Two actors rode choppers across America and changed Hollywood forever

Easy Rider counterculture classic heralded the New Hollywood.

On July 14, 1969, Easy Rider rode into theaters in a desperate search for freedom and tolerance.

That was a hell of a year, 1969. It began with Nixon being sworn in as President of the United States in an inauguration rocked by protests. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force began more than a year of secret bombings of Cambodia, a neutral country.

Student protesters were called “ideological criminals” and their behavior “subversive” by an assistant attorney general (Richard Kleindienst) who would later become the first attorney general in American history to be convicted of being a lying sack of shit during his Senate confirmation — for which he received a suspended sentence.

A suspended sentence was also given to a drunk Senator Ted Kennedy after he drove a car off the Chappaquiddick Bridge on July 18, drowning 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

Sharon Tate murder victims

That was also the summer a brutalistic maniac sent his cult followers to a house at 10050 Cielo Drive in suburban L.A. on August 8, where they butchered a beautiful young actress and four others, plus two more people at a another location. The Sharon Tate murders climaxed a summer of hell in America.

Young people distanced themselves from that America, and from the corruption, hypocrisy and lies of The Establishment. They lived in their own society by creating a counterculture, an alternate reality sanctified with drugs, music and the spirit of Jesus.

Easy Rider changed Hollywood.

That spirit reached a crescendo in August 1969 in the small New York farming community of Woodstock where musicians from all over the world congregated for a three-day communion of love and music in the largest rock concert in history.

Into that desperate freedom-seeking America came Easy Rider counterculture classic with Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.

They were looking for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. But they ended up riding into a narrow corner of redneck prejudice and outlaw vengeance. Jack Nicholson would be beaten to death and the two freedom riders would be gunned down on a Louisiana back road.

The film opened at the Beekman Theater in Greenwich Village on July 14, 1969, and broke a house record of $40,000 in its first week. It would go on to make $60-million, 150 times the $400,000 it cost to make. 

Easy Rider was part of the New Hollywood — an American version of the French New Wave and a box-office signal to the major studios that low-budget films by avant-garde directors can be hugely profitable.

This is how the film started:

And this is how it ended:


Easy Rider counterculture classic

Back to the front page

Comment