Film and TV

Dennis Hopper Always Did Love Dallas, Even If He Did Try To Piss On It a Time or Two

Upon hearing the news of Dennis Hopper's death from prostate cancer at the age of 74 this afternoon, I dug up a 1990 Daily Texan interview I did with the writer-director-actor upon his return to the USA Film Festival, where he was being feted as its Master Screen Artist. He spoke fondly of Texas -- especially his time in Austin shooting The Hot Spot and playing golf with Darrell Royal and Willie Nelson. "If I could figure out how to move back there," said Hopper, who first came to Texas to shoot Giant in the mid-1950s, "I would."

But instead he was coming to Dallas to be feted with a retrospective of his films -- chief among them, of course, Easy Rider (over which Hopper would forever war with Oak Cliff native son Terry Southern over who deserved screenwriting credit). It wasn't the first time he'd been to the fest, not by a long shot: In 1972, Hopper came to Dallas at USA Film Festival co-founder L.M. Kit Carson's request to screen The Last Movie on the SMU campus; then, again, in '73 for a screening of Kid Blue, written by former Dallas Morning News and Times Herald late-great Edwin "Bud" Shrake.

Carson had by then split from the USA Film Festival and started his own competing wingding: the United States Film Festival, held in the Memorial Auditorium Theater. Greg Curtis covered the '73 US Film Festival for Texas Monthly -- he was there when Shrake and Hopper and others joined the late film critic Arthur Knight Jr. for a Kid Blue panel, the sole photographic evidence of which exists here. Wrote Curtis, the Kid Blue screening "had the audience cheering." Hopper wouldn't return to the fest, though, till 1982, and he brought with him yet another of his directorial obscurities, Out of the Blue.

But his '72 appearance at the USA Film Festival remains the most legendary. I recall asking Hopper about it in '90; he would only say he was "invigorated" during those days and leave it at that. So, instead, we'll turn to the great Philip Wuntch, who, in 1993, recounted that momentous occasion for The Dallas Morning News:

Dennis Hopper, in one of his earliest festival appearances in 1972, relieved himself off the balcony of a fashionable Park Cities home during a post-screening party. It was one of the legendary happenings of the festival, discussed and possibly embellished through the years. Some guests even proudly insist they were the downstairs "victims" of Mr. Hopper's lack of restraint.

However, Ryan O'Neal was not amused. He huffily told Mr. Hopper that his behavior was "childish" -- only to be challenged to a fistfight (which never materialized) by the Easy Rider star.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky