Growing up in Wisconsin, I knew that cheese is good, the Packers are great and Harley-Davidson motorcycles are omnipresent. What I didn't know is the story behind that Milwaukee company. Now it's being told in a three-night mini-series, Sept. 5-7; here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
Here is a classic
piece of mid-Americana.
“Harley and the
Davidsons” is about red-blooded, blue-collar guys who put the world
on motorcycles. It starts in Milwaukee and sometimes sprawls onto the
So, of course, it
was filmed in Romania. And it stars guys from England, Texas and the
Netherlands ... riding bikes that were built in South Africa.
Yes, South Africa.
There, people re-created about 80 bikes from the history of
Harley-Davidson and other companies. “We didn't have any
specfications from 1903,” said Alex Wheeler, who was in charge.
As he talked about
it, Wheeler was in the Petersen Automotive Museum, a Los Angeles
place that shows how humans keep re-inventing transportation. It has
cars propelled by gas, electricity, hydrogen, compressed natural gas
and dreams. And it has a sign with Ferdinand Porsche's prediction:
“Soon, every house will add an automobile room to shield their
Even Porsche might
not have guessed that homes would need a two-and-half-carriage room,
with extra space for riding mowers and skateboards and maybe some
motorcycles. Indeed, alongside all those cars, the Petersen museum
has zesty looking Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles.
The Indian brand
came first, in Springfield, Mass. Then came these mismatched guys
from Milwaukee. “It's a really great example of how three very
different minds can come together,” said Bug Hall.
Hall, a Texas
native, plays Arthur Davidson, depicted as the slick-talking
promoter. Michiel Huisman, a Dutchman, is Walter Davidson, a daring
rider. Robert Aramayo, an Englishman, is Bill Harley, an engineer
with a figure-it-out approach. “There was an enormous level of
creativity – and, I believe, artistry – involved,” he said.
ridden motorcycles before, but many of the others actors were
enthusiasts. That includes Stephen Rider and Gabriel Luna – who
played pioneering black and Latino racers – and both of the guys
playing Davidson brothers.
Huisman says he
thought he'd stay on motorcycles his whole life. Then “my wife and
I had a child, and I got in a car.”
And Hall? After his
child-star years – including movie roles as Alfalfa and the sons of
Abraham Lincoln and Herman Munster – he took some biker time. “I
spent most of my late teens and early 20s going back and forth across
America on motorcycles,” he said.
Now he and his
colleagues have gone back and forth in Romania.
-- “Harley and the
Davidsons,” Discovery Channel
mini-series, 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 5-7, rerunning at
10:58 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 11:04 p.m. Wednesday.
-- On Tuesday, the
first episode reruns at 7 p.m.; on Wednesday, the first two are at 5
-- And yes, a Labor
Day start is logical. The Harley-Davidson founders are in the Labor
Hall of Fame.