Easy Riders Feud as Dennis Hopper Cheers Peter Fonda’s Non-Oscar

Mr. Fonda, You’re No Jack Nicholson

Everyone has their favorite picks on Oscar night, even an aging crazy man like Dennis Hopper, whom you’d think would have gotten over this kind of Hollywood industry schmaltz years ago. Flanked by his wife, Victoria Duffy, and his daughter, Ruthana, on March 23 at the Academy Awards soirée thrown by Entertainment Weekly at Elaine’s, Mr. Hopper made it quite clear who he was rooting for as both of his co-stars from Easy Rider , Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, vied for the best actor statuette. He gazed in stony silence from behind gray shades as Mr. Fonda’s clips from Ulee’s Gold were played, but then beamed from ear to ear when Mr. Nicholson’s scenes from As Good as it Gets came on screen. When Mr. Nicholson won–for the third time in Academy history–Mr. Hopper let out an enthusiastic ” Yeah! Woo! ” and banged his hands on the table. As Mr. Nicholson gave the smarmiest speech of the evening, thanking the Academy and “all you people for looking so good tonight,” Mr. Hopper doubled over in laughter, covering his mouth with one hand.

Mr. Hopper’s Fonda freeze-out stems from a longstanding quarrel over the credit and profits for Easy Rider , the 1969 road movie in which the two actors played hippie bikers motoring across the Southwest on a kind of psychospiritual trip to New Orleans. First, in 1992, Mr. Hopper sued Mr. Fonda over who deserved credit for writing the script. That suit was settled out of court. Then Mr. Hopper filed a complaint in Superior Court in Los Angeles on Dec. 13, 1996, against Mr. Fonda’s Pando production company, claiming that when the rights to Easy Rider were sold to Columbia Pictures in 1994, he received only a third of the proceeds and was in fact entitled to over 40 percent. According to the complaint, “In the years since the release of the picture, Pando Company’s continuing breach of the Easy Rider agreement [promising Mr. Hopper the two-fifths share] has harmed the relations among the parties, forcing Hopper to engage in litigation and to threaten continued litigation among the parties.” Lawyers for Mr. Hopper said that the matter was settled in 1997 but would not reveal any details.

Of course, Mr. Fonda has done his share of complaining, too. In Don’t Tell Dad , his soon-to-be-released memoir, he writes: “Dennis Hopper is still insisting that he alone wrote the screenplay to Easy Rider , and has sued me for cheating him out of ‘millions and millions of dollars’ … It blows my mind.” He also takes Mr. Hopper to task for almost ruining the shooting of a key campfire scene (“We never shot it his way … Give me a fucking break, Dennis”) and selling a knockoff of the Captain America motorcycle Mr. Hopper rode in the film for $9,000 because “he needed money for drugs.” (Mr. Hopper has denied selling the motorcycle for drugs. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times , he said through a spokesman that he sold the motorcycle in 1976 for “an elaborate Southwestern belt.”)

After all that, Mr. Fonda still claims to have a soft spot for Mr. Hopper: “One can imagine the love-hate relationship I’ve had with him all this time.… Of course, I didn’t think twice about his vow never to speak to me again.… Of course I go to see all his work, and I call him to tell him how I liked it.”

Mr. Hopper, however, sees it differently. Asked by The Transom if he and Mr. Fonda were still friends, Mr. Hopper said, “We weren’t friends when we shot the movie. Jack Nicholson and I are friends.” He added that As Good as It Gets was the best film of the year.

Yo, Man. Behold the Future of Hollywood

Sometimes a film premiere is like … a frat party. On March 18 at the premiere of his film, No Looking Back , actor-writer-director Ed Burns, discovered sitting alone at a barstool, had laid down his bottle of Amstel Light to talk to The Transom, but a flurry of admirers kept derailing the interview. It was not pretty.

“Yo man, what’s up?” said Mr. Burns to a leather-jacket clad buddy by the bar. The director was wearing a slightly disheveled dark suit and a matching teal tie and shirt. “I’m in town for a couple of weeks,” said the friend, pumping Mr. Burns’ hand, “so I thought I’d swing by.”

“You’re looking good,” replied Mr. Burns.

The Transom asked Mr. Burns whether many of his high school buddies had shown up for the premiere and its after-party, which was held at the restaurant Lemon. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, “I got the whole gang here,” presumably meaning friends from Chaminade and Hewlett, the two Long Island high schools he attended in the 80’s. Another friend, this one a tallish guy, dropped over to greet Mr. Burns. Male bonding aside (brief hugs, many “Yo!”s), Mr. Burns got down to business. “Are we gonna do some sort of white-water rafting?” he asked. “Let’s do it. I mean, I got nothin’ doin’. I spoke to Diesel, he wants to do it … How about Martini?”

“He’s in,” said the buddy.

“Awright.”

“I heard he got fuckin’ married.”

“You know, Vin said he faxed him this crazy thing from Vegas,” said Mr. Burns. “I thought it was just, you know. Is he out of his mind?”

“Yeah, it’s scary. Scary,” said the buddy. “Yeah, it’s this girl that he’s known for a long time, but he hadn’t seen her in years, he sees her, 12 days later, they’re back together.”

When Buddy No. 2 walked off, a heavyset older man and his wife strode over to slap Mr. Burns on the back. “I really enjoyed the movie,” said the man. “For me it was a particular treat, meeting you just before and then seeing your screening. I’ve never had that kind of experience.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Mr. Burns, nodding his head.

“And it’s just incredible whatta nasty guy you can be on the screen,” said the man, amid laughter. “I couldn’t extrapolate that from meeting you.… I was a little confused, though, about how things went in the motel,” said the man, referring to a love scene between Mr. Burns and his co-star Lauren Holly in the film.

“Well, it’s hard to rekindle anything when it’s really not there,” said Mr. Burns, presumably alluding to the lost love of the two characters in No Looking Back .

Meanwhile, Ms. Holly was encircled by publicists at a table across the room. Far from being fuckin’ married, at least to Mr. Burns, Ms. Holly has endured speculation that having dumped spouse Jim Carrey for Mr. Burns, the young director is currently uninterested in her romantically. Nevertheless, Ms. Holly spent the latter portion of the night holding hands and posing for photo ops with Mr. Burns. “The whole rumor thing about Lauren and I is totally untrue,” he told The Transom. “Totally untrue. Just friends.”

Bad Hair Night

Hairdressers, makeup artists, plastic surgeons, dermatologists and personal trainers were the stars at Allure ‘s Oscar party at the French colonial restaurant, Pondicherry, on March 23. True, there was a bit of a celebrity quotient–Ismail Merchant, partygoer Suzanne Bartsch, her inflatable gym-owning husband David Barton and CBS executive Leslie Moonves. Comedian Damon Wayans was supposed to play the role of “celebrity crasher,” but didn’t show.

None of this upset Allure ‘s editor in chief, Linda Wells, however, because that was the way she wanted it. “No actors,” she said, looking around the room. “Of course, these people are celebrities in a different world. These are the people who are more important to any celebrity than a lawyer or an agent or a publicist.”

“The philosophy here,” Ms. Wells continued, “is that it’s what you do when you’re in your living room–you completely destroy the way some people look, you fall in love with the way other people look.” At that moment, Allure assistants were handing out ballots for some “beauty awards.” When the results were tallied later that night, the “flip-flop award for worst hair” went to Neve Campbell; the “popcorn blond hair award for too much golden topping” to Drew Barrymore (“with crazy daisies–courtesy of the Bellevue Salon?” one judge noted); and “the dress that should have gone down with the Titanic ” to Kate Winslet.

On the more charitable side, the “best beauty by science” honor went to best actress nominee Julie Christie. “She looks good,” one plastic surgeon was overheard telling a pal dermatologist-to-the-stars. “I did her.” What about Joan Rivers, The Transom asked. “Joan Rivers looks fabulous,” he said. “She either knows somebody or is taking exceptionally good care of herself.” The dermatologist chuckled.

But none of the “winners” could top a past performance: Geena Davis. “[Her] publicist called, enraged,” Ms. Wells said, “because we used a beautiful picture on the cover of our invitation.” Ms. Wells produced one. “What’s not to like?”

A lot. The notorious photo showed Ms. Davis walking up the red carpet in a tiered, fluffy white dress with a 10-foot train with an inexplicable dark blot on it. On the back side of the card was a smaller picture of the fashion tragedy, even more horrific from the front: a bunched-up tutu, the better to reveal painfully incorrect black stockings and black heels. “There she is in all her splendor,” Ms. Wells added in earnest. “What’s so bad about it? A dead animal on the back of her dress, but …” Ms. Wells could not suppress some laughter.

The Transom Also Hears

… Because Suzanne Bartsch and David Barton were just about the only well-known faces in the crowd at the Allure party, they got plenty of attention. That they were both dressed in sheer artificial fibers also helpful–he in platform shoes and an aqua-colored shirt with a Buddhist theme that rode up in back, she in a red top hat and a dress that looked to be inspired by the new S&M revival of Cabaret . After the buffet dinner, the two were standing against the bar, surveying the decidedly uncrowded restaurant, when a photographer approached and got off a shot of the two of them together. Sensing these people were important, a bystander decided to chat the couple up, approaching Mr. Barton with, “Where do you work out?” When Mr. Barton didn’t seem to understand the question, the man repeated it. “You’re kidding, right?” asked Mr. Barton. The bystander persisted. “At my gym,” said Mr. Barton, who seemed a bit aghast. “The David Barton Gym.” And then he detailed its various locations.

… That Elizabeth (Libbet) Johnson has backed out of her deal at 820 Fifth Avenue, where she had planned to blow $27 million on socialite Nancy Richardson’s apartment and the one below it. Apparently, newly adopted work rules in the building required her to do all of the renovation during the summer; undoubtedly, the fusing of the two 7,000-square-foot apartments would have taken longer than one summer. “Maybe she just came to her senses,” said one of several high-end brokers who told The Transom the apartments are back on the market.