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Jesse Woodson James

Jesse Woodson James

American outlaw Jesse Woodson James (1847-1882) was a colorful bandit whose escapades made him a legendary figure of the Wild West.

Jesse James was born near Kearney, Mo., on Sept. 5, 1847, the son of a Baptist minister. Little is known about Jesse's childhood except that his father left the family in 1850 to minister to the gold prospectors in California and died soon after his arrival there. The three James children grew up on a Missouri farm with a stepfather.

As slave owners with origins in Kentucky, James's entire family were Southern sympathizers. So, during the Civil War, he joined the Confederate guerrilla band known as Quantrill's Raiders in 1863 or 1864. Returning to Missouri in 1865, Jesse and his brother Frank found that, although the Civil War was officially over, Missourians were still belligerent. In 1866 the James brothers joined forces with the Younger brothers to form an outlaw band.

For 16 years Jesse James and his gang robbed trains and banks in Missouri, Kentucky, and the midwestern states. Killings accompanied these activities, and James was hunted by the law. Of necessity, he was always on the run. His daring exploits during these years captured the imagination of the public, and all sorts of legends sprung up about him.

On April 23, 1874, occurred the one documented event in James's life: he married Zerelda, or Zee, Mimms near Kearney, Mo. In time they had two children.

The most famous bank robbery attempted by the James-Younger band was at the First National Bank of Northfield, Minn., on Sept. 7, 1876. The bank clerk, who refused to open the safe, was savagely murdered; then the gang tried to escape. In the shoot-out that followed, two of the band were killed. A posse captured the three Younger brothers. Jesse and Frank James, both wounded, escaped. After they recovered, they continued robbing and killing sporadically.

Finally the governor of Missouri offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the James brothers. At this time Jesse was living with his family in St. Joseph, Mo., under the name of Thomas Howard. Robert and Charles Ford, youthful recruits in the outlaw band, were staying for a few days with the James family. Robert had been in contact with authorities about the reward for several weeks. On April 3, 1882, when Jesse put his guns down to climb on a chair to straighten a picture, Robert Ford shot him in the back of the head and killed him. Soon after, Frank James turned himself in.

Further Reading

A conscientious effort to ferret out the facts on James is William A. Settle, Jr., Jesse James Was His Name; or, Fact and Fiction concerning the Careers of the Notorious James Brothers of Missouri (1966). It is well researched and interestingly written. Another good treatment, fairly accurate and thorough but not dealing with the legends, is Carl W. Breihan, The Complete and Authentic Life of Jesse James (1953).

Additional Sources

Brant, Marley, Outlaws: the illustrated history of the James-Younger gang, Washington, DC: Elliott & Clark Pub., 1996.

Breihan, Carl W., The escapades of Frank and Jesse James, New York: F. Fell Publishers, 1974.

Breihan, Carl W., The man who shot Jesse James, South Brunswick N.J.: A. S. Barnes, 1979.

Breihan, Carl W., Saga of Jesse James, Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1991.

Dyer, Robert, Jesse James and the Civil War in Missouri, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994.

James, Stella F. (Stella Frances), In the shadow of Jesse James, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Revolver Press, 1990, 1989.

Love, Robertus, The rise and fall of Jesse James, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Newmans, Evans, The true story of the notorious Jesse James, Hicksville, N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1976. □

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James, Jesse 1989–

James, Jesse 1989–

PERSONAL

Born September 14, 1989, in Palm Springs, CA; son of Shane (an actor) and Jaime (a laboratory technician) James. Avocational Interests: Playing the guitar, reading, soccer, boating.

Addresses: Agent—Abby Bluestone, Innovative Artists, 1505 10th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Career: Actor. Appeared in commercials.

Awards, Honors: YoungStar Award, best young actor in a comedy film, Hollywood Reporter, 1998, for As Good as It Gets.

CREDITS

Film Appearances:

Spencer Connelly, As Good as It Gets (also known as Old Friends), TriStar, 1997.

Jeff Magruder, The Gingerbread Man, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, 1998.

Matt, Sorrow's Child (short film), Reel Images, 1998.

Michael Boone, Gods and Monsters (also known as The Father of Frankenstein), Lions Gate Films, 1998.

Jason Osborne, Message in a Bottle, Warner Bros., 1999.

Young Nello, A Dog of Flanders, Warner Bros., 1999.

Jesse Marks, Hanging Up (also known as Aufgelegt!), Columbia, 2000.

Young George, Blow, New Line Cinema, 2001.

Young Rafe, Pearl Harbor (also known as Pearl Harbour), Buena Vista, 2001.

Randolph Grady, Slap Her … She's French (also known as She Gets What She Wants and Freche Biester!), Premiere Marketing and Distribution, 2002.

Ryan Billings, Fear of the Dark, Screen Media Ventures, 2002.

Tommy Miller at the age of thirteen, The Butterfly Effect, New Line Cinema, 2004.

Billy Lutz, The Amityville Horror, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2005.

J-Dawg, The Darkroom, CFQ Films/Mindfire Entertainment, 2006.

Flyboys, Flyboy Films, c. 2006.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Dylan Donovan, "Bailey's Mistake," The Wonderful World of Disney, ABC, 2001.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

Presenter, The 14th Annual Genesis Awards, Animal Planet, 2000.

The Teen Choice Awards 2004, Fox, 2004.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Jeb Wilson, "Last of a Breed: Parts 1 & 2," Walker, Texas Ranger, CBS, 1997.

Customer, "Puppies for Sale," Chicken Soup for the Soul, PAX TV, 1998.

Wilson Geary, "Good Luck, Ruth Johnson," ER (also known as Emergency Room), NBC, 1998.

Poorboy, "The Unnatural," The X-Files, Fox, 1999.

Voice of Gola, "Chimp off the Old Block," The Wild Thornberrys (animated), Nickelodeon, 1999.

Dustin Moss, "Thoughts of You," Chicago Hope, CBS, 2000.

Ryan, "I've Got You under My Skin," Angel (also known as Angel: The Series), The WB, 2000.

Stephen, "Party Lines," Felicity, The WB, 2000.

Jake Shaw, "Celano v. Foster," Family Law, CBS, 2002.

Jared Stottlemeyer, "Mr. Monk and the Captain's Wife," Monk, USA Network, 2004.

Guest, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, 2004.

Appeared in episodes of other series, including Sesame Street (also known as The New Sesame Street), PBS.

RECORDINGS

Videos:

Himself, The Source of Evil, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Home Entertainment, 2005.

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James, Jesse

Jesse James, 1847–82, American outlaw, b. Clay co., Mo. At the age of 15 he joined the Confederate guerrilla band led by William Quantrill and participated in the brutal and bloody civil warfare in Kansas and Missouri. In 1866, Jesse and his brother Frank became the leaders of a band of outlaws whose trail of robberies and murders led through most of the central states. At first they robbed only banks, but in 1873 they began to rob trains. The beginning of their downfall came in 1876 when, after killing two people and failing to secure any money in an attempted bank robbery at Northfield, Minn., they lost several members of the gang, including the Younger brothers, three of their most trusted followers, who were captured and imprisoned (see Younger, Cole). The James brothers escaped and were quiet until 1879, when they robbed another train. The reward offered by Gov. Thomas T. Crittenden of Missouri for the capture of the James brothers, dead or alive, tempted one of the gang, Robert Ford, who caught Jesse (then living under the name of Thomas Howard) off guard and killed him. Frank James surrendered but was twice acquitted and lived out his life peacefully and prosperously on his farm near Excelsior Springs, Mo. The melodramatic style of the exploits of the James gang attracted wide public admiration, giving rise to a number of romanticized legends, the famous song "The Ballad of Jesse James," and much popular literature.

See biographies by R. Love (1926), C. W. Breihan (1953, repr. 1970), and T. J. Stiles (2002); H. Croy, Jesse James Was My Neighbor (1949, repr. 1962); J. L. James, Jesse James and the Lost Cause (1961); W. A. Settle, Jesse James Was His Name (1966); M. L. Gardner, Shot All To Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West's Greatest Escape (2013).

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James, Jesse Woodson

James, Jesse Woodson (1847–82) US outlaw. With his brother, Frank, he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1867, they formed an outlaw band and terrorized the frontier. He was shot dead by Robert Ford, a member of his own gang, for a large reward.

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James, Jesse

James, Jesse

Born September 5, 1847

Clay County, Missouri

Died April 3, 1882

St. Joseph, Missouri

Robber, murderer

"When these guys wanted money, they went in daylight to [take] their money. No one would dare shoot when they robbed a bank.... The James boys were liked by the poor and God knows there was plenty of us and the law made no serious effort to get them."

L. A. Sherman, as quoted in Jesse James by Theodore Miller

To some, Jesse James was a hero, a brave defender of the South who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. To others, he was a worthless criminal, a cold-blooded murderer interested only in himself. The facts seem to show that Jesse James was a criminal, but as with many western figures the facts don't tell the whole story. For Jesse James was more than a person, he was a legend, a modern day Robin Hood, and his exploits were popularized in fiction and song, and later in movies.

A preacher's son

Had he followed in his parents' footsteps, Jesse James would have been a religious man and an upright citizen. His mother, Zerelda Cole, left a Catholic convent when she was just sixteen to marry a well-educated Baptist minister named Robert James. The couple left Kentucky in the early 1840s to start a small farm in Clay County, Missouri, about twenty miles northwest of Kansas City. Robert became a pastor at New Hope Baptist Church and helped found William Jewell College in nearby Liberty, Missouri. Their first son, Alexander Franklin James (known as Frank), was born in 1843; their second son, Jesse Woodson James, was born on September 5, 1847. Despite the difference in their ages, the boys would stick together for much of their lives.

Robert James was caught up in the gold rush fever that swept the nation in 1849 and 1850, and he left his family in 1850 to try his luck in the California goldfields. He would never return, for he died of pneumonia before striking it rich. Zerelda remarried, divorced, and remarried again to a doctor named Reuben Samuel. She continued her boys' religious upbringing, but they were soon drawn away from religion and toward the tumult and violence of the conflict that became the American Civil War (1861–65; a war fought between the Northern and Southern United States over the issue of slavery).

Schooled in violence

Western Missouri and Kansas were battlefields for the powerfully charged pro- and antislavery sentiments that fueled sectional conflict in the years leading up to the Civil War. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act had ruled that residents of Kansas and Nebraska could decide for themselves whether they would be slave or free states. Hoping to sway public opinion, slave owners from Missouri (known as "Bushwhackers") clashed with antislavery factions from Kansas (known as "Red Legs" or "Jayhawkers") in battles that earned Kansas the nickname "Bloody Kansas." When Kansas joined the Union as a free state in 1861—the same year the Civil War started—the battles grew ever more heated.

It was only natural for the James brothers to back the Confederacy (the Southern states that broke away from the Union in 1860 and 1861), for their family owned slaves themselves. During the Civil War both Frank and Jesse took part in bloody raids on Union sympathizers. Frank joined with guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill in a violent raid on Lawrence, Kansas, on August 20, 1863, and Jesse sided with a band of raiders led by one of Quantrill's lieutenants, "Bloody Bill" Anderson.

By his eighteenth birthday, Jesse had become an expert marksman and horseback rider and an experienced fighter. A series of raids conducted in 1864 and 1865 gave Jesse James a thorough education in violence and murder.

From soldier to criminal

When Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union forces on April 9, 1865, to end the Civil War, Jesse James was one of thousands of Confederate soldiers who headed home to an uncertain future. On his way home, James was shot in the chest by Union soldiers. It took him months to recover; during his convalescence he fell in love with his cousin, Zerelda, whom he later married, and nursed his hatred of all things related to the North. With his brother Frank, his cousin Cole Younger, and others, Jesse began to plot how to use their skills as guerrilla soldiers to wage their own war on enemies of the South—and line their pockets in the process.

On the morning of February 13, 1866, the James brothers began their long and illustrious career as bank robbers. A gang of ten men entered the town of Liberty, Missouri. Four men went inside the Clay County Savings and Loan Bank, while six others waited outside. After shooting and killing one man, the gang made off with over sixty thousand dollars in bonds and currency. Though Jesse was probably not along on this first heist, it is believed that he helped plan it.

For the next ten years, the James boys and their cousins, the Younger brothers—Cole, James, John, and Robert—were the central figures in a criminal gang that made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen goods. They soon developed a successful formula for their bank robberies, planning carefully and attacking suddenly and violently. After each robbery the gang disappeared, returning to their quiet home lives as farmers and living off the money they stole. In their career, the gang robbed banks in seven states: Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia.

Jesse James, the Song

Jesse James became a popular hero thanks to the efforts of those who wrote fanciful stories, repeated tall tales, and sang songs such as the one below. This song has been attributed to Billy Gashade, though its authorship is uncertain.

Jesse James

1) Went down to the station, not many days ago,
Did something I'll never do again,
I got down on my knees and delivered up the keys
To Frank and his brother, Jesse James.

CHORUS 1:
Poor Jesse, good-bye, Jesse,
Farewell, Jesse James,
Robert Ford caught his eye and he shot him on the sly,
And he laid poor Jesse down to die.

2) O Jesse was a man and friend to the poor,
He would never see a man suffer pain,
But with his brother Frank, he robbed the Chicago Bank,
And he stopped the Glendale train.

(CHORUS 1)

3) O the people in the west, when they heard of Jesse's death,
They wondered how he came to die.
It was Ford's pistol ball brought him tumbling from the wall,
And it laid poor Jesse down to die.

CHORUS 2:
O Jesse leaves a wife, she's a mourner all her life,
And the children, they were brave,
But the dirty little coward, he shot Mister Howard,
And he laid poor Jesse in his grave.

4) Now Jesse goes to rest with his hands upon his breast,
And the devil will be upon his knees,
He was born one day in the county of Clay,
And he came from a solitary race.

(CHORUS 1 and 2)

5) This song it was made by Billy Gashade,
As soon as the news did arrive,
He said there was no man with the law in his hand
Who could take Jesse James when alive

(CHORUS 1 and 2)

From American Journey Online: The Westward Expansion. Woodbridge, CT: Primary Source Media, 1999.

The James gang robbed their first train in 1873. Loosening a rail at a curve in the tracks, the robbers forced the train to stop and robbed it at gunpoint, making off with just two thousand dollars. Later train robberies were more lucrative. In 1875, for example, the James brothers and seven others robbed the Missouri-Pacific Express train of seventy-five thousand dollars.

The legend begins

Newspapers reporting on the exploits of the gang often marveled at the bravery and audacity of these thieves who had the nerve to rob banks and trains in broad daylight, but it took a journalist named John Newman Edwards to make a hero of Jesse James and his cohorts. "In the Kansas City Times," writes Roger A. Bruns, author of Jesse James: Legendary Outlaw, Edwards "compared the perpetrators of the [September 1872 robbery of the Kansas City Fair] with ancient legendary figures like King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table." Edwards admitted that the James gang committed crimes, but he called them daring, noble crimes, committed against the evil Northerners "who had treated the people of the Confederacy so viciously," writes Bruns. In the many articles that Edwards wrote about James, he consistently praised the outlaw's valor, his kindness to the weak and poor, and his defense of the South.

Once the gang moved on to train robberies, the national press began to report on their actions, and readers across the nation became familiar with the names of these prominent outlaws. Many of these stories took their cue from Edwards's reporting and portrayed the gang members as noble heroes acting on principle. Before long the stories about James and his gang bore little resemblance to the facts. Contrary to the evidence, James was presented as a modern-day Robin Hood who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. It was written that he never robbed Southerners—but in truth he did. The stories may not have been true, but they sold the magazines and dime novels that were snatched up eagerly by readers. Jesse James and his men had become legends in their own time.

Bank robbing is a dangerous business

The James gang had years of bank-robbing experience under their belt when they decided to rob the bank in the peaceful farming community of Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7, 1876. But this robbery was doomed from the start. The bank employees told the bandits that they couldn't open the safe (though it was actually already open), and a vigilant citizen, realizing what was taking place, alerted people milling about in town. Soon a number of Northfield's citizens had taken up guns, and gang members Bill Chadwell and Clell Miller were shot dead in the street. The gang panicked, a gunfight ensued, and the gang barely escaped. Every one of the Younger brothers was injured, and the gang was on the run. (Two of Northfield's citizens had been killed as well.) A posse (a group of citizens summoned to aid in law enforcement) set out after the gang and eventually captured Jim and Cole Younger and sent them to prison. Clearly, the James gang was not invulnerable.

Jesse James lay low following the Northfield disaster. He and his family stayed at their home near Nashville, Tennessee, and Jesse took the name John Howard. In Tennessee Jesse and his wife had several children. But in 1879 James's money began to run out, and he moved his family back to Missouri. It was not long before he, Frank, and a new gang of robbers and horse thieves staged their next heist. Attacking a train near Glendale, Missouri, on October 8, 1879, the robbers nabbed thousands of dollars (some sources say six thousand dollars, while others say thirty-five thousand dollars). Though they stuck together through two years of robbery and murder, this second James gang soon found themselves hounded by police and private detectives. It didn't help that the newspapers that had once celebrated their exploits now portrayed the James brothers as the ruthless killers that they probably always had been. Lacking the strong family bonds of the earlier gang, this second James gang fought among themselves over the loot they had stolen. And they betrayed one another.

Shot in the back

Two of the gang members, brothers Charles and Robert Ford, never liked Jesse James and often argued with him. So when Missouri governor Thomas T. Crittenden offered a ten-thousand-dollar reward for the capture and conviction of Jesse James, the Fords began plotting. On April 3, 1882, the Fords met Jesse at his home in St. Joseph, Missouri. The men sat around the breakfast table planning their next robbery when Jesse stood up to straighten a picture on the wall. Bob Ford pulled a gun and shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly.

The Ford brothers were quickly convicted of murder and sentenced to die, but Governor Crittenden just as quickly issued a pardon that spared their lives. Some claimed that the governor had plotted with Robert Ford to murder James, but the charges were never proven. Perhaps fearing that he too would be murdered, Frank James soon turned himself in to authorities, claiming that he was tired of being hunted by the law. James was tried but never convicted of bank robbery and murder, and he died in 1915 at the age of seventy-two.

The legend of Jesse James continued to grow after his death. Just after his death someone composed a song telling of his exploits (see box on p. 148), and a St. Joseph, Missouri, opera house staged a drama about his life. For a small fee James's mother told stories about her sons or produced a few stones from Jesse's grave site. Banks erected plaques noting that they had been robbed by the great Jesse James. But it was in the dime novel (a short, inexpensive book) that James gained his greatest fame. "In the dime novels," writes Bruns, "James became a national hero. Americans got to know him as a misunderstood trailblazer who was done in by treachery. He was portrayed as an heroic bad man of the plains, who stole horses, robbed stages, trains, and banks, mostly for honor and pride, not for money." In just two years (between 1901 and 1903), the Street and Smith publishing house sold six million copies of more than one hundred different Jesse James novels. Later, movies repeated the myths first spread in the dime novels.

The legend of Jesse James is largely a myth, for there is little real evidence of noble behavior on his part, only stories and rumors and tall tales that grow ever taller with each telling. This lack of agreement between myth and reality is part of what makes Jesse James the characteristic western hero that he is. From the time that white men first confronted the American West, they have pursued dreams—of a Northwest Passage, of gold, of rich agricultural land—across the vast and often forbidding landscape. And they have needed heroes who seem large enough, brave enough, and violent enough to tame it. For better or worse, Jesse James is one such hero.

For More Information

Books

Baldwin, Margaret, and Pat O'Brien. Wanted, Frank and Jesse James: The Real Story. New York: J. Messner, 1981.

Bold, Christine. Selling the Wild West: Popular Western Fiction, 1860–1960. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Bruns, Roger A. The Bandit Kings: From Jesse James to Pretty Boy Floyd. New York: Crown, 1995.

Bruns, Roger A. Jesse James: Legendary Outlaw. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998.

Miller, Theodore. Jesse James. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Rosa, Joseph G. The Gunfighter: Man or Myth? Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.

Settle, William A. Jesse James Was His Name. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992.

Steele, Philip W. The Many Faces of Jesse James. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1995.

Stiles, T. J. Jesse James. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.

Web Sites

"The James-Younger Gang: Come Ride with Us." [Online] http://www3.islandnet.com/~the-gang/index.html (accessed April 15, 2000).

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James, Jesse

Jesse James

Television host and motorcycle-customizing shop owner

Born Jesse Gregory James in 1969, in Long Beach, CA; son of an antiques dealer; married Karla (divorced); married Janine Lindemulder (an actress), 2002 (divorced, 2004); children: Jesse (son), Chandler (daughter, from first marriage), Sunny (daughter), one stepson (from second marriage).

Education: Attended the University of California—Riverside, c. 1987.

Addresses:

Office—Discovery Communications, One Discovery Place, Silver Spring, MD 20910–3354.

Career

Worked as professional bodyguard for rock bands; founded West Coast Choppers in Long Beach, CA, 1992; first television appearance in Motorcycle Mania I, Discovery Channel, 2001; became host of Monster Garage, June, 2002; signed endorsement deal with Yoo–Hoo Beverages, 2003.

Sidelights

Jesse James hosts the cult–favorite Discovery Channel series Monster Garage, a reality show in which he and his team transform ordinary cars for shockingly inappropriate new uses. Monster Garage has had several memorable success stories, including a Chevy Impala that became a fully functioning Zamboni–style ice–resurfacing machine, and the show has garnered a devoted following as well as impressive ratings. James owns his own motorcycle–customizing shop in Long Beach, California, and initially took the television job merely as a fluke. Its success owes much to his frequently displayed sense of the absurd. "Everyone I talked to said I shouldn't do this show, that I'm an idiot," he recalled in an interview with the Boston Herald's Mark A. Perigard, "and that let me know I was on the right track."

Born in 1969, James was a self–professed gearhead as a kid. He was given his first motorbike at age seven, which developed into a passion for motorcycles as a teen, and he became an avid garage tinkerer. Yet the Long Beach native was also a formidable football player, and admitted to being "kicked out of practice once a week for hitting the quarterback too hard" in high school, he told Men's Fitness writer Andrew Vontz.

James was indeed named after the infamous American outlaw slain in 1882, with a great–great–grandfather who was a cousin to the first, and he confessed to possessing his own lawless streak for a time in his teens. Caught stealing cars, he spent enough time in a juvenile lockup to straighten out and steer clear of further trouble with the law. He never lost his penchant for being argumentative, however. "I inherited the inability to take crap from anybody," he told USA Today writer Elizabeth Kaye McCall about his famous ancestor's legacy. Finding his niche in athletics, he earned a football scholarship for the University of California's Riverside team, but was sidelined by an injury. After some training, he worked as a professional bodyguard for rock bands like Soundgarden, Danzig, and Slayer.

James still loved to tinker, and found his calling in customizing motorcycles. "I never had money, and I always wanted expensive bikes," he explained to McCall in the USA Today article. "So I learned how to do it myself. I would build everything. I'd paint everything, build my own motor, and show up with a cool bike, and people couldn't believe it. They were like, 'Yeah—you bought that.'" He eventually opened his own shop in 1992 in Long Beach called West Coast Choppers. Over the next few years the business became immensely successful, with a client list that grew to include basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, actor Keanu Reeves, and rock–rapper Kid Rock. He and his few dozen employees customized bikes for fees that ranged from $50,000 to $250,000.

A producer for the Discovery Channel, Thom Beers, came in one day to have his bike overhauled at James's increasingly well–known shop, and Beers liked his attitude. He suggested a special about custom bikes that would feature James, and Motorcycle Mania I aired on the cable channel in 2001 to high ratings. A sequel was equally successful, and Discovery Channel producers then offered James his own show. Monster Garage would have a challenge–type concept each week, with James leading a team of fellow gearheads in transforming a mundane car or sport–utility vehicle into an outrageously new vehicle. The show made its debut in June of 2002 with a challenge to modify a Ford Explorer into a working garbage truck via various parts, blow-torches, and sheer ingenuity, and was an immediate hit with viewers.

James and his ever–revolving cast of customizers are given one week to re–tool and re–fit a vehicle, and a budget of just $3,000 with which to do it. Monster Garage's impressive transformations include a Mazda Miata that became a personal watercraft, a BMW Mini–Cooper that emerged as a working snowmobile, and a Chrysler PT Cruiser that found a new life as a tree mulcher. The show's producers rein in some of his more extravagant ideas, James told FOX News network's John Gibson in a broadcast whose transcript was reprinted on America's Intelligence Wire. "Every car would do a wheelie and shoot flames if I had total control," he joked. He also told Gibson that there was no mystery to his team's success in transforming vehicles, crediting it to "just getting over the fear of taking a brand new car that's got pretty decent value and, you know, don't be afraid to cut it in half."

Monster Garage regularly scores some of the highest ratings on cable for its Monday–night shows, garnering up to 1.6 million viewers. It spawned a MonsterHouse series that also airs on the Discovery Channel, and provided some of the inspiration for MTV's Pimp My Ride. James credits part of the appeal of his series to serving as a welcome antidote to other reality–TV fare. "All the other shows show people at their absolute worst," he told Gibson on the FOX News broadcast. "They're conniving and trying to marry a rich guy and stuff like that. This is the only show that focuses on teamwork, hard work, skills, and, you know, it pays off at the end."

Covered in tattoos, James stands more than six feet in height and packs 200–plus pounds of attitude. He has an endorsement contract with the Yoo–Hoo brand chocolate beverage, and has appeared in a beer commercial with Kid Rock. He hopes to reprise the original Motorcycle Mania for a big–screen project featuring himself, Rock, and Metallica singer and guitarist James Hetfield. A participant in celebrity Grand Prix races and long–distance rallies, James remains a gearhead at heart. He collects classic cars, and one of his prizes is a rare 1949 Mercury, the kind driven by James Dean in the cult classic Rebel Without a Cause. In December of 2003, James began dating actress Sandra Bullock. His estranged second wife, Janine Lindemulder, gave birth to their daughter, Sunny, on January 1, 2004.

James still lives in Long Beach and runs his custom–bike shop. The success of his show made him unlikely celebrity, and the twice–married father of two finds what he calls the "rock star" treatment somewhat unsettling still. "Part of me really appreciates the attention," he told the Boston Herald's Perigard, "but part of me thinks of all the metal guys, all the craftsmen who came before me and all they did is work and punch a clock and no one gave them a TV show."

Sources

Periodicals

America's Intelligence Wire, March 1, 2003.

Boston Herald, June 21, 2002, p. S39.

Brandweek, October 13, 2003, p. 16.

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), June 2, 2003, p. U12.

Knight–Ridder/Tribune News Service, May 2, 2003; May 9, 2003.

Men's Fitness, January 2004, p. 62.

People, December 2, 2002, p. 112; April 26, 2004.

USA Today, March 2, 2003.

Welding Design & Fabrication, March 2003, p. 6.

Online

"How 'Monster Garage' Works," http://Howstuffworks.com, http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/monster–garage2.htm (April 21, 2004)

CarolBrennan

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