"He's Back In the Business Again"

by Deborah Caulfield

The Los Angeles Times, Jan 16, 1985


Three years ago Dean Stockwell decided to bring his 40-year, 55-film career to an abrupt end.


Frustrated over his inability to find work, the former child star (Boy With Green Hair, 1948) and his new actress/wife, Joy, packed up their belongings and moved to Santa Fe, N. M.


"I took a six-week, very difficult real estate course and an exam and got my license," he said.


He has yet to use it. In typical fashion, as soon as the 48-year-old actor left town, Hollywood came calling. Stockwell currently can be seen in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (as drifter Harry Dean Stanton's brother) and in Dune (as the evil Dr. Yueh), both roles he was offered in the months following his move to New Mexico.


The actor was in town after just completing a small role in director William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. From some of the stories he recounted, his "return" to acting was not without its ironies. "I'd said hello to (director) David Lynch in a restaurant in Mexico when he was prepping Dune," Stockwell recalled, "but he said there were no roles. Then later, John Hurt dropped out and I got the part. The first thing David said to me when I got there was: 'If I looked and acted a little strange when I met you at the restaurant, it's because I thought you were dead,'" Stockwell chuckled.


After Dune came Paris, Texas and another irony. "You know, on the Dune set they had a giant cross-section of a worm, for the actors to be next to, that apparently cost $2 million to build." Grinning, he added, "Although I'm not implying that Dune was an extravagant escapade, that's $200,000 more than the entire budget of Paris, Texas."


To Stockwell, Hollywood "is the damnedest business!" Dressed in typical Santa Fe style-jeans, boots, cowboy hat . . . and lots of turquoise, Stockwell sat with his 14-month-old son, Austin, and his wife in a Santa Monica cafe that actor Dennis Hopper had recommended. "You can go anywhere in the world, including the top of a mountain in Peru, and Dennis will know where the best restaurant is," Stockwell said fondly of his longtime friend.


Friends mean a lot to Stockwell, who has seen plenty of them come and go during his lengthy Hollywood career, which began during the 1940s when he was considered one of Hollywood's most popular and talented child actors.


"I had one career as a kid, but I left at 16 to go to college at Berkeley and then traveled around for a few years," Stockwell said. "I hated acting-I never wanted to go back."


However, at 21, he said he realized that he didn't know any other craft, "so I decided I would give it a try again." He went on to win two Cannes acting awards for his performances in Compulsion (he also did the stage version) and A Long Day's Journey Into Night. But Stockwell abandoned his career once again in the early '60s.


"I did the classic '60s dropout and stopped working for three years. That really cost me," he emphasized with a wince. "I wasn't able to take advantage of the position I'd obtained. So I'd been fighting my way back ever since, but it wasn't happening because I wasn't making the right moves."


The "right moves" were sitting next to him-his (second) wife, again pregnant, and his son, who clearly emerged during the interview as the most important considerations in Stockwell's life. Except on rare occasions, the actor seldom travels without his family.


"Joy had a small part in Paris, Texas, but she wasn't able to make the trip because she was in her ninth month of pregnancy," Stockwell explained. "Wim (Wenders) wanted her in the movie somehow so he took a scene in the airport and had 'Joy Stockwell, Austin is expected any minute' coming over the loudspeaker." Stockwell frequently paused in conversation to play with the bubbly baby, who happily tapped his silverware on the table. "He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, outside of Joy," Stockwell said. However, Stockwell-the son of an actor-was unenthusiastic about acting as a profession for his own son.


"Well, Austin's not going to get any overt encouragement while he's young," he said firmly, recollecting: "Acting is an intensely high-pressure situation, emotionally and psychologically. I was asked to do the work of an adult, alongside other adults, yet I was constantly reminded that I was just a kid."


Joy Stockwell interjected: "Dean couldn't go play ball, for example, because he might hurt himself."


"A little kid just is not prepared for that kind of life," Stockwell continued. "That's why so many of the kids I acted with aren't around anymore. So if someone comes along and says, 'Oh, your baby's beautiful we're gonna put him in a commercial,' I'm gonna say no. If later on, Austin says he wants to be an actor like when he's 6 or 7 I'll tell him to put on a play for me."


He paused, asking rhetorically, "I mean, if a little kid says 'I wanna be a fireman,' you don't say, 'OK, go on out and fight fires,' do you?"


His own career was "something I denigrated for many years," Stockwell reflected. "I burned my two best-actor scrolls from Cannes in the fireplace; I threw away my Golden Globe. I was never able to accept any kind of complimentary thing.


"But since I married and this one occurred," he said, pointing to Austin, "I reevaluated my career from the point of view of my son. If he wants to know what I've done, he's gonna see that I made some fair contributions." He gazed again at his wife and his son, smiled, then added softly: "I'm trying to get the Cannes people to send those scrolls back."


The End