When Dennis Hopper met Brooke Hayward on a Broadway stage in 1961, you wouldn’t have expected the two actors to connect, get married and help shape the cultural landscape of Los Angeles in the ’60s.
Hopper was a wild card, a Method actor who’d made his Hollywood debut in “Rebel Without a Cause,” and at 24 had already earned a reputation as a stubborn maverick determined to be an artist in every sense of the word.
Hayward was Hollywood royalty, the daughter of actress Margaret Sullavan and agent-producer Leland Hayward. At 23, the actress was a demure beauty who glided effortlessly through the rarified realms of the show business universe.
Yet, against all odds, their marriage lasted most of the decade that followed, as their Laurel Canyon home became a salon of sorts for cutting-edge visual artists, actors, musicians and assorted others who traveled in those orbits.
“They had Old Hollywood and New Hollywood,” says Mark Rozzo, author of the new book, “Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960s Los Angeles.”
“The Ferus Gallery artists, the Warhol crew, Ike and Tina Turner…Gosh, you know, Miles Davis and Terry Southern, and occasionally a Black Panther. And then the Hells Angels show up for a sleepover, 20 of them with their sleeping bags around the living room.
“Just another day at 1712,” Rozzo says, referencing the address, 1712 North Crescent Heights Drive, where Hayward and Hopper created their home as its own work of art.
Hopper took the lead on the couple’s collection of artwork, Rozzo says, which included early pieces and purchases from then-still-emerging artists such as Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, and Larry Bell. Hayward, in turn, decided where to place them in their home.
“Brooke was the one who was really seeing the totality of what that house could be,” Rozzo says. “It was almost like an art installation in itself. It was like a life-as-art piece.”
The house becomes a third character in his book. Andy Warhol marveled that it was “furnished like an amusement park” when Hopper and Hayward hosted a party for his debut L.A. gallery show. Michael Nesmith of the Monkees remembered it like “a tattoo … just burned into my mind.”
Rozzo says Jane Fonda, who’d been best friends with Hayward since childhood, said she’d always had that kind of “creativity and gumption.” Rozzo says Fonda called it “a magical house.”
Rozzo came to deeply respect and admire what Hopper and Hayward achieved in the cultural milieu through which they moved. He fell head over heels for 1712.
“I loved imagining what that house was like on any given night during the ’60s,” he says. “It kind of became the de facto living room for that era, where it seemed like everybody came through at one time or another.”
Rozzo was drawn to the culture of Los Angeles, and in particular in the ’60s, with “the ardor of the convert,” he says. “I was kind of a stereotypical East Coast guy – comes to L.A. and likes to drive past Brian Wilson’s house.”
In the ’90s and early 2000s, as a Los Angeles Times book reviewer and musician in indie bands, one of them deeply influenced by the Laurel Canyon music scene, his interests deepened, and a vague idea of a book took hold.
“My thought was really what made L.A. in the ’60s so unique was this concurrent revolutionary ferment in contemporary art, pop music and Hollywood,” he says.
How to tell that story eluded him, though. However, over the years, signs kept pointing to Brooke Hayward.
Peter Biskind, whose “Easy Riders and Raging Bulls” traced the rise of the New Hollywood, told Rozzo he had to talk with Hayward. A few years later, Rozzo met Marin Hopper, the only child of Dennis Hopper and Brooke Hayward, who oversees the Hopper Art Trust, which manages the thousands of photographs Hopper took, most of them in the ’60s.
“The more that she talked about crazy stories of her childhood and her parents, it really began to dawn on me that Brooke and Dennis were the way into that 360-degree cultural history of Los Angeles in the ’60s,” Rozzo says.
“Because of who they were and who they knew and where they went, what they did, in telling their story I’d be able to write all of these things,” he says. “Like the Bel Air fire, the Ferus Gallery, the Watts rebellion, the rise of the Sunset Strip and the subsequent riots, the Easter Love-In of ’67, and also what Hollywood was like then.
“It was really all there, and Brooke and Dennis were connected to all of it.”
A few years later, Marin Hopper took Rozzo to meet her mother at home in Connecticut, and after a bit of initial reluctance, she agreed to participate in a magazine piece by Rozzo for Vanity Fair, where he is a contributing editor.
“She started out by playing hard to get, but as we talked about all this cool stuff, (Claes) Oldenburg happenings, and hanging out at the Factory, and going to see the Velvet Underground, she began to see it for what it could be,” Rozzo says.
“Not, you know, this lurid story of her marriage with Dennis, which unraveled in the most spectacular way, but as a story with cultural import and historical significance. And that her role in it would be recognized and celebrated.”
Art in LA
Like many, Rozzo entered the world of Los Angeles in the ’60s through its music and artists such as The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Gram Parsons and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The visual artists caught his eye slightly later.
“I loved just the idea of these artists creating all this new work out on the frontier, all that underdog spirit,” he says of artists such as Ruscha, Bell, Ed Kienholz and Billy Al Bengston. “I was really romanced by it.”
Rozzo profiled Ed Ruscha, who will appear with him at Skylight Books on May 18, for Vanity Fair in 2018. Later, he also wrote for the magazine a piece about Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans, which had their first-ever exhibit in 1962 at Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery, where Hopper, at least temporarily, was the first person to purchase one – for the sum of $100.
Hopper and Hayward were in the middle of that art scene almost from the start, catching openings at Ferus, strolling up and La Cienega Boulevard on the Monday night art walks and filling their home with art and artists.
“I think what motivated them was just a true passion for everything visual,” Rozzo says. “They bought all this early stuff by Ruscha, Warhol, Lichtenstein, (Frank) Stella, Bengston, Bell, and they put it all into this house, where you literally had no idea who would be showing up day to day or night to night might be more like it.
“It could be Jane or Peter Fonda, or even some Hollywood legend like Jennifer Jones,” he says. “It could be Joan Didion or Tina Turner.
“And all these people would see the art on the walls, and just, you know, their jaws would drop. So in this super-intimate way, that art was getting exposed to more people in the most pleasant way imaginable.”
Echoes from the past
Hopper and Hayward divorced in April 1969, three months before the release of “Easy Rider,” the landmark movie directed by Hopper. He and Peter Fonda starred in it as two disaffected bikers adrift in America.
Hayward, now 84, is well-represented in Rozzo’s book through her words and memories and those of her children and friends. Hopper, though, died in 2010, making his side of the story more challenging to tell.
But Hopper gave many more interviews during his life than Hayward, and Rozzo says he tapped deep troves for rare material, such as a small trove of radio interviews done by arts journalist Molly Saltman in the late ’60s.
“Those blew me away because they were recorded in the living room at 1712, and it’s at the time of my book’s setting,” Rozzo says. “I would listen to these over and over and trip out on the fact that I was hearing Dennis’s voice bouncing around the walls that I was seeing in the pictures I was poring over.
“He was talking about the art collection and what it meant, and this collaborative relationship that he had with Brooke, and all the antiques she was getting. I just couldn’t believe it.”
The drinking and drugs and erratic behavior that contributed to Hopper’s divorce from Hayward derailed his career for more than a decade despite the success of “Easy Rider.” Hayward eventually sold the 1712 home and moved back to New York City.
The art collection they built together was sold decades ago for a pittance compared to the multi-million-dollar prices the same or similar works have fetched in recent years.
“I think that the decade of the ’60s continues to throw out these reverberations,” he says. “And by getting into Dennis and Brooke, I was hoping to tell that story in a new way, with a new palette, and be able to tell it with some emotional resonance.”
In a way, their relationship mirrored the shape of that decade, Rozzo says.
“It did kind of amaze me,” he says. “It went from this sort of youthful idealism to this colorful plateau, and then toward this darker, turbulent unraveling toward the end.”
At one point in his reporting, the 1712 house sold, and Rozzo was able to visit it while it was completely empty for renovations. Empty, except for one thing.
“The only thing on the wall was that wonderful picture that Dennis took in ’65, where Brooke’s standing on the steps of the house, and it’s a beautiful sunny day,” he says.
“Standing there, it’s like you could sense the echoes of that colorful past, and you can barely believe it all actually happened.”
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This story was originally published May 18, 2022 4:00 AM.