Easy Rider remains one of the most defining films of 1960s counter-culture cinema, having been released at the end of the decade in 1969. Dennis Hopper directed the film, and it featured him and Peter Fonda in the lead roles. According to the late Peter Fonda himself, the idea for the script came solely from him and his own experiences. However, Dennis would go to his grave claiming that he deserved sole screenwriting credit for the feature. This is just one small part of the greater feud that caused the two legends to hate each other until their dying days. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Dennis Hopper went to his grave hating Peter Fonda.
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda Had a Lifelong Feud
There are few films from the 1960s with the same legacy as 1969’s Easy Rider. The film defines the time period for modern audiences unlike any other, and it also had a major impact on the artists that produced it. The film was directed by Dennis Hopper, who would go on to maintain the status of a Hollywood icon in the years leading up to his 2010 death. Dennis starred in the film alongside Peter Fonda, who maintained a similarly legendary status up until his own death nearly a decade later. Despite the fact that the two worked together on the classic film, they went to their graves hating each other. There are many things that came together to make the two actors hate each other, though it all stems back to the production of Easy Rider.
Few could’ve predicted the unprecedented success that Easy Rider was going to become when it was released in 1969. The film was made on a budget of less than half of a million dollars, and it went on to make over $60 million at the box office. A big part of the film’s appeal was the feeling that it was homemade. The film stood out to members of the counter-culture movement of the time as an antidote to traditional Hollywood fare. Many credit the release of Easy Rider in 1969 with making films more experimental during the 1970s. The success of the feature proved that experimenting could sometimes pay off.
Sadly, the two stars of Easy Rider had a hard time basking in the film’s success. Instead, they were too busy bickering with one another over the course of the ensuing decades leading to their respective deaths. Though they managed to make an iconic feature, Dennis and Peter had problems during Easy Rider’s production that would only grow worse and worse as time went on. The two had a hard time getting along over the course of the film’s production for numerous reasons, but the thing that caused them to go to their graves hating each other was the matter of who deserved credit for the screenplay. Of course, each star felt that he deserved more credit for the screenplay than the other. In fact, both Dennis and Peter felt that they deserved sole credit for the script.
Who Deserved Screenwriting Credit for Easy Rider?
Though Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda both felt that they deserved sole credit for the writing of Easy Rider’s screenplay, there was said to have barely been a script for the film when it went into production! Rumors suggest that much of the film was improvised, which granted the movie it’s loose feel. In addition to the fact that much of the film was improvised, the script that the film went into production with wasn’t just written by Dennis and Peter. There was also a third writer involved in the pre-production stage of Easy Rider’s writing, and that third writer was a man by the name of Terry Southern. Film historians will recognize the name due to the fact that he was one of the men credited with writing Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Terry Southern was also the man behind the script for Roger Vadim’s Barbarella, which was the vehicle that turned Jane Fonda into a star.
All three of the men credited with writing Easy Rider have differing accounts of how the film’s script came to be. According to the late Peter Fonda, the script for Easy Rider came as a result of him experimenting with LSD and other drugs alone in a cabin and writing down his own personal experiences. Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern then made their own contributions to the script after the former figure was brought on as director, and Peter alleges that their contributions mainly came in the form of giving his ramblings a narrative drive. The accounts of the late Terry Southern, who passed away in 1995, slightly mirror the accounts of the late Peter Fonda. However, Terry alleges that there was nothing solid that had been written down whatsoever when he was brought on to help Peter and Dennis beef out their concept for what would become Easy Rider’s script.
If what the late Terry Southern alleged was correct, then he, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Fonda all deserved their equal credit for writing Easy Rider’s script. However, both Dennis and Peter would go to their graves alleging that they were solely responsible for the script’s creation. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Both Dennis and Peter Believed They Deserved Sole Credit
Regardless of what happened during the film’s pre-production stage, 1969’s Easy Rider began filming under the presumption that established screenwriter Terry Southern was going to get sole credit for the movie’s script. Terry had the most experience in the world of screenwriting, and his name certainly added a great deal of credibility to the low-budget feature on the surface. After the film entered into the editing stage, Dennis Hopper called Terry Southern up and told the screenwriter that he and Peter wanted credit on the script, as well. Dennis and Peter were both more satisfied with the final product of the film than they had anticipated, and they wanted as much credit for it as they could muster.
Given that Terry Southern agreed that Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda had made significant contributions to the script that he had worked on, the screenwriter had no problem conceding partial credit for Easy Rider’s script to the actors. After all, Screen Writers Guild rules were on the side of the stars. The film ended up being released with the trio of Dennis, Peter, and Terry receiving credit for the script. However, as the years went on, this partial credit proved not enough for either Dennis or Peter, with both parties feeling they deserved more credit on the film’s script than the other.
Decades after Easy Rider was released, Dennis Hopper was still fuming over the fact that he had to share screenwriting credit with two people on the classic film that he had directed. In the early 1990s, Dennis decided to take legal action in order to secure himself sole screenwriting credit on the film once and for all. After Dennis sued his old costar in 1992, the two ended up settling out of court. However, Dennis brought the matter up again in 1996. The debate about who deserved screenwriting credit on Easy Rider remained a point of contention between Dennis and Peter until the prior figure’s death in 2010. By the time that Peter followed suit in 2019, both of the stars had gone to their deathbeds adamantly believing that they deserve sole credit for the script of Easy Rider. However, the matter of screenwriting credit wasn’t the only thing that made Dennis and Peter go to their deathbeds hating one another.
Dennis Traumatized Peter During Easy Rider’s Filming
There was another incident during the production of Easy Rider that would leave a stain on the personal relationship between stars Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in the decades leading up to their deaths. Prior to the filming of the picture, Dennis Hopper was privy to knowledge about Peter Fonda’s mother that the actor himself wasn’t. It is common knowledge nowadays that Peter Fonda’s mother committed suicide. However, Peter Fonda’s father had kept that knowledge from him until he was an adult. Peter Fonda’s father was the equally talented screen legend Henry Fonda. Being lied to by his father for so long traumatized Peter, and director Dennis Hopper made his costar confront the trauma on-screen during the filming of Easy Rider.
Peter Fonda asked Dennis Hopper to have the traumatic scene of Easy Rider removed, though the director ended up insisting that it stay the picture. Peter eventually relented, though he held a grudge about the scene’s inclusion in the picture until his dying days. Between Dennis and Peter, it seems that Peter was the most willing to let go of the feud towards the end of their lives. When Peter heard that Dennis was on the verge of dying, he made attempts to reach out to his former costar. However, Dennis wouldn’t have it.
After Dennis Hopper’s passing, Peter Fonda allegedly tried to show up to the actor’s funeral to pay his respects. However, at the entrance, he was told that the late actor had specifically barred his former costar from entering. Dennis went to his grave hating Peter Fonda with a passion, and Peter subsequently made few attempts to speak fondly about Dennis in the years leading up to his own death. Nowadays, Easy Rider remains a notable feature due to it’s place in film history. However, it’s ironic that the supposedly counter-culture work of art should’ve led to a feud over screenwriting credit that lasted for decades.
Though Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda starred as best buddies in one of the most iconic films of the 1960s, they went to their deathbeds hating each other as a result of a feud that started during the movie’s production. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that both Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda went to their graves believing that they deserved sole screenwriting credit for Easy Rider, and that Dennis even sued Peter over the matter? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!