Sunday, July 10, 2022

the last book I ever read (Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960s Los Angeles, excerpt five)

from Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960s Los Angeles by Mark Rozzo:

Then the studio loaned Dennis out to 20th Century Fox for Henry Hathaway’s From Hell to Texas (originally titled The Hell-Bent Kid), filming in the rugged Owens Valley of California. It was an opportunity to work with a veteran director. Yet Dennis had his misgivings. “The part was the weak son of the bad man,” he said, “and I didn’t want to do it.” Hathaway, who had begun his career close to the dawn of talking pictures, was a known hothead. “He would lose his temper at the drop of a hat,” said Harry Carey, Jr., who played a ranch hand in the film. Dennis and Hathaway tangled from the get-go. “I walked off the picture three times,” Dennis remembered. “And then he’d take me to dinner and be real charming. The next day he’d come on the set and say, ‘Forget that, it’s fucking dinner talk.’ On the set he was a monster, screaming and yelling.” Don Murray, in the lead role of a cowboy wrongly suspected of murder, watched as the relationship between Dennis and Hathaway unraveled, with Dennis, during one impasse, calling the martinet director “a fucking idiot” to his face.

What ensued during the making of From Hell to Texas would prove to be a Rubicon in Dennis’s acting career. As he told it, Hathaway’s insistence on insultingly microscopic direction only egged him on in his pursuit of Strasbergian greatness. It was as if James Dean’s honor were at stake. The final showdown came during the shooting of a minor scene in which Dennis was to deliver a straight-forward, informational line. “He insisted on doing it his way,” Dennis said. “I insisted on doing it my way.” The number of takes mounted as the hours went by. Around lunchtime, Jack Warner got Dennis on the phone: “What the fuck is going on? Do what fucking Hathaway says.” Hathaway pointed to an imposing stack of film canisters. “I have enough film in those cans to work for a month,” he snarled at Dennis. “We’re just going to sit here until you do this scene exactly as I tell you.” It went on all day and into the night, until Dennis finally broke down, crying. “We shot it 85 times,” he remembered. “Finally, on the 86th take, I cracked and did it his way. When it was all over, he came up to me and said, ‘Kid, there’s one thing I can promise you: you’ll never work in this town again.’”

That was how Dennis Hopper got himself blackballed from Hollywood. The story of his eighty-six-take martyrdom at the hands of Henry Hathaway is one of the central adornments of his outsider, rebel image: the impressionable Dodge City boy—under the spell of his hero, James Dean—broken on the wheel of Hollywood.

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