There are no cowboys in our movie.
"This is a great documentary, a priceless artifact." – David Blasco, RoyalEnfields.com
Indian Summer – A History of the Original American Motorcycle was a big hit for us when we filmed it 20 years ago (in actual film!). We brought it back from the dead late last year, and the digitally-remastered DVD completely sold out over the holidays, to our utter surprise and delight. We've got a huge new shipment in, and we wanted to give all you sparky, sparky boom chicka vroom pop-loving gear heads first dibs on the perfect gift for the manly man who hates everything.
The original ad ran in Buzz Kanter's American Iron magazine.
Fred Marsh, Indian Summer lover, at 94 years young.
We received this hand-written letter from Ric Brown, on original Indian stationery (check out the phone number!), when our movie first came out and just found it in our files.
Here's the you-can't-make-this-stuff-up backstory:
Our hero was a guy straight out of Central Casting named Philip Zanghi – I'll never forget he pulled up to the office for the interview in a fuchsia-colored Rolls Royce. He gave us a tour of the apparel factory, and when I finally asked him where the motorcycles were we hopped in his car and drove to East Windsor, Connecticut. I'm not making this up: we pulled up to a long-abandoned mushroom manufacturing facility, and he said that it was to be the new home of Indian Motorcycles. I think there was even a sign saying just that.
We ran the story. I returned to the States the following year, and decided I wanted to make a movie about the rebirth of Indian, since I already had the contacts and a bit of footage under my belt. I tried to get back in touch with Zanghi, but by then he had already declared bankruptcy (and eventually went to prison for fraud), so I changed the focus of the film to what Indian had been, not what it was going to be, in the latest shyster's eye, since there were so many failed fortunes and broken dreams along the way.
The first person I filmed was "Brownie" Betar in Albany, NY. My wife and I drove up on a cold March morning and spent the afternoon with this original and funny man. Halfway through that interview I knew we were going to make a worthwhile movie, since it would end up being a timeless document of the characters and stories that made Indian great. And one day, soon enough, they would all be gone.
Of course we had make the pilgrimage to Springfield again, to see the original factory and talk with some of the guys who worked there. We spoke with "Butch" Baer and Bob Hogan, and then went to a hillclimb in nearby Munson. We spoke with Andy Anderson in Willington, Connecticut — who was a friend of Oscar Hedstrom, founder of Indian. Andy had made a small fortune by collecting Indian head pennies; whenever he did a chore or some work as a kid, he always asked to be paid an Indian penny. That's all – just a penny. He was 90 when we filmed him, and he told me that he had sold his collection a few years earlier for 7 figures.
He was a wry, frugal Yankee from the old school – he lived in a trailer even though he was worth more than you and me put together. And his garage was filled with all kinds of stuff: there was one of those diving suits with the big huge metal helmet and lead boots and everything. I asked him about it. He said that he was stationed in Hawaii during World War II and he used that suit after the Pearl Harbor attack for three days straight without removing it to bring up all the dead bodies. No lie. And I thought I was just going to make a movie about motorcycles.
I wrote a letter to the duPonts and asked them if we could pay them a visit and they said yes. So we drove down to Toughkennamon, and when we got to the address I didn't know exactly where to go so I knocked on the door of a very modest house by the side of the road. There was an old mechanic there, overalls and everything, and he told me the way to the duPont's airport and plane hangar, which was where we were going to film. We got there and there were a bunch of guys getting some Indian motorcycles fired up, and I said I was looking for Lex. They said he was coming, and when he did it was the same guy at the house I had already talked to! Lex was low key, self-deprecating and very fun. We even took one of the Indians onto the runway and got it up to 100 mph.
Lex then said we had to go see his cousin Irenee because he had some Indians and wanted us to film at his place. So we drove over to Granogue, and I'm not kidding the driveway is 5 miles long. Irenee greets us and is very gracious and welcoming. His wife Barb comes over to me says to me, under her breath: "Ever since Lex showed Irenee your letter, all they can talk about are those damn motorcycles." I'll never forget that. No matter how rich or powerful or far someone rises in the world, when you ask them about their passion, and are genuinely interested, they will open up their doors and their hearts to you.
About a month later, my wife had a week-long conference in Las Vegas, and she flew out for that. We decided to meet in Los Angeles after the conference to do our Indian interviews, and I would just fly directly there. She called me every day, but on the last night the phone call didn't come until very late. Only it wasn't her, it was her colleague pulling my leg pretending to be Jay Leno and saying how much he wanted to be a part of the movie. I started laughing and said "I know it's you Mitch, put my wife on the phone." He said "No, it's really Jay Leno. I can't even order a pizza without them hanging up on me when I tell them who I am, because they always think I'm joking."
Wow. We had a great conversation, since he's also from a small town near Boston, and loves motorcycles, and we watched the same t.v. shows as kids, etc. You know what else he shared with me? He said his dad had died that day, and we talked about what a great guy he was, and growing old, and death, and enjoying life while you're alive. We dove right down deep together. How about them apples? And all I wanted to do was make a movie about motorcycles.