Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960s Los Angeles by Mark Rozzo:
A dinner was arranged at Serendipity 3, the campy Upper East Side restaurant whose aesthetic echoed that of 1712. (Warhol was a regular there.) In attendance were Dennis, Peter, Southern, Gerber, the actor Rip Torn, and the novelist Don Carpenter. Torn was meant to play an alcoholic small-town lawyer in the picture, a role that Dennis had suggested and that Southern had claimed to have modeled on Gavin Stevens, a lawyer in a handful of William Faulkner novels. Dennis had wanted a character who came from the Establishment, and who was a motormouth, while Wyatt and Billy tended to communicate enigmatically, with head nods and “Yeah, man”s. He said that George Hanson, the drunkard lawyer, signified “trapped America, killing itself.”
What ensued at Serendipity 2 was a Rashomon that serves to illustrates much of the development, production, and afterlife of Easy Rider, a film forever enveloped in conflicting recollections, competing agendas, and everlasting grudges.
According to Torn’s memory, Dennis entered the restaurant wearing buckskins, already in the process of turning himself into Billy, and proceeded to threaten Torn with a bowie knife, after some jawboning about Torn and Southern’s home state of Texas. In other variations of the story, the weapon was one of the restaurant’s steak knives. Torn—like Dennis, a hothead who would later attack Norman Mailer with a hammer—was said to have disarmed Dennis using a move he’d learned as a military policeman. At that juncture, Torn remembered, “Dennis jumped back and knocked Peter on the floor, and I said, “There goes the job.” In Peter’s telling there was no bowie knife or steak knife. Instead, the combatants had brandished relatively harmless tableware—a butter knife and a salad fork.
Decades later, Dennis claimed on The Tonight Show that it was Torn who had pulled a knife at Serendipity, not the other way around, thereby triggering a defamation lawsuit by Torn. After years of litigation, Torn won, with Dennis on the hook for $950,000 in damages. Torn never did play George Hanson.