by George Christy
Photoplay, June 1958
Is Dean Stockwell really an unhappy, mixed-up boy? Is he stubborn, mean, hard to know?
Not since the late James Dean – with whom he is often compared – has a young man appeared who aroused the hot controversy that rages around Dean Stockwell. Like Jimmy Dean, he is accused of being filled with bitterness, unrest and conceit. How true are these rumors? How fair? In justice to this very talented young man, Photoplay feels this situation should be exposed. We have frankly confronted those who know Dean best – his close friends, the girls he dates – and Dean himself with these rumors. Here are their startling – and very revealing – replies:
RUMOR: Is it true that Dean is a hard guy to get to know, that he hates meeting people, that he withdraws from them completely and resents any invasion of privacy?
TRUTH: (From Roddy McDowall, Dean's good friend and his co-star in the Broadway hit, Compulsion): Yes, it's true that Dean is withdrawn and doesn't meet people easily. But you want to know why? Because he's painstakingly honest. That makes it difficult for him to mix in chichi company. Dean withdraws because he likes to size up people first. He puts out his antenna, you might say, to see what they're like before he can talk.
RUMOR: But some chalk up this attitude to conceit. They say that Dean won't mix with people because he feels intellectually superior to them, and has no patience with anyone who isn't as intelligent as he is. After all, Dean was a prodigy as a child actor, and isn't it possible that this has made him feel superior to others?
TRUTH: (From Roddy): Nonsense! It's a fact that Dean can't make small talk. It bores him. A lot of people press him for little details about his life, and he shuts up like a clam. But it's not out of conceit – he just isn't the kind of guy who shoots off his mouth about every little thing he's ever done. As for that child star stuff, I first saw Dean when he was about eight or nine years old (I was sixteen at the time). He was in the studio commissary having lunch. Was he putting on the star act? Not much! He was trying to devour a comic book before he was taken back to the set. He's still the same way – he regards acting as a job to be done. The thing about Dean is that he won't say anything he doesn't believe in. Once a TV commentator wanted him to say some things about the boy killers in Compulsion he didn't believe. Dean absolutely refused, and all her badgering wouldn't budge him.
RUMOR: Dean is pictured, in general as a person who is stubborn as the proverbial mule. What about these stories about him acting up on the set, talking back to directors, and always wanting to have everything done HIS way? Not only that, but some say that he's not only stubborn, but curt and impolite, particularly to his superiors. Some even go so far as to say he can be downright mean. In particular, Dean is supposed to have had a real rip-roaring fight with director Alex Segal, when he worked with him on a TV show in Hollywood. Is this true?
TRUTH: (From Suzanne Pleschette, who dates Dean, played a romantic role opposite him in Compulsion and appears in Warners' Marjorie Morningstar): Yes, I've heard that Alex Segal and Dean had a big fight out on the West Coast when Alex directed Dean in a TV dramatic show. They didn't speak to each other by the end of rehearsals.
Yet who do you think convinced the producer of Compulsion that Dean should play one of the leading roles? The director – Alex Segal! Dean's stubbornness, in this instance, gained the director's respect. Dean took the role, too, after thinking he could never really play it – and I think Alex' faith had a lot to do with that.
Alex respected Dean's strong belief in what he was doing, although he may have disagreed with it. Anyhow, Alex isn't the easiest person to get along with. But during the rehearsals of Compulsion Dean and Alex worked like a team. Alex talked to Dean before the first rehearsal, told him they should work with each other, not against each other; and that was it.
You know, this reminds me of Jimmy Dean and the trouble he had with George Stevens, his director on Giant. Stevens threatened to throw Jimmy out of the cast a number of times because of their differences. Yet, in the end, Jimmy gained everyone's respect.
Dean could be called stubborn, sure, because he won't back down on something he believes in. But he certainly could never be called mean. That's untrue, and unfair! I've dated Dean, and I've watched him when he's tired or depressed, as we sat in a restaurant having dinner. Fans who recognize him would come and ask for autographs, but he was never condescending or bored as I've seen lots of young actors behave.
After the show on matinee days there'd be mobs of teenagers waiting for Dean's autograph. He never refused one or tried to duck out a side entrance. Lots of times he'll write short comments beside his signature, and you know that he's someone who cares about people, not someone who's mean or gruff.
Dean is kind. He goes out of his way to help people. But don't misunderstand me. Dean's kindness isn't the Boy Scout type. It's something that doesn't show itself in deeds; it shows in his understanding of people.
RUMOR: People say that Dean is full of bitterness. Have you noticed that?
TRUTH: (From Suzanne Pleschette): I think you could say that Dean WAS bitter. At least, Bobby Driscoll, who was also a child actor, says that Dean was that way when he was a kid. Dean hated sitting home to learn lines for his films, when he'd much rather be playing ball or going on hikes with his brother. Bobby says Dean snapped at people then. But I can tell you he's not like that now. I've never heard him snap at anybody. I think, too, that he's acquired a sort of personal philosophy, an outlook on life that has given him the peace of mind to conquer whatever it was that bothered him.
Call it maturity, call it wisdom, or what you will – Dean, today, has more of it, I think than anyone you could mention.
RUMOR: Dean is supposed to be a "difficult" date, in the sense that he's moody, and so brilliant that girls feel ill at ease with him. How about that?
TRUTH: (From Suzanne Pleschette): Well, Dean is intellectual. He likes to think. So any girl who goes out with him has to be on her toes. He doesn't like a girl to sit back and say nothing. He wants you to think along with him, and express your own opinions.
But Dean's a wonderful guy to go out with because he's so interested in everything around him. He's more curious than a pup who goes sniffing everywhere. Just walk with Dean along Broadway, and he'll notice everything in all the novelty shop windows, the people who pass by; and he's full of comments about them.
Dean isn't so much the brain boy that he doesn't enjoy simple fun. He's a real nature boy. I imagine that's why he doesn't care for New York. He loves California. He likes fresh air and the desert atmosphere. We'd go driving in Dean's beautiful Renault to get away from the city. He loves to drive along the river, and we'd stop at a diner to eat some seafood (with Worcestershire sauce! He's nuts about Worcestershire sauce, puts it on everything). I'll always remember those drives as some of the pleasantest dates I've ever had – and I think any girl would.
RUMOR: Dean is said to be uncooperative with people who are strangers to him. In particular, he's a "tough interview" to press people, who get nowhere with him. What do you know about that?
TRUTH: (From Bob Ullman, a personal friend of Dean's): When I hear people say Dean is surly and uncooperative, it makes me mad!
It's true Dean has the power of shutting himself off from the world. He'll get so involved with his thoughts or feelings that he won't hear a conversation or he'll forget to greet someone. But this is an exceptional virtue, to be able to immerse yourself in your own thoughts and cut yourself off from the distractions of the world.
Now, here's something that happened recently that will show you what Dean's like. One day a guy came to the stage door asking for Dean, and the stage manager gave him the brush-off. He came back the next day, again asking for Dean, and the stage manager stalled him. The third day he arrived early before Dean got to the theater and waited outside the stage door.
When Dean arrived at the theater, the boy introduced himself as a student and told Dean he was working on a scene from Compulsion for an acting class. He'd chosen to play Dean's role for an exam and came to him for help in understanding the complex character of Judd Steiner.
The guy's name was Davis. Dean asked Davis up to his dressing room, went over the scene with him, line by line, explaining all the hidden meanings as he understood them, told Davis if he wanted any other help, not to hesitate coming to the theater to see him. And in case he had any trouble getting past the stage manager, Dean gave Davis his personal (and private) telephone number to call.
Now you can make up your own mind about Dean being cooperative or not. True, he doesn't like to be interviewed by all sorts of gum-chewing press people who pry at him about silly things like what clothes would he wear if he went to Hawaii and does he prefer mustard to ketchup. Dean wants to talk about real and important things.
RUMOR: Dean is often compared to Jimmy Dean in the sense that he is overly shy and sensitive, an unhappy, mixed-up sort of person. What is your impression?
TRUTH: (From Roddy McDowall): I didn't know Jimmy Dean – neither did Dean – but I think Dean is so much an individual in his own right that it's very unfair to make comparisons. I can only give you my own impressions.
The first time I saw Dean, when he was a child actor, there was something about him that impressed me – a certain urgency, an intensity even though he was so young.
Years later, in September, 1956, I met Dean again. He was quiet and reticent, not one to make much of a fuss. Looking back, the thing that strikes me is how much you want to KNOW him when you meet him. There's something very moving about him; it's a sadness, an anguish that you know will always burn inside him, some unhappiness he's cursed with for life.
Now that we've become friends we like to listen to operas together on our hi-fi sets. And when I watch Dean listening to music, I realize what deep feelings he has.
Maybe Dean's shy. He's also uncertain and confused. If he appears hypocritical to anyone, it's only because he's trying to find himself. He might say yes to one thing, and the next day realize he means something else. Dean would be the first to admit his confusion about himself. As I said before, he's honest all the way – he's one of the few people I know who, when he talks to you, always looks at you directly in the eyes.
RUMOR: Dean has been called selfish, too serious about himself, without any humor. How accurate is that?
TRUTH: (From Ina Balin, a young actress who's dated Dean, appeared with him in Compulsion, is now featured in Paramount's The Black Orchid): Dean is serious and he's selfish. He's selfish about his career because he wants to do the best he can. But I've got to admit Dean is the kind of person whose character you can't pin down with a couple of words. He's not a black-and-white type of person.
For instance, Dean is both old and young. When he takes curtain calls he bobs his head like a frightened little boy. Then, when you see him alone or go walking with him through the streets of New York or Hollywood, you realize how mature he is. Oddly enough you realize his maturity is from his unhappiness.
Dean is unhappy – and I know this sounds strange – because he's intensely aware of other people's unhappinesses. He doesn't always let you know this, but after a while you realize how much compassion he has for his fellow man.
If he knows you're unhappy about something, he wants you to tell him all about it, he wants to relieve you of your burden. When you tell him about it, he's so interested and so anxious to help that you feel light-hearted, all the better for confiding in him.
Not very long ago he cut his hand onstage during a fast-moving scene in Compulsion. It bled seriously. He tightened his fingers into a fist, played the entire scene, came offstage, tried to stop the bleeding – but in vain. He went back onstage, finished the show, and do you know something? When he went to the doctor, he had to have stitches in his hand, the cut was that deep. Now is that selfishness?
About Dean's humor, well, he's not a crazy cut-up, but he'll do something unusual from time to time that is so unlike Dean you can't help but have a good laugh. He wants you to, at his expense.
I remember one night in particular. Dean's no cigar smoker, I can tell you that. But during the course of this one evening a member of the cast passed out cigars – the occasion was the birth of a baby, naturally – and Dean went around smoking that cigar as if he was a tough guy, somebody out of Dead End. Well, on Dean it looked hilarious, and everybody roared. Dean did it deliberately, of course. A cigar no more suits him than a derby hat, but that's the fun of it – the incredibility.
Finally we went to dean himself and asked him what he thought of the questions we asked his friends and the answers they gave. He was noncommittal. Their answers didn't faze him. He said he wasn't afraid of what people might say about him, and furthermore it didn't matter. What mattered was being honest with himself. And this is what Dean Stockwell said:
Look, I've been called all kinds of things. I've been called spiteful because I quit the movies when I was successful in them. I've been called petulant because I like to go off by myself. I've been called a nut because I like to wear seersucker trousers in the wintertime (the truth is most of my clothes are California-type clothes, and when I'm in New York I don't have enough winter stuff to go around). But I don't care what people say. The thing I care about most is getting to know myself.
Sure I've made mistakes. Sure I quit the movies and went back to them again. I went out to see the world, and came back to a world I realized I wanted. Sometimes you have to get away from something to understand how important it is to you. But I don't see where there's anything wrong in that.
As for being petulant and wanting to be by myself, I don't know if that's such a bad trait, after all. What's wrong with people wanting some privacy from time to time? This constant pressure on clannishness isn't for me. I enjoy going off alone and thinking. That's why I live alone.
You know when I'm happy? When I'm listening to some Mozart sonatas or Bach variations. Not that I'm strictly a longhair, by the way. I'm nuts about the new or "half-dead" jazz just as much as I am about 18th Century music. My favorite contemporary jazz artists are Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Richard Dworzak. As for books, I'm partial to poetry, especially Dylan Thomas' stuff.
If this gives me great pleasure, being by myself now and then to listen to music or to read books, I don't see what's wrong with it. I can think of many worse things a guy can do and be criticized for!
And if I wear seersucker pants in the wintertime, maybe that is a cuckoo-ey streak in me; but if I don't go beyond that and run buck naked through the streets I figure I'll be all right.
After all, we bring to life what we give of ourselves, and a little madness sometimes helps you get to know yourself better. I'm not advocating ringing doorbells at midnight but if everybody had the guts to be themselves, instead of being simpering yes-men, I like to think our world would be all the better for it.