11 November 2021

Dean Stockwell (1936-2021)

On 7 November 2021, American actor Dean Stockwell (1936) died due to natural causes at the age of 85. He was a popular child star in the late-1940s and acted with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and with Errol Flynn in Kim (1950). As an adult, he starred with Orson Welles in the court drama Compulsion (1959) and with Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas (1984).  He was nominated for an Oscar in 1989 for his supporting role as Tony 'The Tiger' Russo in the crime comedy Married to the Mob (1988). However, Stockwell is probably best remembered as the lecherous Admiral Al Calavicci in the TV series Quantum Leap (1989-1993).

Dean Stockwell (1936–2021)
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 28. Photo: Universal International. Dean Stockwell in Cattle Drive (Kurt Neumann, 1951).

Dean Stockwell (1936–2021)
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W. 620. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

Impish, dimpled looks and tousled brown hair

Dean Robert Stockwell was born in 1926 and grew up in North Hollywood. He was the son of Broadway actors Harry Stockwell and Elizabeth (Betty) Stockwell. His older brother was the actor Guy Stockwell and his stepmother was comedienne and vaudeville dancer Nina Olivette.

At the age of seven, Dean made his stage debut in a Theater Guild production of Paul Osborn's play 'The Innocent Voyage', in which his brother was also cast. On the strength of his performance, he was signed by MGM in 1945.

Under contract until 1947 and again from 1949 to 1950, Stockwell became a highly sought-after child star in films like Anchors Aweigh (George Sidney, 1945) with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, The Green Years (Victor Saville, 1946), and Song of the Thin Man (Edward Buzzell, 1947), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

His impish, dimpled looks and tousled brown hair combined with genuine acting talent kept him on the box office front line for more than a decade. Having won a Golden Globe Award as Best Juvenile Actor for Gentleman's Agreement (Elia Kazan, 1947), he played the title role in the fantasy drama The Boy with Green Hair (1948), Joseph Losey's feature film debut.

Stockwell went on to play the title role in an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Kim (Victor Saville, 1950). He came to admire his co-star Errol Flynn as a sort of role model.

Thereafter, Stockwell segued into television for several years until resurfacing as a mature actor opposite Orson Welles in Compulsion (Richard Fleischer, 1959), based on the infamous Leopold & Loeb murder case. He co-starred with Bradford Dillman as one of the two young killers. He had already played the part on Broadway in 1957, on this occasion partnering Roddy McDowall. Along with Welles and Dillman, he was named best actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

He also starred in the British film Sons and Lovers (Jack Cardiff, 1960) with Trevor Howard, Wendy Hiller, and Mary Ure. The film was based on the book of the same name by D.H. Lawrence. Sons and Lovers was nominated for seven Oscars, including the Oscar for best film. The film eventually managed to cash in on one nomination.

His last film role of note in the early 1960s was as Edmund Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night (Sidney Lumet, 1962). He developed a drinking problem on the set for which he was chastised by co-star Katharine Hepburn. Despite this, Stockwell gave a solid performance which he later described as a career highlight.

Dean Stockwell (1936–2021)
Belgian collectors card by Kwatta. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Dean Stockwell (1936–2021)
Belgian collectors card by Kwatta, no. C. 80. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Becoming an exceptionally interesting, mature actor

Dean Stockwell dropped out of showbiz for some time in the 1960s to join the hippie scene at which time he befriended Neil Young and Dennis Hopper. Later in the decade, he made a gleeful comeback in low-budget psychedelic counterculture films such as Psych-Out (Richard Rush, 1968) opposite Susan Strasberg and Jack Nicholson, biker films like The Loners (Sutton Roley, 1972), and horror comedies such as The Werewolf of Washington (Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1973).

Keeping a considerably lower profile during the 1970s, he became a frequent TV guest star in popular crime dramas like Mannix (1967), Columbo (1971), The Streets of San Francisco (1972), and Police Story (1973). By the early 1980s, work opportunities had become scarcer and Stockwell was compelled to briefly sideline as a real estate broker.

He nonetheless managed to make a comeback with a co-starring role in the Wim Wenders road movie Paris, Texas (1984), starring Harry Dean Stanton. New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby wrote of his performance: "Mr. Stockwell, the former child star, has aged very well, becoming an exceptionally interesting, mature actor."

He then appeared in the crime film To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985), in the police comedy Beverly Hills Cop II (Tony Scott, 1987) with Eddie Murphy, and in the military drama Gardens of Stone (Francis Coppola, 1987). Stockwell also enjoyed high billing in David Lynch's noirish psycho-thriller Blue Velvet (1986) and received an Oscar nomination for his Mafia don Tony "The Tiger" Russo in Married to the Mob (Jonathan Demme, 1988) starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

His television career also flourished, as a cigar-smoking, womanising rear admiral in the popular Science-Fiction series Quantum Leap (1989-1993). The role won him a Golden Globe Award in 1990 and a new generation of fans. When the show ended after five seasons, Stockwell remained gainfully employed for another decade, still frequently seen as political or military authority figures including Navy Secretary Edward Sheffield in the TV series JAG (2002-2004), and Defence Secretary Walter Dean in the blockbuster Air Force One (Wolfgang Petersen, 1997) starring Harrison Ford.

He also played evil alien antagonists in popular TV series such as Colonel Grat in Star Trek: Enterprise (2001), and humanoid Cylon John Cavil in Battlestar Galactica (2006-2009). Outside of acting, Stockwell embraced environmental issues and exhibited works of art, notably collages and sculptures.

In 2015, he was forced to retire from acting after suffering a stroke. Stockwell died in 2021 due to natural causes at the age of 85. He was married to actress Millie Perkins (1960-1962) and to Joy Marchenko (1981-2004) with whom he had two children, Austin (1983) and Sophia (1985). Both marriages ended in a divorce. Stockwell has a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at the south side of the 7000 block of Hollywood Boulevard.

Dean Stockwell (1936–2021)
Belgian postcard, no. 1051. Photo: M.G.M. Dean Stockwell in Kim (Victor Saville, 1950).

Sources: I.S. Mowis (IMDb), Wikipedia (Dutch), and IMDb.

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