"At the Movies"
by Lawrence Van Gelder
The New York Times, July 10, 1987
"A third career" for Dean Stockwell.
Stockwell in demand
"Now I think I'm succeeding in starting a third career here", said Dean Stockwell. Mr. Stockwell was speaking generally of Hollywood, but in fact the actor was driving the motor home that serves as his dressing room from California across New Mexico to Santa Fe, where he now lives, to portray an Indian agent in a western titled The Gambler III, starring Kenny Rogers. And, while The Gambler III was being filmed, Mr. Stockwell was also scheduled for a flight to Long Beach, Calif., to resume his role as Howard Hugues in Francis Coppola's new movie Tucker, about the businessman who planned a revolutionary postwar car bearing his name.
At the age of 50 – 44 year after he was thrust into an often unhappy career as an actor and after twice dropping out and running away – Mr. Stockwell is in demand, and, what is more important, apparently at peace.
In recent years, Mr. Stockwell – who starred as a child in such films as Anchors Aweigh, The Boy With Green Hair and Kim and as a young man in such films as Compulsion and Long Day's Journey Into Nigh" – has rendered sharp, often memorable portrayals in supporting roles in such films as Paris, Texas, To Live and Die in L.A., Blue Velvet, Garden of Stone and Beverly Hills Cop II. Among the well-known directors who have sought him out are not only Mr. Coppola but also Wim Wenders, David Lynch and William Friedkin.
When it comes to technique, Mr. Stockwell said, he remains the same. "I haven't changed in the least," he declared. "My way of working is still the same as it was in the beginning – totally intuitive and instinctive. But as you live your life, you compile so many millions of experiences and bits of information that you become a richer vessel as a person. You draw on more experience."
Mr. Stockwell said he was 6 years old when his father, Harry - a musical-comedy performer who had been the voice of the Prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and was on Broadway playing the lead in Oklahoma! – took him to a theatrical audition.
The next thing Mr. Stockwell knew he was in a play called Innocent Voyage. A talent scout saw him, and it was off to Hollywood. No one asked if he wanted to be an actor. "I quit when I was 16, changed my name, cut my hair off and disappeared into the countryside," Mr. Stockwell said. "I did odd jobs for five years. Then because I had nothing else that I was trained to do, I went back into the business to try it again."
So in 1959, he starred in Compulsion and in 1962 in Long Day's Journey Into Night. And then he said: "In the 60's when we had the hippies and Haight-Ashbury and the love-ins, I dropped out of my career and just went with that. I found that very personally fulfilling because I didn't have much of a childhood."
When he tried to resume his career during the 70's, he discovered, "You're out of sight, out of mind, and I couldn't get going again." There were occasional roles on television and movies, but it was not until about five years ago, when he married and started a family and decided to leave Hollywood and live in New Mexico, that – for no obvious reason – he found himself suddenly in demand.
"I think I have my best work ahead of me", he said as he finished reminiscing. "But now I can enjoy it".