of being a guide for The Lost. Being a Leader. Somebody wants so knock you down to size, to crucify you …
Well, it ain’t me, babe.
Peter is doing the forward to a book of drawings by Mark H. Podwal, ‘The Decline and Fall of America,’ which is largely concerned with assassinations and other acts of violence. He is making a sci-fi flick in which a girl messes with some time machine and ends up where they use earthgirls as fuel for automobiles. And he is making an 8mm film, ‘The Deleted Portions of the Zapruder Film, Part 11,’ for distribution on the underground circuit, which, as he puts it, is what people expect him to do. He describes the Fonda-Zapruder film like this:
There’s a guy in a window with four chicks. It’s like opening a closet door and seeing rats, only you don’t really see them. And the camera goes up and each time they’re doing something new. He’s got a bow, or a gun or a knife. And they’re nude or in garter belts.
And there’s this long hair Oriental hiker holding an AR-15, like the guy did in the Dallas jail. And a big cardboard cut-out of me draped in a flag (the Smothers Brothers used it). And it falls forward, falls forward.
And two stills of the Pope’s assassination.
Life‘s photos of My Lai.
And it all builds up. The guy with the chicks finally pees out the window. A chick inserts a dildo.
The camera pulls back from the falling cardboard statue and there I am with a gun. A shot of Ordonez holding up ears, a hoof, the tail. While in the back a guy rakes up the gore with a grin on his face.
All in about eight minutes.
Assassination hasn’t vanished at all, has it? It’s still inevitable.
It scares me when I hear that it’s unavoidable. My sister and her gig. She phones up and wants me to do something. And I say, OK, that’s not too dangerous. And she says, what kind of talk is that? And I say, Well, Jane, you make it very dangerous for me to be alive.
…sometimes I get on the horn and say, Jane, your ripping off Bob Hope ain’t going to end the war, It’s only going to make the troops feel a little better. I mean, how can she be involved with not knowing that she doesn’t know anything about it, that she’s just mouthing …
But I don’t want to stop her from talking.
You couldn’t anyway.
Sure, you could kill her easily. A Iot of people have come to me and said, You gotta do your sister in.
You gotta be kidding, I say, givin’ me shit like that. And they say, No, we’re not kidding.
Listen, if they come up to me and say, We’re going to kill you, but we can’t because the sun and the moon are in the sky, it’s simple for them to tell me to rip my sister off.
On one side of Peter’s 80-foot ketch lies the Coral See, a glass-bottom boat for whirling tourists around the huge natural harbor of Lahaina, which once sheltered two or three hundred whaling ships and is now one of the few places in the world where commercial divers go down for black coral.
On the other side of Tatoosh, across a wide macadam pier is the 104-foot bark, Carthaginian, used in the filming of Hawaii and The Hawaiians.
Follow that pier inland a stone’s throw and there’s the green-with-white-trim Pioneer Inn. (The banyan tree is off to one side.)
One morning, Superman, the Birthday Girl, Colleen and I were having breakfast — next to two widows, Senior Citizens from Zion, III. Which is four miles from Waukegan, Jack Benny’s hometown.
Sixteen days in Hawaii, everything, tips included, was running the Senior Citizens $604 apiece. Which prompted Superman to mention that he’s spent maybe $200 since November — possible, in part, because he’s on food stamps-50cents for $28 worth.
The caseload for food stamps on Maui has risen from 56 in 1969 to 1,211 this year, with “transients” accounting for 61 percent of the total. Needless to say, this infuriates the locals — not only the resident haoles (whites), but the budda-heads (Japanese), Chinese, Portuguese and Hawaiians as well. Especially when a 22-year-old surfboard sander is arrested for public drunkenness with four books of food stamps and $397 in his pockets. If the tourists and the military — R&R and dependent arrivals account for almost half of Hawaii’s visitors — have bought up the islands, despoiling them in the process, at least they have brought money, provided jobs. But the hippies merely slurp.
On March 6th, a young Hawaiian picked up two hippie hitchhikers and, after a while, stopped, shot them both, killing one, and shoved them out of the car. Upon learning of Superman’s budget, one of the Senior Citizens from Zion offered us the sausage she couldn’t finish. And two slices of pineapple. Superman took the sausage, and I took the pineapple.
Scene 6 — ‘The Trip’ (1967—Produced and directed by Roger Corman; also starring Dennis Hopper and Susan Strasberg; screenplay by Jack Nicholson; “Little more than an hour-and-a-half commercial for LSD.”)
After a couple days being bugged by strolling tourists, Peter did up a little poster with Magic Marker. And stuck it in the cabin window. It was supposed to tell interested parties everything they always wanted to know: the length over-all (80.5), the beam (19.6), the draft (9.6). That it took 13 days to sail from L.A. That Tatoosh means “breast.” That although Tatoosh’s home port is Portland, Ore. (where it was built 10 years ago for the step-son of Boeing’s president), Peter has never been there.
Besides such facts, Peter included certain messages for Everyone Out There: No, you may not come aboard. No, we are not carrying guns, radicals or coke…
Of course, no one believed either statement. In fact, the rumor that Tatoosh was coming into Lahaina with a quarter million dollars of coke was so universal, so strong, that somebody felt it his duty to fly out to meet the boat in the Pacific — and drop a warning in a bottle!
And two of Peter’s lawyers and his partner flew in — to be on hand in case there was a plant.
On arrival, anchored outside the harbor, Peter and the crew played with the idea of making an acetylene bomb and dropping it overboard — as if they were destroying the stash.
Actually, all they did was row ashore in their rubber dinghy and leave a paper bag (filled with empty Primo beer cans) at the end of the pier. A bag labeled The Shipment.
But, as if to redeem a good idea from oblivion, when Tatoosh did finally tie up, some local toughs dropped a simulator bomb off her stern.
Then the cops told Peter to cool it; he suggested they might be the ones to consider cooling it.
What I’m doing, Peter said in a quiet moment, is guerrilla theater in a low key. We ridicule the system with the system’s own symbols. We’re pirates.
Peter seems to like thinking of himself as a pirate. As a Hell’s Angel on the Bounding Main. Even though he plans to paint a pastoral landscape complete with waterfall on a cabinet in Tatoosh’s lounge. And epoxy into that mural, photos of his two kids. Whom he obviously loves more than you can imagine.
Yeah, Peter the Pirate, one boring afternoon, sighted another biggish boat pulling into harbor. And mobilized the crew to dip into the kazoo locker and the funny hat locker. And assemble in the bow to pipe in the newcomers with Souza.
Peter the Pirate.
Then again, there was a moment when certain locals drove onto the pier and declared they were about to perform piracy upon Tatoosh. And Peter countered, but we’re the pirates, man! Backing up that claim by plunging a knife into a landlubber tire.
Noting that a flock of tourists had been gawking at his performance with kazoo and funny hat, Peter said:
All this weirdness here. They don’t realize that we’re on the silver screen. It’s not really happening. There’s a projector over there on the other side of the pier. We’re not really here at all…
All the while, though, the rumor mill was going bzzz, bzzz. Guys were shlepping up to the boat and trying to deal a little, but Peter was saying, Not now, too public, and shuffling them off.
Finally, an old friend dropped by with news that Stephen Stills and Eric Clapton are planning to hole up in the Maui hills for a few weeks ’cause they’re burnt out. Stephen feels he’s done his trip and it’s over. But Peter knows better — he’s got two different offers to play Thoreau; George Stevens Senior is interested in Peter’s Am. Revo. Flick — so he suggests that after a while Stephen will want to be doing things again. And this same informant suggested that the real reason for the Great Coke Rumor (allayed not at all by the red T-shirt one crewman wears, bearing the exhortation: Sniff CoCaine) was that there is no stash on the island. And certain parties had high hopes Peter would come riding in like Santa Claus.
Or Easy Rider.
I was going to send Jane to Cuba, said Peter, ’cause she was coming on about how they got it together down there. Wonderful, nifty. I was gonna get her a plane from Mexico City.
She said, What are you gonna do?
Gonna smuggle you into Cuba.
And I said, Yeah, that’s right. (Having no intention of doing any of that. It was all theater to her.)
Well, what happens when I come back? Won’t they take away my passport?
I got a film to do in New York in July. If they take away my passport, maybe it’ll mean my career.
I say, Well, Jane, are you a communist or an actress. I mean, what is your scene? Don’t come on with all this shit about Cuba and then say you can’t make it ’cause you got a film to do in July.
You can hear the ring, and I can hear it go thud against a dull bell. It’s talk I heard 20 years ago; she forgets our father had his passport lifted when he was our age.
I didn’t know that.
Well, neither did she. I mean, my old man is not the kind of dude to tell, even though he’s very establishment — no matter how liberal he’s said to be.
What did he do?
He was associating with the wrong people …. the One Worlders, people who were suspected of being commies. He was a liberal dude. He wanted everybody to be free.
And today if you could concretely prove to him that the Army and Navy are training people to torture prisoners he would blow it so badly that it would be the end.
But the idea is, you’ve got to prove it to him. And he’s now adopted the Harry Truman principle; he’s got to see it to believe it.
When he was 30 he might have believed it was possible…
If I got him stoked so he believed there was no way, he would lead a contingent to Washington and rip off Richard Nixon. And, oh, wow, there’s no way Nixon can come off against him. Even Duke Wayne could take Nixon out in one fast debate. Ronnie Reagan is child’s play for people who have that heavy a personality.
If Henry Fonda came boogie-ing out there and said: [and Peter lets go his Henry Fonda imitation]: Now listen, everybody. This is Henry Fonda. [But as if just saying that name is enough to remind him by how much he, Peter, is not Henry Fonda, he shifts immediately to his Duke Wayne imitation, which is very funny.)
If he did Duke Wayne: I want to tell You. That the boys in the Army. Are being trained. To torture and maim prisoners. And we feel. That this is not. Kosher and. Not American. So vote ’em out.
And POW, like this, it would happen.
But how do you get Henry Fonda to get on the tube? And get Bill Paley at CBS to let him on the tube to tell the people that in fact their country’s screwed. And is sucking ’em dry.
Out by the Seven Sacred Pools, formed by a stream which rushes down from the volcano, there’s a cave where a Princess once hid. But the wicked King found her and killed her. And the air is so redolent of flowers you can taste it. The weird trees send out millions of roots, gushing over the rocks like snarled balls of yarn. South Seas Idyll.
But there, above the black sand beach where her middle-aged son was fishing (no luck), an ancient Hawaiian sat with her granddaughter watching Ralph Nader on her Panasonic portable, the aerial strung over a palm tree.
Maui County Councilman Marco M. Meyer was driving along one day minding his own business. Then he spotted a long hair by the roadside, peeling an orange and dropping the peels on the ground. “Meyer,” it said in the Maui News, The Mirror of Progress, “promptly stopped his truck, climbed out and stared at the youth for a few moments. Apparently sensing that this was not a very effective approach, Meyer picked up the peels and threw them at the youth.
“This time it was the youth’s turn to stare until Meyer drove. away.”
Scene 7 — ‘The Wild Angels’ (1966 — A great Roger Corman flick, at least in the opening sequence in which Peter rolls through Venice, Calif, and a frightened mother grabs her tricycling son from beneath the wheel of his big bike; also in the cast: Nancy Sinatra and Michael J. Pollard; “oddly enough a poster put out some months later of the young Henry Fonda [as Tom load in ‘Grapes of Wrath’] became a bigger seller in many college towns than the ‘Wild Angels’ poster of Peter.”)
Meanwhile, back on the mainland:
- My neighborhood theater held a Fonda Festival — Peter’s three gigs for American International: Spirits of the Dead, The Wild Angels, The Trip.
- Henry Fonda, once again cast as Lincoln, got good notices in Phoenix. This time, in “one of the most explosive statements of the black cause,” Lincoln is reviled as a racist. (Take that and that and that, Hank.)
- Jane Fonda gave an interview to my local paper headlined “Jane Fonda: Political Activist . . . and Mother”: “I never forced [my 2 1/2-year-old daughter to go to the toilet. One day she came to me and said, ‘Coca’ (that means going to the bathroom in French), took me by the hand, led me to the toilet, asked me to take her diapers off, sat down and went. She knew that’s the way it was supposed to be.”
- Somebody finally guessed that the ICFRC mystery whistler was Peter Fonda and won $1,700.
- The Department of Commerce held a hearing on whether all US vessels should be prohibited from going after all species of whales. Actually, only one American company still whales, and with only three ships in its fleet. In 1969 they took 109 whales.
- A Good Times correspondent suggested: “Now that you’re getting the first rumbles of the Establishment’s attention directed at housecars and buses . . . why not try the water?
“There are literally hundreds of miles of shoreline around the Bay Area, an enormous stretch of relatively calm and protected water; dozens of places. . . .”
Apropos of boatniks, I had said to Peter, apropos of the notion of Escape so the Perfect Island, the South Seas Trip, hasn’t it come to the point where the road has ended? Where there is no moving on? Where it’s all here? And we’re going to have to make a stand, with gasmasks probably, because the search for the Passible Life on the old terms isn’t going to work?
That’s for sure. I figure I’m biding my time until somebody comes up with the perfect, portable gasmask.
But Los Angeles is no place for kids, gasmasks or no gasmasks.
The side of a hill’s nice here. Good view. Clean, cool air. The Man doesn’t go up there. There’s no Lahaina up there. The dopers are all someplace else ’cause they got work to do up there. You got to maintain your place, grow your food.
And you can do it, surely enough. You can plant a bunch of papaya trees, nine months you got papayas. And avocado trees, fruits and vegetables all over the place.
It’s an area that’s weird, though. One of the crewmembers speaks a little Portuguese. But nobody up there wants to do anything first time out. It takes a little bit of cajoling. Soon as they see a little beard and a little long hair, they’re sure it’s all over and they’re going to be raped in the middle of the night. That madness.
But, you know, we all left the land. We all left it and we’re trying to go back to it. And we can’t. It’s all blown out. Won’t be anything to drink or breathe.
And I’m getting really worried about it because I got two children of my own and three are “godchildren.” An extended family.
And while I’m up, I’m the one that maintains the family. And when I’m down, somebody else. So far I’m the only one that’s been up.
The extensiveness of Peter’s family is quite extensive. His “godchildren” are the children of a former girlfriend and her husband.
He also has an extended family relationship with the children of his father’s first wife, Margaret Sullivan, and Leland Hayward. He was once in love with their daughter, Bridget, who killed herself; Peter’s daughter is named after her. Their son, Bill Hayward, is Peter’s partner. Dennis Hopper was once married to their daughter, Brooke, who was, by the way, Jane’s best friend.
Scene 8 — Easy Rider’ (1969 — made for $350,000, has now grossed upwards of $20 million — Peter still claims to be broke.)
Maui’s main town, Wailuku, comes equipped with an H&R Block for income tax, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a McDonald’s … And the $27.50 coffee table book put out by the Friends of the Earth is called: Maui, The Last Hawaiian Place …
Down the road from Wailuku, there’s a commune, the Banana Patch, and nearby a Zendo which grows organic vegetables and is now remodeling a chapel rented from the Mormons for a dollar a year. The chapel will be used as a halfway house “for young people who need some time and a place to sort out their thoughts . . .”
Around the other side of the volcano, there’s a free-for-all beach, Makenna, with “about 100 of these ‘searchers,’ descendants of the many men who have ‘traveled a different road’ since the beginning of time, all searching for something society couldn’t or wouldn’t provide … the visitor comes away a little sad realizing that there may be a chasm which is unbridgeable.”
Yes, and on Oahu (the island that boasts Honolulu), 804 cars and motorcycles were stolen in January and February.
In Lahaina, a portrait of Queen Liliuokalani proposed for the front of the town’s cinema was vetoed by the Historic Commission as inappropriate, because on Saturday night, fuck films, like Nazi Brother and Mona, the Nympho Virgin, are shown. (Upcoming is the premiere of Jimi Hendrix’s Maui movie, Rainbow Bridge.)
Monday nights are also big in Lahaina, for the young crowd. Monday’s boogie night at the Maui Belle. The drummer and one guitarist used to play with Charles Lloyd, and if their beat is still too jazzy to suit an old-timer, when they really get down to boogie, somebody starts flickering the chandeliers, whose bulbs are shaped like candles, as if it were strobe time on Sunset Strip.
Meanwhile, outside the front door (letting the kids duck back in the alley to smoke), the cops lumber against their GTOs and Chargers, which, since they are used as private vehicles as well, don’t have bubble-gum machines on top, merely little lights by the side, which can be very confusing if they signal you to pull over.
The reason these cops are there, of course, is to break up fights between the haoles and the locals.
“Wow,” complained MK to the Hawaii Harpoon, “when we’re hitchin’ a ride, who do you think gives us a lift? Our so-called ‘local’ peers? Fuck no, man! The haole hippies. And if our ‘local’ peers pick us up, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get to our destination without getting ripped off.”
And when you turn on with the haoles, they just rap and coast with you. But when you turn on with the local boys, those fuckas start thinking of ballin’.”
On Maui, it is illegal to thumb a ride; all you can do is stand by the side of the road and be patient. One Jesus freak, carrying two copies of The Essene Gospel of Christ to lay on interested parties, waited three hours one day before Superman stopped the van to pick him up. To join Colleen, and me in the back with Lee, who had twice failed to get through sophomore year in Honolulu H.S. And has been wandering around the islands for a year now.
Happy Trails, said Lee, when be wandered off…
The only people who are looking at me now, complained Peter, are people who are already convinced, already in the same head or on that trail. And all they’re trying to do is to be affirmed.
But it’s the aunts and uncles in Nebraska who don’t identify who are the ones I want to reach. Basically, the premise of The Hired Hand is: We’ve got obligations as human beings. And we create obligations when we have a relationship with somebody. But then we change our minds and run away from it. And a little while later we want to go back to it. And all hell breaks loose, because you can’t go back.
So the premise is: if you can’t pick it up, don’t put it down. And if you’re gonna put it down, don’t pick it up.
The story (which Fonda did not write) is about a guy who’s 19 who marries a 30-year-old chick. Which is not supposed to be relative to today, but was at that time — the 1890s — fairly common.
It looks good when it starts. He builds a farm and all. But she gets pregnant. He can’t handle it, so he splits.
Goes on the road. Like all the rockers and everybody out there. With their hands out, Gimmie a dime, motherfucker.
He goes out on the road and he makes it for seven years until he finally realizes that ain’t it at all. So he goes back.
The movie starts out with him and two other cats — his friend, the hired hand, who’s 10 years older, and another kid — are heading off to the Coast. Gold, oranges, that fuckin’ ocean. All that. But my character says, I ain’t going.
So we’re having a drink over that and suddenly the other kid gets ripped off.
So I go on a revenge trip about that, feeling guilty about the whole gig anyway. And I blow it. Instead of killing the guy who killed the kid, I just shoot his feet off, ’cause I don’t have a chance to take a good shot.
Then I go back to my farm and my old lady and my kid. And the old lady says, What the fuck are you doing here? And I say, Gimmie a chance. See how it turns out.
Slowly but surely, we come closer together. But you can see that it’s strained, it’s not real.
Just as it looks like it’s going to come together, this cat rides up with a finger wrapped up in a piece of cloth. And says, they grabbed your buddy and he’s gonna get all his fingers and toes lobbed off, if you don’t make it.
So what do I do? He’s getting lobbed on account of my revenge trip and I know him better than I know my old lady. So where’s my responsibility? Do I go or stay?
That’s what’s interesting to me. The guitar player in the street ain’t going to see that. But my aunt and uncle are going to be in that problem. The woman says, stay. And the man says, No, he’s got to go help his friend.
As it is, we’re having this trouble: the little finger, though it’s cast from this guy’s little finger [Warren Oates), it looks like a cock. The shot is me opening up this thing and it looks like the guy’s dong.
I hope the audience doesn’t feel that. That’ll blow it out for five or six minutes.
Anyway, what happens is I get ripped off. I go riding right in there like High Noon, the old Christ gig. And I get lobbed!
And my friend runs out of the jail — I rode real fast so they had only lobbed off one finger — a Mexican girl lets him out — and he holds me. And I die.
And the last shot is my old lady [Virna Bloom from Medium Cool]. Shelling peas. And she just sort of looks up. She goes through all these changes in her face. The camera moves all the way around, almost a 360 degree — till you see riding in, my horse, which you can recognize ’cause I ride a pinto ’cause you can see them real well.
The audience knows I’ve been ripped. We tried to do it without showing the shoot-out, but that didn’t make it. But they’re not quite sure how to deal with it.
Then they realize that my friend, the hired hand, is riding back. And they know he’s going to make it in my house with my old lady. And he’s gonna do a better job…
Pphheewww, I said to myself, what a Freudian trip. Does Peter deal with that? Or is he oblivious? Or is he past both those possibilities?
Finally, after a long pause, I did not ask him any of those questions.
“I was sort of flashing on how this is your first Western. And how your father was in all those Westerns about justice and liberal dudes …”
Oh, for sure, Matter of fact, our homework was watching My Darling Clementine, me and the cameraman and the gaffer. [In My Darling Clementine, Henry plays Wyatt Earp: Captain America’s real name is Wyatt.]
Now look they got a shadow that’s cast by that lamp on that wall. I don’t want that.
And the gaffer marks down: Lamps casting their own shadow—No.
And I said, Look at the way this scene’s lit. What it does for me is make this iconic image go.
I would grab a reel, because I found out trying to communicate and explain why, because these are still older people — what do you mean, you don’t want it lit? — I’d have to get a reel and show the film and say, Listen, I saw this film when I was nine and I didn’t want to be a filmmaker and I recognized that there was Everett Sloan and he was sitting in the light and Orson Welles was hanging out in the shadow and everybody was watching Welles. …
Peter does not recall at the moment that he and Jane used to make up Westerns when they were kids: as John Springer, Henry’s PR man, wrote in ‘The Fonda’s: “From the time she was five, she was riding horseback and she and Peter used to make up their own Western movies, which they would then enact. She remembers that she insisted on playing her father’s role in their own version of ‘Drums Along the Mohawk’.”
…Everybody keeps asking me, Why are you making a Western? Why aren’t you like Hopper?
But Westerns are the way Americans tell our fairy tales and our parables. All our films are Westerns. ‘Easy Rider’ was a Western . . . Absolutely. That was it. The searchers, the whole gig. I could have been Duke Wayne. And the premise was, are these people free? Do they have any conception of freedom? And that was the trick on the audience, at the end, the one guy says, Yeah, I know, we blew it.
‘Cause the audience goes down the road thinking, these guys are after freedom. And isn’t that us. Yeah, that’s us. And they’re getting high like we do. Yeah, and they talk like we do. Yeah, sure, I’m hip, man.
What do you mean we blew it?
And we get to that part, it blows it for them. And it leaves them holding a bag they don’t know anything about.