April 4, 1969: Jim Morrison Starts Filming “HWY”

Jim Morrison in "HWY"

The Doors had been laying low for just over a month, but events had started to snowball out of control after The Doors’ concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium, March 1, 1969, in which Jim Morrison had allegedly exposed himself. The “Miami Incident” at first incurred no more reaction than any other Doors show, and the band went off on a prearranged Jamaican vacation in anticipation of their upcoming national tour. But word of the concert, and Morrison’s alleged exposure, started getting out.

On March 3rd, WTVJ ran an opinion piece by Ralph Renick, their vice-president of news, vilifying The Doors, decrying the show and asking what authorities were going to do about it. On March 5th, The Doors heard the first reverberations from the concert when the Dade County Sheriff’s Department issued a warrant for Jim Morrison’s arrest. Concerts were cancelled, radio stations pulled Doors songs, and magazines and newspapers ran stories excoriating Morrison and The Doors.

On March 23 a “decency rally” was held in Miami to counter The Doors’ performance. Appearing were Jackie Gleason and Anita Bryant (who less than a decade later would be embroiled in a controversy surrounding anti-gay opinions she espoused). On April 3, Morrison turned himself in to the FBI in their Los Angeles offices and was released on bail.

The next day, on April 4th, Morrison went into the Palm Springs desert to start filming “HWY” which at the time was titled “The Hitchhiker” with the same film team he had used for filming “Feast of Friends”: UCLA film school friends Paul Ferrara, Frank Lisciandro, and Leroy “Babe” Hill as the sound man.

“HWY/The Hitchhiker” was based on a screenplay written by Morrison called “The Hitchhiker: An American Pastoral” (which was later published in “The American Night“). “The Hitchhiker” starts with a prelude of the character named Billy in a barroom talking about going to L.A. to earn some money. He starts hitching to L.A. He’s picked up by a businessman who makes a sexual advance towards him. Billy pulls a gun on the man and kills him in the desert. As Billy continues on his journey he goes on a killing spree until he gets to L.A. where he meets up with friends that can only be described as archetypes and they move to a transcendental ending to the film.

“HWY/The Hitchhiker” doesn’t follow the screenplay exactly. It’s more likely they were filming the desert scenes of “The Hitchhiker” and were going to film the interiors and dialogue at a later time. They allowed for a lot of freedom in the filming. When they ran across something interesting, they filmed it, like Jim dancing with some Indian kids (which you can see in Ray Manzarek‘s MTV edit of “Wild Child“; the scene from the “HWY/The Hitchhiker” shoot happens at the 1 minute mark of the video). The “HWY” that comes to us today runs just over forty minutes in length and was meant by Morrison to be used as either a screen test to show Hollywood producers, or to generate financing to make a feature length version of the film. One that would be closer, presumably, to the screenplay Morrison had written.

Another notable occurrence that happened during the filming was that they came across a coyote pup that was hit by a car and lay dying on the highway, so they filmed it and incorporated it into “HWY.” After filming for the day was done they retired to the Alta Cienega Motel. With the tape recorder running the subject of the dying coyote came up and Jim, moved by the death of the coyote, related the story of the Indians bleeding on dawn’s highway incident he experienced when he was a child. The excerpt of Jim talking about the accident with the truck of Indian workers was later incorporated into “An American Prayer,” and Morrison very vividly describes the over-turned truck and how it affected him and, more importantly, how it still seemed to affect him and his world view.

Originally published April 4, 2015

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