Dennis Dugan was staying at 73rd and Columbus in New York City when he came across a mannequin in the trash.
“I just pulled it out, took it inside and I thought: 'I'll cover it with stamps,'” Dugan recalled. “So the next six or eight months I covered it with stamps.”
It was August 1969 and Dugan had just arrived from Illinois to pursue an acting career. It was the same weekend Woodstock was making history about a hundred miles away.
That was Dugan’s first foray into becoming an artist.
Dugan is a successful actor, writer and director, known in Hollywood for film collaborations with Adam Sandler. All the while, he continued as a printer and mixed media artist. Yet his artwork has mostly been seen only by friends and family.
Now, nearly 50 years later, Dugan hosts his first one-man show, "Monkeys & Typewriters" at ShockBoxx gallery in Hermosa Beach this weekend.
Dugan's art doesn't directly address his movie career, but he said his two lives “inform each other” because “anything is possible.”
“When you write there are zero boundaries,” said Dugan in his Encino home and studio, which has been a showcase for his art. “You can make up anything you want. If people have seven legs in your movie, that's what it is by what we can do now with CGI. There are no laws, so your imagination is set free to do whatever you feel like.”
Dugan's mixed-media work ranges from photography to silk screen printing to combining “everything I've learned” over the decades. In his photography work, he studies Cuba and London. He made a mixed-media piece from erasers he bought in Times Square 45 years ago. Dugan has used everything from an industrial size bolt to a gun and bullet in his pieces. He also plays with words a lot.
“Even if it's not apparent, everything I do I like to have a feeling of movement in it… sometimes it's a joke,” Dugan said. “So to me having been a comedy director forever, there is a construction in your head that you start here and you move there.”
In 1988 and 89, when Dugan played Cybill Shepherd's love interest on “Moonlighting,” he became friends with post production supervisor Sheryl Main, who now lives in Hermosa Beach. After lunch one day in Hermosa Beach, they walked over to ShockBoxx and he met the gallery's co-founder Mike Collins. After a short conversation, they agreed to have Dugan's first one-man show at the gallery on Cypress Avenue.
“What I didn’t want this ever to be was here’s this movie guy and now we got to go look at his hobby… I want the art to be on its own and Michael was respectful of that,” Dugan said. 'I think they’ve got something really great going there. I like their artists and I like their point of view and I like their attitude.”
Main said ShockBoxx is creating an “art renaissance” in the South Bay and Dugan's work “fit in nicely.”
“Dennis’ art is a true insight into who he is as a person… he’s caring and compassionate and informed, but he is also funny and irreverent and completely out of his mind!” Main said. “Hermosa meets Hollywood is the perfect mix.”
Dugan had numerous television and film roles, beginning in 1971, but it wasn't until the series “Hunter” in 1987 that he got his chance at directing. “Moonlighting” was a big break as an actor, but when his character Cy married Maddie Hayes it caused a “huge uproar” because fans of the show wanted her to end up with David Addison, played by Bruce Willis.
“'We’re going to have to annul this wedding. But Bruce and Cybil love you and we know you're side directing. Instead of acting would you come and direct every the show next year?'” Dugan said. “'Yeah great.' It was a great job to have.”
When Dugan was casting for a comedy called “Brain Donors,” he brought in a young comic, Adam Sandler, four times for a role, but the studio turned him down. When “Brain Donors” was released in 1992, starring John Turturro, it was not a hit. A few years later, Dugan received a call that a script was being sent over for a movie starting to shoot in five weeks. He stayed up all night, wrote 10 pages of notes, for a meeting the next morning.
At the meeting, Sandler walked in with his “gang,” and told them the “Brain Donor” story.
“He said, 'You stepped up for me. You’re doing this movie,'” Dugan said. “I go, 'Really?' He goes, 'Yeah, you're doing the movie.' So I got rid of my 10 pages of notes. I realized I could lose the job.”
That film was “Happy Gilmore” and the two have since collaborated on nine other films.
“That's who he is, loyal to a fault," said Dugan of Sandler. "If you're on his team he backs you.”
Back to art
For many years, friends tried to convince Dugan to show his art. But, he said, it was too personal, just for him and his wife Sharon.
“I just considered it friends being nice,” Dugan said.
The closest thing to a public show was selling a piece at a MOCA auction or NBCUniversal executive Ronald Meyer purchasing Dugan's work for his own collection.
Dugan resized, reprinted or revisited some of his pieces for the ShockBoxx exhibit. There, he hopes attendees feel “amazed and amused” by his work. Many who see his work “respond positively” because they have to “stand there and think for a second.”
“Just like if I were a standup comic, you would construct a joke in such a way that at the end of the joke people go, 'Oh, I was taken on a little journey.' I like envisioning something that would be a normal thing and suddenly you see it all differently.”
ShockBoxx is located at 636 Cypress Ave.
“Monkeys & Typewriters” opens Friday, July 13, at 7 p.m., with a preview party. The official opening is Saturday, July 13, from 7 to 10 p.m. Closing night is Saturday, July 21, from 7 to 10 p.m.