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Dennis Hopper


LawrenceA
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Dennis Lee Hopper was born May 17, 1936, in Dodge City, Kansas. His family later moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and then to San Diego, California, where Hopper attended high school. He had developed a love of the theater and acting at a young age, and he pursued both while in high school, acting in several amateur theatricals. Hopper would study acting after graduation, first in local theater, and then at the Actor's Studio. It was during this time that Hopper met Vincent Price. They struck up a friendship, and under Price's tutelage Hopper became fascinated with the world of fine art, a passion that would serve him well for the rest of his life.

 

Hopper traveled to LA by 1954, where he was almost immediately awarded small acting roles in film and television. He made his film debut in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause. He formed a fast friendship with his co-stars, and became part of a tightly-knit group of young hellraisers that included James Dean, Nick Adams, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo, among others. Hopper co-starred again with Dean in the following year's Giant, a role that brought him some small amount of acclaim. The success was overshadowed, though, by the tragic death of Dean in an auto accident. His death would affect Hopper deeply, and some have viewed this as the turning point in Hopper's early career when his demons began to overtake his talent.

 

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After a few more roles in films like 1957's Gunfight at the OK Corral and the same year's The Story of Mankind (as Napoleon!), Hopper appeared in 1958's From Hell to Texas. The making of the film became Hollywood legend, as Hopper butted heads with veteran director Henry Hathaway constantly. At one point, Hathaway forced the actor to repeat a simple scene over 80 times, after which an exhausted Hopper left the set. He became gray-listed after this incident was reported to the various studios, and Hopper's once rising star was brought down to earth. For the next few years he appeared in television bit roles and minor B-films. One bright point during this rough time was Hopper's marriage in 1961 to Brooke Hayward, daughter of actress Margaret Sullavan. They had a daughter, Marin, in 1962. Hopper's ever-increasing wildness in his off-hours, however, put a crimp in things, and Hopper and Hayward were officially divorced in 1969. Hopper's marriage was viewed in some Hollywood circles as a sign that the difficult actor had settled down, and was reliable and pliant again. He began getting small roles in A pictures again, including The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), Cool Hand Luke (1967), and Hang 'Em High (1968).

 

As the 1960's progressed, Hopper became part of the drug and music scene in LA. He befriended others in the scene, including Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dean Stockwell. After Hopper and Fonda appeared in the Nicholson-written 1967 film The Trip for producer/director Roger Corman, they decided to collaborate on something in the future. Fonda had great success in 1966's biker flick The Wild Angels, and Hopper appeared in 1968's The Glory Stompers, so they decided to make a film that was on the surface a biker film, but through which they could express their thoughts on where America was at spiritually in the late 60's. After securing some shaky financing, they set out to make what would become Easy Rider, one of the most successful low-budget films of all time. The making of the film has become Hollywood lore, with stories of script problems (when there even was one), re-casting actors (Jack Nicholson replaced Rip Torn), and an out-of-control, megalomaniacal Hopper in the director's chair. The film was said to have been saved, like so many, in the editing bay, and the use of a rock soundtrack added immeasurably to the film's impact. In the end, Hopper was granted directing credit, Fonda producing, and both on the screenplay. The film was a massive hit, beyond what anyone envisaged, and has come to be seen as a touchstone of the era. The film won Hopper an award at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for 2 Oscars, including for the screenplay. Issues over the film's profits would become a major problem between Hopper and Fonda, and the two never truly repaired their fractured friendship. 

 

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Standing at the forefront the so-called "New Hollywood", a youth-oriented trend in director-centric filmmaking that came to define the 1970's movie culture, Hopper was able to secure a near blank check for his next film. He traveled down to Peru for The Last Movie, a rambling, self-indulgent exercise in drug-addled egomania that has regardless managed to secure a cult following. The story concerning a film crew leaving an unhealthy effect on a village of natives after they view a movie being filmed, was all over the place, and when the film was released, it was a resounding flop that ended Hopper's much-heralded directing career almost as quickly as it had started (for the time being, anyway). It was during this time that Hopper made headlines again, after his marriage to singer Michelle Phillips lasted all of 8 days, with Phillips citing Hopper's drug and alcohol abuse and violent temper as grounds for a quickie divorce. 

 

Hopper decided to escape the Hollywood scene, and he purchased a large ranch-style complex in Taos, New Mexico. He retreated there, along with friends and sycophants, and he devolved into full-blown drug addiction that drove him to the point of psychosis. This darkest period in Hopper's life stretched on for years, punctuated by run-ins with angry locals upset over the wildness of his and his compatriots antics, which included a lot of gun play. Hopper's drug abuse had instilled a deep paranoia in him, and he was convinced that some government agency or another was "out to get him." He also tried marriage for a third time, with Daria Halprin, and they had a daughter in 1974, although once again the marriage ended fairly quickly, with the divorce finalized in 1976. Hopper supported himself and his hangers-on through his still-savvy art dealings, but he eventually was forced to seek acting work again. He had to work in international films, though, as he had become persona non grata in Hollywood, once again. His most memorable work at this time was in the Australian film Mad Dog Morgan (1976) and the West German film The American Friend (1977). He decided on a lark to stop off in the Philippines to watch the filming of Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now, and Coppola decided to give Hopper the small but memorable role of the photo-journalist. Hopper largely improvised his own dialogue, and the small role became his most widely seen in America in a decade.

 

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Hopper managed to get a directing job again around this time, in the stark 1980 film Out of the Blue, which featured a terrific Neil Young soundtrack. The minor critical success that the film garnered was partially responsible for Hopper's decision to finally get sober. It was a tough task, and one that he struggled with for the rest of his life, although from everything I've read, he stayed clean for the remainder of his days. To get his career back on track, he began accepting small roles in films such as Coppola's 1983 film Rumble Fish, Sam Peckinpah's final film The Osterman Weekend, and the FX-heavy teen comedy My Science Project in 1985. His clean bill of health, and superlative work ethic and positive attitude, allowed him to get bigger roles, and his comeback would be complete in the busy year of 1986. From the camp horror sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 to a strong supporting turn in the teen murder drama River's Edge, Hopper was doing some of the best work of his career. His next 2 roles would be his most memorable. He received his sole acting Oscar nomination for the Gene Hackman-led basketball drama Hoosiers. Hopper played a struggling alcoholic determined to turn his life around. Audiences could see the parallels in Hopper's own redemption story.

 

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Blue Velvet saw Hopper playing Frank Booth, the highly disturbed, violent lover and tormentor of Isabella Rossellini, in David Lynch's darkly comic look at the dark side of suburbia. Booth may well be one of the most vivid screen portrayals of unhinged lunacy, from his pocket tank of amyl nitrate, to his jarring use of profanity and physical violence. It truly is one of the most unforgettable movie performances of the decade, and a career high for Hopper.

 

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Hopper rode this new wave of success to a number of film roles, in everything from minor B-films to intriguing indie productions, to A-pictures. He also became a frequent talk show guest, and reveled in his 1960's-survivor status. He continued to collect artworks, and helped herald the careers of many on the cutting edge of modern art. His expertise on the subject became much in demand, and he often appeared at galleries and helped assemble exhibitions. He also amassed one of the most extensive collections of modern art by any private citizen. 

 

He was happy, as well, to begin directing again, from brutal police dramas (1988's Colors), to interesting indie films (1989's Catchfire) and larger budgeted Hollywood fare (1994's Chasers). Hopper married again, this time to Katherine La Nasa, and they welcomed a son, Henry, in 1990. Alas, the fourth time wasn't the charm, and they were divorced in 1992. His acting roles varied in quality, from a memorable turn in 1993's Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance (a high), to the main villain role in that same year's Super Mario Bros. (a distinct low). His box-office success may have peaked, though, with 1994's Speed, the surprise hit action film that saw a career make-over for star Keanu Reeves, brought stardom to leading lady Sandra Bullock, and defined Hopper once again as one of the screen's most despicable foes.

 

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Hopper followed this success up with another over-the-top villain role, in 1995's Waterworld. After this high profile debacle, Hopper's film career began to decline once again. He would continue to work steadily in independent films and low budget exploitation fare for the next 12+ years, but rarely in A-pictures. His interests focused mainly on his art collection and the modern art world. He also made a dramatic shift politically, becoming a staunch and very outspoken conservative Republican., a long way from his days as the hippy poster child. He even accepted a small film role (his final onscreen) in 2008's An American Carol, a conservative comedy fantasy.  He did support Barack Obama in 2008 though, as a protest against Sarah Palin, a stance that angered many of his fellow Republicans.

 

In the mid-2000's, Hopper took his first series-regular television role, in 2005's short-lived military drama E-Ring. He enjoyed the security of a series, so he gladly accepted the starring role in the Starz channel's series adaptation of Crash, which ran for two seasons, starting in 2008.

 

It was revealed in 2009 that Hopper had been battling prostate cancer, and that the battle had been a losing one, as it had now spread to his bones. Much of Hollywood rallied support for him, and efforts were put into motion to secure him a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame before he died. He appeared at the unveiling ceremony, looking gaunt and terribly ill. His family life became tabloid fodder again, as well, as he publicly separated from his fifth wife, Victoria Duffy, and sought legal action to keep her out of his estate upon his death. Issues with his money, real estate holdings, and his massive art collection, would plague the courts for years. Hopper would miss most of it, thankfully, as he passed away on May 29, 2010, at the age of 74.

 

Dennis Hopper was a singular figure in the story of Hollywood. Easy Rider changed the film landscape forever, regardless of what one feels about its artistic merits. Hopper himself had embodied so many personas, it's difficult to keep up: golden boy, difficult PITA, egomaniacal despot, sweetheart, monster, has-been, auteur, raconteur, cultural icon, cultural punchline. That he could be all of these things, and more, speaks to the depth of the man, and the mercurial nature at the heart of his acting talent. He could take a simple, underwritten role, and find something there to bring out or add to it, in such a way that he could steal every scene he was in. He could play subtle, or very, VERY big, sometimes in the same scene, in such a way that audiences would be forced to pay attention to see where he would go next. He was excellent at comedy, drama, action, and even romance when the rare occasion presented itself on screen. And despite the lack of discretion when it came to choosing acting roles, he was always what he admired most: an artist.

 

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I watched him recently in a 1963 episode of Petticoat Junction on Hulu. He played a beatnik and was absolutely perfect. To me, he was better than James Dean at capturing the jadedness and depression of a young generation. With Dean and Brando, there is a phoniness-- an artifice that says 'Look at me, I obviously am playing a disaffected punk.' But with Dennis Hopper, I think it was a lot more real. He was tapping into a part of who he actually was. And as he aged, he never really lost that edge.

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Excellent essay on Dennis Hopper, Lawrence.

 

How I wished that I had seen his earlier films with Peter Fonda before Dennis died. But I did not see them until after he died.

 

I cannot even begin to count the number of Denis Hopper films I've seen.

 

My guess is that I have seen at least half of them if not 75 percent of them.

 

As you know, with the recent AIP festival on TCM and Roger Corman introducing the films, I saw both The Wild angels and The Trip one after the other for the first time.

 

What would I have thought of them if I had seen them before he died? Who knows.

 

Films I have seen the most often which I did see for the first time a long time ago are Giant and, of course, Rebel Without a Cause.

 

I also want to make special mention of his role in Gunfight at the OK Corral - which, for people who don't know this - is my favourite film of this historic battle. and yes, Deforest Kelley playing Morgan, Lancaster playing Wyatt and Douglas playing Holliday has a lot to do with it.

 

Thanks again for creating a thread on Dennis Hopper.

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I cannot even begin to count the number of Denis Hopper films I've seen.

 

My guess is that I have seen at least half of them if not 75 percent of them.

 

Out of all of the actors that I've profiled so far, Dennis Hopper has by far the most movies to his name with 121. There are a few that have more that I haven't gotten to yet, though.

 

Of the 121 films, I've seen 67 of them. Over half of his films were made in the last 20 years of his life, from 1990-2010, and the majority of those were direct-to-video or cable TV movies. 

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Out of all of the actors that I've profiled so far, Dennis Hopper has by far the most movies to his name with 121. There are a few that have more that I haven't gotten to yet, though.

 

Of the 121 films, I've seen 67 of them. Over half of his films were made in the last 20 years of his life, from 1990-2010, and the majority of those were direct-to-video or cable TV movies. 

 

I was talking about movies that have had a theatrical release.

 

I do not believe that I have seen any direct to video films.

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I just watched him in a '56 Cheyenne episode, Quicksand. I don't usually warm up to blond men but with his hair as it is in the first photo he looks like a face from a Greek-Roman bust; all he needs is an olive wreath.  And those blue eyes just bore right through you straight to the libido.   

 

In the color photo with the wet hair he is playing Billy Clanton in my all-time favorite Western, Gunfight at the OK Corral. This is a complex part; he's a likable young outlaw that you want to see go straight-as he seems to want as well-but like Wyatt Earp you understand why he feels he must fight alongside his brothers even if it kills him.  Dennis nails it especially in a scene with Burt Lancaster and Olive Carey that becomes heartbreaking later on.       

 

I did not see Easy Rider until ten years ago as I was never into the drug culture and felt anything that put it in any positive light was immoral.  I'm a bit more open now and admit the movie was well made on most accounts but still can't reconcile to the message.

 

He was great in almost every role he played.  I still remember when he was thought a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for one of two very different roles in Blue Velvet and Hoosiers.  I've read that when he learned he'd gotten it for Hoosiers he was happier than if he'd gotten it for Blue Velvet.  I guess there was a soft spot under all that hell raising.   

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I've stated this before in the boards, but I thought Hopper maintained an air of "cool" throughout his lifetime.  Even near the time of his death, you could drop the then 74 year old Hopper in the middle of a roomful of thirtysomethings, and he'd STILL be the "hippest" guy in the room!

 

Sepiatone

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