Art

Remembering Dennis Hopper

Photos of ‘Easy Rider’ star by 60s chronicler Lisa Law on view at Trading Post Café

By Rick Romancito
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 5/16/19

While everyone was tuning in and turning on, Lisa Law was clicking away. During the 1960s, Law found herself amid the turbulent era of peace and love and instead of just taking a snapshot or two, she became a chronicler ...

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Art

Remembering Dennis Hopper

Photos of ‘Easy Rider’ star by 60s chronicler Lisa Law on view at Trading Post Café

Posted

While everyone was tuning in and turning on, Lisa Law was clicking away.

During the 1960s, Law found herself amid the turbulent era of peace and love and instead of just taking a snapshot or two, she became a chronicler. She inherently knew the images she was recording on film would someday become important. And, they did. Her 1990 book and film, both titled “Flashing on the Sixties: A Tribal Document,” depicted the era like no other and thus became a major piece of cultural history itself.

Among the many people she met and became acquainted with was a young and struggling film actor named Dennis Hopper.

Over the years, Hopper’s life and times became entwined with Taos. It is where he shot portions of his phenomenally successful hippie-biker film “Easy Rider” and it is where he lived on and off since then. It is also where he chose to be buried after he died in 2010 at age 74. Law was there from time to time, clicking away.

The centerpiece of this year’s Dennis Hopper Days celebration, happening Friday through Sunday (May 17-19) in Taos, will be a free screening of “Easy Rider” Friday (May 17), 7 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. This year marks the film’s 50th anniversary. Noting that this anniversary is being celebrated “all over the world,” Law said she felt the need to show her photographs of Hopper in Taos during the celebration.

So, on Tuesday (May 14), she packed up a selection and drove up from her home in Santa Fe to the Ranchos Trading Post Café, 4179 State Road 68 in Ranchos de Taos. Her show in the back dining room at the restaurant will be up through August, after which it will be exhibited at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

“He came to The Castle in 1965,” she said about the first time she met Hopper. “The Castle was where I lived with Tom Law in L.A. … Bob Dylan stayed there, and the Velvet Underground stayed there. Andy Warhol was there. [Dennis] came over because everybody who was anybody was coming over and visiting everybody.”

It wasn’t until 1967 when she said she ran into him again at the Monterey Pop Festival. “Tom and I were hired to put up our teepee so if there was anybody tripping [on psychedelic drugs], they could go into the teepee and calm down and center themselves.” At the time, she and Tom Law were invited to concert events such as Fantasy Faire and Magic Mountain Music Festival on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, eventually ending up at Woodstock offering the same kind of trip tent. But, it was at Monterey Pop she said that Hopper showed up after he was given “a little too much acid … so he went running for the teepee … and he came and sat in there and centered himself. He was there a good part of the day.”

Thirty years later, Lisa Law said she was telling a story in Hopper’s presence about a time when “the wind came in, went around the teepee and then went out and I felt we were visited by an entity. He goes, ‘yeah, so did I.’ And I went, ‘So, did you?’ But, I’d only met him once so I didn’t know who he was. So, from then on and he moved here when he was doing ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘The Last Movie,’ then I was spending a lot of time with him at the Mabel Dodge House [which he owned at the time].”

Mabel Sterne was a wealthy art patroness who in 1918 fled the conservative confines of the Eastern United States for New Mexico, where in 1923 she married Tony Lujan, a Taos Pueblo man, and soon established a salon here that attracted the movers and shakers of her time. The home Tony built for her came to be known as Los Gallos (the roosters), but during the time Hopper owned it, he called it the “mud palace.”

It is well documented that Hopper’s time in Taos wasn’t good for him or his career. After the huge success of “Easy Rider,” he attracted a large collection of hangers-on, hippies and various characters who skated on his fame.

According to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House website (mabeldodgeluhan.com), Hopper “discovered Mabel’s house while shooting the film ‘Easy Rider.’ In 1970 he purchased Los Gallos from Mabel’s granddaughter Bonnie Evans, and left Los Angeles to live in Taos. He spent the next years editing his latest film ‘The Last Movie.' With a vision of establishing Taos as the American center of independent filmmaking, Hopper invited creatives from his sphere to stay at the 'Mud Palace.’”

Like Mabel, Hopper invited a lot of movers and shakers to Taos. “Many embodied the 1960s counterculture that Hopper referenced in 'Easy Rider.' Among the more notable guests were musicians Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Bo Diddley, actors Jack Nicholson, Anthony Quinn and John Wayne, beat poet Alan Watts, and politicians George McGovern (who announced his candidacy for President at Hopper’s dining room table) and New Mexico governor David Cargo. Personages from Mabel’s era like Georgia O’Keeffe also dropped by. Dorothy Brett first visited Hopper to see what he had done to her friend’s house. She regaled him with stories of the good old days with Mabel, D.H. and Frieda Lawrence and other characters.”

Lisa Law said she was Hopper’s masseuse in those days, along with being his photographer, and was witness to a lot of his excesses which have become legendary in Taos. He was "doing way too much cocaine,” she said, which was one of the contributing factors to his studio’s negative reaction toward “The Last Movie” (1971). She said he was a great actor and a great director but a terrible editor.

She stood by Hopper as he went through more difficult times, particularly when his alcohol abuse reached a breaking point. With the help of his then-wife Victoria Duffy, he finally cleaned up. “He had gotten really sick in Mexico and they said ‘If you drink anymore alcohol you’re dead.’ And, he realized he didn’t want to do that, so when he married Victoria he was sober. Victoria took really good care of him and she was married to him for 18 years,” Law said.

Sadly, Hopper filed divorce papers from Duffy in the last months of his life, citing a variety of conflicts.

In addition to being known as a film actor and director, Hopper was also a talented photographer and artist. Law said she was particularly impressed by his photography and felt he could have become famous for his imagery had he not pursued filmmaking. He was also known for his remarkable art collection which he acquired over the years from his friendships with many contemporary artists such as Larry Bell, Ron Cooper, Robert Dean Stockwell, Ken Price, and Ronald Davis. This was celebrated in a legendary exhibition titled “Hopper at the Harwood: L.A. to Taos, 40 Years of Friendship” which opened in 2009 at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos.

Law was there at the opening reception, clicking away.

Hopper died in 2010. His funeral took place at the San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos. His body was buried at the Jesus Nazareno Cemetery.

“I don’t miss his bad side,” Law said, “I miss his good side, but I miss him terribly.”

For more on Dennis Hopper Days events, visit dennishopperday.com.

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