For any fan of the late 1960’s – early 70’s “bikesploitation” Roger Corman inspired film genre, Gary Littlejohn’s name may not stand out immediately but his face should. And his bikes definitely should. He didn’t just act in almost all of those movies alongside heavies like Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern, he did a lot of their stunts and built a number of the bikes themselves.
I mentioned his Cinderella Cart in the trikes article, but he definitely deserves more space in this blog: he’s right up there with the other artists who inspired the cult of the chopper.
Gary Littlejohn was born in Vermont in 1946. After what can generally be described as a rough childhood in the Northeastern US – cycling between farm work and State homes- Littlejohn joined the Navy at 17 then headed out to California in the 1960’s to get in on the custom bike and car scene that was booming there. An expert welder, painter and fabricator who already had experience building hot rods, he soon made a name for himself alongside the other icons of that era such as Ed Roth and Von Dutch. When Roth ran an article on him in Choppers Magazine in 1968 he had a paint and custom shop going in Van Nuys, but by 1974 he’d opened a shop in Tujunga just north of LA dedicated to fabricating custom tanks and boxes.
|Custom Chopper Magazine, October 1973|
|Littlejohn’s personal custom panhead. Got pipe?|
|Custom triumph pre unit|
His paint work had introduced him to a number of people in the Hollywood crowd; when an AIP producer saw an article on some of his bikes -he was getting a lot of print coverage at the time and in fact became the custom editor for Motor Cyclist Magazine- they called him in to help coordinate the bikes in Roger Corman’s Wild Angels and again in Devil’s Angels to supply the bikes and teach actor John Cassavetes how to ride. He was soon pulling regular parts and stunt work as well as supplying bikes and finding extras: for the next decade he would build and coordinate machines for almost every biker movie done by American International Pictures. Since then he’s been credited for stunts in at least 57 movies and has acted in 23 including Badlands and Caged Heat, and has worked on over 300 films in various capacities.
“I used to go down to LAPD with my friend Mike the mechanic. We’d pick up cop Harleys for $300 apiece, then chop them and sell them for $10,000. What was nice about California was there were chrome platers, coaters, and upholsterers on every street. You could make a complete custom for nothing. Now it’s ridiculous. I like the older choppers much better.”
|1974 Custom Choppers Magazine article|
|The Cinderella cart, more pics in Whacked Out Trikes|
Littlejohn and his partner Peter Murphy got a request to build a BMX frame in 1973, and by 1975 he had a full line of BMX bikes ranging from mono-shocks to rigids along with forks and sidehacks (a sidecar-mounted BMX bike): he is credited as the first manufacturer of a rigid BMX frame. He also sponsored early BMX riders such as Billy Wouda and Bill McIntyre. In 1976, much to the heckling of the industry, he made and advertised a 26 inch “Ballooner” (later to be dubbed a “Cruiser”)–three years before BMXers would ever consider racing “beach cruisers.”
Gary Littlejohn currently lives in Vermont and has continued his work as a professional stunt coordinator for the film industry. He still builds custom bikes and hot rods.
Renaissance Man Gary Littlejohn – Street Chopper Magazine, October 2010
nostalgiaonwheels.blogspot.com- October 2009
nostalgiaonwheels.blogspot.com -January 2010
Wild beyond belief!: interviews with exploitation filmmakers of the 1960s – Brian Albright
WHEN GARY FIRST GOT INTO CAL. SANFERNANDO TO BE EXACT. I MET HIM AND HIS GIRLFRIEND CAROL, HE WORKED AT THE SAME AIRCRAFT AS I DID ( I GOT HIM HIS FIRST JOB IN CAL.) HE LIVED WITH ME AND MY WIFE FOR AWHILE TILL HE FOUND HIS OWN PLACE A COUPLE OF BLOCKS FROM ME. WE WERE GOOD BUDDY’S AND HAD ALOT OF FUN TOGETHER. WISH I COULD GO BACK TO THOSE GREAT TIMES. GORDON WILLIAMS I COULD FIIL THIS WHOLE PAGE ABOUT GARY BUT THAT WILL BE IN THE FUTURE.
He sounds like a normal and cool guy that I (and my friends back then) would easily have hung out with. I am from Rhode Island, and am two years younger than Gary, but I do remember getting discharged from the Army after a tour in ‘Nam as an infantryman, and then taking off for Vegas with my best friend, Phil, who had been lucky to get into the Air Force, so we vets just decided to go to Vegas and see what we could see. Everything was so easy in Vegas..no hassles at the registry of motor vehicles, or getting an apt. or just getting a job…not the east coast at all. Phil bought a ’76 Harley..AMF..and full of problems. We drove out in my ’72 Datsun pickup, so I didn’t have money for a bike as I wanted to keep my four wheels. I got a federal job there and he went on to Fulleton, Ca, to meet up with an Air Force buddy, and wound up get a job with Harley Davidson of Fullerton as a mechanic. He had his Harley stolen from him soon after he arrived by some Hells Angels who followed him back to his apt. late one night. Nobody had insurance back then. He lived the wild life while mine was tamer in Vegas. So, I know what Gary is talking about. It was crazy times and I wish I had gotten a bike as I was into the Triumphs back then. It was so much fun, especially after more or our Rhode Island friends started coming out to join us. Everything has changed now, but I do have some good memories of that time and I’m still alive…I just don’t know if ol’ Phil is still alive in Ventura area or is dead from booze or drugs. Gary, I wish I had met you…you would have been ‘one of us’ and vice versa.
I worked on Angels Hard as They Come (1971)with Gary and the group.. Fun times indeed..
How can I contact Gary Littlejohn? I believe my brother-in-law may have an early Littlejohn trike body and we’re trying to trace its history.