Posted 09/03/19 - Submitted
Many citizens of the Village of Morganza sat atop the railroad track that parallels La. Hwy 1, awaiting the arrival of a film crew and movie stars that morning. Excitement rang out in every direction 50 years ago. There was an unforgettable buzz in the air in this usually quiet place. No one could have imagined in a million years back then that the village would be experiencing that same kind of thrill again--the celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Easy Rider,” hosted by the Morganza Cultural District. Although the film, produced and directed by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, was the first-of-its-kind low budget film introducing the world to rural America, it has been a very influential icon throughout the entire world. Because of “the Café Scene,” people seem to identify the village as one major highlight in the movie. Droves of bikers, among others, are expected to visit the village on Saturday, September 28, 2019. Preparations are in the works for a great experience for everyone, as it will be a wonderful family day atmosphere. One special feature will be an outstanding display of “Easy Rider” memorabilia, collected by Jim Leonard, who over the years had actually become a personal friend of Peter Fonda. The following is his story in his own words: “There are many ways to measure an individual’s life. You can do this by looking at their beliefs, their family and their accomplishments. I have always said, ‘When it comes to wealth, my family, my daughters and grandchildren have made me one of the richest men ever.’ Looking back now, 67 years later, I would have to say the rest of the yardstick for measuring my life would have to be, motorcycles. My father started that journey for me at a very young age. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old. A friend of his came by on his Harley and they sat me on it, straddling the gas tank. Around the block Mr. Ben and I went. Ben went by the nickname ‘Boom’ and it was all perfect. From that day on the hook was set. As I grew into my teens all I would live and breathe were bikes. My Dad was the driving force behind my passion. He was a Harley rider back in the 30’s. My recollection now is that we never did the traditional ‘Father-Son’ things like throw and bat the ball around. What galvanized our relationship were bikes. No matter what, we could always talk motorcycles. By the time 1965 rolled around, our first few bikes were Hondas. Then it happened. Peter Fonda and ‘The Wild Angels’ hit the theaters and the Harley Davidson Chopper became the Holy Grail. My first bike was a 1963 FLH. Back then it seemed like anything cool sprang from California and would migrate across the country. Living in Indiana, you would occasionally see a chopper but towards the end of the 60’s, they seemed to be everywhere. Then along came ‘Easy Rider’. I sat through every show that opening day, and it became a need, a passion, and a hobby. It was a part of my life. Like everyone, I have had my ups and downs. When life would deal a problem, I always had the collection to zero in on and give me that needed lift. During the early 70’s, I made my living turning wrenches on autos and diesels, and at one point, I had a chance to hook onto the Indy Car circuit. But the pull of seeing the Easy Rider bikes was something I couldn’t overcome. 1980 was the turning point. I engineered the move to California under the guise of trying my hand at artistry and kept my true intention secret all of these years. Up until recently, for the first time, I finally brought the family into my confidence and told them the truth. Wow! It’s been 50 years and doesn’t seem like it. I started collecting anything and everything pertaining to ‘Easy Rider’ from day one: posters, lobby cards, photos, etc. Once in California, I fortunately started working in the Motion Picture business. This gave me a leg up making contacts with the people that were directly involved with the construction of the movie bikes. Over the years, my involvement in Hollywood helped me cross paths with many of the actors that were in the film. The hunt for artifacts and memorabilia continued for 35 years until I retired and relocated to Texas. What I can say now, after all these years, is that movie made my life one hell of a ride! Fifty years later it is still a burning passion, and it is still as strong in me as it was back in 1969. Through the years, I have heard people say that a certain movie changed the direction of their life, and I can positively say that ‘Easy Rider’ did completely change my life. It really did!” See a large selection of Jim Leonard's extensive Easy Rider memorabilia at the 50th Anniversary Easy Rider Festival in Morganza on Saturday, September 28, 2019.