The earliest of his movies that I’ve seen is Anchors Aweigh, his 1945 second film role, wherein he played Donald Martin, nephew of the love interest to Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The first thing I saw him in, I’m pretty sure, was Song of the Thin Man, though it might have been the David Lynch Dune. (I saw both movies for the first time right around the same time as one another.) There are many of his movies and TV shows that I haven’t seen, including the ever-popular Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, which is a movie that fascinates me for its cast and that cannot possibly be any good.
Dean Stockwell has had an incredibly long career, which of course also means an incredibly varied one. He’s worked with Coppola and Lynch, Wenders and Lumet and Kazan. He’s also worked with someone who is frankly doomed to be known forever as “not that John Waters, another one.” In his first movie, The Valley of Decision, he appeared with Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore, Jessica Tandy, and any number of other famous names in the history of film. He’s worked steadily pretty much ever since, and the years where films were few tended to be steady ones in television.
He did take a few years off in the ’60s, and I wonder how much of that is to do with the frustration he felt about his childhood career. He actually befriended Russ Tamblyn in those years, and they’ve hung out together ever since—he’s an unofficial godfather of Amber Tamblyn’s, as someone who was always around and there to give advice when she was growing up. But his problem with his childhood career was that the comedies he was in didn’t tend to do well, and his dislike of doing dramas made people think he was a serious child—which made them cast him in more dramas.
Mind, he’s good at drama. As Admiral Al Calavicci on Quantum Leap, he had to do a fair amount of that; some of the scenes he has with costar Scott Bakula are heartrending. It’s honestly amazing; it’s the most intense friendship I think I’ve ever seen demonstrated in media between two people whose characters literally are never able to touch one another. But Al also let him be funny, which can’t really be said of The Boy With Green Hair (which I have seen; it’s not terrible, but it is weird). He got to sing, which he’s not great at, but he also got to dance, which he did pretty well. It’s a great role, and it’s not one where I’m ashamed of where I think of him first.
He’s apparently had a stroke and has retired from acting, but he’s also 83 and has been acting almost as long as my mother has been alive. A seventy-year career is nothing to be ashamed of! And, sure, the thing I think of from his childhood acting years the most often is his stint as Little Nicky Charles (apparently, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and the dog, all of whom were billed over him, were all very nice to him) and his line, “Oh, boy, another murder!” But I’m not sure it would bother him to know that; at least it’s not another crying scene.