DENNIS HOPPER (1936-2010)
Like Timothy Carey whom I looked at in an earlier post, here’s another brilliant actor turned director who never obeyed his speed limits! Whether at his peak or at his worst, Dennis Hopper was high and horny most of the time, eventually becoming paranoid. At one point, he suffered from dementia and even found himself on a funny farm for a while.
For my Sinemania! story on dear demented Dennis, I chose to recall his madhouse of a life by imagining a famous talk show host attempting to interview him. But just because Hopper’s wearing a straitjacket doesn’t mean that David Letterman’s any safer from Dennis’ crazy ramblings. And neither will you be when you read them in my book.
Before I delve deeper into Dennis, you gotta look at this clip that features him as a real, not imaginary, guest on The Merv Griffin Show, trying to promote ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘The Last Movie’. I must admit that he was much more coherent on that program than as the cartoon character I depict, but what a character anyway! Way to go, Dennis!
Hopper saw his acting career take off in 1955 thanks to the small role he played next to his good pal, James Dean, in the Nicholas Ray classic, ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. Legend has it that during the filming of this movie, everyone was sleeping with everyone. Apparently, Ray was shagging both Dean and co-star Sal Mineo (who subtly portrayed the first gay teenage character in an American film) and Natalie Wood, who was all of sweet sixteen at the time. (Nick Adams, who also appeared in ‘Rebel’, had been Jimmy Dean’s lover early on.) The eighteen year-old Hopper, meanwhile, was dating Natalie Wood, which resulted in tension on the set between him and Ray as they vied for Wood’s affections. Here’s Dennis recalling this funny anecdote in his own words:
“In the 50s, when me and Natalie Wood and James Dean and Nick Adams and Tony Perkins (Anthony Perkins) suddenly arrived… God, it was a whole group of us that sort of felt like that earlier group – the John Barrymores, Errol Flynns, Sinatras, Clifts – were a little farther out than we were… So we tried to emulate that lifestyle. For instance, once Natalie and I decided we`d have an orgy. And Natalie says ‘O.K., but we have to have a champagne bath.’ So we filled the bathtub full of champagne. Natalie takes off her clothes, sits down in the champagne, starts screaming. We take her to the emergency hospital. That was our orgy, you understand?”
Fast forward to the early Seventies, by which time Ray and Hopper had become buddies. Dennis invited him to his Taos, New Mexico ranch for help in the cutting of Hopper's 1971 fiasco of a film, ‘The Last Movie’. Nick Ray sure made himself at home, staying for five months and, according to Hopper, running up a phone bill of $5000! The two pals shared wild acid trips with the drugs and alcohol fueling their shared paranoia. The ranch was full of guns, and the atmosphere there grew toxic with the short-tempered filmmakers having arguments that drove them even crazier. For more details, watch this clip as Hopper discusses Ray.
This troubled twosome worked together for the last time in 1977, both acting in Wim Wenders’ movie, ‘The American Friend’. Another legendary filmmaker, Sam Fuller, (who had acted in ‘The Last Movie’, playing the director of the film within a film) also had a role in this slow-paced flick, which was a nostalgic reunion of sorts for Hopper, Fuller, and Ray.
And that’s that for Hopper! But wait until you read more of the juicy tidbits that I’ve soon got in store for you on Nicolas Ray. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to take a break, refill my bong, and sniff some glue before intoxicating you with the final post of my ‘Bigger Than Life’ trilogy.