Dennis Hopper on Tennessee Williams: Always Reach Out

Dennis Hopper/Selma, Alabama/1965/Full Employment

Via Telephone
Dennis Hopper to James Grissom

I was very ambitious--this was the 1950s--and I had a sort of list of people I should meet and know, and, of course, Tennessee was on this list. Boy, was I bold! I thought it completely normal that I should reach out to these people--writers, artists, directors--and let them know that I was available and ready to work. Youth is a great thing.

So Tennessee met with me. He was very cordial, very sweet. He allowed me--stupid as I was--to lead the conversation. He was fully there. I wanted him to tell me--sort of the way you did--where to go and what to see and what to discard. I wanted someone--anyone, everyone--to tell me how to get what I wanted; to be better; to matter at long last. At long last! I was maybe twenty-two or twenty-three years old.

So I'm waiting for Tennessee Williams to pull from his glorious skull a Zen koan or a quote or an assignment, but his attention is suddenly diverted toward a young girl--fat and crying--who is being taunted by her parents and her siblings. We're in a restaurant--in the courtyard--and they are several tables away, and they are talking about this crying little girl in those voices you use to indicate that you're ignoring someone but talking about them anyway. You know what I mean? Like 'What is all that noise? It almost sounds like a fat, ugly girl trying to get attention.' Miserable, mean stuff.

And Tennessee told me that I should always look for those people--of all ages--who are being ignored and abused; mistreated; abandoned. The child is in everyone, and it needs our attention.

And Tennessee went over to that table, to that crying child, and shook her hand, and asked if he could help her. The little girl beamed. She had been noticed. And the parents swiftly became caring and attentive, realizing that their utter imbecility had been put it in the brilliant spotlight of this caring man.

Tennessee came back to the table and said one thing: 'Always reach out.'

I started taking pictures really intently a few years after that, and I took one that had Tennessee's fingerprints all over it. I don't know if he ever saw it; I don't know if he would have even liked it. But there were children in it who needed attention and kindness and I reached out.

© 2013 James Grissom
From Artistic Suicide


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