Being based in Milwaukee, I am certainly no stranger to the sights and sounds (especially in the summertime) of the legendary Harley-Davidson motorcycle brand, but I had not known very much about its founding in the early 20th century. That’s why Discovery Channel’s Harley and the Davidsons, a three-night miniseries debuting tonight, is so fascinating. It’s a dramatization of how Walter and Arthur Davidson (Michiel Huisman and Bug Hall), with their friend Bill Harley (Robert Aramayo), risked their entire fortune and livelihood to launch the enterprise.
The timing of the Davidsons’ and Harley’s efforts coincided with a booming time of new technology and ideas in America, and that period was part of what intrigued Bug Hall, as he told reporters at a recent press conference.
“It’s multiple slices of Americana,” Hall said, “and a big part of that is the automobile industry was sort of booming at the [same] time. … And at the same time, the world is changing and shaping around them. You can definitely bet that there will be some fun between [our characters] and [adversaries in] the automobile industry.”
The miniseries goes beyond simply the creation of the motorcycle industry, as it also details how the lure and appeal of riding the open road on a Harley reached across cultural and gender lines, even in the early days. Stephen Rider costars as William B. Johnson, the first African-American to own a Harley-Davidson dealership. And Jessica Camacho portrays Reya, a fearless member of an early Harley-Davidson motorcycle club.
“I was very excited what I’ve learned about Johnson,” Rider said. “I feel like Harley-Davidson is so American. I mean, it really is part of the American fabric and what they stood for and what they still stand for in terms of freedom. To give William B. Johnson the opportunity to own a dealership at that time, I think, is remarkable and really shows what they were really about and what they wanted to achieve with their company.”
Camacho said that, “it was just an absolute eye‑opening experience and such a joy to, in doing my research, learn about all the women whose lives centered around riding bikes at this time, at a time when it was not popular/acceptable/at all the norm. There were women who were absolutely pioneers getting on their bikes, going cross-country, making these dangerous treks for the love of it, because it’s what was in their heart.”
Harley and the Davidsons airs Sept. 5-7 at 9pm ET on Discovery Channel.