I have recently reviewed two biographies for Booklist: Hopper by Tom Folsom and Flip: The Inside Story of TVs First Black Superstar by Kevin Cook. I knew very little about actor Dennis Hopper or comedian Flip Wilson before the books arrived in the mail. I saw only a few of Hopper's movies, and I vaguely remember watching The Flip Wilson Show. I had read little about either man, having never subscribed to People or The National Enquirer. I would not have suspected that they shared so many traits.
Ambition. Of course, most entertainers are ambitious, desiring the limelight, but both Hopper and Wilson were extreme. Hopper was going to be the most artistic, most revolutionary actor ever, the one who would change the industry. Likewise, Wilson was going to be America's funniest man and was not happy if his television show did not get the highest Neilsen rating every week. Both were very jealous when rivals got attention. Wilson got closer to the top than Hopper, but the moment was brief.
Eras. Both peaked in the early 1970s and then disappeared from the public eye in the mid-1970s. Both then had revivals after that, but without anyone ever considering them key players again. Surprisingly, Hopper, who had vowed to be a revolutionary artist of film, lasted longer in the lowly art of television than Wilson.
Drugs. Both were totally stoned for years. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin. Hopper befriended Timothy Leary and LSD.
Women. Both were involved with many of them. Hopper married five times. Wilson often promised marriage.
Money. Both wanted lots of it, especially Wilson, who was a pretty shrewd investor. Hopper put much of his money into contemporary art.
Neither of these books is really surprising, for many entertainers live lives of excess and self-absorption. I had more sympathy for Wilson who seemed to want to help the civil rights movement and really seemed to care for his children. Hopper as portrayed by Folsom seems mostly sinister. Reading about their lives let me travel back to my youth and see things I missed because I was too young to understand. Both book should interest other Baby Boomers.
Folsom, Tom. Hopper. !t, 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062206947.
Cook, Kevin. Flip: The Inside Story of TVs First Black Superstar. Viking, 2013. 230p. ISBN 9780670025701.