A Butte man who collects Evel Knievel memorabilia has unveiled what some say is a key artifact in the downfall of the daredevil’s career.
Joe Little owns the copy of Sheldon Saltman’s 1977 book “Evel Knievel On Tour,” that he says Knievel read and wrote in before beating the author with a baseball bat.
Little shared the book Monday with The Montana Standard during an interview at an Uptown restaurant.
“This is the one he read that sent him over the edge,” he said of the book, which he plans to sell. “It’s the most important piece of Knievel memorabilia there is.” Little was working at Knievel’s Butte Country Club home in 1978, sanding a semi-truck, when he says Knievel gave him the book while the two were in his office.
“He said ‘keep this, it will be worth money some day,’” he said.
After reading the book, in which he dismisses sections as “Lies, Lies, Lies” with handwritten notations, Knievel beat Saltman in the parking lot of 20th Century Fox in California with a bat, Little said.
The former studio executive’s arm was broken during the attack. Knievel claimed Saltman made false statements about him, but pleaded guilty to the Sept. 21, 1977 attack.
The stunt landed Knievel in jail for nearly six months and his career never fully recovered.
Handwritten in black at the beginning of the book are the words “constitutes adultery” in response to the headline “X-Rated Evel.” On page 78, underlined in blue and black is a paragraph in which Knievel is quoted as saying “I think religion is like politics. You never see a poor priest.” The book goes on to quote Knievel responding to a question about whether a priest ever has any fun.
The handwritten response states “Insult to my loved ones throughout my Catholic religion life.” The next entry appears on page 169 in response to a quote about Burt Reynolds appearing before him as a guest on NBC’s Tonight Show.
Knievel is quoted as saying “That f______ Burt Reynolds, why the hell should he go first?” he demanded. “Who cares about him?” The book’s handwritten response: “Never said it to Anyone.” Handwritten comments also appear on page 192, “Lies, Lies, Lies” and 194, “This is a lie and not accurate.” On the last page of the book Saltman writes about Knievel’s failed Snake River jump he was glad to see that “god damned cantankerous, impossible son of a bitch alive and well.” The handwritten response is the word “insult.” Little says a few pages were ripped from the book. He speculates those were the ones that angered Knievel the most.
Jim Dick of Butte, a longtime friend and employee of Knievel, said the Saltman beating “absolutely” marked a downturn in the famed millionaire’s career.
“It hurt him big-time,” he said. “Everything went down. It ruined his career.” Dick remembers discussing the issue with Evel and how serving time in jail n despite spending much of the time in his office through a work-release program n was humbling.
“He said ‘I get treated like royalty and get away with almost anything. That judge down in (California) showed me I couldn’t,’” he said.
Little says the book is the only item from his massive collection of thousands of Knievel memorabilia that he’d consider selling. He might put the book on eBay, but hasn’t made any final decisions.
Little was a longtime employee of the Knievels; after working for Evel Knievel, he served as Robby Knievel’s ramp engineer for 25 years.