HARLEY-DAVIDSON | AMERICAN IRON, INGENUITY & PERSEVERANCE, PT. II

 

Back in October I ran a piece inspired by my trip to the Harley-Davidson museum and storied archives where I was given a personal tour by their archivist extraordinaire, Bill Jackson. I never posted the complete story, rather referring readers to visit Harley-Davidson’s The Ridebook a site described as “The riding manual from the voice of those few who cherish the search for a new scenery with the wind in their face. A glimpse into a stripped down lifestyle, free of the clutter and filled with style, quality, and the essentials.” There are some great shots and stories that deserve to have a home on TSY now that The Ridebook project is complete. Having grown up with H-D’s and the biker culture, I was honored to be chosen to contribute.

One nagging question that I still have is – how is Harley-Davidson connecting with the new generation of riders out there? Have they stayed relevant as a brand, do they continue to innovate (don’t say V-Rod), and do they have the same hunger and tenacity that got them where they are, and what will the history books say about this chapter of Harley’s history? After writing this piece I heard from a lot of disenfranchised folks out there that view H-D as a sad imitation of its former self. One heartfelt rant really took them to task– “What Harley ‘Was’ and what Harley ‘Is’ today are two entirely different things. They used to be Motorcycles. Now they’re fashion accessories. They used to be the innovators. Now they’re a Sad Parody/Pastiche of their former selves. They used to be about selling Motorcycles. Now they’re about selling a ‘Lifestyle’… And they USED to be all built in the good ol’ USA (albeit with overseas sourced parts here and there). Now Harley-Davidson has committed the Ultimate Treason, building complete Motorcycles in India of all places. Toss that last fact in along with ‘The Company’ screwing Eric Buell, the last of the true American M/C innovators and Geniuses, and I’m sorry to say that as an American there isn’t a Hell of a lot to be proud of, or brag about the Harley-Davidson of today.”  Strong words, but he wasn’t alone.

H-D was the badass bike back in the day. If you rode a Harley– you were not to be messed with. Now if you’re on a Harley, you may just be another fat, old, rich, white dude. It’s a sea of ol’ Fat Boys riding Fat Boys out there. (No offense, I’m getting there my own damn self.) One golden rule of branding is to not grow old with your customer, because when he dies you do too. Has Harley-Davidson done a good job of staying relevant and innovative? I know lots of guys who are nostalgic for the brand and love to rebuild the old Panheads, Knuckles, and Shovels who wouldn’t touch a new Harley. How much of the greatness was Harley-Davidson the machine, and how much of it was the the hardcore spirit of the lifestyle (vs. today’s hobbyists) that made it great. When I really stop and think about it– it was the guys on the bikes, more than the bikes themselves, that made Harley-Davidson a badass brand. I don’t remember a lot of stock Harleys ridden by bikers back then. Lots of chopping and customization was going on. It was the spirit of the rider that made it what it is. Always has. So does Harley still draw that same hardcore spirit of independence and individuality? Maybe that lifestyle (and chapter in Harley’s past) was a moment in time that will never be again, and the comparisons are unfair and just need to stop. I’d love to hear from the riders out there– speak up.

1920 — Ray Weishaar is seen above with the famous team Harley-Davidson “hog” mascot on the tank of his bike. (That pad on the gas tank was for Ray’s comfort while racing– not the pig’s.) The ones originally responsible for harley-Davidson’s “HOG” handle were a roughneck group of farm boys that rode for the H-D racing team back in the 1910s-1920s who took their little pig mascot “Johnny” on a victory lap after the 1920 Marion race victory–- giving them the name “Hog Boys.”  They deserve a great deal of respect– like I said, more than one paid the ultimate price and left it all on the track for the sport that was their life– racing motorcycles. These guys also had their careers interrupted by our great country’s call to serve in WWI. More than likely, many of us today cannot begin to fathom the depth of their personal commitment and sacrifices. In the early days, Harley-Davidson fiercely frowned on motorcycle racing– feeling that the danger and mayhem was bad for brand image. Over time they changed their stance on racing (as any businessman would), when they saw it draw new customers into the dealerships and adopted the sentiment– “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.” — Image by © Harley-Davidson Archives

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GEORGIA O’KEEFFE & MARIA CHABOT | “WOMEN WHO RODE WAY”

“Georgia O’Keeffe hitching a ride to Abiquiu, Ghost Ranch, 1944″ AKA ”Women Who Rode Away.” –Image by Maria Chabot @Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The painter, Maurice Grosser, visited his friend O’Keeffe’s ranch in 1944. Maria Chabot photographed O’Keeffe and Grosser on his 1938 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. It’s an amazing image that celebrates denim, machine, and the joy of the open road. That look on O’Keeffe’s face says it all.   

Initially I was interested solely in wanting to know more about the superficial circumstances around this incredible image. You know– the motorcycle, driver, etc. It soon became very clear that there was/is this unresolved, controversial account of the exact nature of Chabot and O’Keefe’s friendship that’s fascinating in itself, and added mystery and tension to this incredible shot and the close connection between the two women. There has been speculation for decades that they were involved in an intimate same-sex relationship. There are those convinced that Maria Chabot was obsessed with O’Keeffe to the point of being jealous, possessive, and an embellisher of their history together in order to paint the relationship as she wished it were. And then there are the close to 700 hauntingly personal letters written by the two women, back and forth to one another, that more than hint to something deeper than just friendship. Eventually O’Keeffe matter-of-factly requested that Chabot leave her Abiquiu house for good unless personally  invited back by O’Keeffe herself. So, what really happened?

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HARLEY-DAVIDSON | AMERICAN IRON, INGENUITY & PERSEVERANCE

The folks at Harley-Davidson were kind enough to invite me down to Milwaukee, WI for a tour of the museum, and their storied archives. This trip had deep, personal significance for me, as I grew up on the rumble and roar of Harley. There is no other sound or feel like it. It quickens the pulse, raises the hair on your arms, and brings a pie-eating grin to one’s face. The distinctive “potato-potato” idle of the v-twin is iconic to the brand, and resonates deeply within many loyal riders who have made their lives one with Harley-Davidson. It’s the personal stories of these cultural icons who forged their destiny with Harley-Davidson, evolving together through the decades, that I love– and that are a source of inspiration and pride to this day.

In my mind, there is no other brand that better epitomizes the American spirit of Independence, ingenuity, and perseverance than Harley-Davidson. Hands-down. The cultural impact they’ve had on America (and around the world) is undeniable and evident all around us. It didn’t start with Easy Rider either, it goes back much further in time.

My mind immediately races back to the early days and the numerous innovations H-D had on franchising and branding. The following success of their notorious and ballsy “Wrecking Crew” racing team (that risked life & limb for victory on hostile dirt tracks and battered, oil-soaked wooden board tracks with dubious, improvised safety gear) further cemented Harley as the one to follow. I think of the soldiers returning from WWI & WWII–  maybe they rode a motorcycle in wartime, or were pilots looking to replace the thrill of flying, and coming home they bought a Harley-Davidson because they yearned for an intense, physical experience of freedom and speed that only a Harley could give them. A lot of those same servicemen who fell between the cracks of what society or themselves deemed “normal” formed the first motorcycle clubs that would inspire Hollywood films, fashion, music, art and attitude to this day. And yes, 1969’s Easy Rider which became the iconic counter-culture biker film that drove the chopper / Harley customization craze for decades to come, and created a look and lifestyle that many would influence for generations to come. Hell, my stepdad was nicknamed “Hopper” after his character “Billy” in the film because of his dark looks, and that suede vest with fringe that would whip in the wind as he roared down the road on his ’79 Low Rider. Two things he impressed upon me– never ride a Sportster (chick bike), and never use your electric start (for pussies).

The point is, Harley-Davidson and those who ride them are a breed apart. There is a profound connection between man and machine that is beyond words. It’s more than a motorcycle— a Harley has a soul. A mighty soul born in a crude wooden shed over 100 years ago.

ca. 1903 —  William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first motorcycles in this simple structure. Harley-Davidson’s very first “factory” (if you can call it that)– a wooden 10′ x 15′ shed that sat in the back yard of the Davidson family home. In 1907 Harley-Davidson was incorporated and the company was valued at $14,200. (Rewind– Harley-Davidson was started in a freaking 10′ x 15′ shed?! That’s the American “can-do” spirit in a nutshell, people. When I first heard that, I realized there are no excuses for anyone to not get out there and make it happen.) — Image by © Harley-Davidson Archives

1939 — The original shed was later transplanted to the new Juneau Avenue factory (built in 1906, and still the site of  Harley-Davidson’s corporate headquarters) as a symbolic reminder of the company’s humble beginnings. (The lesson– Never get so big that you don’t remember where you came from, folks. And never start acting like a big company– especially when you are one.) Tragically, the original shed was accidentally destroyed in the early ’70s by a careless crew doing clean-up at the H-D factory. — Image by © Harley-Davidson Archives

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THE ART OF THE CLASSIC AMERICAN HAIRCUT | TOMCATS BARBERSHOP

Our friends over at  R E L I C  put together a nice little short on the guys that run Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s own Tomcats Barbershop. It’s a place where you can roll up on your Harley, and step in for a period-perfect ’40s or ’50s barbershop haircut by a guy who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

The film was produced in collaboration with the Harley-Davidson Ridebook and pays tribute to the great American brand that, “…impacted the early identity of American culture in everything from the way people began to dress to how they wore their hair…” Amen.

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THE PROSE-LOVING PRIZEFIGHTER | BOXING CHAMPION GENE TUNNEY


“Normally, I could hit hard enough, 
as anyone who studied my fights might have known. But the impression was that I was essentially defensive, the very reverse of a killer, the prize fighter who read books, even Shakespeare.”

–Gene Tunney

~*~

A 1st generation American of Irish descent, James Joseph ‘Gene’ Tunney is ranked among the top heavyweight boxing champions of all time.  The epitome of the self-made man, Tunney was one of seven children who quit school at 15 yrs old, served in the marines (crowned U.S. Expeditionary Forces champion) during WWI, and was a lumberjack for the J.R Booth Company of Ottawa. While in Canada he kept the fact that he was a boxing champ to himself, claiming he “wanted the solitude and the strenuous labors of the woods to help condition himself for the career that appeared before him.”

Of 82 bouts, Gene Tunney lost only once, was knocked down only once (by Jack Dempsey, no less), and was never knocked out.  A thinking man’s boxer, he was known as an intelligent, defensive boxer who “treated boxing as a sweet science” and would out-point his opponents, unlike many of the sluggers (Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb, etc.) of the day.  Tunney also possessed great punching power, and could stand toe-to-toe when needed– like when he defeated Harry ‘The Human Windmill’ Greb with an unrelenting punishment of body blows that brought the brawler down.  He was reigning world heavyweight boxing champion from 1926-1928, and was also crowned Ring Magazine’s first-ever ‘Fighter of the Year’ in 1928.

1928 was also the year Tunney married his beautiful bride, Polly Lauder.  She was a wealthy well-healed socialite (related to the Carnegie family) whose father, George Lauder, Jr. was a philanthropist and accomplished yachtsman who once held the record for the fastest trans-Atlantic yacht passage ever made. Upon their marriage, Tunney promised his bride that he would quit boxing for good. True to his word, he would defend his boxing title just once more (after his rematch with Jack Dempsey) against challenger Tom Heeney of New Zealand. The couple made Stamford, Connecticut their home and raised four children together.

Gene Tunney seldom spoke about his days in the ring with his children. His son Jay, who wrote “The Prizefighter and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and Bernard Shaw,” recalled that the first time had any inkling of his father’s fame was in 1944. The family went to the rodeo at Madison Square Garden, and Roy Rogers, riding out on Trigger, announced that Gene Tunney was in the crowd, and spotlights shone on where he was sitting. “At first I thought the lights were for me,” his son, Jay Tunney said. “But then there was this huge wave of applause.” And rightly so.  Gene Tunney was a class act.

World champion athletes — from top row, left to right; Babe Ruth (baseball), Gene Tunney (boxing), Johnny Weissmuller (swimming), Bill Cook (hockey). Bottom row, from left to right; Billl Tilden (tennis), Bobby Jones (golf), Fred Spencer and Charlie Winters  (6-day bicycle race). — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

August 27th, 1927, Speculator, NY — Gene Tunney, heavyweight champion of the world, who will defend his title against the former title holder, Jack Dempsey, in Chicago, September 22nd, is daily engaging in light training. He will not start heavy work until he reaches Chicago about September 1st. Here, Tunney is engaged in his favorite recreation, reading. — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

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THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR | THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS, SHE SAID

“I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility,

and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do,

without the help and support of the woman I love.”

–King Edward VIII, from his famous abdication speech of 1936.

~*~

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (AKA Wallis Simpson)— arguably one of the most controversial, talked about couples of the 20th century.  Their affair started while she was still married to her 2nd husband Ernest Simpson– a wealthy Englishman, through whom she gained access to British high society.  The two were introduced at a London social event, and soon she was a frequent guest at Prince Edward’s country getaway, Fort Belvedere.

In January of 1936, Edward was crowned the British Monarch upon the death of King George V. He, however, had no interest in being king. Edward’s focus was solely on marrying Wallis Simpson– the rags-to-riches American commoner who had somehow seduced the now King of England.  Many wondered aloud, what could he possibly see in her?  Give up the throne for– what? Apparently it wasn’t the sex. She’s credited with icily stating, “No man is allowed to touch me below the Mason-Dixon line.” There were also ugly and persistent rumors challenging her own physical endowments as a lady. Shady, unsubstantiated stories surfaced that Wallis Simpson was born a man, and suffered from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome— a hormonal irregularity that causes a genetic male’s body to develop as a woman, but without fully developed, err, privates. Just the the kind of story any gal would love to be the subject of.

And then there were the stories of her affairs, Nazi sympathizing, and shopping.

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TSY STYLE HALL OF FAME | ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHER GORDON PARKS

“I had a great sense of curiosity and a great sense of just wanting to achieve.

I just forgot I was black and walked in and asked for a job

and tried to be prepared for what I was asking for.”

–Gordon Parks

~*~

_

Gordon Parks (1912-2006)  — The iconic photographer, artist, director, writer, activist, and musician.

From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

During his 93 years, Gordon Parks led an extraordinary life, and bore witness to some of the most amazing events of the 20th century– often chronicling them through the lens of his camera.  Most of us who lived in the 1970s know him as the director of Shaft, the groundbreaking film that featured a black leading man whupping ass, bedding beautiful women– and all without as much as ruffling the collar of his trademark black leather trench coat.

However, Gordon Parks was much more than  Shaft. During his lifetime he was a friend to famous artists, musicians, athletes, politicians, fashion models, actors, and general movers and shakers– he seemed to know everyone who was making history in one way, shape, or form.  Parks also made his mark in photography, literature, film, music, and social activism.  I can also say from experience he was one of the most stylish and charming New Yorkers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Gordon Parks filming “The Learning Tree”, Fort Scott, KS, 1968. — Photograph by Norman E. Tanis.

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“FOUR WHEELS MOVE THE BODY — BUT TWO WHEELS MOVE THE SOUL.”

GILDA TEXTER VANISHING POINT HONDA MOTORCYCLE

 

Gilda Texter on a Honda Scrambler in the epic film “Vanishing Point”, 1971.

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Woman riding a motorcycle

That’s a woman on that gnarly chopper!

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1982, Sturgis, South Dakota — Hells Angels at Sturgis — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

June 17th, 1977, Cleveland, Ohio — Plumber Sam Green drives his customized Harley-Davidson motorcycle on a tree lined street in Cleveland.  Green added hundreds of lights, horns, and chrome balls, as well as a television, canopy, CB radio, and tape deck. — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

April 17th, 1974, Daytona Beach — They’ve got all kinds of names for members of the younger generation. At Daytona Beach, at least, it might be termed the relaxed generation. Some youngsters from Ohio rest on their motorcycles after arriving in the area recently. Daytona Beach is one of the few resorts in Florida where vehicles can be used on the beach. — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

March 9th, 1968 — Cyclists are Sought in Murder Case.  Cleveland, Ohio:  Their bikes are their most prized possessions, say the Animals.  Shown working on their motorcycles are (from left):  V.C.; Gabby; and Tom (only nicknames given).  In foreground is an unusual three-wheeler.  Local authorities are looking for the motorcycle riders who killed two men in a cafe on February 28th.  Three suspects in the case are former members of the Animals. — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

Dec 3rd, 1966, Las Vegas — Hordes of teenagers cruise the Las Vegas Strip on motorcycles and in cars at night. Traffic along the strip is bumper-to-bumper every weekend as youngsters arrive to observe and be observed. — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

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VERONICA LAKE | THE PEEK-A-BOO PINUP OF HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE

The Selvedge Yard did a (very) little piece for DETAILS magazine’s online blog– The Daily Details here.

There was something about those lips, the flirty peek-a-boo eye, and that sexy, sweeping hair that’s seductive beyond words.  Yes, Veronica Lake just had “it.”

Other pinups of her day may have been more racy (Bettie Page), more leggy (Bettie Grable), or more busty (Jane Russell), but in my book none of them can touch her stunning beauty, poise and indelible mystique. Standing a scant 4’ 11’ and weighing only 90lbs., Veronica Lake deftly filled the camera’s lens with more sex appeal in her little left eye than most beauties managed wearing half as much, and trying twice as hard.

“I will have one of the cleanest obits of any actress. I never did cheesecake like Ann Sheridan or Betty Grable. I just used my hair.”  –Veronica Lake

Sadly, Her story was a tragic one.  Beset by a troubled childhood, broken marriages, schizophrenia, and drinking woes (most likely in an attempt to self-medicate)—Veronica Lake was washed-up in Hollywood too early, and with little to live on besides her fading looks.

When one-time lover Marlon Brando heard she was working as a barmaid, he promptly had his people deliver her a check for $1,000.  Too proud to cash it, Lake instead chose to have it framed as a memory of days gone by, and a not-so-subtle notice to others that she was once Hollywood’s reigning sex symbol.

“I wasn`t a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie.”  –Veronica Lake

“Hollywood gives a young girl the aura of one giant, self-contained orgy farm, its inhabitants dedicated to crawling into every pair of pants they can find.”  –Veronica Lake

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FROM HELLS ANGELS TO HITCHCOCK | IRVING PENN SHOT THEM ALL

Irving Penn – Doug, Hells Angels (San Francisco), 1967.  Appeared in Look magazine, January, 1968.

THE INCREDIBLES

This Hell’s Angels motorcyclist writes no songs of protest.  His actions, his very appearance, says all he wants to say to us.  Thus, a lifestyle becomes a statement about the world and, in a sense, a work of art.  Irving Penn went to San Francisco to photograph some of the people who outrage and lure us being what they are. Looking past current rages and entertainment, Penn placed these people in a neutral, ageless environment.  His pictures, accompanied only by fragments of conversation are addressed not just to the now but to the days to come.

–Look magazine, January, 1968

 

Irving Penn – Hells Angels (San Francisco), 1967.   Appeared in Look magazine, January of 1968.

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