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NO. 791
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RF CHAPTER TEN - CONCLUSION
The Rise and Fall of
Ed "Big Daddy"Roth


The Sixties had belonged to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. He was the wealthy, lionized innovator. But the Seventies were as cruel to Ed as the Sixties were kind.

Politically, Ed was conservative. He strongly supported the war in Vietnam and he hated hippies. But BIKERS were another story entirely. Ed loved bikes, and bikers.
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In the mid Sixties, Roth started hanging around with the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, to the point where he was considered an honorary member.

At the time, the public viewed the Angels as dangerous psychopathic criminals, but Roth saw them as misunderstood outcasts -- at least initially.

He hired painter David Mann to create a series of 14 paintings chronicling their raucous lifestyle. Here are three of them, copyrighted to Roth but actually painted by Mann...

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BOOZE RUN 1966
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TIAJUANA JAIL BREAK 1966
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THE BLACKBOARD CAFE 1966

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Ed's love of bikes was NOT shared by the mainstream publications that had once lionized him. They didn't want to associated with the disreputable biker gangs, and they refused to publish articles about motorcycles.

So, in1969, Roth decided to start his OWN magazine, devoted to exclusively to motorcycles, calling it CHOPPERS. Ed poured his entire life savings into the publication, pictured above. Choppers was published monthly starting in 1967, in black and white, with later covers having a single color.

Choppers was not a "filler" type publication, featuring full-page bike pictures and lots of fluff. There were no cartoons at all. The magazine was a highly serious, highly technical examination of motorcycles, packed with informative articles that could be found nowhere else. If you're interested, click this link, and you can read several issues in their entirety.

Looking for interesting stories to fill his pages with, Ed began taking photographs with various Hell's Angels members and their bikes, then publishing them in Choppers.
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At first the gang enjoyed the attention and notoriety the famous "Big Daddy" brought them -- but soon gang members, totally unaware that the magazine was doing very poorly financially because national advertisers wanted no part of it, began complaining bitterly that Roth was getting rich off them.

Things escalated, and a highly provocative Time magazine article made the situation worse. Pictured below, Ed (seen in profile, far left) hanging out with the Hell's Angels at the Blackboard Cafe in California.
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TIME ARTICLE

Ed had had contact with TIME magazine before, helping them with an article on the Hell's Angels featuring photos deemed too controversial to publish until very recently, (click here to see them), and in 1966, Time magazine convinced Ed to let them do a story about him.

A writer and photographer came to his studio, spoke with him briefly, and had him pose for a picture on a small Honda moped his used to run errands around town. To add color to the photo, they put one of the German helmets Ed sold on his head, and hung a cheap plastic Maltese cross around his neck. The photo was printed with an article that called Ed "the Supply Sergeant to the Hell's Angels."
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In this era, TIME was a highly-influential, widely-read national news magazine, and the article did not escape the notice of Revell executives. They sprung into action to protect the squeaky-clean image of their brand.

According to Ed, "Revell calls me in and politely informs me that due to an article in some big Time magazine in which they quoted me as being the 'Supply sergeant for the Hell's Angels,' they would have to cancel my contract if I didn't straighten up."

In The Hot Rod World of Robert Williams by Robert Williams, Pete Chapouris, Mike LaVella, the authors say the IRS, which suspected motorcycle gangs were involved with organized crime, also took notice of the article. Aching to bust Ed due to his celebrity high profile, they sent FBI agents to inspect his books and observe his studio -- twice a week for months -- and tapped his phone. But in the end, the government was not able to find anything illegal going on. Mainly because there wasn't.
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Complaints that Roth was profiting off the Hell's Angels continued, and grew louder, and one day seven armed gang members confronted Ed in his studio, complaining that Ed had been making the biker photos he took into posters, with titles such as "Beautiful Buzzard" and "Gray Cat," and selling them at car shows. They wanted a cut of his profits.

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Roth agreed they deserved some compensation, and began giving the gang considerable sums of cash on a regular basis. But tempers flared again when Roth, ever the relentless entrepreneur, suggested selling the Hell's Angels iconic logo on a T-shirt.
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The gang members, an ultra-violent bunch, some more like Mafia hit men than bikers, finally went berserk. No one was going to profit by selling their sacred colors to snot-nosed kids! An enraged group of Angels chased Roth down, surrounded his studio, and trapped him inside.
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When Ed refused to come out, several gun shots were reportedly fired into the building, thankfully missing Big Daddy. Roth decided to try and wait things out -- but the gang refused to leave, and a stand-off began.

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No one called the police because Hell's Angels didn't handle their business by calling the police. Neither did Roth. Some accounts of this story say the police knew exactly what was going on, and had no desire to jump into the middle of a raging gang war, perhaps hoping that everyone involved would kill each other and do them a favor.

Pictured below is a Google-earth view of where Ed's studio used to stand, 4616 East Slauson Avenue, Maywood, California. This is where, if the story is true, Ed was surrounded.
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Eventually, Big Daddy proposed to end the stand-off by challenging the leader of the gang to a one-on-one fist fight, winner take all. The gang leader agreed -- a big mistake. Roth was a huge man, 6' 4' tall, and he also had a black belt in Karate.
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The fight took place right in the middle of Roth's studio. Blows were traded , but Roth gained the upper hand and, according to one account, "just started to beat the living crap out of the guy."

With their leader beaten fairly and decisively, humiliated in front of his entire entourage, the gang members dispersed, and the crisis seemed to be over.

But very soon after this incident, Roth came to work and found his studio had been looted. Not just looted -- cleared out. Totally! EVERYTHING was gone. Literally, the only thing left was the cement floor. Pictured below, the place where Roth signed his name on the concrete floor of his studio, in 1961.

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Ed loved canines, and he kept several guard dogs in the studio, but when he looked around, he discovered to his horror that even THEY had disappeared.
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Roth was later told that his possessions had been taken out into the desert, and burned in revenge. With no studio left, Ed sold CHOPPERS magazine in 1969, having lost almost all of his entire multi-million dollar fortune.
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In 1970, Ed was forced to sell 15 of his precious custom cars for the outrageous pittance of just $5,500. Then his wife, Sally, divorced him, taking Big Daddy's sons with her to Cudahy, California. Roth's Catalog cover that year, pictured below, showed Ed holding a gigantic one-eyed skull.
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Disaster followed disaster when squeaky-clean Revell decided they had had enough of Ed's unsavory new biker image. They had warned him repeatedly, but he had ignored their warnings. So, when his ten-year contract with the company expired in 1972, the company made no attempt to renew it. That meant no more royalties.

For the next five years, Ed worked for Jim Brucker's Cars of the Stars auto museum. Roth spent much of his time driving a large car carrier cross-country, picking up and delivering vintage autos for the museum.
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Then, Roth went to work for a company that rented out feature films. "In 1970," Ed recalls, "I went to work for a movie rental company, where we rented cars to movie studios for such series as Manhunter, The Waltons and more recently, 'Lombard & Gable,' In this museum, I learned to paint signs, and when Knott's Berry Farm, in Buena Park, started to expand their roarin' 20's area I went to work in their graphic arts department. I love my job and the challenges that this very forward-thinking park offers the Art Department."

When Roth worked at Knotts, he kept a low profile by using the assumed name Bernie Schwartz (which was actor Tony Curtis' real name). Ed's hand-painted work on the Knotts "Berry Wagon" was featured on the cover of the January 1979 issue of HOT RODDING magazine (below).
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Ed penciled the cover art for "The Birthday Party," an album by the band Junk Yard, released in 1982. The art was finished by Dave Christensen.
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Below, another Roth-Christensen collaboration, from 1984.
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In January 1986, Roth contributed a "Santa Rat Fink" cover to THE ROCKET magazine. The image was taken from a T-Shirt Roth sent to the publishers, who combined drawings on the front and back of the shirt to create a memorable Christmas cover.
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Roth joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons, in 1974. He moved to Manti, Utah, home to many Mormons, and remarried a fourth time, this time to a Mormon woman named Ilene.
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In a 1999 lecture given at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art, Roth told his audience, "Expect criticism. If you can't do it, get help. You don't need fancy tools or a fancy garage. And if you fulfill your duty, your heavenly father will bless you in what you do."

Ed is pictured below, in the year 2000, with his STEALTH 2000.
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Ed's fourth wife, Ilene is pictured below with Ed's oldest son, Dennis (known affectionately as "Little Daddy"), his stepson Cody.
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Pictured below is Ed's youngest son Darryl, holding his portrait of Big Daddy. Artistic talent runs in the family! "Even now," Darryl once said, "I'm blown away by him." Not pictured here: Ed's sons Howard and George.
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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth died in his Manti, Utah workshop, of a heart attack, at age 69, on April 4, 2001. He is survived by his wife and children; Rusty Clint (Shelly) Braithwaite, Tammy (Alan) Rogers, Cody Rick Braithwaite, a missionary in Monterrey Mexico, Wyatt Wilford Frischknecht; and his grandchildren, Jacquel Rustie, Kobe Braydon, Tage Warren, and Cheyenne; sons; Howard, Dennis, Charlie, George, Darryl; brother; Gordon (Jeannie) Roth, TEN grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.
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XRoth once said, "I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I have also had a great respect for the talent that I have been given and have tried to exercise it with at the greatest discernment possible. The finished machine has never turned me on as much as the process of getting it together. I love grinders, lathes, drill presses, and the unlimited things that are possible to do with them. The limit is our minds."

Big Daddy was a multi-millionaire in his heyday, but he did not die a wealthy man. He once said, "My wealth is in my wife, in the fact that I built all those cars, and the fact that I'm straight with the man upstairs. This is my wealth, and the dollars seem to take care of themselves, you know? I don't go overboard on any one thing. No drugs or stuff. Life is affordable is you watch your Ps and Qs."

AND NOW A TOUR OF THE
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FInkland photos by Randi aka the Queen Of Quang.
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"Whatever ya are, are it good!" - Ed Big Daddy Roth
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Fifteen years after Ed's passing, he is neither gone, nor forgotten -- for he has become immortal. His Rat Fink still lives, his outlaw spirit still haunts the highways, and the sound of his engines still roars into the night.
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BEGINNING AN ALL-NEW
EIGHT-PART SUPER-SERIES!
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