(This column was written May 24, 2011)
By Shelly Saltman
Holey Moley Uncle Dudley! Those were words echoed by one of the comic book heroes of my youth. The words were spoken by Billy Batson, the 145-pound alter ego of the man he became, 215-pound Captain Marvel once he said the magic word "Shazam." As Captain Marvel he was able to fight evil wherever he found it.
Leigh Montvale is my Captain Marvel. He has written a complete and wonderful book entitled "Evel." The book unmasks the legendary daredevil Evel Knievel for what he really is ... a man in disguise who when he put on his red, white and blue motorcycle leathers, made everyone think who was a doer of good... someone to be looked up to by an entire generation of both kids and adults.
Back in 1978, I wrote an innocuous book entitled "On Tour with Evel Knievel." It jumped immediately to the top of the charts and sales were booming. It was an innocuous book about "Peck's Bad Boy". ("Peck's bad Boy" was a series of books about a popular fictitious character read by many at the start of the 20th century).
The book I wrote, "On Tour with Evel Knievel" was sanitized and completely checked out by his attorneys, since he was my partner, prior to publication. I did not want to destroy the image of a hero that I had worked so diligently to cultivate. Instead he did it to himself when he attacked me and went to jail. Fear of suit by Knievel saw the publisher Penguin pull my book from the stores.
In the book "Evel," which is on sale everywhere now, Leigh Montvale pulls no punches. Based on countless hours of research, many interviews and his own award-winning prose, Leigh takes us on a vivid behind the scenes view of the life of a man who perpetrated one of the great frauds on the public. Evel made us believe that he was a genuine American hero. It was all a fiction. Hell! The fictional character Captain Marvel has proven to be the real hero.
In the book "Evel", Montvale traces Knievel's earliest roots from the time he was born until past his death. He is a masterful storyteller who makes the reader feel as if he is meeting Knievel for the first time. He has captured the zaniness, the courage, the cowardice and the complexity of the man.
While I was in charge of the worldwide promotion for the Snake River Canyon Jump, my company Invest West Sports and myself were in partnership with Top Rank and Bob Arum. I spent three extremely long months traversing the country in a Lear Jet with Evel. I ate every meal with him, met his grandmother, his wife at the time, Linda (a wonderful lady), joined him at his house and witnessed first hand many of the things Leigh talks about in "Evel"... Things I never put in print, nor repeated. Montvale captures it all ... both the pain and the ecstasy.
Since reading "Evel", I have had a chance to compare notes with many of my associates and friends from that time. Dave Herscher, who never got credit for the masterful way he catered to the press at the
Joey, to his credit, never backed down and did a magnificent job. When Bob Arum first met Knievel, Knievel said, "There are three things I hate... Jews, New Yorkers and lawyers." Bob is all three. Knievel then would laugh such moments off, claiming he was only joking. Montvale, in studying Knievel's history, unmasks him for the bigot he was.
Don Branker, the man responsible for all the logistics of the jump, got to despise Knievel so much that he took out his revenge in a most creative and unusual way. Montvale captured those moments.
It was not just a trip down memory lane. For me, it was more. Through Leigh's words, I heard Knievel's sarcasm, his disdain for others and his egomaniacal ravings. After reading the book, I went to my personal trove of one-on-one voice recordings that I made with Knievel. I still have over 125 hours of these left. I was amazed at the accuracy of Montvale's portrayal.
True, I enjoyed reading it because I knew most of the characters. However, even if I didn't it would be a book worth the investment. It is written well and it is factual.
As for myself, with an arm that is all pins and steel as a result of Knievel's maniacal attack on me back in 1978, to see what Leigh Montvale has written, has completely vindicated what I have said about Evel all along.
The irony of Knievel's attack on me is the fact that five weeks before he died, Knievel had a copy of my book at his bedside and supposedly told his lawyer, "I just read Saltman's book. You know it was pretty good." Knievel attacked me based on hearsay, having never looked between the covers of the book.
If you are a reader and want to enjoy a good, true story, I urge you to buy "Evel" and look between the covers.