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‘An American Treasure’ documentary screening

By Wendell Perry

SIMI VALLEY, CALIF., SEPT. 1—Attendees of any major Southern California motorcycle event in the past 30 years may have had the opportunity to witness the amazing performance of close-order drills and death-defying stunts on Harley-Davidson motorcycles that is the brand of the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps. A phenomenon in the industry for over 77 years, performances by the VMMC were prized features at Del Mar, Love Ride, BAD Ride, Palm Springs and a vast number of other events that drew large crowds. They are also known to perform at other annual events across the nation, like Yuma Prison Run and Daytona Bike Week, to name a few.

Even if you’ve had the pleasure of watching their skills and thrills firsthand, you may still be wondering: Who are these crazy people? How (and why) do they do the things they do, and which one is Victor McLaglen?

Now there is a documentary available that can answer all of the above questions and provide a couple of hours of incredible historic photos and footage, as well as in-depth interviews with key members of the VMMC. The documentary is titled An American Treasure, and was produced by Mickey Jones, famed musician, actor and lifelong biker.

The key to the mystery of this pairing was initially forged at the third annual Children’s Hospital Orange County Ride in June of 2002 at Hidden Valley Park in Irvine. Mickey, the event’s grand marshal, was invited by Commander Harry Fisher of the VMMC to participate in one of the famous pyramid stunts as a special treat for the crowd. The look of terror on the face of easygoing Mr. Jones would have made anyone in the crowd that day believe he was having second thoughts about accepting the offer but, once released from the perch he occupied during the intricate maneuver, he said he had a good time. The experience sparked Mickey’s interest in the daredevils, who regularly perform these stunts with smiles on their faces, and his desire to find out more about what the famous actor, Victor McLaglen, had to do with the team.

Vintage photos of the Corps were on display throughout the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Vintage photos of the Corps were on display throughout the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

As a featured guest at the 68th annual Victor McLaglen Motor Corps Awards Banquet held Saturday, January 25, 2003 at The Phoenix Club in Anaheim, Mickey was exposed to the tangible history of the team. Their World Championship Trophy, won in 1936 in competition against the Mexico City Motorcycle Drill Team, was on display, as well as numerous AMA Safety Award banners dating between 1956 and 1965. Large amounts of memorabilia from the team including photos, newspaper and magazine articles were displayed alongside photos of the team’s founder, Victor McLaglen, who was famous in Hollywood for his appearances in manly films like The Quiet Man and The Informer, and known for his love of poker, drinking and horses.

On that fateful night the VMMC announced their desire to use their large collection of memorabilia to produce an informational “coffee table” type book to promote the team and raise funds to help support them as they continued their impressively long tradition. For several years this idea was still on the drawing board, with not much news of its progress until the recent announcement and screening of An American Treasure.

The documentary opens with a narrated slide show of old stills of Victor McLaglen, and viewers should be astounded at the scope of experience of this hale fellow that they may only know from supporting roles in John Wayne movies. The photos and narration progress to the creation of the “Corps” then blossoms into the video footage of actual team performances at various major motorcycle events.

While the inclusion of the actual stunts from one performance to another may seem repetitious, it serves to show the adaptability of the team on various surfaces, from smooth cement slabs to blacktop streets, to lumpy, hilly dirt and/or grass—sometimes dry and sometimes slick. Some of the footage is quite historic, as some of the events shown are no longer being produced.

Mickey jones received an honorary certificate of membership to the VMMC from harry Fisher onstage after the screening

Mickey jones received an honorary certificate of membership to the VMMC from harry Fisher onstage after the screening

The various performances and narration included chronicles some of the Corps’ member changes over time, and also points out that some team members have been with the Corps for over 40 years. Harry Fisher makes an appeal at the end of the film for interested parties to contact them about possibly becoming a member of the revered institution that is the historic team.

The screening was quite an event in itself, with members, both present and past getting together to perform an abbreviated VMMC show in one section of the parking lot at the Cultural Arts Center in Simi Valley. Of note was the appearance of Marty Fisher, son of Ruth and Harry Fisher, who grew up around, and performed in, the VMMC. Marty now lives in Oregon with his wife and new baby, but he jumped right back into service as “motorman” on that warm September evening. Sue Hutchings, only the second woman to have performed with the group, returned for a curtain call with the Corps and fit right back into her specialties as though she hadn’t been gone back east for so many years.

After the screening, Mickey Jones took the stage and acknowledged his fascination with the VMMC and that he has been involved in the task of putting the documentary together for the past two years. He asked the current and past VMMC members present to stand and be recognized. He pointed out dignitaries in the audience, including Bob Huber, the mayor of Simi Valley, and his wife Deb, as well as Tom Scott, former owner of Anaheim/Fullerton Harley-Davidson, and his wife Barbara, tremendous supporters and sponsors of the VMMC. Mickey also recognized Bruce Chubbuck, a former H-D dealer who sponsored the team out of his dealership and later rode with them, and his wife Linda. Mickey then remarked on his appreciation of the current sponsorship from Mark Ruffalo, owner of California Harley-Davidson, and noted that he was absent due to illness.

The Southern California Harley-Davidson Dealers Association provided a light buffet and beverages while attendees enjoyed visiting and viewing some of the special team photos from the VMMC archives, as well as the actual World Championship Trophy won back in 1936.

This documentary has achieved the goal of bringing so much history and passion together in one medium accessible to the interested public, as the team had felt the need for many years. Kudos to Mickey Jones for giving back to the motorcycling community, yet again.

Order a copy of An American Treasure by Mickey Jones and Shoestring Productions at info@thevmmc.com for $19.95 plus shipping, or pick one up at a VMMC performance near you.

 

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