SANTA FE, N.M. — This may not be commentary on northern New Mexico from beyond our borders, the intended subject of this column, but it’s a comment on something – maybe celebrity, the old counter-culture or just what looks cool. A pair of iconic images from Taos’ hippie past have become widely available for sale on the Internet in various forms. They’re actor Dennis Hopper’s Taos jail mugshots.
Hopper was arrested in Taos, where he owned the famous Mabel Dodge Luhan house, in 1975.
The consensus on the web is that Hopper had a minor traffic accident and tried to get away from the police. But there’s a better version in “Hopper: A Journey into the American Dream,” the 2013 biography by Tom Folsom. The writer told the Journal last year that he spent three months in Taos gathering stories.
The biography says that, on the night of his arrest, Hopper won some acid in a poker game at La Fonda Hotel on the Taos Plaza. He stepped out onto the Plaza and shot (with a .357 magnum) what he thought was a giant grizzly bear (really a tree).
He fled, only to be handcuffed and thrown into the same jail where he had filmed the drunk tank scene with Jack Nicholson in “Easy Rider,” Folsom writes.
It’s a great tale and, if true, helps inform, so to speak, a thoughtful viewing of the now-famous and saleable Taos jail mugshots.
Poke around on the web these days and you’ll find that the Hopper mugs – frontal and profile – have become something of a cottage industry.
You can get copies of the jail photos, as well as posters and T-shirts featuring the images of the disheveled and arrested Hopper, looking pretty much like you’d expect from the crazy characters he often portrayed on film. He has a big “Taos N.M. Police Dept. 7-2-75” tag hung around his neck.
The crème de la crème among Hopper mugshot items has to be a canvas art print, in sepia tones, available in sizes up to 45 by 30 inches (the big one costs $258, with free shipping). It has both jail images side by side and is shown hung on a wall above a nice, apparently leather, couch.
The pitch for the print is: “Pay homage to the talent and counterculture of Dennis Hopper with this mugshot from Oliver Gal. He may be an Easy Rider, but Hopper landed in trouble with the law after causing a minor accident and hiding from the police. This pair of solemn portraits is printed on premium canvas and hand-stretched around sustainable, FSC-certified wood.”
Not surprisingly, the website RoadsideAmerica.com lists “Dennis Hopper’s jail cell” as a “minor tourist landmark.”
This posting says: “In Taos Plaza, the Old County Courthouse – now an artists’ co-op – housed the Old Jail (there is a sign indicating where this is on the first floor). The doors were kept on the cells. The jail was used in the 1969 movie “Easy Rider” and, later, in 1975, Dennis Hopper was briefly a resident of the jail.”
Of course, fans now can make a more somber – or “solemn” – pilgrimage to nearby Rancho de Taos, where the late Hopper was buried in 2010.
And by the way, the Hopper mugshot ranks number 97 on the Top 100 Celebrity Mugshots list on Zimbio.com. There must be 96 really good ones out there.
It’s not exactly Architectural Digest, but Men’s Journal recently included Taos Pueblo’s historic central complex on its list of “10 Most Unique Buildings in the U.S.”
“The complex, which regulates heat naturally and is easily navigable so long as the ladders connecting each level are in place, is still one of the most influential pieces of architecture in America largely because it is the perfect epitome of southwestern simplicity,” says the magazine. “There is no excess ornamentation, only rounded walls that give a lasting impression of geologic permanence – as though the whole thing is nothing more than another mesa. Despite being made of branches, grass, plaster, and mud, it shows no sign of crumbling with age.”