Dean Stockwell, death of a rock and prancer

From a child actor at MGM to his most famous role in “Quantum Code”, including Lynch and Wenders, he left his mark on American cinema with his strangeness. He died Sunday at the age of 85.

Saturnine face, low gaze, wrinkled forehead and thick eyebrows: Dean Stockwell was a sure bet to inoculate his dose of fishy in any scene – with the probable climax of his playback out of nowhere.In Dreams by Roy Orbison in the Blue Velvet (1986) by David Lynch. Gangster diva palot and makeup, he melted Dennis Hopper. This supporting role of the 80s and 90s had also appeared with Wim Wenders or during the five seasons of the series. Quantum code (1989-1993), tree hiding the forest of a long Hollywood career, started at the age of 9. For he who embodied the son of a demon in Horror at will (1970, lukewarm adaptation of Lovecraft) was the mouth of an angel of a child actor, propelled by his parents themselves actors (in the family post-synchro department, not necessarily far from Lynch, his father Harry was the voice of Prince Charming in the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs of Disney in 1937).

Make oneself cry

Dean Stockwell is contracted by MGM and debuts alongside Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in the musical Stopover in Hollywood (1945). Little Dean’s specialty is tearful: his ritual question before shooting a movie was “Do I have to cry there?” and it often is. He doesn’t like it, nor really the job. On the invisible wall (1947) by Elia Kazan, the filmmaker uses the Actors Studio method to bring tears to the young Stockwell. “Think of a dying puppy”, he said to him. The child prefers, once the filmmaker has his back turned, to irritate his eyes to make himself cry. His most notable role during this period is that of Boy with green hair (1948) by Joseph Losey, a parable of racism and intolerance in which Stockwell therefore has green hair – not a dye, but an expensive wig made from the hair of French women. It’s one of the few positive experiences for young Stockwell, especially because he feels like he’s making an important film.

He took a break in 1952 to concentrate on his studies, dropped out of Berkeley University after a year because he was unhappy, escaped military service and the Korean War (he took drugs before going for the medical examination) and wanders through seasonal jobs (harvesting fruit, planting railroad tracks). He ended up resuming shooting for small and big screen relentlessly, including the Greatness of forgiveness (1961), anti-militarist episode of the Fourth Dimension and among the most personal of its creator Rod Serling. He plays a sociopathic assassin in the genius of evil (1959) by Richard Fleischer, in competition at Cannes and there won an interpretation prize shared with Orson Welles.


After a break in the mid-1960s to immerse himself in the counter-culture (sex, meditation and drugs), alongside Neil Young in particular, Stockwell returns to work with the most salient film as The Last Movie (1971) by Dennis Hopper where he plays a different kind of “child”: Billy the Kid. Her first meeting with David Lynch was devilishly Lynchian, just before joining the cast of Dune (1984): “I call him on the phone and the first thing he says to me is’ I would like to apologize if I behaved strangely the very first time we saw each other but I thought you were dead “” : Lynch had confused him with another deceased child actor. For Paris, Texas (1984) from Wenders, Stockwell is hired thanks to his pal Harry Dean Stanton, convinced that the actor can play his brother. Seeing the rushes, Stockwell cries – this time, for real -, convinced that the film, future gold palm, will be a disaster (“Harry told me we looked like prisoners of war in the pictures”). Hollywood gives him recognition with only Oscar nomination, as supporting role in crime comedy Widow but not too much (1988) by Jonathan Demme. His favorite role, according to him, as a suave mafia a little too clingy to Michelle Pfeiffer. Then it’ll be mostly sci-fi on tv (Stargate SG-1, Battlestar Galactica), especially with Quantum code : he composed there a libidinous, sarcastic soldier, with flashy vests and the eternal cigar (which he also wore in life), best friend and guide of the hero who leaps from era to era and to whom he appeared like a hologram. Dean Stockwell passed away in his sleep on Sunday at the age of 85. In Dreams, we hope so.

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Dean Stockwell, death of a rock and prancer