My Wild Time Raising Hell with Dennis Hopper
Satya de la Manitou, Hopper’s right-hand man and one of the subjects of the new documentary ‘Along for the Ride,’ writes about a very dicey situation in the South of France.
We originally went to Paris to make a film. Dennis really wanted to continue his directing career after The Last Movie. I was trying to foster this side of his personality, because I knew how brilliant a director he was. Most of the French did, too. Dennis was friendly with William Burroughs, the novelist and one of the founders of the whole Beat movement. There was acclaim for Naked Lunch, but it was only the literati really knew who he was back then. Up until then nothing had ever been done with Burroughs’ stuff, but Dennis had something in mind: He wanted to adapt his autobiographical novel, Junky.
We were hanging out at Anabelle’s and doing it all—staying up till dawn every night, partying. Hanging out with Bianca Jagger, and those kinds of people—the international jet set.
We didn’t know it at the time, but there was a Catholic holiday in France called Ascension and everybody uses it as an excuse to take four weeks off in August, right? The whole month of August you couldn’t get anything done there in France. Everybody it seemed was on strike. I’m not kidding. We’re trying to do this Burroughs deal with this lawyer named Vile. I was dubious about this deal with a lawyer named Vile, right? I mean, “Come on, Dennis.” (Incidentally, Dennis had the worst luck picking lawyers). Five of his lawyers died, committed suicide, or went to prison. That’s a bad track record.
The Junky script was a great one. Dennis had worked on it with Terry Southern. Anyway, I was dealing with Vile because Dennis would just say, “Get him on the phone,” and then I’d hand him the phone, when I finally got through to him.
Jacques Sterne was the finance guy. But he was in this wheelchair and he was sort of like Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove—if I can draw a mental picture. He had these weird movements. He also had a lot of power, money, and charm. He was in the jet set, as well. (The jet set was a big deal back then). Dennis assumed a very noble-like stature in Europe, which he loved. He couldn’t walk down the Champs-Elysées without a tsunami of people attacking him—not only tourists but paparazzi.
I’m trying to draw a mosaic of what was happening at that time: Dennis and I were friends with this guy from haute couture, a designer. He was a super cool hip cat who took us down to the south of France to the exclusive part of the Côte d’Azur. The house we were staying at was owned by French royalty. It was a huge chateau with marble steps going down into the Mediterranean.
One day we decided to invite the owner of the house for dinner because he was so magnanimous to let us stay at the place. So, I told Dennis I would go to San Rafael, this little town nearby, and get the food for the dinner party, having known that I had stashed our secret stash of contraband in a CIA cylinder I had gotten from one of my friends who was an agent. But I never told Dennis where it was. He just knew it was in that cylinder. We put it in that cylinder because it was impervious to mold, water, even fire.
I was gone what seemed like forever—six hours. Dennis really got uptight because I was gone so long. So he decided he was going to go get the contraband. I buried it on the beach, because it wasn’t my house: It was a private beach, but there is no such thing in Europe. I was always good at hiding stuff. I’m a Scorpio.
I didn’t speak French so I had to use a lot of body language at the market to get all the stuff we needed. When I finally arrived back, I saw a police, a gendarmerie, in front of the chateau, with Dennis on the beach. Dennis was digging like a squirrel, looking for the stash. He’s digging a hole on the beach and the cops went by and they went, [in French accent] “Oh, look! Dennis Hopper! We have to go help him.” Dennis was going, “It’s okay. I’m just looking for my keys.” The cops go, “It’s okay. We got magnetometers. We got all this high tech equipment. We’ll find your stuff.”
So Dennis is pulling his hair out because he thinks he’s going to jail, right? He wasn’t looking for his keys. But because he was a celebrity, this situation backfired on him because the cops were being officious, trying to help him, right? They’re digging like crazy.
I finally got back to the house. I surveyed the situation and I didn’t know exactly what was happening. I hesitated a little bit, and finally I said, “Hey, Dennis, what’s going on, man?” And he says, “I lost my keys.” The cops are helping me look for them and I go, [dangling keys] “It’s okay! I got your keys right here.” I grabbed him away from the cops. I said, “Thank you, monsieurs.”
The documentary ‘Along for the Ride’ is now playing at Metrograph in New York. You can purchase tickets here. It opens in L.A. on Dec. 8.