I Blame Dennis Hopper by Illeana Douglas

imageDo you have to be a fan of hers to enjoy Illeana Douglas’s memoir I Blame Dennis Hopper?

That’s the essential question with any celebrity memoir, I guess.  Does it have anything to offer people who are not fans of the author? Or to people who don’t know the author’s work at all?

I can only speak as a fan, or as something of a fan.  Turns out, after reading her memoir, I wasn’t aware of half the things she’s done.  As a result, I’m currently enjoying her hit web series Easy to Assemble for the first time.

Season one is on YouTube and it’s lots of fun

Ileana Douglas is an American actress, the one-time darling of independent cinema back when independent cinema was something worth talking about. These days I think everyone has moved on to cable television.

Her big hit, as far as I’m concerned, was  a movie called Grace of My Heart about a woman trying to make it as a singer/songwriter.  It’s terrific. At least, I thought so many years ago when I say it in an actual theatre.  Something I rarely have cause to do lately.

But back to the memoir.

I Blame Dennis Hopper is divided into neat chapters, you don’t need to read them all or to read them in order.  Each is devoted to one topic related to movies, either ones Ileana Douglas was in or to ones that profoundly affected her life.

Illeana Douglas once asked her grandfather, actor Melvyn Douglas, for advice. He told her that an actor’s life requires staying in a lot of hotels, some good, some not so good. But no matter what hotel you are in, you’ll always be able to get a good club sandwich. So when in doubt, order the club sandwich. I have found this to be true in my own life, too.

Like Easy Rider.

When Ms. Douglas’s parents saw Easy Rider, it had a profound effect on her father, who essentially took the standard 1960’s advice and tuned in, turned on and dropped out.  He set up a commune of sorts in their back yard, living there with a series of young women and men who came and went. Eventually he left his family for the open road, motorcycle and all. This left Ms. Douglas’s mother to provide for the children who grew up poor as a result.  Later in life, Ms. Douglas got a chance to meet Dennis Hopper and to work with Peter Fonda the two main stars of Easy Rider.  No mention of Jack Nicholson for some reason.

One of my favorite stories was how Ms. Douglas got into a summer theatre group for disadvantaged high-schoolers.  She practiced her audition song for weeks by singing Maybe This Time over and over again, following Liza Minnelli on the soundtrack album.  At the audition she found herself unable to sing with piano accompaniement since she had never sung with a piano in her life.  In exasperation the accompianist asked her what key she was singing in.  Not knowing what he was talking about at all, frustrated that she was not going to get into the program she nearly screamed back, “The key of Liza!”

This broke everyone in the auditorium up, of course.  Afterwards, they essentially coached her through the audition and she was accepted into the program.

While she never really got a firm place in the mainstream, Ms. Douglas worked with or met just about everyone, or enough people to fill a memoir with very entertaining stories and entertain she does.  I Blame Dennis Hopper is one of the most charming memoirs I’ve read.  There’s no great angst here, no Hollywood scandal.  Just a very hard-working woman doing all she can to get and keep a career as an actor.

Judging from this memoir, Ms. Douglas had a great time doing it, too.

And I had a great time reading it.