Old bikers never die, their tattoos just fade away. This sequel to the original biker riot of 1947 that "terrorized" the Northern California town of Hollister and inspired the 1953 Brando starrer "The Wild One" proved less a celebration of rebellion than an AARP convention on two wheels. The peaceful and picturesque commingling of formerly combustible types, combined with merchandising opportunities, may make Hollister a regular July 4 destination for motorcycle enthusiasts and wannabes. On Hollister's San Benito street, where 2,000 bikers once rioted, 40 people were injured, 50 jailed and a Hollywood movie genre was born, a banner July 4 declared "Welcome bikers to Hollister."
In a bid to co-opt the 1997 commemorative invasion and score a marketing coup, the town banned auto traffic from the main drag, permitting an endless stream of bikers to freely cruise and park their scoots along the four-block downtown stretch under sunny skies.
Brando, a no-show, would fit right in with today’s aging, corpulent mild ones. Though the original “Wild One” said onscreen, “I don’t like cops,” a large contingent of law enforcement officers drawn from surrounding jurisdictions strolled languidly amidst the former and would-be outlaws in case of trouble. But far from being in a fighting mood, the crowd of graying, largely middle-class bikers rode in on a wave of nostalgia, signaling the passing of a superannuated American subculture.
Crowds at the three-day fest fell far short of the predicted 150,000 — police estimates ranged from 30,000 to 35,000 — but were treated to sufficient display of domestically produced Harley Davidson technology as well as tattoos, cleavage, facial hair and body piercing.
Memorable bumper stickers from the loud, weird parade included “No putt, no butt,” and “It’s a sick world and I’m a happy guy.”
In an appropriate programming move, Hollister’s one-screen flattop, the Granada, unspooled “The Wild One” at regular intervals all day July 4 for 50¢ admission, along with a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
In the picture, directed by Laslo Benedek, produced by Stanley Kramer for Columbia and shot largely on location in Hollister, Brando is asked, “What are you rebelling against?” His famous reply: “What’ve you got?”
But the mood was closer to Tom & Jerry on San Benito Street, where members of the fearsome Hells Angels San Francisco chapter got their kicks shooting passers-by with squirt guns.
A dedication ceremony Friday morning saw the blessing of the bikers by a Hollister minister and a speech by Sen. Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell, who was later presented with an ornamental longhorn skull by a local Vietnam veterans’ group.
Campbell, the only member of Congress who arrives for work on Capitol Hill on a Harley, told Daily Variety that Hollywood movies such as “The Wild One” were to blame for the bikers’ outlaw image, but hoped events like Hollister would help overcome the bad rep. The South Dakota lawmaker belongs to a bike club called the Uglies, which includes celebs Bill Cosby, Peter Fonda and Larry Hagman.
Motorcycles on view were top-notch, with vintage Harleys and customized models in dizzying abundance, many with eye-popping paint jobs.
The Seattle Cossacks, a stunt group, struck the only bright style note with crimson and tan outfits inspired by early Bolshevik uniforms. Costumes were otherwise predictable, including the helmets detested by bikers but mandated by law, mostly of the pudding-bowl type. Leather fetishists had a field day.