High-Road-Artist Blog

Dennis Hopper in Taos

Written on 06/26/2019
Jeane George Weigel

After Mabel and Tony passed away (see http://high-road-artist.com/16750/an-artful-life/georgia-okeeffes-introduction-to-new-mexico/), there was some upset at the pueblo.

They had believed that the house and land would come back to the pueblo after the couple’s death. Perhaps it was pueblo land that Tony sold to Mabel? I don’t know. But instead, Mabel’s granddaughter sold Los Gallos in 1970 to actor, director, writer, painter Dennis Hopper.

I love the above photo of Hopper clearly so happy, riding out back at Mabel’s house which was, by then, his.

Courtesy Sony/Columbia Pictures From left, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Luke Askew in a scene from “Easy Rider” (1969).

He discovered Taos when filming Easy Rider the cult hippy biker movie at the end of the 60s and, like Mabel, felt an immediate affinity for the place.

He had already spent a 14 year career in Hollywood by this time and, as did Mabel with New York and Italy, felt that LA was somehow stifling his creativity. When he arrived in Taos he immediately thought this land could help him remake a version of Hollywood, his vision of an independent studio system.

Again, like Mabel, he didn’t like the direction our culture was taking nor did he like the state of movie-making at the Hollywood studios. He felt he could have a positive affect on both.

“In the late 1960s at the height of his career, Dennis Hopper left Hollywood for artistic bohemia in New Mexico. His daughter looks back on a man in search of free expression and a more contemplative way of life.” This from the NYT tmagazine blog.

After buying Mabel’s house, Hopper decided to move to Taos permanently, renaming Mabel’s Los Gallos, the Mud Palace. He had an idea to “… create a creative counterculture where his friends, artists, actors, musicians could gather and cross-pollinate their ideas.” — Marin Hopper

Exactly as Mabel had conceived.

“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…

… Among the more notable guests were musicians Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bo Diddley, and Kris Kristofferson, actors Jack Nicholson, Anthony Quinn and John Wayne, beat poets Alan Watts and Allen Ginsberg, 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.” –“The Taos News”

Below is a photo of Hopper sitting in “my” room, the solarium. I’ve recently read that he married Michelle Phillips in that room, a marriage that lasted eight days.

He set up an editing studio in the old log cabin on the property, bought an old movie theatre in town to do some screenings of films in progress…

“According to my dad, Taos was sacred. It was the land of American Indians and their mountains, their beautiful Pueblo and their blue lake…

… my father rattled off the names of adventurers who had populated the Taos landscape over the years as artists, writers and activists like D. H. Lawrence, Dorothy Brett, Mabel Dodge Luhan and Millicent Rogers, who had resided there since the 1920s…

… They didn’t seem like regular people but figures out of myth, characters who had bucked society to find their own way in their own world, forming a grand community of outsiders, together.” –Marin Hopper

Just as Hopper wanted to do.

But Hopper’s hopes and clear vision clouded when a group of hangers-on essentially took over his home and he fell further into alcohol and drug abuse, partying his constant endeavor. The artist’s colony at the Mud Palace, one time inspiring, became a burden.

One morning he went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and realised he didn’t recognise anyone there. Someone even asked him who he was.

So he moved into the little house that Mabel had built for Tony out back on pueblo land. It was where Tony went to get away from the “buzzing flies” of Mabel’s hectic social life.

And it was where Hopper went to escape what he had unintentionally created on his own land.

Eventually he asked his brother to move onto the property and they worked on The Last Movie together in the log house editing room.

I read somewhere that Mabel would have been very unhappy about what was going on in her house. And there are stories of Mabel and Tony haunting the place while Hopper and crew were there, over roughly an entire lost decade for Hopper.

At one point when Hopper was traveling he got the news that the Mud Palace had sold. He was surprised because he’d intended taking it off the market. He suffered it as a great loss.

But perhaps it was for the best. The house has gone through three owners, I believe, since Hopper. It needed extensive renovation and repairs after his reign. I like to think that wasn’t his fault.

Because I like Dennis Hopper and feel he was something of that cliche, a tortured artistic soul, which I unfortunately know something about. I think he really did believe Taos was the answer, his answer.

Photo: New York Times

And in the long run it probably was. He came back to Taos, renovating the old movie house he’d purchased decades earlier, turning it into his home and art studio. He lived right across the street from the old Ranchos de Taos church and plaza. According to his daughter, “A window in front of his bed looked directly out on his beloved Ranchos Church, the same church that Georgia O’Keeffe famously painted years before.”

And the people of Taos came to love Dennis Hopper, the sober version of the actor who came to stay. In fact every May 17th is “Dennis Hopper Day” in Taos, complete with a Rebel Film Festival and an Easy Rider Rally & Ride. That was his birthday and even the Taos Pueblo people have made it part of pueblo traditional law.

As quoted in the British publication, “The Telegraph,” Hopper says when asked how he thinks he’ll be remembered that, “I’m not sure how my visual art and my movies will be seen, but I think the work I’ve done is… interesting. Hopefully it’ll all come together in an interesting story.”

Dennis Hopper chose to be buried in Taos.

Love to you all,

Jeane