Tag Archives: Evel Knievel

Blast From the Past: Our Documentary Stunt Hero Faces Celebrity Rejection

I own a “Captain Explosion: LAST BLAST TOUR” t-shirt as a memento from one of my favorite creative projects of all time. The shirt is bright red and has a skull with dynamite crossbones, celebrating daredevil James “Crash” Moreau, aka “The Human Bomb.”

I do not wear this at airports.

Last night, I was thrilled to see Crash pop up on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Watch the NBC trailer above and you’ll understand the gist of his “Human Bomb” act — if you couldn’t figure it out from the subtle title.

Crash was one of the stars of “Hell Drivers: America’s Original Crash Test Dummies,” a documentary film I made in 2007 with my talented cohorts Peter Koziell, Al Ward and Greg Constantine at Award Productions.

The four of us chased county fair daredevils, or “Hell Drivers” across America for a year — with our movie screening at film festivals, in high-profile living rooms and eventually spawning a “Hell Drivers” reality show pilot for Country Music Television (CMT). We watched guys smash school busses, mobile homes, and the occasional flaming garbage truck — with no more protection than a motorcycle helmet and ordinary seatbelt. I can still smell the exhaust and burnt rubber.

The theme of “Hell Drivers” was perseverance in the face of rejection and six years later, it’s awesome to see Crash (in his mid-70s) still chasing the dream.

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Crash Moreau, aka “Captain Explosion,” aka “The Maine Maniac,” faces the judges Tuesday night (7/09/13) on “America’s Got Talent.”  (Source: NBC)

Bringing his county fair act to millions of people is an amazing feat, period, so the fact that Crash won’t be “moving on to Las Vegas” is meaningless. The producers surely signed him up as a one-time act, because what would he have done the following week?  Blown himself up twice?

SPOILER ALERT: You can watch what happened on the show yourself or you can read on for my synopsis.

The judges were blunt. Howard Stern told Crash he needed to be more melodramatic, which is definitely not in his monotone and no-nonsense DNA. “In this age of special effects movies, you have to be more of a showman,” he advised. “We have to know there’s danger and I’m not so sure we knew that.”

Maybe Stern would have been happier with Doug Danger, the heir apparent to Evel Knievel whom we also featured in “Hell Drivers.” Danger gives an emotional (and rehearsed) speech about life and death before every jump and can strategically cry on cue.

Comedian Howie Mandell disagreed, calling Crash’s act “amazing and scary.” But his enthusiasm didn’t influence former Spice Girl Mel B.

Scary Spice just wasn’t scared. “The big loud noise was quite terrifying, but the actual silver box was quite sparkly and wasn’t very frightening,” she said.  Crash may as well have just jumped over a bucket of glitter.

My favorite reaction, however, belonged to former supermodel Heidi Klum, well known for rejecting aspiring fashion designers on “Project Runway” with the catch phrase “You’re Out.”

Crush on Crash:

Heidi Klum to Crash Moreau:  What you really want and really need is a Snapple! (Source: NBC)

“I like you and I want you to stay alive,” she said. “I like the little ponytail you have going on your chin and I think you’re cute, but I don’t want to see you blow up. No — I’m sorry!”

Gentle letdown. Like Crash had asked her to the Prom. I’m sure Heidi has the “nice rejection” delivery down pat.

But there’s NO WAY she thinks the rubber band in the beard (a la pro wrestler Lou Albano) is hot. No way.

Personally, I agree with Scary Spice. I intellectually appreciate the danger involved in Crash’s act and am fascinated by the science of how exploding dynamite blasts outward away from his body. However, visually, the explosion reminds me of paper firecrackers. To say it is “underwhelming” is an understatement. I am far more in awe of Crash’s “Steel Wall,” when he barrels into junk cars balanced on their bumpers like dominoes — and his insane Kamikaze Drop, which I have never seen live.

Stunt preferences aside, I applaud Crash for his even-keeled performance in front of millions last night. Hope it leads to more gigs this summer — and perhaps brushes off some of the dust from our documentary.

Check out the “Hell Drivers” trailer now — Crash has some killer one-liners!



(Confession: I actually own TWO Crash Moreau t-shirts, including the stylish WANTED poster variety. You can get your own in the Crash Moreau Gift Shop. You can also order “Hell Drivers: America’s Original Crash Test Dummies,” winner of the coveted Golden Wheel Award, on Amazon!)

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Filed under Heidi Klum Rejects My Friend, Hell Drivers

Daily Inspiration from Ben Affleck — The Oscars Power Salute

Ben Affleck wins the Best Picture Oscar for producing Argo.

Ben Affleck wins the Best Picture Oscar for producing Argo.

If you are in desperate need of an inspirational quote this morning, here’s one from Matt Damon’s friend, Ben Affleck, whom the Hollywood writers say has now achieved “Redemption” for the sin of appearing in a few box office flops.

“It doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life, ’cause that’s gonna happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.”   — Ben Affleck in his Academy Awards acceptance speech.

Sounds almost identical to daredevil Evel Knievel after breaking another set of assorted bones:

“You can fall many times in life, but you’re never a failure as long as you try to get up.” — Robert Knievel.

What I love about this Affleck photo, though, is the way he holds his Oscar like it’s exercise equipment or that he’s giving the raised fist power salute at the 1968 Olympics.  If I am ever so fortunate to earn another Emmy nomination or Tootsie Pop Clean Stick Award, I will also have my fists clenched and trophy thrust out like I am going into battle.

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Going ga-ga over fake celebrities

Every day, dozens of brides line up to marry George Clooney — having no fashion qualms whatsoever with a one-size-fits-all wedding dress.

Our culture is so starstruck and celebrity-obsessed that we even get a thrill meeting wax figures of famous people. Take a look at my friend Ilya, co-founder of Tacky Tourist Photos, who seems a little too excited about meeting the fake Jessica Simpson.

Or Heather, who likes to flirt with both the fake Clooney and the fake Tiger Woods.

Hey, I’m not suggesting that I’m above the peasantry. I’m included in the above slideshow and I also relished the opportunity to pose with the fake Elvis and the fake Evel Knievel.

I could be the most Wax-Museum-Obsessed Writer in America.

I’ve defended the right of Yasser Arafat to be in New York’s Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum — because evicting wax terrorists is a slippery museum slope — and I have endorsed the beheading of Hitler at the Berlin branch.  Much heavier stuff than flirting with George Clooney or Jessica Simpson, I know.

How about you?  Anyone have any funny wax museum stories or photos to share?

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Maine’s Undiscovered Carhenge & the Great American Thrill Show

CAN THE GREAT AMERICAN THRILL SHOW BE SAVED?

It is not featured in any tourist books and the locals don’t brag about it, but from an elevated stretch of Route 6 in rural Maine, you can see Jim “Crash” Moreau’s junk car sculpture garden. Painted red, white and blue, the 1970s sedans are frozen in action poses from Moreau’s illustrious 40-year-plus daredevil career.

It’s the New England version of Nebraska’s magnificent Carhenge.

“When I die,” the aging stuntman says, “whoever puts my obituary in the paper has to put the name ‘Crash’ in there or nobody would know me.”

Known as the “Maine Maniac,” Moreau is one of the last auto thrill show veterans still on the road. Back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, there were several dozen “Hell Driver” stunt teams who criss-crossed North America and staged elaborate auto accidents for family entertainment. The most successful operation, the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show, had up to five daredevil units simultaneously performing at race tracks, sports stadiums and county fairs.

The late Evel Knievel, inarguably the biggest name in daredevil history, was inspired to jump motorcycles after he saw the Chitwood Show visit his hometown fair in Montana. Before Knievel launched his spectacular mega-events, such as the ill-fated jump over Snake River Canyon, less ambitious motorcycle leaps over a few cars were enchanting the regular thrill show crowds.

Regardless of whether a stuntman was driving on four wheels or two, there was one sacred principle about the level of risk involved. Unlike Knievel, who had several months of hospital time to recuperate between events, the thrill show guys had to repeat their stunts night after night. But before new live audiences, the repetition was far from boring.

Hell Drivers smashed through tunnels of fire – and barreled through walls of ice.

Animal rights activists be damned, they also jumped cars and pick-up trucks over circus elephants — with the elephant’s trainer assuming a much higher risk of getting smushed.

In their heyday, Hell Drivers were sex symbols, the closest small town folks would ever get to seeing a movie star. Joie Chitwood, Sr. doubled for heartthrob Clark Gable in the 1950s movie, “To Please a Lady,” the first film to use complex automobile stunts. Several thrill show-influenced James Bond movies would later follow.

Automobile manufacturers used to fight with each other for the sponsorship rights to Hell Driving shows. Nash Motors signed a long-term deal with Lucky Lee Lott. Ford and later, Chevrolet chose the Chitwoods to represent their brands. Plymouth had the Hurricane Hell Drivers. And Ford also advertised with the Aut Swenson Thrillcade (the elephant guys) and the Rotroff All-Girl Auto Thrill Show.

Today, the lucrative sponsorships are all gone. The money dried up as Hollywood special effects made old-school style stunts appear less impressive – and cable TV specials seemed to feature more dangerous acts 24/7. Demolition derbies, which are much cheaper to produce than a thrill show, have since taken over as the premiere event at county fairs.

These economic realities have made it extremely tough for the thrill show to thrive, but luckily the tradition is not dead. Crash’s cross-country seatbelt survival tour is captured in the new independent documentary, “Hell Drivers: America’s Original Crash Test Dummies.”

“Monster trucks have come in, demo derbies, extreme bike riders. They’ve all taken over a piece of the pie,” Moreau admits. “But as long as you’re doing the stunts that people see on TV, there are still many people who want to see a live stunt show.”

The Maine Maniac pays tribute to the thrill shows of old with his divebomber act, which involves driving a car off a ramp directly into a pile of junk cars. The hood of the airborne car usually sticks into the windshield of a junk car like an arrow.

He has also attracted a cult following for his Steel Wall stunt, which involves racing a car into vertically propped-up vehicles balanced on their front bumpers. The magnificent chain reaction crash looks like a motorhead’s fantasy game of dominoes.

Realizing the fickleness of young crowds raised on video games, Crash is adding a new car trick to his repertoire in 2008. It’s called the Kamikaze Death Drop, and like it is branded, it seems to be a suicidal.

At county fairs in Delaware, Maine and Pennsylvania, Crash plans to be strapped inside a car dangling from the top of a crane – and then released into a frightening free fall into a pile of junk cars. He’s still booking this act for future dates this summer and fall, so he’s probably lined up a decent chiropractor!

The 59-year-old Crash undoubtedly lumbers on with his career for deep personal reasons – the roar of the crowd, the thrill of life on the road – but each time he performs, he honors the memory of the original Hell Drivers. To the countless millions of kids who grew up looking forward to the county fair every year, auto thrill show stars were superhuman.

They kept our childhood sense of wonder alive for a little longer. And let us vicariously live on the edge that (fortunately) few of us dare to experience. For a small and gutsy group of automobile lovers, almost dying is the only way to live.

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Darren Garnick is the producer of “Hell Drivers: America’s Original Crash Test Dummies,” which premieres on June 13 at the New Jersey International Film Festival. To be advised of upcoming screenings, send an email to helldrivers@comcast.net

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