×

How ‘Easy Rider’s’ Stars Found a Way Around Cannes’ Strict Dress Code 50 Years Ago

The Cannes Film Festival is famous for many things, including its strict dress code for premieres. But when “Easy Rider” debuted 50 years ago, the stars found a fashion loophole in the rigorous “comme il faut” rules. As Variety reported on May 21, 1969, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda attended in Civil War uniforms. The antiestablishment look was deemed OK “since uniforms are acceptable evening wear. Nobody specified in the regulations which war or which army.” 

The Hopper-directed movie won a prize for best first film, which created a different dilemma: It was immediately banned in France, due to the characters’ drug use. In Britain, it was released with a Certificate X, which was considered a victory: Fonda’s earlier drug-themed “The Trip” had been banned in the U.K. because of the on-screen use of drugs, but insiders said “Easy Rider” was approved because it also depicts their effects.

Columbia released “Easy Rider” in the U.S. in summer 1969, and it was a phenomenon. In the days before box office was scrupulously tracked, Peter Fonda told Variety that its worldwide estimate was $50 million-$60 million, hugely profitable since he pegged the final budget at $375,000. Fonda, who produced the film, said he hoped it makes the point that “you can make 50 films and employ a lot more persons in small crews than hiring 50 for one multimillion-dollar flick.” In the Nov. 6, 1969, interview, Fonda said the actors received SAG minimum, with participation. “Easy Rider,” he concluded, proved “the importance of making movies for a little bread … without skimping, but with nobody stuffing his pockets.”

The success of the film rattled a lot of people in Hollywood. For one thing, “Easy Rider” confirmed that there was a huge youth market that most studio execs didn’t know how to reach, and it was proof that hits like “The Graduate” and “Bonnie & Clyde” were not flukes.

Equally important, the film was yet another reminder that lavish spending on a film was not the only guarantee of finding an audience. In contrast with the biker film were studio films like “Star!” (1968) and the 1969 trio of “Hello, Dolly!” “Paint Your Wagon” and “Battle of Britain,” with price tags ranging from $10 million to $25 million. All three did OK at the box office but were not profitable, due to high costs.

In the November 1969 interview with Variety, Fonda demonstrated that, as the son of Henry Fonda and the younger brother of Jane, he understood the film industry first-hand. He also demonstrated his rebel streak. In the interview, he casually mentioned that he had persuaded Columbia to schedule two free shows of the movie in London “for the freaked-out longhairs who haven’t got bread.”

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film, Fonda will be appearing at the Cannes Classics screening this month on the Croisette. In addition, Fathom Events will be holding special two days of screenings, July 14 and July 17, in more than 400 theaters, including a new introduction by Fonda.

Popular on Variety

More Vintage

  • 'Russian Doll' Star Natasha Lyonne on

    How Natasha Lyonne Talked Her Way Into a 1996 Movie Role as a Teen

    Two decades before her turn as the gruff-voiced, sardonic Nadia on the existential dramedy “Russian Doll,” a teenage Natasha Lyonne played DJ, the chirpy narrator in Woody Allen’s 1996 whimsical romantic-comedy musical “Everyone Says I Love You.” Lyonne’s name first appeared in Variety on Dec. 2, 1996, in a review of the Allen film.  In [...]

  • When They See Us BTS Ava

    Ava DuVernay on Moving From PR to Filmmaking, Directing 'When They See Us'

    For the past 14 years, Ava DuVernay has used film as a way to tell the often untold stories of marginalized communities — but the Oscar-nominated filmmaker has more IMDb credits as a publicist than as a director. DuVernay rose through the ranks as a PR executive early in her career before starting her own [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Word-of-Mouth Turned M. Night Shyamalan's ‘Sixth Sense’ Into a Sleeper Hit 20 Years Ago

    It’s the 20th anniversary of “The Sixth Sense,” a success that took everybody by surprise, including the filmmakers. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan had made only two films, “Praying With Anger” and “Wide Awake,” which barely made a ripple in theaters. However, Variety reported Aug. 9, 1999, “In a surprise ending to rival the film’s twisty plot, [...]

  • Lee Pace Big Ticket Podcast

    Cinematographer Jack N. Green's Aerial Work Led to Gigs on Clint Eastwood Movies

    Cinematographer Jack N. Green is proof that nice guys sometimes finish first — even in Hollywood. Born in 1939, the San Francisco native traveled a long-rising arc in his career, which includes distinguished stints shooting aerial sequences for documentaries and some of the most iconic films of the 1960s, eventually becoming director of photography on [...]

  • Sharon Tate Mansion Muder House

    Sharon Tate's 1969 Murder Began a Sorry Chapter in Hollywood History

    Sony opens Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” on July 26, close to the 50th anniversary of the murder of Sharon Tate and four others. A front-page Variety story on Aug. 11, 1969, two days after the killings, said police described the scene as “a ritualistic mass murder.” Showbiz has since then [...]

  • Amy Sherman-Palladino - Outstanding Writing for

    'Mrs. Maisel' Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino Honed Her Writing Skills on 'Roseanne'

    Last year Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” made Emmy history with wins for both comedy writing and directing, becoming the first woman to achieve that double. On July 16, her show, a ’50s period piece starring Rachel Brosnahan as an up-and-coming comedian in New York, was nominated for 20 Emmys, including outstanding [...]

  • Moon Landing

    Looking Back on the Moon Landing and the Giant Leap for TV Networks

    On July 16, 1969, Variety ran a package of stories under the headline “Greatest Show Off Earth,” detailing the three TV networks’ fever over the July 19 moon landing. CBS exec producer Robert Wussler predicted “the world’s greatest single broadcast.” Variety called it a “31-hour TV super-special,” running all day Sunday through midday Monday. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content