'American Graffiti' opens

'American Graffiti' opens


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On August 11, 1973, the nostalgic teenage coming-of-age movie American Graffiti, directed and co-written by George Lucas, opens in theaters across the United States. Set in California in the summer of 1962, American Graffiti was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, and helped launch the big-screen careers of Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford, as well as the former child actor and future Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard. The film’s success enabled Lucas to get his next movie made, the mega-hit Star Wars (1977).

George Lucas was born May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California, and attended film school at the University of Southern California. He made his directorial debut in 1971 with the futuristic feature THX 1138, which was based on an award-winning project he produced in film school. His next movie was American Graffiti, which followed two young men (Howard and Dreyfuss) who spend a final night cruising around town with their buddies before they are both scheduled to leave for college the next morning. One of the producers of the film was Francis Ford Coppola, who a year earlier had emerged from relative obscurity to direct the instant classic The Godfather. In addition to his Best Director nod, Lucas was also nominated for the American Graffiti screenplay, which he co-wrote with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck.

Lucas’ career-making space odyssey, Star Wars, broke box-office records and ushered in a new wave of filmmaking centered around special effects and fast-paced storylines. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and ultimately collected six Oscars, for Best Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Music, Best Sound and Best Film Editing. Star Wars made millions in merchandise tie-ins and spawned multiple sequels, becoming one of the most popular franchises in movie history. Lucas struck gold again with the screenplay for 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Ford (whom Lucas also directed in three Star Wars films) as the globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark also became a successful multi-film franchise.

READ MORE: The Real History That Inspired “Star Wars”


There are a number of Mel's in Northern California that share the same general American Graffiti nostalgia theme and the similarly styled Mel's logo. These restaurants are called “Original Mels”. Their locations are not listed on the official Mel's Drive-In website but they have their own website, although an article from the Sacramento Business Journal shows that they're related.

A family rift caused the Weisses to part ways and form two chains. The elder Weiss sold his company to Larry Spergel in 1994, who formed a group of about 50 stockholders that now owns the chain. The Walnut Creek, California, location features a history of the original San Francisco Mel's. [1]

Some Mel's Drive-In locations are not actually drive-ins, but rather diners. For example, while founded in San Francisco, none of the locations in the city currently serve food to patrons’ cars.

Signage and menus on the original Mel's Diners did not have a possessive apostrophe in the name, as would be expected. However, when Universal Studios recreated the diners at their theme parks in Hollywood, Orlando, Japan, and Singapore, they opted to include the apostrophe in all Mel's Drive-In signage, literature, and media.

After the last original Mel's closed in the 1970s, Mel Weiss's son Steven Weiss and partner Donald Wagstaff opened the first of a next generation of Mel's Drive-In restaurants in 1985. [2] As of 2020, there are 7 Mel's drive-in locations in Northern and Southern California and one Mel's Kitchen.

One location near downtown San Francisco, rechristened Mel's Kitchen, has gone upscale, serving $12 cocktails, $16 burgers with locally sourced beef, ahi poke, acai smoothies, and avocado toast. [3] [4] [5] [6] That site was almost demolished to build housing. [7]

Southern California locations Edit

All four Mel's Drive-In locations in Southern California are housed in historic buildings. Mel's Drive-In at 14846 Ventura Blvd in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, California was built as Kerry's coffee shop in 1953. The googie style building was designed by Armet & Davis. Mel's Drive-In at 8585 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, California was built as Ben Frank's in 1962. The googie style building was designed by Lane & Schlick. Mel's Drive-In at 1660 N. Highland Avenue in Hollywood, California is located in a portion of the former Max Factor makeup studio. The Hollywood Regency style building was designed by S. Charles Lee and built in 1935. The Mel's Drive-In at 1670 Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica, California was built as The Penguin in 1958. The googie style building was designed by Armet & Davis. [8] [9] [10] [11]

In October 1963, the Mel's Drive-In chain was picketed and subjected to a sit-in by the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination over the fact that while the restaurant would serve food to African Americans and hired them as cooks, they were not allowed to work “up front” where they could be seen by white customers. More than 100 protesters were arrested. The picketing ended when Harold Dobbs, a San Francisco City supervisor who had run for mayor and lost, settled with the protesters and began to allow black workers up front. [12]

In 1972, the restaurant was selected as a feature location by George Lucas for his 1973 film American Graffiti. The Mel's used was located at 140 South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. [13] It serves as the setting for the opening scene of the film as well as the backdrop for the opening credits, accompanied on the soundtrack by Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”.

The prominent play given to the location has been credited with having saved the company from possibly going out of business. [ citation needed ] Signage and artwork from the Mel's chain is frequently used in marketing for the film.

Universal Studios built a replica of Mel's Drive-In on its lot, pursuant to the restaurant being used in American Graffiti – this amusement attraction also served as a gift shop for years.

Prior to American Graffiti, Mel's was used as a location in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are out for a drive, and Tracy pulls into Mel's and orders Oregon boysenberry ice cream he then has a minor traffic altercation with a black man. The Mel's was located in the Excelsior district of San Francisco. Hepburn and Tracy never actually visited the location.

Mel's restaurants have since been featured in other media, such as Melrose Place (1996, Season 5, Episode 1), Doonesbury comics (December 18, 1989), and the book The American Drive-in by Mike Witzel.

The address for the Mel's Drive-In location on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is listed at the bottom of the signed headshots found in the VIP packages for the band Ghost's "A Pale Tour Named Death".


Coloring Outside the Lines: The History of American Graffiti

“No other art movement in human history has so thoroughly confounded the deeply held concepts of public and private property no other art movement has so thoroughly made itself a public-policy issue.” (Gastman & Neelon) p.23

Often times, young Americans who are on the fringe of the mainstream, and use art as a vehicle of cultural and political commentary are directly linked to a particular moment or event. They are seen as direct descendants of one of the more critically romanticized groups in the American history of counter-culture. Chronologically, we primarily associate and compare present day American youth culture to post-WWII artistic movements. But our collective cultural memory tends to have gaps. This period we often credit for birthing the creativity, activism and expression of the present is often bracketed between the end of World War II and the end of the Vietnam War.

But perhaps American counter-culture today is not directly linked to the days of the beats or the days of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out as much as smashing all toys, getting up, bombing, throwing up, and tagging? Graffiti, as a cultural paradigm, is the intersection of the architecture of the Greatest Generation, pioneered by young Baby Boomers, celebrated by Generation X, and a part of the collective consciousness of younger generations. But given its significance and its association with the most influential youth cultural movement in American history – HipHop, it is surprising that less than 30 books, of any substantial note, have been written on American graffiti. Even less of this literature tells us when it began, where it began, who was doing it, why, and how – until, that is The History of American Graffiti (2011).

So who cares about kids spraying gibberish on New York City trains in the 󈨔s? That’s the question some would ask. The answer lies in the inaccuracy of that common description of graffiti: kids in New York City, in the 󈨔s, with spray paint. While that statement holds some weight, it’s only a small part of the story a small part the history. The cultural and socio-economic ingredients as well as the influence and legacy of the post-Vietnam to mid-Reagan years’ American graffiti often gets overlooked, minimized, and isolated as simple vandalism barbaric and coincidental. Once perceived as an underground cult of mischievous rogues, graffiti is now globally identified as a language of youthful political statement. Graffiti has influenced the design and execution of billboards, political art, performance art, public art, and architecture. Without graffiti, for example, the concept of going to someone’s “Wall” or “Tagging” a photo on Facebook is without context. Until now, there were only a scattered number of sources one would have to consult to get a grasp on the scale of influence and chronology of this art form.

Authors Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon have each written several books on graffiti and street art prior to their ‘definitive’ collboration on The History of American Graffiti. And this book is one of the first of its kind. Its publication is a socio-cultural and historic landmark. By comparison, Norman Mailer’s 1973 book, The Faith of Graffiti, comes to mind as one of the early acknowledgements that graffiti was more than just an isolated hobby or mere vandalism. Joe Austin’s Taking The Train (2001) offered yet further perspective with a more academic slant. The 1984 book, Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant was also one of the early offers in the historical curatorship of graffiti as an art form. There has also been the Chalfant-produced Style Wars (1982) as well as Wild Style (1983) and Beat Street (1984) as filmed narratives of the culture, each in turn offering a gradual progression of documentation and analysis. And Gastman and Neelon, on the shoulders of these, and other precedents, plus their own great work, have managed to execute a book that tells you the best of all that has ever been compiled from the familiar to the unfamiliar history of American street art. It was time for a chronological guide and detailed critique and they have provided it.

The authors’ note provides a caveat, alerting the reader to the free flowing, underground nature of the art form, therefore graffiti cannot be historicized in the same way as other galleried forms of visual art. The brief introduction truly sets the tone for the entire text as it contextualizes graffiti as a central piece of American history that does not begin or flourish in a vacuum. While others have attempted to cover graffiti with just pictures of the work or only surface-level interviews, Gastman and Neelon truly immerse the reader into the culture by starting with TAKI 183, one of the famed pioneers of the art form. TAKI 183 is credited with being featured in the 1st news article in the New York Times highlighting a graffiti writer. The article, published July 1971, was its introduction to the masses.

As much as the graffiti writer is stereotyped, the story of the art form and of its predecessors is still at the mercy of the mythologizers. But THAG provides a full story which has details that go as far into the past as the turn of the 20th century. The reader isn’t simply provided with key figures and their works. Philadelphia is the first city to be discussed, not New York City, as some would expect. KILROY and CORNBREAD are the first names to be remembered as Philadelphia pioneers.

As the story of New York graffiti is told along with a narrative of NYC politics, graffiti and commerce intersect, as the 󈨊s come to a close. It’s at this point that graffiti was introduced to the entire country. Notable figures and stories are brought to the forefront in the expected urban centers such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. But who knew, while NYC kids in the 󈨔s were tagging, so too were kids in Hawaii, Kansas City, and Albuquerque?

While Gastman and Neelon hop from city to city within the carefully crafted narrative, they occasionally check in with NYC to give a status update while keeping along a pretty tight timeline. As graffiti eventually spreads to Europe, Australia, Brazil etc. magazines that are dedicated to street art and artists worldwide, are created. To contextualize the timeline of graffiti in the overall art scene of NYC, they briefly turn to Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat two figures who, in terms of content, are seen as occupying the gap between the graffiti writers and the pop artists of their time. The authors’ narrative ends where it began – with a political statement, reminding us of the important role of graffiti as a catalyst for social and cultural change.

This is a time when changes across generations happen more and more rapidly due to technological advances, the dissolution of some social mores, and the creation of new ones. Because of the speed of these changes, it is becoming increasing important how and when we curate, chronicle, and study youth culture. Although other authors have paved the way, this is the first of hopefully many texts to come that will dispel myths of this particular part of American youth culture. It is certainly one of the first to provide the type of information and analysis to comfortably embed this art form into a structure from which students can be taught about it – similar to how one learns about Surrealism or the Renaissance.

This isn’t just another coffee table book to show your friends and family that you like ‘cool stuff’ in the abstract. This book is one that should be read in sync with books on urban planning, architecture, hip-hop, public policy, politics, art, sociology, economics, and the list could go further. It is a pivotal offering that adds another previously untold entry to the annals of American history.


‘American Graffiti’: A Sentimentally Affectionate Look at America Before the Collective Loss of Innocence

We’ve always found the tagline of George Lucas’ American Graffiti, the nostalgic story of being young and innocent in a small Mid-Western American town, to be a bit curious. Why did Lucas and his people choose the words “where were you in 󈨂” if the movie came out in 1973? Only 11 years had passed, what happened within that specific time frame to make ’62 seem like forgotten history? Why is the year significant, what events might have happened for the year to stand out like that? The answer is: nothing happened. But the events that followed it changed America and the world forever, and in collective memory of the American people 1962 remained a peaceful, innocent, untarnished time they could look back at with love, nostalgia and sorrow in their hearts. On a dreadful November afternoon in 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated during the infamous Dallas motorcade, which also signified the loss of all hope that the United States would pull out of Vietnam. The bloody conflict in the Far East continued, the government continued to spend billions of dollars to finance a military confrontation doomed to fail from the very get-go, Americans continued to come back to their families in wooden boxes. In ’68, the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy further traumatized the American society. The Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution, women’s liberation… American culture experienced a shock, the confidence of the people in their democratically elected leaders started to crumble down in fear, anger and paranoia, the society suffered from disintegration and division, and every single person lost their innocence and was faced with the harsh circumstances of political and social turmoil that made ’62 seem a few centuries away.

It is this feeling that Lucas’ film emulates so well. Semi-autobiographical and openly sentimental, American Graffiti is the love letter that Lucas wrote to his youth, as well as to the youths of millions of his compatriots. For all of us who didn’t have the chance to get drunk, ride around and chase girls in the lazy evenings in small towns around the States, American Graffiti is a historical document, a piece of fiction powerful enough to bring to life the emotional state of naive youth before the traumatic shitstorms of the 1960s started to take place. Written by George Lucas, Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, produced by the great Francis Ford Coppola, starring an group of actors who would build their careers in the years that immediately followed the release of this film, American Graffiti is a cinematic endeavor whose strength and significance greatly surpassed the simple fact that the project helped Lucas finance his Star Wars dream come true. It was a box office hit, sure, but the memory of its financially impressive numbers fade away, while the nostalgic sentiment and the visible love and passion Lucas poured into this project remain. American Graffiti is a monumental film for American history and culture.

A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: George Lucas, Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck’s screenplay for American Graffiti [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

When I was doing American Graffiti I was still struggling with my ‘I don’t want to be a writer’ syndrome. I had some good friends of mine that I wanted to write the screenplay, but it took me like two years just to get the money to do a screenplay. And I got a little tiny amount of money and—which I had to go actually to the Cannes Film Festival to get on my own. So finally I got this money. I called back and I said, you know, “I got the money. We can start working on the screenplay.” And they said, “Oh, we don’t want to do that now. We’ve got our own low-budget picture off the ground and we can’t write it.” I said, “Oh no.” I said, “What am I going to do? I am in Europe and I’m not going to be back for like three months and I want to get this thing off the ground.” So they recommended another student from school that I knew pretty well. I had a story treatment that laid out the entire story scene by scene, so I called him over the phone from London and I said, “Do you want to do this?” And he said, “Okay.” The person I was working with at that time as a producer made a deal with him for the whole money because there wasn’t very much. It was so tiny that he could only get him to do it for the whole amount of money. When I came back from England, the screenplay was a completely different screenplay from the story treatment. It was more like Hot Rods to Hell. It was very fantasy-like, with playing chicken and things that kids didn’t really do. I wanted something that was more like the way I grew up. So I took that and I said, “Okay. Now here I am. I’ve got a deal to turn in a screenplay. I’ve got a screenplay that is just not the kind of screenplay I want at all and I have no money.” And, I spent the very last money I had saved up to go to Europe to make the deal, so I had nothing. That was a very dark period for me so I sat down myself and wrote the screenplay.

After I did American Graffiti, and it was successful, it was a big moment for me because I really did sit down with myself and say, “Okay, now I am a director. Now I know I can get a job. I can work in this industry, and apply my trade, and express my ideas on things and be creative in a way that I enjoy. Even if I end up doing TV commercials or something, or I fall back into what I really love is documentaries. I’ll be able to do it. I know I can get a job somewhere. I know I can raise money somewhere. I know I can do what I want to do.” That was a very good feeling. At that point, I’d made it. There wasn’t anything in my life that was going to stop me from making movies. —George Lucas Interview, Academy of Achievement


“This is a very informative documentary that features many interviews and other footage of the cast and crew for the film. Any true fan of the film should be thrilled with what is offered to watch here. This clocks in at 78 minutes, more than enough time to explain many aspects of the film, from Lucas’ first conception to it’s theatrical release.” —Rhyl Donnelly/IMDb


George Lucas discusses the making of his film American Graffiti how the film affected audiences in the early 1970’s, and about his friendship and working relationship with Francis Ford Coppola.


A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope, narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, illuminates the creation of Francis Ford Coppola’s landmark San Francisco film company American Zoetrope, set against the changing landscape of American cinema in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Photographed by Paul Ryan & Dennis Stock (Magnum Photos) © Lucasfilm Ltd. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.


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Major corporate funding for the PBS NewsHour is provided by BNSF, Consumer Cellular, Leidos, Babbel, and Raymond James. Funding for the PBS NewsHour Weekend is provided by Mutual of America. … More

Major corporate funding for the PBS NewsHour is provided by BNSF, Consumer Cellular, Leidos, Babbel, and Raymond James. Funding for the PBS NewsHour Weekend is provided by Mutual of America. For a complete list of funders for the PBS NewsHour and PBS NewsHour weekend, click here.


via Visit Boniface-Hiers Chevrolet in Melbourne

For the 1956 model year, more trunk space was included, the spare wheel was on the outside, the exhaust tips were moved, and air vents were added behind the front wheel. Production for this year was 15,631 units. Which was the lowest of all three 2-seater Thunderbird years.

This car was driven by Richard Dreyfuss in the movie, accompanied by Suzanne Somers lounging in the passenger seat. The car was owned by Clay and May Daily for 30 years, and was loaned to the movie for production.

The car still resides in Petaluma where the movie was filmed. Originally starting out red, the owners painted it white in the late 1960s, as it is today. Unfortunately, the iconic red that we see in the film no longer remains.


The History of American Graffiti

Boston has a special place in graffiti history — and not just because one of our early marquee vandals, Popeye, was Jordan Knight of the New Kids on the Block.

While absolutely influenced by New York, the exalted bombers of Bay State renown have always been a breed unto themselves and products of the landscape here. Thirty years ago, Boston&aposs first-generation writers took to trains and walls to fight out the latent race war still brewing from the school busing crisis. Years later, their protégés Boston has a special place in graffiti history — and not just because one of our early marquee vandals, Popeye, was Jordan Knight of the New Kids on the Block.

While absolutely influenced by New York, the exalted bombers of Bay State renown have always been a breed unto themselves and products of the landscape here. Thirty years ago, Boston's first-generation writers took to trains and walls to fight out the latent race war still brewing from the school busing crisis. Years later, their protégés were skateboarders, hardcore kids, and anarcho-punks — in contrast to taggers in other spots who were shaking paint cans to boom-bap bass lines.

Boston's storied years of beautiful decay are colorfully highlighted in the new street-art masterpiece, The History of American Graffiti. It's no wonder co-author Caleb Neelon is a Boston-born, Cambridge-based globetrotter who has splashed walls across the world as Sonik. In the process of curating two of the most exhaustive accounts of concrete décor ever produced — the epic international guerilla-art survey Street World, and now American Graffiti — he's amassed a wealth of insight on the region he calls home.

In the first of two Boston chapters, American Graffiti paints the Bean as a hotbed of racial tension and a fertile breeding ground for renegade activity. Coming from mostly black and Latino pockets like Jamaica Plain and Mattapan, the first prolific graf kids became active in the early 1980s to overwrite hate speech that was scrawled on the Red Line trains that ran through Dorchester and Southie. By the middle of the decade, icons like Click and Maze were as visible as all the racial epithets that had covered cars and platforms since the 1970s.

While Red Line bombing in the name of social justice lit the fuse, Boston became especially colorful around the elevated Orange Line, which ran on Washington Street from downtown to Forest Hills, slicing through diverse and blighted neighborhoods like Mission Hill, where a score of early writers hung their aerosol caps. But when the Orange Line trestles were dismantled in the late 1980s, years of hard work and props vanished with them.

"You can date the end of the old school in Boston to April 4, 1987," says Neelon. "After the elevated train came down, none of the rooftop pieces were visible anymore. That history was hidden to so many people for so many years — it's why the old school of Boston never came off in any books."

Luckily there were underground magazines like Skills, which Queens writer Sp.One started — with a friend who worked the late-night shift at Copy Cop — after moving to Boston in the early 1990s. Along with Wombat, Ryze, and a score of punk-show regulars from Boston and the budding scene in Lynn, Sp.One helped rejuvenate a local culture that had largely fallen off.

"When I look back, there were definitely things that were different about what was happening around here," Sp.One tells the Phoenix. "In other places, a lot of people were more into the hip-hop scene. Here, most of us were listening to hardcore and going to shows at the Rat."

Neelon's American Graffiti sketches this second-epoch renaissance as an activist operation with a profound intellectual bent. Graf stalwarts everywhere are sympathetic to revolutionary ideas, but in spots like Harvard Square, where seminal writers like Wombat broke bread and filled black books, the climate was especially radical.

As for artistic integrity, Boston writers aimed to bend any and all boundaries in the 1990s — Ryze even took classes in Celtic lettering at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. At the same time, whereas many writers elsewhere began bombing indiscriminately — hitting as much real estate as possible with quick, colorless "throw-ups" — the commonwealth remained a competitive canvas.

"I was always someone who could do pieces," continues Sp.One, "but in New York I did more highways and trains . . . Boston for me was more about doing productions and more colorful pieces."

In retrospect, the Boston crew was damn near anomalous on Planet Krylon — especially in their time — yet their legacy remains vital.


American Graffiti Coupe

The most recognizable hot rod in the world has never won a major show award, nor has it set any top speed records on the dry lakes or at the asphalt drags. In fact, the most recognizable hot rod in the world wasn't constructed by a big-name builder, and the sum of the car's parts is similar to the buildsheet you'd typically find on any nondescript backyard hot rod. Even so, the most recognizable hot rod in the world is just that. You may know it as the American Graffiti coupe.

Often, when someone makes reference to this '32 five-window, a wave of nostalgia washes over them, too, because the American Graffiti coupe owes its very existence to the George Lucas movie American Graffiti that played on high school memories from the '50s and early '60s. In truth, the bright yellow Ford originally was built as just another prop for the 1973 cult film. It wasn't supposed to be a marquee star, but as the movie's popularity grew, so too did that of the coupe. Eventually, thanks in large part to the automotive press as much as any other factor, the car became known as the American Graffiti coupe, and now people associate it with the cool character who drove it in the movie, John Milner, portrayed by actor Paul LeMat.

Indeed, LeMat--aka, John Milner--and the coupe share paralleled popularity among American Graffiti fans, until you can hardly differentiate one without the other. Which is fitting, because when I caught up with the American Graffiti coupe at the Viva Las Vegas Car Show during the spring of 2000, LeMat happened to be present and accounted for, as well. This was one of many car shows and events that the duo, along with the coupe's owner Rick Figari, have attended in recent years.

Because the movie focused so heavily on the street scene of the early '60s, it was essential that the cars driven in the film by the teenage characters should boast the same cool looks typically associated with hot rods and tail-draggers of the era. Lucas himself, who as a teenager lived in the central valley area where the movie's drama takes place, was instrumental in the famous coupe's genesis as a hot rod. Apparently he and movie producer Gary Kurtz whittled a list of potential car candidates down to the coupe, finally basing their selection on the coupe's chopped top. Henry Travers, the film's transportation manager, was then given the enviable task of overseeing the car's construction into a bona fide hot rod.

Practically all of the filming took place in Northern California, so logic dictated selecting a shop in the area for the actual rebuild of the car, which was intact physically, but in need of fit and finish, and mechanical fixing to make it run. So Travers trailered the car north to Bob Hamilton's shop in Ignacio for the conversion. Lucas wanted a highboy with bobbed rear fenders to emphasize the fender laws that hot rodders continually confronted 40 years ago. Additional re-construction included addition of motorcycle front fenders and aluminum headlight stanchions, and chrome plating for the dropped I-beam solid axle. The Deuce grille and shell were sectioned a few inches, and then the car was put back on the trailer and taken to Orlandi's body shop in nearby San Rafael for its coat of Canary Yellow lacquer paint. The interior--originally red and white tuck 'n' roll Naugahyde--was dyed black.

To maintain the persona of a bad-boy hot rod, Lucas and Kurtz stipulated that the engine should be loud and ragged-looking. Starting with a mid-'60s Chevrolet 327 small-block, Johnny Franklin's shop filled the bill using some interesting components. The four-pot intake manifold is a rather rare Man-A-Fre that holds a quartet of Rochester 2G two-barrel carbs, and a pair of finned no-name valve covers were set atop the camel-hump cylinder heads. It's been reported, too, that Lucas defined how the exhaust headers should look, stipulating a pair of Sprint race car-style pipes to emphasize the car's bold appearance. The remainder of the drivetrain included a Super T-10 four-speed transmission and a set of 4.11:1 gears in the '57 Chevrolet rearend.

Then it was off to the film location where Paul LeMat, in the guise of John Milner, went about making hot rod history on the big screen. Special removable platforms were engineered and fitted to the framerails for camera crew members to ride during the close-up filming for the street cruising scenes in Petaluma, California. Those scenes allowed for close-ups of McKenzie Phillips, who portrayed the prissy young girl that Milner was stuck "babysitting" through the movie's entirety, and LeMat, as they sat in the cab.

The film's climax, of course, is the famous drag race scene near the end of the movie. In that scene Milner squares off against the bad-to-the-bone black '55 Chevrolet driven by street racer Bob Falfa, portrayed by Harrison Ford. A piece of movie trivia here: LeMat didn't drive the car down Paradise Road for the film's race sequence. Instead, Henry Travers was at the wheel, and the film crew had a very brief window period--about 10 minutes--to do the actual filming in order to maintain the same sunrise lighting throughout the scene. Travers obviously got it right, and the scene went smoothly, although the '55 refused to roll over for the grand finale crash, so the film crew had to physically roll the car on its side for the shot!

As for the coupe's future, when the film was put in the can and presented to Universal Studios for distribution, it's felt that fate intervened to save the car for posterity. According to legend, Universal's marketing team concluded early that American Graffiti would be a financial flop, and to recoup their projected loses they ordered Travers to sell the Deuce coupe immediately. The asking price was $1,500, but there were no takers. Good thing for Universal's promotion department, because when the movie was released it proved an instant hit, prompting the ever-resourceful marketing department to bring the '32 five-window back home, to be used as a promotional tool.

During its tenure in the promotion department the car was sub-contracted for a cameo role in another famous hot rod movie, The California Kid. The coupe appeared in two major scenes--one included the speedometer shot using the American Graffiti coupe's gauge in lieu of The California Kid's instrument for the close up. Ditto for the alleged engine shot the coupe's engine doubled for the Kid's. That's Hollywood.

Its mission finished on both fronts, the car sat on the Universal Studios lot for the next six years until the same clairvoyant marketing department felt that the time was ripe for a sequel. Thus was born More American Graffiti, and Milner's hot rod was sent back to Orlandi's shop for a minor facelift, including a new paint job same color, different paint, this time acrylic enamel.

As sequels usually go, More American Graffiti was a flop (once again the marketing gurus got it wrong!), so Universal felt it was time to retire the old warhorse once and for all. The occasion was highlighted by a sealed-bid auction, won by Steve Fitch who had previously acquired rights to the movie's black '55 Chevy. A couple years later, after persistent offers by a young die-hard American Graffiti fan named Rick Figari, the car changed owners again. It turns out that ever since Figari as a boy of eight-years-old saw the movie, he had been infatuated with the coupe. When Fitch made it available for sale in 1985, the young man from San Francisco, California, had the dough. Figari was only 20 years old at the time, and his acquisition probably assured that the coupe would be preserved as the American Graffiti coupe for years to come. Among the first orders of business was to contract Roy Brizio's shop in South San Francisco to make the car roadworthy again.

Indeed, Figari spent the next few years actually driving the car, and it became a fixture in the Bay Area street rod scene. That is, until Figari, who owns and operates his own saloon in the city, concluded that the car's special historical and financial significance justified it as more than just a daily driver. And so, once again, the American Graffiti coupe was parked, this time in honor of its heritage.


'American Graffiti' opens - HISTORY

One of the first people I ever talked to about American Graffiti and the details on Milner's Coupe was Rick Blevins out of Kansas. Rick and I would swap what little bit of knowledge we had at the time. We pushed each other forward on the Graffiti quest. Constantly comparing notes about the real car.

After reading and article in an old hot rod magazine I figured for the best place for correct coupe information was to go to the source. I started digging to find the man who bought the coupe from Universal Studio's. I figured if anyone could answer coupe questions correctly it would be him. I turned up a name and number. Steve Fitch. Oddly enough he like Rick was also located in Kansas. Rick took the helm and pushed the buttons to make the Fitch connection. This contact opened a door to the star cars circa 1981-84

Steve could not have been any nicer. Providing what facts he could remember over the phone. Rick being the tenacious graffiti fan that he is did it one better and as a birthday present to himself he loaded up and went to visit Mr Fitch in person. Rick said he had a great time. During that visit Steve dug out an old photo album and shared these pictures with Mr Blevins.

Steve bought the 1932 Ford 5 window Coupe better know as "Milner's Coupe" on August 19 1981.

The Coupe had one missing tail lens and the other lens was melted. It is nice to see the wooden platform that Lucas had installed over the gas tank so that the sound guy would have something to perch on is still there. Steve said the tank in the coupe looked like a 60's external fuel tank or possibly homemade? He said it only held about 7 gallons and it was painted red and white.

I wonder if that was done for safety or to match the coupe's color scheme at an earlier point in it's life. Remember this was not always a movie prop. From the looks of the underside of the car and it's oddball mix of parts it lived a full life in it's first 40 years.

Always questioning the 32's pedigree. I was able to locate Gary Kurtz'sKurtz said he thought they had purchased the deuce out of Compton California in 1970/71.

Anyone remember a red full fendered 5 window coupe in that area. Let me know.

Steve and Mark Seligh freshened the motor that had filled with water while on display outside at Universal. Mr Fitch spared no expense to save the original block and heads on the "Bitchiness Car In The Valley". Steve ran air filters instead of the carb scoops.They are not Movie Correct but I can't fault him for that. They are a nice upgrade and since two of the originals scoops were already missing this seems like the best option.

Steve said the original carburetors were froze so he installed a different quartet of Rochester 2GC's. Don't worry Steve did not scrap the originals. They went into the trunk the day the coupe sold so as to not to split up the originals from their home.

I questioned Steve about some of the facts given in the 1984 issue of Hot Rodding. Steve talks about the work it took to save the original 1966 327 block. He said it took a .060 overbore to clean the cylinder walls. Then he mentions the lift and duration of the cam? I ask him how do you know this?? Thinking did he measure the camshaft. Steve giggles and says no I know the spec's because that is the camshaft I bought for it. Fitch said the cam that had came out of the motor appeared to be stock and nothing special.

The early (pre 1981) magazines always described the coupe as having a 283. Fitch confirms that in 81 when he bought the car it had a 327. OK no biggie it's all small block easy mistake to make. Even I can't see cubes. From recent facts and pictures shared with me looks like the early reports were wrong. Milner's Coupe is still twisting the same mill it had during filming. 327. 327. 327. That's for the guys who just scan the article for facts! 327. Oh and it's Borg Warner T-10 NOT a Super T-10.

To quote Poster: Graeme Oliver
"Steve Fitch of Wichita, Kansas, owned the Graffiti cars back in the 80's, and sent me this photo.
After he had done a rebuild on Milner's coupe, he sent me one of the original tappet-cover studs from the engine. In hot rodding terms, this is like having a holy relic and I keep it in a glass case in my living room."

I thought that was a really cool story when I read it. I often wondered if they were friends or if the guy was just lucky? Thanks to a bunch of HAMBers I found out that Steve spent hours of his time to answer the countless envelopes that jammed his mailbox once graffiti fans found out that he owned the cars. Here are a few of the personal story's I was giving the green light to share.

Marty Graffiti
"Here's the two pics Steve sent me back in the 80's, actually he sent a postcard with the pics thanking me for my interest"

Seeing these pictures. I think I can smell leaded fuel. JH

Danny's Graffiti
I was in Wichita back in the late 80's with a buddy of mine (Mike aka Coop), cruising around in his 70 440+6 roadrunner. We happened into a parts store and a really cool guy strikes up a conversation. Here we are talking to Steve Fitch! He tells us to follow him to his house where he proceeds to show us these pics, he had just recently sold the cars. (said the 55 would've easily won the race by the way!Lol) He tells us to follow him on foot around the corner from his house and there thru the windows of a garage of a buddy of his is the black and gold car from W.W. and the Dixie dance kings! His buddy wasn't home so we didn't get in the garage but what a day! The 6 pack tended to leave a little "residue" on the back bumper of my buddies runner so when we leave town to head back home he writes in the soot "I JUST MET STEVE FITCH". It was a while before he washed that bumper! Steve is a VERY cool guy! Memories!

I know Rick can't agree more.

So what does he find. The last remaining pieces of the coupe that Steve had. The original spark plug wire holders and two bolts from the grill shell with some of Don Orlandi's special yellow sauce still on them. Rick told Steve I must have them. Steve being the kind of guy he is told Rick "Happy Birthday". In a later conversation with Steve I informed him that I had a birthday coming up Steve said Jeff sorry but Rick had gotten all that he had left.

Keeping up that good Graffiti karma Rick split his score with his long time friend Doug "The Guru" Bjorn (no relation to Anna Bjorn you know Milner's girl friend in More American Graffiti)
Rick and Doug are true Graffiti brothers that usually have something in the works over at their web site http://www.projectthx138.com/

While talking to Steve I asked him about some of the story's I had heard and read over the years. One of them being the one about the Licence plates and chrome piston gear shift knob being found behind a panel in the coupe. Steve assured me that he had been through the car with a fine tooth comb. He said that the only thing he found behind any of the panels was in the passengers door. He said he found a For Sale sign and a bumper sticker from American Graffiti.

The for sale sign had a phone number. Seizing this enchanted moment Steve called the number on the sign. Unfortunately he said there was no answer or that the number was out of service. Lots of guys would like to know the cars history before it became a film icon. "A lot of guys try" "Seems like there is more now than there has ever been" For now it remains a mystery.

Years after that conversation with Fitch. I was on one of my many Graffiti quests and I found this picture that may explain where that bumper sticker in the passengers door came from. Jeff


The Extreme Sadness of American Graffiti

When you think of the 1970’s classic American Graffiti, what comes to mind? Crazy kids out all night having a good time? Bittersweet nostalgia? A cinematic precursor to televisions Happy Days? So did I. That is until I caught a recent screening via Cinemark’s Reel Classics series.

It wasn’t until then that I realized just how sad and depressing of a movie American Graffiti really is. Oh sure, there’s some fun to be had here and there with a group of teenagers out all night cruising in 1962 Modesto, CA. When it’s over though, there is no denying that this one depressing experience.

Gee, this sure LOOKS like it’s gonna be fun.

The movie focuses on four young friends the night before two of them are about to depart for out-of-state college. Our first graduate is Steve (Ron Howard). When the movie opens Steve is eager to leave town. Staying in Modesto mean living a very boring and dull life to him, so here is his chance to go and he’s not letting it slip by. One problem for Steve is his longtime girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams). He wants to be able to see other girls in college and he breaks it to her which naturally doesn’t go well. Steve spends the rest of the movie in relationship hell trying to patch things up with her. In the end, Steve decides NOT to go. He tells the guys he’s going to wait a year and then head out so he can be with Laurie. That wouldn’t be too terrible except the movie’s epilogue tells us how Steve is now an insurance agent…in Modesto. So he never left. He was browbeaten in that last night and gave up on his dreams. Nice.

Next up we have Toad (Charles Martin Smith). Toad is the youngest in the group and a huge nerd. He spends the movie trying to impress a girl he picked up (Candy Clark) and gets into all sorts of nonsense along the way. Toad’s story is definitely the funniest and at the end his girl tells him she’d love to see him again. This is a win, right? Things aren’t looking so bad. Then that epilogue pops up. What happened to loveable Toad? He was reported missing in action near An Loc in 1965.

The oldest and saddest of the group is hot rodder John Milner (Paul Le Mat). Milner has graduated already by at least a year and is still cruising around Modesto looking for chicks. He’s got a rep for being the best drag racer in town, a title Milner seems to feel a little sheepish about. He’s aware that he’s getting older and going no where. He can sense his own meaningless existence more than he’d like to admit. Milner spends the movie stuck with a teenybopper in his car who won’t leave (Mackenzie Phillips). Some fun times abound. Meanwhile, an outsider with fast ride of his own (Harrison Ford) is looking to challenge him. In the end Milner wins the inevitable showdown but feels like he’s lost. The whole Milner story is soaked in melancholy but that’s not enough. The post epilogue informs us that Milner was killed by a drunk driver in 1964. Yeah, that’s right, he’s dead. Just like Toad probably is.

Last we have Curt (Richard Dreyfuss). At the opening of the movie he isn’t sure about leaving for college. Maybe he should play it safe and stay in town for a year or two. Take some time off. Go to a junior college. His night is spent looking for a blonde in a white Thunderbird he sees at the beginning of his picture. He thinks she says “I love you,” to him (though he can’t be sure) and that’s enough to change his entire life. Fair enough, as it would change mine too. Curt’s story is my personal favorite and after a night of hanging out with local street toughs, The Pharaohs, he decides to head off to college. That’s right, Curt gets on the plane at the end takes a chance on life! Finally, a win right? Almost. We find out in the epilogue that Curt is now a writer living in Canada. Whaaat? The writer part is great, but what’s up with Canada? Well, let’s do some deductive reasoning here. American Graffiti is released in 1973. The movie takes place in 1962. So why would you go to Canada in between those years? Maybe if you were trying to avoid going to Vietnam? I don’t think it’s crazy to think that Curt is a draft dodger, writing it up in Toronto or Moose Jaw somewhere.

Even the idea of setting the movie in 1962 is sad. It could be the 50’s based on the way the movie looks and feels. I do think there’s a very specific reason for choosing 1962 for the setting. Writer-director George Lucas knows that in 1963 US President John F. Kennedy is killed and Camelot goes with him. After that tragic moment the 60’s start to change and soon hippies and Vietnam will rule the day. Setting it in 1962 not only shows the main characters on their last night of supposed innocence, but also that of the United States as well.

I’m not saying that American Graffiti is bad a movie by any stretch here. It’s very good. It’s just that it is also very, very sad.

For more Hollywood history check out my documentary podcast The Industry here. Thanks!


Watch the video: American Graffiti 510 Movie CLIP - Water Balloon Prank 1973 HD


Comments:

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