Featured in Ojai Quarterly
THE FIRST TIME A YOUNG GEORGE CHRISTIE saw a serious biker in all his long- haired, wind-tossed glory, he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to break free. He wanted to ride.
“That image just stayed with me my whole life,” Christie says.
Even then, Christie felt like an outsider. In the 1950s 805, his parents, proud Americans both, were nevertheless raising him in a fairly closed circle with adherence to the traditional, old-world customs of their parents, born in Greece. During dinner at visits to his grandparents’ house in Ventura, young George was told to wait for his grandfather, seated at the head of the table, to break the bread before eating.
School was tough. Christie had the smarts but not the grades. His dyslexia went undiagnosed, and even when a test went well, an administrator accused him of cheating. So, at 17, he asked his parents to sign off so he could join the U.S. Navy Reserves. And as Christie served, he never forgot his childhood vision of that wild man and his chopper.
So he rode. And after his service ended, when his military experience led to a job tracking submarines out of Point Mugu for the Department of Defense, Christie cultivated his relationship with “Old Man John,” a founding member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Hells Angels. And then the day came that Christie was offered his patch, and he stepped fully into his outlaw destiny.
Told to choose the club or the job — because, as Christie points out, the DoD wasn’t enamoured with giving a high-level security clearance to a man who spent so much time around felons — he walked away from the job.
Soon he returned home to Ventura, where he would become a club legend and a wanted man. Over the next three-plus decades, Christie would guide the Ventura Hells Angels chapter, battling rivals and law enforcement, evading listening devices, serving time in prison, hanging with legends of the ‘60s counterculture and parlaying lessons from marketing heavyweights into a chance to carry the Olympic flame in 1984.
And then, eventually, he would take another road less traveled. He would leave it all behind.
Meeting George Christie now, only the tattoos — and the vest he wears even on a summer day in Ojai — hint that the well- spoken, espresso-sipping gentleman across the table may have a past that once made him a priority target for local police and federal agencies. Still fit and still sharp-eyed, Christie now lives something of an archetypical Ojai existence.
He’s penned and performed a one-man play called “Outlaw” and written an autobiography, “Exile on Front Street,” which the History Channel adapted into The Outlaw Chronicles. Christie says they “got their money’s worth” on that one.
Now, with one small-screen success under his belt, he’s writing for and getting ready to act in a new show, “Marked,” based on his largely autobiographical novel of the same name. Backed by an experienced production team and optioned by a major streaming service (which cannot be named as of press time, per contractual agreements), “Marked” is set for an October release of at least eight one- hour episodes.
Christie has traded the streets for the runway. “Marked” is starting to shoot at Pinewood Studios, just outside London, and in Marbella, Spain, where producers say they can capture something that mirrors Ventura County at a fraction of the cost. Christie is part of a brain trust of writers adapting the story, led by Pat Andrew of Halcyon-Wanda Productions. Like the novel it’s based upon, the show, Christie says, will be a “fictionalized account of my life.”
The hard-to-find novel (used copies of the paperback go for about $50 on Amazon) follows protagonist Jack Crest as he rises, under the tutelage of Old Man John, to a leadership position in the Question Marks, a one-percenter motorcycle club based on the real-life Hells Angels. Those are not your Bernie Sanders one percenters. In the parlance of the biker world, it is said that 99 percent of riders are law-abiding citizens. The one percenters, then, belong to outlaw clubs — or, as critics have called them, criminal organizations — like the Hells Angels.
The novel parallels Crest’s conflicts and triumphs with those of the law enforcement personnel who pursue him, jockeying with one another in an effort to nail him on a variety of charges. Christie recalls the real-life heat this is all based upon vividly. “I was targeted by multi-task agency squads. Every federal agency, Ventura P.D., Ventura Sheriffs,” he says.
The book pays homage to the road by detailing the club’s annual cross-country trip, which provides a jumping-off point to highlight internal struggles and a cat-and- mouse game with other one-percenters and law enforcement. It also cleverly uses a couple of framing devices, one a flash-forward that starts several early chapters and builds suspense as Crest prepares to take out the leader of a rival gang. The other is a flashback to Vietnam, involving a killing that both haunts Crest and informs his actions as he attempts to live and lead in, perhaps, a slightly more responsible manner.
It remains to be seen whether any of these storylines or devices make the transition to the screen. Much will change in the adaptation, according to both Christie and Andrew. Though Christie never served overseas himself, both men say they want to use the show as a platform to explore not just motorcycle club culture but the scars and trials of returning from war.
While the book is set in, and mostly after, Vietnam, the writers say they’ll transpose the setting so it’s current: television’s Crest will be a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan. “The first thing that we noticed about “Marked” was how relevant it was to modern-day America — if we change the lead character to be coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq as a war hero versus Vietnam,” Andrew says. “We also understood that the modern media basically was not interested in telling the soldier’s stories, which is exactly what happened to the Vietnam veterans.”
Christie said he’s been picking the brain of an experienced friend to ensure the drama mirrors homecoming as accurately as it does the details of club culture. “He’s a Navy Seal, eight tours in Afghanistan. He’s a treasure trove of that particular era of information,” Christie says. “We want to address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We want to address narcotics abuse with veterans, administration issues. We’ve got some good stuff we’re working on.”
Christie says some of the Seals he knows talk about going through extensive psychological evaluations before deployment, but question why they aren’t given more (or any) support after the conclusion of the clandestine missions that can take such a toll on them.
Andrew points to some of the root causes of trauma. “What happens with these people, after four tours of duty and they come back home, most of them are disillusioned because the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan are clannish in nature (and) they are not very interested in democracy,” he says. “Soldiers witness the realities that the war may have been about economics, i.e. oil, and a lot of soldiers were fighting in the epicenter of opiates so there are a lot of addiction problems.”
Andrew says “the original 12” bikers comprising the show’s Question Marks will have various military backgrounds that “provide a rich vein to mine story arcs.” Christie will play a version of his mentor. Big John is modeled on Old Man John and has “a long and mysterious connection to the Chicago Syndicate,” running Ventura County gambling and loan-sharking operations.
It “provides a never-before-seen, insider’s view into how illegal gambling and loansharking are part of everyday life in Ventura,” Andrew says. And he provides us a dialog preview: “As Big John tells his crew, ‘There are no victims in gambling, only volunteers. They come to us to place bets and we take them. Things only get complicated when they can’t pay.’”
Christie says that he has already “channeled” Old Man John, his mentor from the Hells Angels, in his one-man play. He knows the show will take the character to new places, and he’s excited to continue paying homage to the man who introduced him to the lifestyle he’d lead for decades.
Christie also expresses great appreciation for the partnership with Andrew. He said that the two talk for hours at a time on the telephone and that “Pat has a real sense of what’s happening, a real rhythm of the times.”
In turn, Andrew refers to Christie as a “’Renaissance man and an amazing actor — his audition tapes are some of the best I have ever seen. He is a true California liberal. He loves animals, people, the beach and freedom of choice. Those are great traits in a friend and he certainly embodies a great California spirit.”
Indeed, it’s perhaps too easy to want to simplify Christie’s life as a leader of the Hells Angels. Sure, it was a tough-guy existence punctuated with and surrounded by violence, machismo and crime. But it also brought him into contact with a host of erudite icons from the Age of Aquarius.
The novel details meeting Augustus Stanley Owsley, the Bay Area LSD chemist famous as the chief supplier to the Merry Pranksters, at a Marin County party for political movers and shakers from both sides of the aisle. And in our conversation, Christie reminisces about his friendship with Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, which he says included deep conversations about Amazon deforestation and the dangers of nuclear power.
The updated-for-television retelling may or may not feature acid trips in the woods of Marin or any mention of the Grateful Dead. But its tone will be layered. “While we are dealing with very serious topics, we are also using a lot of irony and humor to walk the viewer through this life,” Andrew says. “If we merged ‘Rebel without a Cause,’ ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,’ and ‘Six Feet Under,’ it might give you some sense of where we are going with this unique television show.”
Christie’s life is like a tapestry with threads of many colors, and the writers plan to explore them in “Marked” as long as people keep watching. And Christie hopes they do. He’s keenly aware that the bottom line rules the day in show business, just like it does in his own past life. “It reminds me of the Department of Defense,” Christie says. “It’s just this big, moving machine with lots of intricate parts.”
If the show takes off, there are tentative plans to shoot local. “I’m hoping that if the series does have some success with the first season,” Christie says, “we can come back and do some stuff in Ventura County, do some stuff in Ojai.”
To support Christie’s work and to see how the team unfurls Jack Crest’s tapestry for television, mark your calendar for October, when “Marked” will start streaming to your watching device of choice.
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