Sellwood author Joe Kurmaskie, also known as "the Metal Cowboy" for his many bicycling adventure books, has now branched out into a new medium. After three years researching the history of fellow cyclist and WWII heroine Evelyn Hamilton, he has written a screenplay about this remarkable woman which now has been optioned by Alsea Entertainment.
The documentary film, as written as his screenplay, forms the backstory and companion piece for Kurmaskie's upcoming book, "Lightning In a Saddle", projected for publication in 2018.
Kurmaskie does much research online, and he first saw Hamilton in a group photo of women bicyclists from the 1920s and '30s. While most of the women in that picture had long dresses and parasols, Hamilton (1906-2005) was dressed in more contemporary clothing – similar to bike riders today.
He was fascinated, and began to dig up information on her – combing through old films, photos, news articles, and interviews to gain an understanding of this "emancipated warrior of cycling, who literally held the fate of the world hidden in her handlebars".
He'll continue to give presentations locally and nationally to raise interest in Hamilton, he says. Later this year, he'll complete his research during a trip to England.
Over time, Kurmaskie learned much about this determined woman. Although the fastest person on two wheels, she was never allowed to compete against men, even though she won England's "Sporting Life Trophy" in 1925. She and her husband then bought a bicycle shop in London; but Evelyn most wanted to prove herself in competition.
Banned from competing against British men, she went to France, but was barred from the Tour de France as well. Subsequently, she became a lover to Europe's largest bike manufacturer, Claud Butler, who supported her to become the most decorated cyclist in the world. Over the following ten years, she won 500 races in six countries, and shattered the record of 1,000 miles in ten days by completing the job in an astonishing 82 hours!
On the eve of WWII, when the German Army invaded France, Evelyn was performing there as a circus bicyclist. Instead of fleeing, she took on the identity and job of a dead bistro owner, in support of the French Resistance. She used that position to spy on the Gestapo officers dining in the bistro – passing information on to Charles de Gaulle, and to Winston Churchill through her London bike shop.
She carried coded messages about troop movements and other war secrets concealed in her handlebars. In the evenings, she took a tandem bike out to pick up downed pilots, disguised them in women's clothing, and pedaled them to safety. Learning about all this prompted Kurmaskie to write a screenplay and book about this remarkable woman.
As mentioned, that screenplay has been optioned by Alsea Entertainment; one of the Alsea producers grew up in Beaverton, and hopes to film some scenes in the movie here in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Kurmaskie is finishing up his historical nonfiction book of the same name, projected for publication next year.
In April, Kurmaskie gave a free presentation at the Multnomah County Library about this woman, who "fought fascism, sexism, and her own ambitions, to become a war heroine and a beacon of humanity."
He remarks to THE BEE, "While piecing together her history, I discovered and wanted to reveal her story, and its relevance to today's fights for equality, social justice, and democracy."No date has been set for the filming.