Based on a 1951 short story in Harper's Magazine entitled "The Cyclists' Raid", which in turn was based upon a real-life incident in Hollister, California, in 1947. The actual incident, however, bore little resemblance to the events depicted in the movie. Although spirited, the cyclists did not run amok or become violent. In fact, they were invited back to Hollister over the July 4, 1997, weekend for a 50th-anniversary celebration of the original incident.
Stanley Kramer hired real biker gangs to play themselves. When Kramer asked one of them what they were rebelling against, one cyclist cracked, "Well, what ya got?" That was incorporated into the script and became one of the film's most quoted lines.
The name of Lee Marvin's motorcycle gang is "The Beetles." Although it has never formally been acknowledged as an inspiration for the name of the 1960s rock band, the scene from the movie where Marvin introduces The Beetles is used at the beginning of The Beatles' "Anthology".
Pigeon, a member of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club led by Johnny Strabler, is played by an uncredited Alvy Moore. Moore would achieve greater recognition some 12 years later playing absent-minded county agricultural agent Hank Kimball on Green Acres (1965).
Marlon Brando's motorcycle is a 650cc Triumph Thunderbird. From stills, its registration number looks like 63632. Lee Marvin also owned a Triumph 200cc Tiger Cub, upon which he competed in desert races. Gil Stratton was featured in a print advertisement for Triumph motorcycles in 1963. He later became a well-known TV sports reporter in Los Angeles for decades.
This was the first film in which the manufacturer's logo on motorcycles was not blanked out. Johnson Motors, which imported Triumphs into the US, protested at its product being linked with Marlon Brando and his Black Rebels, but the association served them well.
A popular still from the film shows an off-set Marlon Brando astride a Matchless twin-cylinder motorcycle, its 'M' logo gas tank badge being secured upside-down to resemble a 'W'. This was stunt rider 'Wally Allbright''s motorcycle.
Lee Marvin could not ride a motorcycle at the time of filming but, determined not to be bettered by Marlon Brando, he quickly learned, later becoming a keen competitor on his Triumph 200cc Tiger Cub in desert races.
As has been pointed out, the BBFC refused this film a certificate in 1954. At the time the highest rating for a film was an "X" certificate, which in those days meant 16 or over. However it is not true to say that the film was banned. The authority over film exhibition lies with the local authority. Most accept the BBFC rulings but any local authority can view a film and issue it's own rating. In the case of "The Wild One", it was shown in the UK in 1954 at the Rex Cinema in Cambridge, managed at the time by Leslie Halliwell of Halliwell's Film Guide fame. He arranged for the local watch committee to view the film and they gave it a local "X" certificate. It played for two weeks to indifferent business as recounted in Halliwell's autobiography "Seats in all Parts" (apparently it also got a local "X" in Maesteg, South Wales).
To prepare for his role, Marlon Brando renewed his love for motorcycles, practising his cycling technique and selecting his own wardrobe, which he wore to and from the studio. Brando also spent time with the real-life biker gangs to absorb their mannerisms and speech.