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Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel Hardcover – September 16, 2011
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"This week I read 'Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel,' and instantly fell in love with the story. Peter Winkler figured out how to make the book so engrossing, so sensational . . . It's the one book you need to pick up and read at some point in your life." -- Tommy Garrett, Canyon News
I also told you . . . that Barricade Books was publishing Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel by Peter L. Winkler. Well, I read it, and all I can say is ... whew! Wild Ride is exactly that. One incredible drug and drink-fueled tale tumbles over the next. Hopper, as presented by author Winkler, is fascinating. - Liz Smith, wowowow.com
I knew Dennis Hopper in his wild days and his sober days, and this book captures the man in his many incarnations. Winkler's deeply researched biography of Hopper is the definitive book on this live wire who lived on the high wire. -- Filmmaker Philippe Mora
"Entertaining and eventful." - Jenny Diski, London Review of Books
"Run -- don't walk -- to the nearest book vendor and get your hands on a copy of Peter L. Winkler's 'Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel.' I was hooked on Winkler's biography from the minute I picked it up, and I suspect that will be the case with other film addicts." - David M. Kinchen, huntingtonnews.net
About the Author
Val Holley, author of the definitive biography of James Dean, calls Peter Winkler "A genuine Hollywood historian." Peter Winkler has written about movies for CineFan, Crime Magazine, Filmfax, The Jimston Journal, Playboy, PopMatters, and spiked; and reviewed movies for Video Theater, where he served as associate editor. Mr. Winkler has also written for The Huffington Post, PC Laptop Computers Magazine, PICO-Laptops and Portables, and Smart TV & Sound. He was the subject of a feature story in the Los Angeles Times and has been a guest on talk-radio shows in the U.S. and Europe. Mr. Winkler graduated with academic honors from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1978.
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Winkler's chapter on the classic EASY RIDER is in itself worth the price of admission: he presents all of the facts as to EASY RIDER's conception and inception and reception - facts that crash and conflict all over the map of the movie's history due to human fallibilities and foibles - yet doesn't make a definitive case for any one angle, as the best of truly honest writers would do. Like Welles' first (and arguably best)film CITIZEN KANE and the wars that ensued as to who actually wrote what, so it is with Hopper's first (and definitely best!) movie EASY RIDER. Ego prevents the total truth from ever being known about just about everything under the sun and stars (celestial as well as cinematic) - and this historian's dilemma is fully conveyed in Mr. Winkler's remarkable book. Continuing with the Wellesian parallel: Welles' second film - THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS - did unto him what Hopper's second film THE LAST MOVIE likewise did unto Hopper. Both second films tanked. The one from a certifiable genius, the other from one who believed himself to be a genius and with the jury largely still out on the verdict for that claim. After both men's second shots having missed their targest, both actor/artists became nomads, pilgrims in search of profit and projects, selling their acting wares across the world in order to live the lives they felt predestined to live. Hopper himself noted this comparison betwixt himself and Welles in so many words. The echoes in the movie theater of history are truly remarkable to contemplate.
Dennis Hopper felt himself to be a genius - but in what particular way no one truly knows. Perhaps he was a genius in believing himself one. Well, genius or not - Hopper was beautiful and brutal, passionate and perverse, marginal and central. An actor, director, artist, writer, lover, drug addict, sex maniac, alcoholic, gun nut - Hopper had the elements so mixed in him that, truly, here was a man! And in Mr. Winkler's book we get to truly meet that man. Making a prolific use of the actual voice of Dennis Hopper himself (via choice excerpts from his myriad interviews throughout the years of his long career), added to a generous amount of critics' reviews of the most salient of the actor's films, and hundreds of quotations from Hopper's friends, enemies, wives and fellow artists, Mr. Winkler paints in prose a compelling and complex portrait of a compelling and complex man. Mr. Winkler does not shy away from Dennis the Menace's dark side at all - nor does he wallow in it or sleazily sensationalize it as a lesser writer might. When there are errors of fact in some of the many quotations that are richly interwoven with the main text of the book, Mr. Winkler points them out to his readers - as only the best film historians and writers would do. This is such an absorbing and humanely constructed biography that when it came to the final pages, I wept. I wept for the end of Dennis Hopper - and the end of the book. This speaks volumes for this volume: the book so vividly reflected the life of its subject, that when the final page was turned I truly felt that I had just lost someone I had personally known. Bravo, Mr. Winkler!
One caveat: the book's illustrations are fine but could have been so much better. I would love to have seen Hopper's parents or brother or children or some of his art or one of the final pictures taken of him when he received the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, mere months before his passing. Mr. Winkler painfully describes Hopper in those final days as prostate cancer took its toll on the actor. He was down to 100 pounds. When I subsequently googled photos from the honorary event of Hopper's receiving the star award, I was stunned. And profoundly saddened. A picture can be, yes, worth a thousand words - so being a biography of one to whom the visual was his very purpose in life, the text would only have been enhanced with better illustrations.
Addendum: Given the impact of James Dean on Hopper's life, I always thought it more than coincidental - and most probably somewhat cathartic for Hopper - that in the end of Hopper's first and best directorial effort, his character of Billy ends up - as did Dean - a roadside casualty of a collision with some other. Yes, for Dean it was another car (albeit operated by a man) and for Billy it was a shotgun blast (the shotgun likewise operated by a man) - but the correlation is unmistakingly there, whether Hopper wrote the whole of EASY RIDER including its ending (which he claimed) or not. And both deaths - that of the now mythic but once frail flesh-and-blood Dean and the fictional "easy rider" were the results of accidents. "What happened?" asks the one duck hunter of the other after the probably subconsious pull of the trigger that blasts Billy into oblivion - and Dean's alleged final words to his passenger/mechanic were (upon seeing the giant, solid Ford making an ill-timed left-turn in front of his small and fragile Porsche racing car) something along the lines of - "He's got to see us!" The ripples from the rock in the water are as fascinating and as mysterious as is the rock itself.
A final word: I wonder what is next on Peter Winkler's literary agenda. DENNIS HOPPER: THE WILD RIDE OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL has definitely made me truly anticipatory of this extremely talented film historian's future work!
When Hopper died at age 74 in 2010, most of the obituaries focused on his acting and directing career, with references to his photography, his painting and his art collection. Almost all of them mention his many addictions and his "Lost years" in Taos, N.M. Winkler fleshes out the story, interviewing dozens of Hopper's friends and enemies to give us the complete picture of a man who came from a humble background in Dodge City, Kan.
Moving to San Diego while still in his teens, Hopper honed his craft at theaters there, including the city's prestigious Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park and the La Jolla Playhouse, very quickly attracting the attention of Hollywood agents looking for fresh new teen faces.
Yes, it's hard to believe but Dennis Hopper was once a fresh teen face, as we all were! He acted in 115 films and four TV series, early on creating memorable portraits in movies like "Giant" (1955) where he played the son of the Rock Hudson character and playing gang member Goon opposite James Dean and Natalie Wood in "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955).
He was equally at home in television and, of course, live theater. His interest in theater didn't please his conventional Kansas parents who wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer instead of a "bum" -- which is how his parents viewed the acting profession.
While making "Rebel Without a Cause" Hopper recounted a conversation with co-star James Dean on why he became an actor: "I told him how much I hated my home life, the rules, the regimentation. I told him what a nightmare my home life had become...." As I read this I wondered why he didn't cut his parents a little slack; after all they moved to California when he was 13, affording him the opportunity to become an actor.
Winkler's comprehensive biography -- and I'm glad to see a factual book with an index, something we reviewers can't take for granted these days -- covers the incredibly noisy life of Dennis Hopper. Winkler says that when Hopper died in his sleep on May 29, 2010 it was one of the few quiet moments in his life!
I often wondered how a man who ingested huge quantities of liquor and drugs managed to make so many movies. Perhaps Phillipe Mora, an Australian filmmaker who directed Hopper in "Mad Dog Morgan" (1974) and who remained a friend for life, has the answer: "...I'd rather emphasize his art rather than his personal habits. For me as a director, as soon as I said 'action,' he was totally locked in, and even if I knew he'd had a few things or whatever, he was incredible with things like continuity. I said to him, 'How do you do that? How do you remember all that?' And he said, 'Well, I signed a contract with Warner Bros. when I was eighteen and they put us through the equivalent of Marine training on technique.' For me it was a joy to work with someone who was that good."
And of course, we have to consider that Hopper was a Method actor, who trained with Lee Strasberg's classes at the legendary Actors Studio in New York City. Even before he was accepted by Strasberg, he devoured the bible of Method acting, "An Actor Prepares." One of the photos Winkler includes shows Hopper at the Griffith Observatory in L.A., where scenes of "Rebel Without a Cause" were filmed. He's reading Konstantin Stanislavski's "An Actor Prepares." He was determined to study with Strasberg, despite being discouraged by Dean, who said the Studio would eat him up. Hopper lived at the Chelsea Hotel for six months before being accepted at the Studio.
I was hooked on Winkler's biography from the minute I picked it up, and I suspect that will be the case with other film addicts. "Dennis Hopper" is the first book to cover the entire life and career of the man who hung out with James Dean, Elvis Presley, and Jack Nicholson, costarred in and directed "Easy Rider" -- perhaps his most famous film -- and came back big in "Blue Velvet", overcoming years of alcoholism and drug addiction. And, if you're hooked in celebrity scandals, Winkler provides more than enough of them to satisfy those afflicted with that guilty pleasure.