DENNIS THE MENACE
Continued from page 8
He had seen the stunt done once
when he was a child. Someone sur-
rounded by dynamite would be in a safe
vacuum, was the reasoning, as if in the
eye of a hurricane. If as many as three
sticks did not explode, however, it
would be fatal. Hopper had heard the
stunt was used after the Russian Revo-
lution by Bolsheviks who wanted to cer-
emoniously "execute" noblemen whom
they really wanted to save.
In Houston that night, before an au-
dience of students and race-car fans, not
to mention all his friends who flew in
for the party expecting to see him final-
ly kill himself, Hopper did not die. But
he did deliver a symbolic assessment of
his life at the time.
"People," he concurs now, "were
worried about my sanity."
WHEN DENNIs Hopper was
growing up in Dodge City,
Kansas, he came across a
book that would change his
life: Gene Fowler's Minutes of the Last
Meeting, a recounting of Hollywood's
mad bohemia of the '30s and '40s. Pro-
viding potent images for the youth were
gaudy drunks like John Barrymore and
W.C. Fields. But brightest of all was a
man called Sadakichi Hartmann, an
art critic, poet and "fuming savant,"
who, Fowler says, "pranced like an ac-
celerated zombie among the easels and
the inkpots of the elite, entering the ate-
liers without knocking, drinking on the
cuff, mumbling his own weird rondels
over the briskets of dowagers slumming
in Greenwich Village ...."
It was a hell of a blueprint for living
the life of the self-destructive artist.
Hopper, now 50, still recalls the book
with warm fervor. "This was not senti-
mental," he cackles.
But what does it tell us?
"You knew what an artist was. A
drinker. A drinker-drugger."
THERE IS THE LtVING legend,
the noticeable presence on the
set. He is short and not physi-
cally imposing, but his head is
large and striking, and, through the in-
definable alchemy, he's always worth
watching. He has that legend.
If all you know is the legend, you just
assume Dennis Hopper goes to sleep at
night with a gun under his pillow. A
remarkable number of people in Holly-
wood do not know that he is not neces-
sarily living up to his legend anymore,
that for three years he has been a model
citizen. Director David Lynch, for in-
stance, did not know that the actor was
clean, sober and good-looking when
Hopper was suggested for the role of
Spring 1987 15