Evel Knievel gets 6 months for assault
SANTA MONICA, CA. November 15, 1977 (AP) — Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel has been given one week to get his affairs in order before he begins serving six months in jail for beating his former press agent with a baseball bat.
Superior Court Judge Edward Rafeedie compared Knievel’s actions to a primitive form of “frontier justice.” He also said Knievel would spend there years on probation.
Knievel admitted he attacked Sheldon Saltman because he didn’t like a book Saltman wrote about him.
Knievel attacked Saltman with the baseball bat Sept. 21 while an unidentified man held the victim. Saltman suffered compound fractures of both wrists and has begun action on a civil suit case against Knievel.
“I’ve not been perfect and I have never claimed to be,” Knievel said Monday just before sentencing.
Rafeedie scolded Knievel, 39, for setting a bad example for his young fans around the world.
“We long ago abandoned frontier justice in California,” said Rafeedie. “No affront justifies such retaliation. It sets a terrible example.”
Saltman, 46, now a vice president of the telecommunications division of 20th Century-Fox Studios, was the press agent for Knievel’s 1974 attempt to jump Idaho’s Snake River Canyon in a rocket-powered motorcycle. He wrote of that association in the book, “Evil Knievel on Tour.”
Knievel said the book depicted him as a drug addict, adulterer, anti-Semite and “an immoral person.” However, he acknowledged that 85 to 90 per cent of the book is truthful.
Evel Knievel, “King of the Stuntmen,” was having a very bad year.
On January 31, 1977, CBS aired “Evel Knievel’s Death Defiers,” which quickly became an embarrassment for the network and its star. The Manhattan Mercury wrote:
In a desperate and irresponsible bid for ratings, CBS is permitting the ego-ridden exhibitionist Evel Knievel to appear and wrangle top billing by gunning his motorcycle over a huge salt-water pool of man-eating sharks…
Before the live broadcast began, Knievel lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a cameraman during a practice jump. Knievel broke both his arms and was taken to a hospital. The show went on without him, leaving many viewers feeling cheated.
Critic William Allan described the 90-minute television show as “TV’s all-time low: poorly conceived, horribly performed, terribly directed….THIS ONE was so bad we watched.”
The show was accused of being in bad taste, and that the stunts performed by other, lesser known daredevils were “silly.” Even the show’s two hosts, Telly Savalas and Jill St. John, were mercilessly panned. But the television special was a disaster from another perspective, too. It had been designed, in part, to promote the upcoming Warner Bros. film Viva Knievel, starring Knievel, Gene Kelly, Red Buttons, and Lauren Hutton.
“There were some scenes from Knievel’s forthcoming picture that would have been better left in the can,” Allan writes. “In one, he jumped off a cliff (on his motorcycle) onto the top of a trailer truck coming out of a tunnel – just like Buck Jones did in those awful cowboy movies 40 years ago. And so it went, on and on.”
Following Knievel’s disastrous television special, Viva Knievel opened to poor ticket sales.
At the time Knievel was sentenced to his six-month prison sentence, he told the judge that he would go bankrupt if he wasn’t allowed to work. The court granted his request to be transferred to a work furlough program, which only required him to spend weeknights and weekends in jail.
According to newspapers, Knievel did not behave like a man on the brink of economic ruin. Instead, he autographed photos of himself and handed out medallions and other souvenirs to prisoners and jailers. He also wrote thank you letters to people who had been kind to him. Every weekday morning, Knievel’s chauffeur arrived at the Los Angeles County jail in a yellow Stutz convertible to drive him to his office. In December, he announced his intention to perform one last stunt “- a 40,000-foot drop from an airplane into a haystack.” (Source: Linton Daily Citizen, December 15, 1977). The event never happened.
Meanwhile, sales of his toy line significantly dropped.
“There’s no question that the fall from grace of Evel Knievel has had an adverse effect on our business,” said Joseph C. Winkler, a senior vice president for Ideal Toy Corp., which had paid Knievel $2.5 million dollars over the past five years, for licensing Knievel’s name and likeness for toys. Ideal had sold over $100 million worth of Knievel products during that time, but had lost $1.52 million in the company’s third quarter report after Knievel’s conviction.
While Ideal Toys was considering whether it should continue its Evel Knievel product line, another bombshell hit. After going “AWOL and was several hours late getting back to jail,” Knievel was once again brought before Judge Rafeedie, who told him:
“Carrying on like a celebrity in jail is a spectacle, offensive, I want it stopped. That means no more signing autographs, distributing souvenirs. You are not Evel Knievel, the daring daredevil – you are a low, deluded coward, an inmate with a booking number. You ought to spend the rest of your time in jail in self-examination. Do your time like a man. Do it with some dignity.”
The work furlough was rescinded and Knievel went back to jail until April 1978. Upon his release, Knievel showed no remorse for his behavior. Instead, he told reporters, “I feel the majority of society have understood the reasons for my actions.” But the public had already moved on. Ideal Toy Corp. no longer made Knievel toys, and newspapers now reported that the motorcycle daredevil owed the government approximately $800,000 in back taxes. Needless to say, Evel Knievel’s downward spiral continued.