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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Peter Fonda Talks About Impact Of Harley-Davidson On American Culture

Aired August 28, 2003 - 19:42   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Quite a beautiful bike. Harley- Davidson's turning 100 and for a lot of people that birthday is a lot more meaningful than say Xerox's birthday. Why? Because somewhere during those 100 years Harley-Davidson transformed from being just a company to an American icon.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The movie "Easy Rider" may have been the most powerful transporming event in the history of Harley-Davidson, but it wasn't the most important one. That came in 1903 when Arthur, William and Walter Davidson teamed with William Harley to form the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in Milwaukee. By the mid '30s, Harley-Davidson ruled the sport of motorcycle racing.

And in the 1950s, the emergence of motorcycle gangs such as those seen in "The Wild One" began to tie motorcycles, sometimes negatively, to specific lifestyles. But it was really "Easy Rider" that made the Harley Chopper an enduring emblem of freedom and rebelliousness. The notion was so compelling it won over the culture Harleys let you escape from.

These days it's not just stars like Jay Lenon who ride and collect, Harley fans include everyone from Clint Eastwood to Billy Joel to Mary Hart? But even with main stream acceptance and an aging population of riders, Harley-Davidson still manages to keep its rebel image thanks to the bad boys in marketing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And actor Peter Fonda's is participating in the House of Harley 100th Anniversary Bash. He joins us from the Milwaukee art museum where a special exebition "Rolling Sculptures the Art of Harley-Davidson" is on display. Peter thanks for being with us. Good to see you. What is it about Harley-Davidsons that makes them so popular and legendary?

PETER FONDA, ACTOR: Well, first of all, if you've had a pictorial of their career, I guess you would call it, as making motorcycles, it was the largest and loudest motorcycle than anything in the world. It was a very American thing. We had bigger cars and so we had bigger bikes.

COOPER: And I mean, you're so associated with "Easy Rider" the movie, which is a classic biker movie, 1969, is a movie which still resonates with so many people today. What do you think it was about that movie that really captured so many people's imagination?

FONDA: Well, I see first of all, I'll quote Bjon Winter (ph) who said "if Woodstock in 1969 was the beginning of a whole different generation of people, then the ultimate 1969 took it away." I think this way. They had their own clothes, they had their own look, you know, style, they had their own own poster work. They had their own talk, the hip talk. They had their own music. And it's unique.

COOPER: It's a life-style. I got to ask you, you're in Milwaukee, there's this art exhibit -- go ahead.

FONDA: It's just -- you know what, I forget what I was saying.

COOPER: That's all right, no problem. Don't worry about it. How big a party is happening? How loud is it in Milwaukee right now? You know, all those Harleys getting together it has to just be quite an event going on?

FONDA: It is major, Anderson. It is totally major. And I was here on the 90th and rode here on the 95th. There's so many motorcycles in this town right now. Everybody has a couch to rent is probably doing that.

COOPER: I hope you're not crashing on some couch somewhere.

FONDA: I think there's going to be over 500,000 people before it's all over.

COOPER: That's amazing. Peter Fonda, appreciate you joining us. I know you're busy these days and doing a lot in Milwaukee. Appreciate you talking time out to talk about your love of Harleys.

FONDA: You bet.

COOPER: All right. Take care. Peter Fonda. Pretty intense.

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