essays / memoir / nonfiction

I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies by Illeana Douglas


I’ve been a big fan of Illeana Douglas’ work for a long time so I was excited when this finally came in for me at the library. I Blame Dennis Hopper is certainly an intriguing title so luckily she starts off with a chapter with an explanation of why, exactly, she blames Dennis Hopper.* She has good reason too. After her parents saw Easy Rider, her father basically decided to morph into Dennis Hopper’s character in the movie. He talked like him, dressed like him and ultimately built a shed in the back of their upper-middle-class Connecticut home where he lived among other hippies/bikers/students in a “commune”. He eventually leaves the family with a new younger girlfriend and her two children in a VW Beetle. That is not before he renders the family practically destitute. The heat was so low that Illeana asked for a sleeping bag to use, under her blanket in her bedroom at night. He also removed all the chandeliers in the house, sold them and left the rest of the family (remember he was living in a shed in the back) with holes in the ceilings that leaked water. Illeana’s grandfather (her deadbeat father’s father) was Melvyn Douglas who she seemed quite close too and who lived in a large apartment in Manhattan with many servants and maids. I found it odd that he never seemed to help out his grandchildren when they were eating meals that consisted of 4 oz of tuna stretched out over 4 sandwiches.

Ileanna Douglas is not one who stayed quiet and her standing up for herself, cleverness and willing to make do with very little (she slept on a pile of coats in her first “apartment” in NYC) pays off when through happenstance and luck she gets a job as a publicist in a building full of show business people and when Martin Scorsese finds out from someone in the building that blood-curdling blood curdling scream he hires to do voice over work for The Last Temptation of Christ and as they say, the rest is history. I’m embarrassed to say that I did not know they dated! In my defense, I was only 8 when they first started dating. The rest of the book chronicles her rise and fall throughout her acting career (which Scorsese didn’t help as much as you would think) and her meetings with various celebrities.

She is an avid movie watcher and obsessed with film history. It was fun to read her excitement over meeting celebrities, directors, and other behind-the-scenes people. She even has an autograph book she has people sign!

The book was very charming and engaging. You could really hear her voice in it. My only quibbles were that it dragged a bit in the second half (I was reading so much of the beginning to my husband I fear I would get on his nerves) and she didn’t talk about her family at all after she turned about 20 after talking about them extensively for several chapters. Also, she never made it clear she was actually dating “Marty” until her scenes were cut from a Woody Allen movie and he was upset that he would cut the scenes of another director’s girlfriend. Until that point, I thought he was her director and good friend. Surely I’m not the only one who didn’t know they dated! I did come across this article where she tells the story of seeing Robert De Niro coming out of Scorsese’s apartment wearing glasses very differently than she does in the book. In the book, she talks to Scorsese about the silly disguise and only says hello to De Niro in passing in the hall but in this article, she talks to De Niro about it. So who knows which is correct or how much of the book is truly accurate.


*this is after she explains the stories may not be linear and may leave some of her work, for all you people who complain about memoirs skip around, be forewarned.

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