The bike, the flick, and I: Blissful union of two passions

Posted: February 23, 2012

An excerpt from "Hollywood Rides a Bike" by Steven Rea.

Way back in the last millennium, in my capacity as movie critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, I went up to New York to do an interview with Meryl Streep, who was promoting Dancing at Lughnasa, the screen adaptation of Brian Friel's Ireland-in-the-1930s family drama. I had a half-hour allocated to chat with the Oscar winner about her new film and her career, but after a few words regarding the genius of Friel's writing and the talents of Michael Gambon and her fellow castmates, we spent most of the time talking about the pleasures she experienced during the shoot, riding a vintage Raleigh rod-brake bike - with a Brooks leather saddle - down narrow country roads in County Wicklow. She loved it. Alas, thirty minutes expired, there wasn't much of a substantive, career-surveying Q&A there to offer my readers, but I felt that La Streep and I had bonded.

That's not the only time I've gone off-point with the movie stars that I've had the chance to talk to over the years (Zach Galifianakis, an avid cyclist, told me about pedaling his bike through Malibu, sweat pouring off of him, to meet his Due Date costar, Robert Downey Jr., for the first time), but for the most part (Inquirer editors take note) I've been diligent about my work. I've been lucky to write about film for a living. It's something I love.

But the bicycle is something I love, too. I live in a city that's easy to get around on two wheels and that has become increasingly accommodating to those of us who do so. It's not Amsterdam, but here in Philadelphia there are times when you find yourself falling in with a makeshift peloton of commuters and students and families, and it feels very civilized.

Which is how William Holden must have felt, tieless, his shirtsleeves rolled up, cruising past the Paramount arch, or Olivia de Havilland, in slacks and spectator shoes, riding through the fake city streets on the Warner Bros. back lot, towing her Capt. Blood trailer loaded with script and makeup (and perhaps, as one wise-guy friend noted, with Errol Flynn's empties, too). In the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, the studios stocked fleets of Schwinns, Shelbys, Raleighs, and Rollfasts so actors, writers, and crew could get from one giant soundstage to another, zip back and forth from dressing room to commissary, or just take a break between scenes. It was Hollywood's idea of a bike-share program, long before Paris implemented VĂ©lib'. Look at the shot of Jimmy Stewart with his Rear Window costar, Grace Kelly, dangling her legs from the top tube - the guy spent hour after hour trapped in a wheelchair, a phony cast on his leg, doing Hitchcock's bidding. Just think how liberating it must have felt to flee the scene and take his British-built three-speed for a spin . . . with one of the most beautiful women on Earth along for the ride.

So, movies. So, bikes. So, why not both?

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