Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Late, Great Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper, who directed and starred in Easy Rider and portrayed Frank Booth in Blue Velvet passed today at the age of 74.The cause was complications from prostate cancer.

Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas on May 17, 1936. After World War II his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and later moved to San Diego County, California. He started acting in high school plays and won a scholarship to the National Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego

 Dennis Hopper graduated from Helix High School in 1954. He made his television debut that same year in an episode of Cavalcade of America. In 1955 he guest starred on the shows Medic, The Public Defender, and The Loretta Young Show. His guest shot as an epileptic on Medic resulted in a contract with Warner Brothers. His first film with Warner Brothers would also be his movie debut, Rebel Without a Cause. It in the film Mr. Hooper played one of the gang who menaces James Dean's character. Meeting James Dean would have a profound effect on Mr. Hooper's life. He was so impressed with Mr. Dean's acting style that it would influence his own. In fact, Hooper told Vanity Fair in a 1977 interview, "The most personal tragedy in my life was Dean. I was 19 years old and had such admiration for him."

In 1955 Dennis Hopper appeared in an uncredited role in the film I Died a Thousand Times. That same year he appeared in the TV shows King's Row, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, and Screen Director's Showcase. He also appeared in the film Giant, playing the son of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor as an adult. It would be the last time he would act with James Dean. Over the next few years he would guest star on such shows as Cheyenne, Conflict, and Sugarfoot. He also appeared in the film Gunfight at the OK Corral and The Story of Mankind in 1957. It would be on the film From Hell With Texas that his career would take a turn for the worse. Taking James Dean's style of Method Acting to heart, he refused to say his lines and move precisely the way director Henry Hathaway wanted him to.  Hathaway demanded take after take until Mr. Hopper finally gave in to him. The incident earned Mr. Hopper a reputation for being "difficult" and led to Warner Brothers dumping him.

From the very late Fifties into the mid-Sixties, most of Dennis Hopper's work was in television. He guest starred on Zane Grey Theatre, The Rifleman, The Millionaire, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Naked City, 87th Precinct, Wagon Train, The Twilgiht Zone, The Defenders, Petticoat Junction, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. He appeared in a few movies, such as Key Witness  (1960), Night Tide (1961), The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys (1964), and Tarzan and Jane Regained...Sort of (1964). In 1965 director Henry Hathaway gave Mr. Hopper another chance and he was cast in a small part in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).

The late Sixties saw Dennis Hopper guest star on more television shows, including The Time Tunnel, Combat, The Guns of Will Sonnett, and The Big Valley. He also appeared in a mixture of low budget and major motion pictures, including Queen of Blood (1966), The Trip (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967),  The Glory Stompers  (1968), Panic in the City (1968), and Hang 'Em High (1968). He also made an uncredited appearance in Head (1968), the debut film of Bob Rafelson and The Monkees' only film.

It was in 1968 that Dennis Hopper directed his first film, the legendary Easy Rider. Produced by Peter Fonda and starring both Mr. Fonda and Mr. Hooper, the film would not be seen until the Cannes Film Festival in May 1969 (where it won the award for best film by a new director) and would not be released until July 1969. One of the first films to embrace the counterculture, Easy Rider proved to be both influential and successful at the box office. It was one of the films which ushered in the New Hollywood of the very late Sixties into the Seventies. Life magazine referred to Dennis Hopper as "Hollywood's hottest director.."

In 1969 Dennis Hopper also appeared in the film True Grit. For his next directing effort, Mr. Hooper went to Peru to shoot The Last Movie. Unfortunately, the film would not be nearly as successful as Easy Rider, either at the box office or with critics. Although upon its release in 1971 it won the Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival, most critcs tore the film apart. It would even be pulled from theatres. He would not direct another film until Out of the Blue in 1980.

The Seventies saw Dennis Hopper appear in such films as The Other Side of the Wind (1972), Crush Proof (1972), Kid Blue (1973), Mad Dog Morgan (1976), Tracks  (1977), Der amerikanische Freund ( which he played Patricia Highsmith's criminal mastermind Tom Ripley),  L'ordre et la sécurité du monde (1978) , Couleur chair (1978),  and Les apprentis sorciers (1977). He had a memorable role in Apocalypse Now playing a hippie photojournalist who is very nearly as mad as Colonel Kurtz. (Marlon Brando). In 1980 Dennis Hopper directed and appeared in Out of the Blue. On television he appeared in the mini-series Wild Times as Doc Holiday.

In the Eighties Dennis Hopper appeared in such films as Reborn (1981), King of the Mountain (1981), Rumble Fish (1983), The Osterman Weekend (1983), White Star (1983), Euer Weg führt durch die Hölle (1984), Slagskämpen (1984), O. C. and Stiggs (1985), My Science Project (1985), The American Way (1986), and The River's Edge (1986). In 1986 he appeared in two of the most significant roles of his career. One of these was the role of Gene Hackman's assistant in Hoosiers, for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The other was the role for which he should have been nominated for an Oscar, that of the psychotic villain Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. Frank Booth was a villain as the movies had never seen before, his tastes running to inhaling nitrous oxide and sado-masochism. It would be a role that would change Mr. Hopper's career, as he increasingly played a number of bizarre villains. Mr. Hopper finished the Eighties appearing in such films as Running Out of Luck (1987), Black Widow (1987), Straight to Hell (1987), The Pick-Up Artist (1987), Blood Red (1989), Chattahochee (1989), Flashback (1990), and Catchfire (1990). On television he appeared in the television movies Stark and Stark: Mirror Image. He also directed the films Colours (1988), Catchfire (which due to a dispute with the studio was credited to Alan Smithee), and The Hot Spot (1990).

Dennis Hopper began the Nineties playing the racist Paris Trout in the movie of the same name (1991). He also appeared in the movies The Indian Runner (1991), Eye of the Storm (1991), Sunset Heat (1992), Boiling Point (1993), Red Rock West (1993), True Romance (1993),Chasers (1994), Speed (1994), Search and Destroy (1995), Waterworld (1995), Carried Away (1996), Basquiat (1996), The Blackout (1997), Top of the World (1998), The Prophet's Game (1999), Edtv (1999), and Held for Ransom (2000). On television he appeared in the TV movies Samson and Delilah and Jason and the Argonauts.He directed the films Chasers (1994) and Homeless (2000).

In the Naughts Mr. Hopper appeared in the films Ticker (2001), Choke (2001), The Piano Player (2002), The Night We Called It a Day (2003), Out of Season (2004), The House of 9 (2005), Memory (2006), Swing Vote (2008), and An American Carol (2008).  He set to appear in The Last Film Festival to be released later this year. On television he was a lead on the short lived series Flatland, a recurring character on the first season of 24, one of the lead characters on the short lived series E-Ring, and a regular on the Starz series Crash. He guest starred on the series Las Vegas.

For much of his life Dennis Hopper made more headlines for his alcoholism and his drug habits than he did for his career. In many respects this is sad, as Mr. Hopper was capable of delivering great performances even when he was drinking heavily and using drugs. James Dean had given him the advice, "Well, you have to do things, not show them. You have to take a drink from the glass, not act like you're drinking. Don't have any preconceived ideas. Approach something differently every time." Mr. Hopper took that advice to heart and his career benefited form it. Indeed, if Dennis Hopper played many psychopaths during his career, it was perhaps because he was capable of making any character seem convincing and realistic. Indeed, it must be pointed that while he was best known for playing psychopaths, he played many more sorts of roles, including Gen Hackman's assistant in Hoosiers, Frank Sinatra in The Night We Called It a Day, and, of course, Billy in Easy Rider. Dennis Hopper was a versatile actor of considerable talent. Indeed, he was one of the best actors of the last half of the 20th Century.

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