07/05/2013 10:13 am ET Updated Sep 04, 2013

Evel Knievel: American Original


It's the 4th of July weekend, and the '70s recollections that have flooded my brain for the past year or so are currently colored Red, White, and Blue. Growing up in the 1970s, I was greatly influenced by ABC's Wide World of Sports, as detailed in an earlier post. I had promised (some say threatened) to devote an entire post to Evel Knievel, and that time has come.

I can't remember the first time I saw him jump, or whether he was successful or not. He became my hero, however, when I saw the footage from his attempt at jumping the fountains at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. It was a horrific crash, and as his body tumbled, it was obvious he had broken his legs. They just weren't supposed to bend like that.

I've heard that Evel pulled quite a few stunts to arrange the jump at Caesar's in the first place, such as "creating" an organization called Evel Knievel Enterprises and impersonating lawyers during telephone negotiations. You could call that being a scam artist -- I prefer to think of it as American ingenuity. Wide World of Sports passed on the opportunity to televise the jump live, but Evel had it filmed anyway. ABC ended up paying a lot more for the rights to broadcast it after the fact.

So, why did an epic failure make him my hero? It wasn't the fact that someone was brave enough (or crazy enough) to attempt such incredible jumps on a motorcycle. It was that even after breaking 44 bones and spending a month in a coma, he kept jumping. Even after nearly dying, he'd get right back on the bike, and try to jump even further distances.

From then on, I was obsessed. I had an Evel Knievel lunch box that I would bring to school every day. If I was ever bored, I would use one of those cool "four color" Bic pens and draw his motorcycle. I had the stunt cycle toy from Ideal. It featured a 7" Evel action figure, along with a gyroscopic motorcycle. You put Evel on the bike, the bike on the hand-cranked "launcher", wind it up and let him fly. I would spend hours seeing how far he could jump. He once jumped G.I. Joe, Johnny West, the Gold Knight and Big Jim, along with all the Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars I could borrow.

Of course, this led to building real ramps out of plywood and bricks, and using my Schwinn Stingray to impersonate Evel. Starting out, my friends and I would set up the ramps on the sidewalk, and see how many "squares" we could jump. Eventually, that became boring. Once I was staying at my brother's house, and had the idea to jump my nephews Joe (2 years younger than I), Greg (4 years younger), and Brian (6 years younger). My brother and sister-in-law had gone to the store, and I watched the car go up a hill and out of sight. I had my nephews lay down next to the ramp, and used chalk to mark the distance. Once they stood up and got out of the way, I easily cleared that distance in three consecutive jumps.

The house was located close to a T intersection, at the bottom of the hill, so the street was flat and level. I had someone, maybe a neighbor kid, stationed at the top of the hill to keep an eye out for my brother's return, and had the guys lay down in the street. Getting the OK from the lookout, I started my approach. I had enough speed, hit the ramp cleanly and launched. Flying through the air, I locked eyes with my brother, and saw the horrified look on my sister-in-law's face. They had returned via the intersecting street, and were stopped only a few yards away.

That visit didn't end well.

Recently, I came across a couple of fantastic pages on Facebook devoted to Evel Knievel, and each day they would post another great picture. At the same time, I discovered my new computer came with a program to make "movies" out of still photos. It was like the stars aligned. So, my first project is a tribute to my childhood hero, Evel Knievel. Now, it's not an accurate depiction of his life, nor is it correct chronologically. It simply allowed me to learn the program, and display my somewhat twisted sense of humor.

Click on the title in blue to view Evel Knievel: American Original, if you dare.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Where Are They Now?