It is always sad to hear about the passing of anyone and actor Dennis Hopper is no exception. However “the Wild Man of Hollywood” went to his grave claiming he alone wrote Easy Rider (though recently he gave a it more credit to Peter Fonda) and that Terry Southern only contributed the title. That is untrue and all of Hollywood knew it but let him get away with his outrageous lie. Below is an excerpt from Gail Gerber’s memoir Trippin’ with Terry Southern describing how she remembered Dennis’s contribution who turned up in New York weeks after Terry and Peter began working together:
When Dennis showed up at our house in New York we let him stay in Nile’s room, which he complained about and rudely called “a closet.” I tried to stay out of the way as best I could. Dennis was there for about two weeks, and at night he and Peter would be pacing around my living room, gesturing, and throwing out ideas between passing joints between the three of them. Though Terry was a martini man he would just hold the joint and pass it along most times. Somebody had to stay straight to do the writing so Terry sat with his pencil and a long yellow pad on our golden couch, scribbling away. He would hand the pages to the typist and she would type them up immediately. Dennis would rant and rave, using a lot of four-letter words, and the typist would break into tears, and run sobbing out into the night. Terry would have to call the typing pool the next day, and get another typist. Terry suggested that they change the “drug of choice” from marijuana to cocaine, which was not in fashion yet, because pot was too bulky to be carrying on the motorcycles. Dennis thought that running the credits upside down might be interesting, and he also whined about why the two characters had to die.
Terry loved collaborating with other people. He always felt that two heads were better than one when creating a story or screenplay. Terry was really in his element sharing concepts with Peter and Dennis. He just loved to work in this free-for-all fashion with people yelling out story ideas while nestled on the sofa he jotted down the better ones in pencil on his yellow legal pad. Peter once remarked that Terry agreed to work on Easy Rider on a handshake “just for the sake of having the freedom to play with an idea that appealed to his individual nature.” This statement is oh-so-true.
Terry had the scripts neatly bound and held on to the original. He handed copies to Peter and Dennis, and off they went back to Hollywood. Terry also gave a script to Rip Torn who retained his copy after all these years.