Classic Dennis Hopper Interview

I was looking through my archive of features recently, I had interviewed the iconic, Dennis Hopper and his daughter, Marin many years ago. They had published a stunning book based on a batch of negatives Marin had found of photographs from their life in their house on North Crescent Heights.

There's something so eloquent and inspiring about it, it's true, classy creativity and I wanted to share it with you here.




1712 North Crescent Heights

Life in the Hopper House by Sally A. Edwards

Dennis Hopper has quite a few names attached to him, from the bizarre ("scariest man in Hollywood") to the obvious (actor and director), to the not quite so obvious (artist and photographer). Behind the latter lies a whole, little-known world. 1712 North Crescent Heights (Greybull Press), the first Hopper/Hayward family collaborative project, includes over 200 pages of black and white photographs of Hopper's Los Angeles, both celebrated and private, taken between 1962 and 1968. Edited by his daughter Marin Hopper, the book reveals a romantic era through self portraits, baby photos of Marin, and portraits of his former wife Brooke Hayward, as well as friends, family, and especially "The Hopper House", from which the title is taken.

This is a very influential 60s Los Angeles: Pop Art was surfacing, the place to be seen was The Daisy Club, and Sunday gatherings were on the beach at Malibu. Hopper documented the creation of the family's pop art collection and everyday life, from Hayward tiling 1712's entrance to squirt gun fights at Jane Fonda's. "This was the time leading up to 'Easy Rider' and the end of the 60s, after which things kind of fell apart," says Marin Hopper. "I didn't think there was much of a record beyond what I heard growing up, which was always, 'Oh your parents (Hopper and Hayward) were so incredible together...', until I found these photographs, and it just all fell into place."

It all began last summer, when Marin left Elle magazine, where she had been Fashion Director for ten years. She was at her father's office in LA while he was preparing for an exhibition when she asked him if she could go through some of his photographs. "I told him I wanted to see if I couldn't pull out some things from my childhood. There must have been better times than everybody has reported, and I wanted to try to make a book out of that." Marin went through about 500 proof sheets and discovered a whole other side to her father's work. "It was much more personal and sentimental. There were pictures of my mother and our house. It was really more about the family, their friends, the beach, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, all those people," she explains.

Dennis Hopper was also surprised. "I'd never really looked at that aspect. It was just a memory, so I didn't look at those parts of the proof sheets. Marin went back in and started pulling this stuff out. She has an amazing eye, and it was just a wonderful experience to see these things. I had no idea they were there; I saw photographs I had never really looked at, and certainly none I'd ever blown up before. It's been a revelation to me."

Introductions by Brooke Hayward and Dennis Hopper open the book, along with an interview Marin Hopper conducted with her parents. "You know, they got married, and two weeks later their first house burnt down in the Bel Air fire. They had to really reconstruct their life at 1712. They lost everything, except my father was able to save a Milton Avery!" laughs Marin Hopper. "It had belonged to my mother's mother, [actress] Margaret Sullivan."

Everything else was gone, and the insurance company advised the young couple to invest in art, antiques and silver. And so they bought this Spanish house in the Hollywood Hills. Dennis Hopper was very much involved in the art world even then. "It was a wonderful and very special time—the 60s. Warhol came out to have his first show at the Ferus Gallery. The first Pop Art show was held in California. Marcel Duchamp's retrospective was at the Pasadena Museum, and all the artists were around. I really had one of the first Pop Art collections," he recalls.

Brooke Hayward liked to shop for antiques, and brought back folk art from their trips to Mexico. "They created their style," explains Marin. "After the Bel Air fire, they were staying at Vincent Price's house. He had a very famous house, mixing Spanish and Mexican folk art with modern painting. It was a big influence on them. In Los Angeles in those days it wasn't fashionable to own antiques; it was really about having copies. Antiques meant that someone else had sat on it, used it! It was really unfashionable to buy crazy Victorian furniture or stained glass windows, but they really got into this style. They had all this Mexican folk art, which they would mix with all these paintings, from Andy Warhol to Roy Liechtenstein." And billboards. The Hopper house had a bathroom wallpapered with them. They were salvaged from the billboard factory which Hopper often used for photo shoots. "I took a lot of photographs down there," he says. I took James Rosinquest down there in 1964 and photographed him and Henry Geldzahler. I was very hung up on billboards!"

Dennis Hopper began taking photographs in 1955, when he had just gone into contract with Warner Brothers. "I was doing 'Rebel Without A Cause' and 'Giant', but those photographs went to the land of lost articles!" he laughs. "When I married in 1961, I got a Nikon, and that's when I started seriously taking photographs. It was the first time I really had any stability, so I could save my negatives, I could print, and so on. After I started doing Easy Rider in '68, I didn't take any stills until the late 80s."

Hopper used photography to learn how to frame and become a director. "I didn't crop any of my photographs, I wanted to shoot them all full negative because I just thought it was more honest and it would prepare me, because you can't crop photographs in a movie—it's just too expensive! I mean, I like to keep my lines straight and figures centered, and in most of my portraits I like to have people look directly into the camera. I prefer to take them somewhere that has something to do with their work. I like the backgrounds to be as interesting as the people most of the time, maybe more interesting!"

Almost all of his photographs from this time are black and white. "I felt if I started shooting with color I would lose content. I thought that it was really important to learn to do content and composition in black and white, without being misled by colour." Hopper only used colour in the 60s for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar because they insisted. He took up colour again when he shot couture in Mexico and Alexander McQueen in Florence, commissioned by his daughter for Elle.

Hopper is shooting for television in Shanghai and will be directing a new movie in New York after that. His current exhibition of photographs, paintings, sculptures, and videos, entitled "Dennis Hopper: A System of Moments", has moved from the Stedeljik in Amsterdam to the MAK in Vienna until October.

He admits that acceptance is difficult when you work in several creative fields, "especially being an actor as well, because there is some sort of mistrust. We're like gypsies—we spend too much time in our trailers, I guess!" he laughs. He is also surprised more actors aren't involved in painting, writing and photography. "Unfortunately, I could never play an instrument or sing, but if I could, I would certainly be out there rock-and-rolling," he says.

Hopper is wary of being pigeon-holed. "I think in this new century it will be more natural, and hopefully more acceptable, for people to practice more than one art, or one craft." No peace for the wicked!

1712 North Crescent Heights, photographs by Dennis Hopper 1962-1998 published by Greybull Press Dennis Hopper, A System Of Moments published by Hatje Cantz.