"The Strange Private Life
of Dean Stockwell"
by Bob Monroe
Modern Screen Magazine, September 1957
Told For The First Time Anywhere . . . The Strange Private Life Of Dean Stockwell
"So long, Sonny," a stage-hand said to Dean Stockwell a couple of years ago; "see ya around the lot," he called as he ambled off, a little behind the rest of the departing cast and crew of Cattle Drive. Dean felt a light touch on his arm. The script girl was standing in front of him.
"Hi," Dean said.
"Good-bye's the word," the girl said. She smiled. "Gee – here we've been working together for weeks, and I still can't get over thinking of you as just a baby. Every time I walked on the set I expected to see you practically toddle in – and here you are, a great big gangling boy, going on sixteen any year now." She laughed. "Well, it's all over now. Bye-bye, kid."
She reached out one well-manicured hand and ran it through Dean's hair. "The tousle-headed boy," she murmured. And then she was gone, too.
For a long moment Dean Stockwell stood staring after her, alone in the big empty room. Slowly he looked around at the scattered chairs, the camera dollies, the thrown-away scripts. And then he was running – off the set, across the lot, down the sunlit Hollywood streets. Running home. And even then he didn't stop; he climbed the stairs two at a time, gasping for breath, and paused only when he was in his own room with his door locked behind him.
"Never again," he said aloud. And began to pull pictures down from the wall. Pictures of himself – glossy prints, newspaper shots, four-color magazine portraits. Stills from The Boy With Green Hair, from Gentleman's Agreement, from The Green Years . . . . Quickly he tore them down, ripping them to shreds.
For a moment he stood puzzled in the middle of the room, trying to remember the other thing he had to do. Then he remembered. His scrapbook too was stuffed into the metal wastebasket in the corner of the room, on top of the torn and crumpled pictures.
Then he struck a match, and sat on his bed and watched his past burn to ashes.
When the flames reached the last little heap of newsprint, he reached into a pocket and took out a piece of red silk. He had found it one day, and on that day he'd gotten some wonderful new role or signed a fabulous new contract – he couldn't remember any more what it was that had happened to make him so happy, but it happened right after he found the piece of silk – so he had carried it for almost eight years, a torn bit of cloth that had been a good-luck charm and a symbol of dreams that were all to come true – a good-luck charm for a child.
He dropped the silk into the dying flame.
Then he buried his face in his hands and began to cry.
But at dinner that night he was dry-eyed when he told his mother he would never make a movie again.
His mother looked up from her plate, and her eyes weren't even surprised, only tired, as she looked at her fifteen-year-old son with a weary love he had seen before.
Quietly she asked, "Dean, can you tell me why – why you've made this decision?"
"I've got to find out!"
Dean bent his head. Through these last weeks, knowing what he was going to do – had to do, he had known that was the question he would have to answer. Time and time again he had worked out sentences that would explain why he had to quit. Sentences? Whole speeches! Mom, he would say in his mind, it's no good for me, this acting. I have to know if people want me – for myself. It sounds corny, but mom, I've got to find out. Now, the only really happy time I can remember in my whole life is when I was a kid and went to public school every day like everyone else and never even thought about acting – except to brag to the kids about how you and dad used to be on the stage. But I never thought about it for me. Not for me, mom. Oh, I had a ball all right, that first time, when you got me and Guy into that Broadway show – only the next thing I knew I was in another one. And then there was the movie contract and – Mom, I was so lonesome, so lonesome.
But how could he make her understand, when he knew she would say, "Why didn't you tell me? Your father and I thought you were happy. We only wanted your happiness."
All that petting and fussing – I felt like it didn't belong to me. All those people saying, 'Ooh, what a sweet little boy, ooh, how talented, ooh, how cute' – they weren't talking about me. They were talking about the child-star, Dean Stockwell, the little darling. What did they know about me? And I was scared that if I quit acting and just was me – no one would love me any more. Maybe not even you and dad. How does a kid know? And then – when you and dad – broke up – and he moved out – well, a kid gets mixed up. He thinks 'My father left because he doesn't love me any more – my father's smart, so he knows I'm a phony.' Mom. I'm older now, and I know that's not true, but I still don't know, and I have to know if people want me – for myself. It sounds corny, but mom, I've got to find out. Now.
His Cross To Bear
That was the way it went in his mind. But now, facing his mother across the table, he couldn't say a word of it. Maybe because he didn't want to hurt her, didn't want her to think she had failed him.
So he finally looked up at her and said, "I just want to go to college. That's all."
So that year, when he finished high school, he went to college. In the northeast, because his brother Guy lived there now and could keep an eye on him. But in Guy's neighborhood everyone knew about his kid brother, the actor. They liked the shy, good-looking boy, and wanted to make him feel right at home – so they fired away – with questions about Hollywood and praise for Dean's talent. But Dean didn't know it was their way of making friends. They were nice people. They just didn't know.
And on the campus, half the fellows fawned on him – and the other half turned their backs on "that snooty movie star." Girls he avoided, terrified of asking for a date – because maybe he'd get turned down. And if a girl did accept a date, something cruel in Dean's head buzzed over and over, She's accepting just to tell her friends she went out with a movie star. She doesn't give a hang for me.
One man, an upper classman, took him aside one day. "Let me give you a piece of advice. I have a friend who's a big track star," he told Dean. "He could never get away from it either. Learn to live with it, man. It's your cross to bear – stop fighting who you are."
"No," Dean said. "No. I'm going to shake it all right. Maybe – this just isn't the place."
At the end of his freshman year, he quit.
Always A Stranger
"What will you do now?" his mother wrote, every word a little stab of worry and love. "You are only trained to act – and you won't do that. Without a college degree – what will you do?"
"I don't know," Dean wrote back. "I have to look – for a while. Don't send me any money, mom. I'll get along."
He mailed the letter and watched it drop into the box. Then he walked to the railroad station. When the night was dark, he climbed into a boxcar and stretched out on the straw and waited. Hours later, the train pulled out.
Dean didn't know where it was going. He didn't care.
For three years, Dean roamed the country.
And at the end of three years, one night Dean Stockwell woke up in a cheap hotel room and found himself crying again.
He had proved nothing.
Oh, he had proved he could live on his own, take care of himself. Only he'd never doubted that. But his search had been for love, a search almost to find himself – and there he had failed. For who could love a boy who wandered into town and did a day's work and wandered out again? Who could get to know him, to like him for himself – or for any other reason? Was this the self he had been looking for, this wanderer who was always a stranger – everywhere?
With a scratchy hotel pen he wrote a letter. "Dear mom – I'm coming home . . . ."
Only She Can End His Search
Dean Stockwell's back in Hollywood now, making movies. But he never reads the reviews, the reviews that say how good he is. And as soon as he leaves the lot for the day, he forgets the world of picture-making. But even that doesn't help him.
So he lives alone, in his house near Griffith Park – the loneliest section of Hollywood.
In his own room he studies music and tries to write it. Not many people know that . . . as if he has a fear of sharing anything he really loves – because then it might vanish. At night he roams through the park, a silent, thin figure – looking for something he cannot find.
He dates once in a long while – never an actress, no matter how his studio pleads with him. But sometimes when the hunger for company is too great to stand, he will call a friend, or a girl.
He is marked with a loneliness, a longing for love, that sends him restlessly on in his never-ending search . . . .
Among the movies Dean Stockwell made as a boy and has forgotten, was The Boy With Green Hair. There was a song in that movie. It was called Nature Boy. And it described a very strange, enchanted boy, who wandered very far . . . searching for truth. At the end of the song, this strange boy tells what he has learned in all his wanderings and sufferings. It is this: The Greatest Thing You'l Ever Learn, Is Just To Love - And Be Loved In Return.
Somewhere there is a girl who will love Dean Stockwell, as he wants to be loved. Sometime they will meet, because work and friends and wanderings cannot find for him what he needs. Only she can do that. Only she can end his search . . . .
Dean Stockwell can soon be seen in The Careless Years, a Byrna Production released by U.A.