Dennis Hopper in Shakespeare's "Twelf...

Dennis Hopper in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"

Posted in the Dennis Hopper Forum

Gretchen Gray

Frazier Park, CA

#1 Jun 24, 2010
DENNIS HOPPER

I read somewhere that Dennis Hopper always claimed to have been a Shakespearean actor, a claim at which many folks scoffed.

Well, I am here as living proof that Dennis indeed played the role of Sebastian in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” I know this for a fact because I played the role of Olivia in the same production at the San Diego Old Globe Shakespearean repertory company.

The year was 1954 and Dennis was a big-blue-eyed lad of 17. Even then, the word was out that Hollywood agents were coming down to check out, of all people, Dennis! He was a beautiful boy, with raw acting skills, who looked a whole lot like James Dean. Dennis was quiet and shy. He had one good friend and they kept to themselves a lot – probably because most of us were college or post-grad students and possibly a little intimidating for a 17-year old.

Dennis did feel comfortable enough with me to ask for a loan of $100 until the end of the summer season. I loaned him the money and was derided by the rest of troupe. I was assured that Dennis was not reliable and would never pay it back. Being from New England, that thought had never occurred to me. Where I came from, you took people at their word. I turned out to be right. When they handed us our scholarship money at the end of the season, Dennis walked right over to me with the $100.

Anyone who was in that theatre troupe will remember Dennis for one famous line reading. His character, who was in disguise, says “If I were a woman as the rest goes even…..” Dennis kept pronouncing woman as “woe-man,” drawling out the “o” in “woe.” Our director was Patrick Wymark from the Old Vic in England. His method of directing was to portray every role, male and female, which he could do with aplomb, spittle flying as he enunciated each word ‘trippingly on the tongue’. He grew increasingly frustrated as he shouted over and over “Woman, Dennis, not woe-man.” Patrick would say woman and Dennis would say woe-man. Finally, in a fit, Patrick stomped on the floor of the stage:“See this stage floor Dennis! What is it made of?”“Wood, replied Dennis.” That’s right! Wood! Now say woman!

Dennis read the line with a straight face:“If I were a lady as the rest goes even…” It was hilarious and spread throughout the troupe like wildfire. That possibly was the birth of Dennis’ famous problems with line readings.

As I look at all the pictures of his life, I am saddened at his passing. Somehow, he retained that soft, sweet quality he had as a 17-year old acting neophyte. He was still a beautiful boy and, throughout his life, he “did it his way.”

To view a picture of Dennis as Sebastian in a publicity photo, go to http://www.atelierpix.com/aboutus/gretchengra...

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