Between the tears were plenty of laughs as the motorcycle industry gathered at Malcolm Smith Motorsports Museum to pay tribute to iconic filmmaker Bruce Brown. The families of Bruce Brown and On Any Sunday co-star Malcolm Smith celebrated the life of the man who not only introduced us to our biggest and most enduring love – motorcycles, but who changed the shape of surfing and motorcycling through his cinematic efforts.
Despite efforts to keep it low key and lighthearted, Malcolm choked up a little when he told of his “invitation” to participate in what was to become the seminal motorcycle movie. “I had just started the dealership and couldn’t afford to skip work, but Bruce told me he would reimburse me for any losses and pay me a salary.” Malcolm was dubious, but Bruce was persistent and persuasive. “I never was reimbursed for the losses and Bruce didn’t pay a salary… But I guess I got about $3 million worth of free publicity from it, so it was worth it.”
Racer and helmet painter-turned entrepreneur Troy Lee led the toast with On Any Sunday Tribute shot glasses filled with Bruce’s favorite libation and then emcee Larry “Supermouth” Huffman started interviewing friends and family members. Like Malcolm, co-star Mert Lawwill was deeply moved by the passing of his best friend but had some pretty funny stories to tell about the events of 50 years ago.
“My dad really loved these guys – Malcolm, Mert and the others really were family to him,” said son Dana Brown, noting that the Lawwill and Brown families spent Thanksgivings together for years.
The who’s who of the motorcycle industry were among the roughly 100 friends and family members gathered for the tribute. Road racing icons Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey and Daytona 200 winner Don Emde were rubbing shoulders with flat trackers like Dick Mann, Sammy Tanner and Gene Romero, motocross legend Ricky Johnson and Baja/Dakar racer/AMA Hall of Famer Scot Harden. Industry icons including John and Rita Gregory from JT mingled with Norm McDonald (who not-only co-founded K&N and sold Malcolm his dealership, but went on to run the longest running Yamaha dealership in the country).
As a special treat, Bob Bagley, who was childhood friends with Brown and partnered with him on both Endless Summer and On Any Sunday, produced a short video he shot with Bruce shortly before his passing, talking about the making of the movie. Bagley also told some stories from a lifetime of working with him, including the improbable tale of pitching Steve McQueen to pay for the making of On Any Sunday.
“Steve said ‘I star in movies, I don’t pay to make them,’” recalled Bagley. “Bruce said, ‘Fine, you can’t be in the movie…’ Steve called back the next day saying he would fund On Any Sunday.” And the rest is history!