"From Child Actor to Mafia to Time-Traveling Hologram, Dean Stockwell is a Hollywood Comeback Champ"

by Connie Nelson

Real Carolina, December 1995


Meet "the master of quirky cool and alien humor."  In 1988, Vogue magazine made this reference to actor Dean Stockwell during one of the peaks in his long and distinguished acting career.  Laughing wholeheartedly at the mention of this rather dubious distinction, Dean's reaction to it was, "I think they're very right," with regard to his acting style, that is.  Dean insisted that, "As a person, I'm a master, but not that quirky cool- a little bit quirky cool, but not that quirky cool."


With over 55 films to his credit and numerous television roles, Dean has also earned the reputation of being a "comeback champ."  In 1944, at age 7, Dean signed with MGM and spent nine years there making more than 20 films.  In his teens, he quit acting and traveled around the U.S. working odd jobs until he became bored with the gypsy lifestyle.  Returning to acting in 1957, Dean made a handful of films before dropping out of sight again in 1964 to experience the Topanga Canyon hippie scene with buddies Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson.  During the 70's, Dean found it difficult to break back into acting and worked intermittently in Las Vegas dinner theatre and in films with titles like The Dunwich Horror and The Werewolf of Washington.


Unhappy with the roles ha was landing, Dean gave up acting again and moved to Santa Fe to sell real estate.  Shortly thereafter, Hollywood lured him back to appear in Paris, Texas and Dune, and he was eventually cast in David Lynch's cult classic Blue Velvet.  After that, he was another roll with film offers galore, mostly cast in parts requiring an edginess and offbeat sense of humor.  This period of his career, leading up to and including the popular one-hour weekly series Quantum Leap, has been the actor's most enjoyable thus far.  The series, which aired for four-and-a half seasons, is what Dean considers a quality show, as well as his television career highlight.  He loved playing the world's first TV hologram, and the whole concept of using time travel to change life's mishaps intrigues him.  Little would please Dean more than to have the series, which enjoys an active afterlife with sci-fi fans, revived on television or as a movie.


Everyone has a favorite Stockwell role, whether it dates back to his 1945 film debut in Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly, his starring role in The Boy with Green Hair (1948), his leading man roles in Compulsion (1959), and Long Day's Journey into Night (1962), as mafia character "Tony 'the Tiger' Russo" in Married to the Mob ( a role Dean described as "ideal" for him), or as "Al", the womanizing, yet endearing hologram he played in NBC's Quantum Leap.  Memorable offbeat characters include the intensely strange, perverted drug dealer, "Ben" in Blue Velvet, a sleazy attorney in To live and Die in L.A., "Dr. Yueh" in Dune, and Howard Hugues in Tucker.  Add to this sampling of roles his latest portrayal of computer genius/ vicious killer Hollis Deitz a.k.a the Twilight Man.


In spite of Stockwell's reluctance to divulge information regarding his character or the script, he appeared to be having fun playing Deitz.  "I do a lot of television movies and they're all different," Dean said after midnight, just prior to his final scene that evening.  "This one is very dark and violent . . . .  I think it should have a warning at the beginning for parents that it 's not appropriate for children."


Stockwell has several pending projects, but nothing confirmed enough to reveal to the press.  "Until they're etched in stone . . . they can blow away like movie smoke," he explained with a shrug.  "There are always some movies-of-the-week, some little features.  There's always something."  One of only handful of successful child-actors-turned- adult character actors in the business, Dean Stockwell is a survivor in the industry who will entertain us with his "quirky cool and alien humor" as long as there are televisions and cinemas.


Dean was summoned to the set, and he stepped into the camera's frame with a menacing confidence.  His first words to the cinematographer were, "What lens you got on?"  (A question signatory of a true professional.)  Once he got his answer, he adjusted his posture, positioned his rifle toward the lens, and waited foe his cues.  "Rolling."  "Fire."  (Dean fires the rifle.)  "And Action!"  (He runs for cover.)  "Perfect!" exclaimed second unit director Paul Baxley.  "I know that", Dean replied as if to ask, "What else did you expect?"


The End