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Reporter's Notebook: ‘Being Evel,’ Russell art auction capture imagination

The new acclaimed documentary, “Being Evel,” sugarcoats none of Evel Knievel’s feats on or off his motorcycle.

I came away from the Bozeman Documentary Series screening last Thursday with a much better, realistic understanding of the man, the myth, the mayhem, the money, the motorcycle madness.

Although the latest film has yet to screen here in Robert Knievel’s home town, it has already shown at the Sundance Film Festival, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula and an Austin, Texas, event.

Alex Klenert, spokesperson for Prodigy Public Relations of southern California, said his company is in the initial stages of planning the campaign for a late summer theatrical release.

But it’s still unclear when “Being Evel” will be scheduled to screen in Butte, its natural habitat.

Robbie Taylor, president of the Mother Lode Theatre board of directors, told me she’s working hard on bringing the film to the theater.

Taylor and Kelly and Shelli Knievel want the film to debut in its hometown during Evel Knievel Days, July 23-25, but nothing is set in stone yet – except for artist Rick Rowley’s 1,000-pound bronze sculpture of Evel Knievel.

The movie doesn’t touch upon the new sculpture commissioned by Bill Rundle of Butte, but Taylor thinks it will be a perfect fit to display it in front of the Mother Lode during, of course, EK Days.


The film drew a large crowd of about 300 at the Emerson Cultural Center theater in Bozeman Thursday. One guest, Gene Sullivan of Billings, stood out.

Tall, broad-shouldered, white-haired and dressed in western garb, Sullivan met Evel Knievel through his father, Preston Sullivan, a sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner, in 1970. That’s when the younger Preston was hired to be EK's bodyguard.

The Knievel family – especially EK’s first wife, Linda -- gives unvarnished interviews onscreen about his philandering, vicious temper, unfiltered speeches, eventual vulnerability and ultimately asking for forgiveness for all those he slighted.

“What my Dad did nobody else will ever do,” son Robbie Knievel tells the camera. “Everybody’s got a little bit of Evel in them.”


His publicity agents, actor George Hamilton and daredevil performers like skateboard king Tony Hawk and goofball daredevil Johnny Knoxville (one of 20 producers of the film) marvel at Knievel’s records and do-or-die stunts that lit up ABC’s Wide World of Sports in seven of its top-rated shows over 37 years.

Mark Lisac of Butte, who played tuba for the Butte High School marching band that attended the 1974 Snake River Canyon Jump, told the Bozeman audience how drunk crowds stuffed his horn full of trash.

Even eight years after his death, Knievel continues to garner a lot of press for his braggadocio and motorcycle jumps – feats that no one had ever done before.

“In Evel’s eyes, all publicity was good publicity,” Rundle told the crowd after the screening.


Julie Lubick, a 1996 Butte High graduate, helped hawk artist Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey’s colorful western art at The Russell art show in Great Falls last weekend.

A freelance photographer in her own right, Lubick works at Cawdrey’s studio in Bigfork. She specializes in capturing nature and wildlife – especially birds.

Although she didn’t have an exhibit entered in the annual Russell event, Lubick told me she was thrilled to show for Cawdrey, whose works are colorful, impressionistic renditions of grizzlies, teepees and buffalo -- bright pieces I wish I could have on my walls.

Lubick’s website:

Cawdrey’s website:

The annual Russell art auction, in its 47th year, draws serious art collectors – western and otherwise – from around the world. It honors Charles M. Russell, who captured the dying west and Montana’s landscapes, Indians and wildlife. He is considered one of the foremost western artists.

The Saturday night auction, which benefits the C.M. Russell Museum, grossed over $5.6 million as three Russells – two oils and a bronze – sold for a combined $2.85 million.

One Russell piece, "For Supremacy," which depicts a battle between Blackfeet and Crow warriors, sold for $1.5 million and four watercolors sold for between $200,000 and $250,000.

If you’ve never attended art week in Great Falls every March, I highly recommend it. Fabulous free shows and events are scattered around town – and the quality of artists will blow your socks off.

Renata Birkenbuel covers education, does general assignment reporting and writes feature stories for The Montana Standard.


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Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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