Peter L. Winkler’s new biography, “Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel” is just that, a wild, informative, thrilling, readable ride of an iconic life that was constantly evolving. The book is as colorful as its subject. Peter is a film historian who has written for a variety of publications, including Cinefan, Filmfax, Crimemagazine.com, Playboy, and Video Theater. This is Part One of our phone conversation that took place on October 12th.
John: Is this your first book?
Peter: Yes, it is.
John: Would you tell us a little about your professional background?
Peter: I attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1974–1978. I graduated in 1978, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in History with academic honors. Then I entered law school, the last refuge for liberal arts majors who don’t know what to do next. The rheumatoid arthritis that afflicted when I was nine years old became much worse, and I was stricken with secondary Sjogren’s Syndrome, which became disabling. I didn’t practice law. I didn’t do much of anything, so I figured, well, you know, I was always a good academic writer, so I thought maybe I had what it took to be a professional writer. I purchased my first computer in 1985, a laptop; I’ve owned nothing but laptops, because it’s hard for me to sit at desks for long periods. I sold the first article I wrote, which was good beginners luck.
John: So you did all your own research?
Paul: I did my own research. I did everything except crank the printing press and bind the pages. I wrote my own dusk jacket copy, procured the blurbs, I did it all, and here it is!
John: What made you decide on or should I say select Dennis Hopper as a subject?
Peter: You interviewed Patrick McGilligan, who blurbed my book. In 1997 he gave an interview to a website called Beatrice, which has a lot of very good author interviews archived there, and they asked him the same question. What draws you to a certain subject and he said, “The honest answer is always the contract. There’s a dishonest answer: ‘The subject is personally fascinating and has a deep personal subtext for me . . .’ ” After striking out with a book proposal for a biography of actor Nick Adams, I decided next time out, I am going to find a biographical subject where lack of name recognition is certainly not a problem. Dennis Hopper is an iconic or near iconic figure in film and there should be no problem there. He led a very rich and eventful life which was quite colorful. He was quite the character himself. So I figure it was something I could probably sell, it’s marketable, and it turned out that it was, of course. Continue reading