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To be specific: at least three times in his career, Hopper was involved with projects that caught the zeitgeist of unrest and instability square on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. Granted, he was just a bit player in Rebel Without a Cause. Still, it’s the most famous depiction of youthful angst in the midst of American postwar prosperity, and he’s there in the thick of it, hanging chickens and rattling chains. Then he directed Easy Rider, which gave us the crumbling of an old social order and the uncertain vision of those who would craft its replacement.

That film, of course, was a social phenomenon, much bigger than Out of the Blue, which he also wound up directing. But if Easy Rider gave us an anthropology of hippies, Out of the Blue did the same for punks. Young Linda Manz flails about all over the place, full of rage at her parents’ failure to stop indulging their various demons and start being parents. She reveres Elvis and Sid Vicious — two guys who knew something about longing for love — and disdains the woozy pleasure-vibe of disco. It’s brutal and ugly and right on target.

In every case, youth must be served, and age either doesn’t want to or doesn’t know how to serve it. And Hopper is there at the cinematic point of fracture between the two. (Mind you, this was before he started playing scary nutjobs.) Now he’s up there on the wall of a public institution.

David Elliott: And he’s got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It reminds you of John Huston’s great line in Chinatown about politicians, whores, and ugly old buildings finally becoming respectable. Survival pays.

Matthew Lickona: Nice. Now, you were saying about Hopper and James Dean?

David Elliott: Actually, the useful comparison is not with Dean because Hopper was never an actor at that level, even in his best psycho parts. (Though I bet Dean would have loved Frank Booth in Blue Velvet.) The more valid comparison is with the other “kids” in Rebel Without a Cause. Nick Adams, another gang member, had a desperately ambitious career that found only brief success on TV. Natalie Wood was already a Hollywood star child who had once bounced on Orson Welles’s knee. She had major roles without ever quite matching the fresh vulnerability of Judy in Rebel, though she came close in Splendor in the Grass. Corey Allen, who went over the “chickie run” cliff as Buzz, had a certain Brando vibe but faded out as an actor and became a respected acting teacher. (Interestingly, Allen died just a month or so after Hopper.) Sal Mineo’s vivid little career is too sad to linger over. Apart from Dean, he probably had the most talent. Hopper carried on as the great ricochet artist, a sort of Son of Rebel Redux.

Matthew Lickona: Granted that Hopper was no match for Dean, but your use of the word “vulnerability” got me thinking. It’s what Dean has in spades in Rebel — the boy who desperately wants his father to show him how to be a man, who cannot bear to be called a chicken. The guy that every girl wants to cradle in her arms and comfort.

Then, when Hopper delivers his first line in Rebel, he asks Buzz, “What are we going to do with him?” And when he says it, his eyes are wide and worried, his tone nervous and hesitant. To me, it looked as if he was trying to play just what Dean was playing — especially in light of the stories he told later about being dazzled by Dean and trying to act the way Dean acted. But of course, it didn’t quite come off. He’s not vulnerable, just lame. I saw one Hopper interview where he talked about his early Westerns and how he was often cast as the weakling son of the villain. Damaged goods — no triumph in adversity, just brokenness leading to evil. Rough casting but smart.

It’s there in the very beginning: Hopper the young gang member, nervous and servile, but already tinged with the vicious madness that would make him famous (again) in Blue Velvet, 30 years later. When Plato wakes up in the abandoned mansion, there’s Hopper standing over him with a chain. Suddenly, Hopper’s face crinkles and splits into a huge, mirthless grin. His eyes go hard and sparkly, and it’s crazy time. But it’s a certain sort of crazy, tinged with pathos — or maybe just pathetic. The weakling son of the villain, after all, is not the bad guy, but the sorry spawn of the bad guy. A poor copy of the bad guy. It’s a status that makes for meanness, and you can see it right there in that grin: the whipping boy is going to do some whipping of his own. It’s a part he would play again and again.

David Elliott: You’re right about that slightly fevered stare Hopper has in his little role as Goon and then again in Giant. He had arrived in Hollywood as a rising talent after working at the Old Globe, and he was cocky. But he was clobbered by Dean’s far more developed and versatile intensity. With his chiseled good looks, Dennis was in line to become another John Kerr (Tea and Sympathy), but suddenly he had to act with this intuitive powerhouse from Indiana and New York theater. Being handsome and saying your lines well just didn’t cut it anymore, if you wanted to be more than studio lumber.

I think Hopper was awed by Dean and then got scared, realizing he might become the new Richard Davalos — the hunky, gifted actor who played Dean’s brother in East of Eden but was completely eclipsed. Lacking Dean’s sure instincts, Hopper amped up the intensity and played the wild man, on set and off — he was like a zoned William F. Buckley Jr. trying to escape his preppy shell. He stayed handsome but got hairy, sometimes crazy.

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steverupp Oct. 20, 2010 @ 3:50 p.m.

Forgotten in there memorable performances is the amazing vignettte in True Romance where he gives the full sacrafice on behalf of his wayware son. Artistry.


optimystic1 Oct. 20, 2010 @ 10:06 p.m.

I am from Lemon Grove and met and talked with Hopper's mother Marjorie many times in the 80's. Because of that I was a big Hopper fan and followed his career. His mom was a very nice lady. From her perspective, she seemed to portray that some of her son's tales of a troubled childhood were exaggerated. Apparently Dennis Hopper's dad was a postman, so i dont see how he was not around. Anyway, a great actor, a great art enthusiast, and great son of Lemon Grove.


MsGrant Oct. 21, 2010 @ 8:34 a.m.

I saw Paris Trout on HBO and was blown away. None of my friends or anyone I knew had watched the movie, so I had no one to discuss it with. I was really happy to see it included in your discussion. If anyone is a Hopper fan (or not) and has not watched this movie, do so and be prepared to be chilled to the bone. I have never forgotten this movie.


nan shartel Oct. 22, 2010 @ 10:53 a.m.

i went to one year of High School @ Helix with Dennis hopper...he was a crazy kid whose only interest was theatre..he went far!!


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 22, 2010 @ 11:45 a.m.

i went to one year of High School @ Helix with Dennis hopper...he was a crazy kid whose only interest was theatre..he went far!!

==================== Wow, that is cool nan!!! I never knew Hopper went to Helix. Did you know him or hang with him???

Anyone else become famous from Helix???

Cameron Crowe, the writer/director is from Point Loma High...


Jay Allen Sanford Oct. 22, 2010 @ 5:39 p.m.

Hopper – whose family lived for years at 3224 Massachusetts Ave in Lemon Grove - went to both Grossmont High AND Helix High. Other future celebs to come outta Helix include hoops master Bill Walton and NFL star Reggie Bush - you can see Famous Former Neighbors cartoons on them AND Hopper at http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/

SurfPuppy is incorrect about Crowe going to Point Loma High - he actually attended University of SD High, and he went undercover for his Fast Times book at Clairemont High. Yep, he’s been cartooned too -- actress Marion Ross and Manson Family member Sandra Good DID attend Point Loma High, though.

Other Famous Former Neighbors toons feature MLB player Barry Zito and actor David Leisure (Grossmont High), Joan Embrey and actress Kathy Najimy (both of Crawford High), Bobby Lee of MADtv and Tom DeLonge of blink 182 (both of Poway High), slugger Ted Williams and Ted Giannoulas aka the San Diego Chicken (both from Hoover High), Cleavon Little of Blazing Saddles and special FX whiz Phil Tippett and musician Michael Page AND Moby Grape’s Bob Mosley (all four from Kearny High), Frank Zappa and Matt Bush and Tawny Kittaen (all three of Mission Bay High), actor Mario Lopez (Chula Vista High), actor Adam Brody (Scripps Ranch High), Kingston Trio’s Nick Reynolds (Coronado High), actresses Priscilla Allen and Raquel Welch (both of La Jolla High), Art Linkletter (Woodrow Wilson High), skater Tony Hawk (Torrey Pines High), actress Denise Richards (El Camino High), actress Annette Bening (Patrick Henry High), actor Victor Buono (St. Augustine High), Eddie Vedder (San Dieguito High), footballer Terrell Davis (Lincoln High), Junior Seau (Oceanside High), musician Jake E. Lee (Mar Vista High), and silent film star Harold Lloyd (San Diego High).

And of course SD’s School of Creative and Performing arts has spawned a number of celebs, several with their own Reader toons as well –


MsGrant Oct. 22, 2010 @ 5:57 p.m.

Billy Fox and David Wells also both went to Point Loma High.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 22, 2010 @ 9 p.m.

Oh David Wells, yes, I forgot about him!!!!!

Harold Wright went to SD High, that is cool!


nan shartel Oct. 23, 2010 @ 8:31 a.m.

Even tho Dennis live in what was officially Lemon Grove.. Massachusetts St comes down onto University Ave just a few blocks West of Helix...i lived on Pomona Ave just North of Helix High about 2 blocks

and no Puppy i was a lowly Freshman then and didn't hang with Denny as he was called then...i just saw him in the halls and such...he was a big man on campus theatre wise...and not nearly as important as the football players...hahahahahaha...he was a little guy..handsome as hell...and we were all buzzing about his role in "Rebel Without a Cause" later when it was him not James Dean who was dating Natalie Wood

actually i was more excited about Greg Peck who came from San Diego and Rock Hudson's special appearance at the Orpheum Theater downtown in "Taza Son of Cochise" 1954

Rock walked within 2 feet of me coming out of the theater and i've never seen a more beautiful man in my life


nan shartel Oct. 23, 2010 @ 8:39 a.m.

Victor Buono was in a play that had the male characters from St Augies and the female players from OLP..it played at both high schools..(about 1952)

now there was a superior actor..it was obvious even in his teens he was headed for Hollywood to be in Character parts..he really never achieved the kind if greatness he deserved..he was a marvel of theatrical expertise..i think he was i some Shakespeare things down at the Old Globe 2

Jay probably know more about that...eh Jay


nan shartel Oct. 23, 2010 @ 8:47 a.m.

my favorite role of Denny's was in "Apocalypse Now"


he was brilliant in that!!!


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 23, 2010 @ 12:27 p.m.

actually i was more excited about Greg Peck who came from San Diego...

Nan, I have a copy of the 1935 SDS College yearbook, and they have Eldred ("Gregory") Peck in it under the Epsilon Eta fratenrity members...........He looks like a 15 year old boy.

Peck didn't stay long at SDSC, he transferred to UC Berkley.


nan shartel Oct. 23, 2010 @ 1:27 p.m.

how very ubercool Puppy!!!..he was another beautiful laddie!!!


sailinsax Oct. 25, 2010 @ 11:46 a.m.

He was also in one of San Diego Junior Theatre's first productions, The Rose and the Ring, in 1952 when they were a wing of The Old Globe. Junior Theatre is still going strong and is the oldest continuing children's theatre program in the COUNTRY. Check out their website for a picture of him in the cast: http://www.juniortheatre.com/history/


nan shartel Nov. 7, 2010 @ 12:44 p.m.


i'm happy to hear it...i ushered at the Globe as a teen


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 7, 2010 @ 4:35 p.m.

He was also in one of San Diego Junior Theatre's first productions, The Rose and the Ring, in 1952 when they were a wing of The Old Globe. Junior Theatre is still going strong and is the oldest continuing children's theatre program in the COUNTRY. Check out their website for a picture of him in the cast: http://www.juniortheatre.com/history/


Wow, that is cool info, thanks for posting that!

You should update his Mr. Peck's wikipedia page with this info, since it is not in there yet, I am sure many others would be interested in knowing this;

. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Peck .


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