Scene-stealing actor Dean Stockwell, an Emmy and Oscar nominee who had one of Hollywood's longest careers — 70 years — died Sunday in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, ExtraTV reports.
He was 85, and his death was attributed to natural causes.
A child star of the 1940s, which had made him one of the few 1940s film stars still with us, he went on to rack up some 200 film and TV credits during his on-again, off-again career. Among his movies were both classics and turkeys, all of them uplifted by his presence.
Stockwell was born in Hollywood to a showbiz family on March 5, 1936. His dad was Harry Stockwell (1902-1984), who along with being a Broadway performer was immortalized on film as the voice of the Prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). When his dad was on Broadway in Oklahoma! (1943), he caught wind of a need for young actors for playwright Paul Osborn's (1901-1988) The Innocent Voyage (1943). The elder Stockwell took his sons to audition and both Dean and his older brother Guy (1933-2002) won parts.
Based on his stage presence and a screen test he did with another actor, young Stockwell won a contract with MGM, and made his film debut in 1945's The Valley of a Decision, starring Gregory Peck (1916-2003) and Greer Garson (1904-1996). His brother Guy would also go on to success in movies, on the stage, and on TV.
Stockwell, with his cherub's face, had no problem finding work in '40s films, but he did not enjoy his early career, saying "it certainly wasn't fun ... I wanted out of it." Still, his work included appearances in the classics Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and Gene Kelly (1912-1996), the caper Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), the anti-Semitism drama Gentleman's Agreement (1947), playing the son of the iconic characters of William Powell (1892-1984) and Myrna Loy (1905-1993) in Song of the Thin Man (1947), and in the title role of the anti-war flop (and later cult classic) The Boy with Green Hair (1948).
The New York Times wrote of Stockwell's performance in the latter, "Master Stockwell is lovable yet sturdy, diminutive yet strong," while panning the film as sentimental and forgettable.
Largely unimpressed with his experiences in Hollywood as a child, there were, nonetheless, highlights. Stockwell worked opposite Errol Flynn (1909-1959) in Kim (1940), saying in 1995, "Errol Flynn I quite loved," noting that Flynn was able to be "straight" with him, in spite of his young age, a quality he also found in Joel McCrea (1905-1990).
Another rare highlight of his early career was working with Powell and Loy, he said in 1995. "I have very positive feelings regarding both of them — they were very sweet people, especially Myrna Loy. And that cute little dog Asta. I liked that little dog."
He quit acting for five years after graduating high school. He returned in the '50s, having to work his way back up on early TV dramas and in small features like Gun for a Coward (1956) and The Careless Years (1957), which showed he had grown into a handsome, capable young lead, a difficult transition for a child star to make. He made his first huge comeback impression opposite Roddy McDowall (1928-1998) in the Broadway production of Compulsion (1957), which was based on the story of thrill killers Leopold (1904-1971) & Loeb (1905-1936), and also played the role to great acclaim in the 1959 film with Bradford Dillman (1930-2018).
He was an integral part of the British drama Sons and Lovers (1960), and in 1962, he stunned critics in Long Day's Journey Into Night with Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) and Jason Robards (1922-2000). In spite of an acting resurgence, he quit again by mid-decade, this time dropping out to participate in hippie culture.
When he returned to acting in 1968, he was shocked to discover he couldn't get work easily, so he leaned more heavily into TV roles and did dinner theater to help survive.
During this phase, he appeared in the horror flick The Dunwich Horror (1970), The Last Movie (1971) for director Dennis Hopper (1936-2010), and a slew of TV guest spots, including on Columbo (1972 & 1975) and Night Gallery (1973).
In his 50s, when many actors find themselves at the ends of their careers, Stockwell got his real estate license and prepared to bolt the industry yet again. Instead, a call from actor Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017) led to him joining the cast of Wim Wenders' (b. 1945) Paris, Texas (1984) and giving a knockout performance that showed he was just getting a second wind.
David Lynch (b. 1946) was roasted for Dune (1984), but Stockwell's participation in it directly led to his casting as flamboyant Ben, the pansexual pimp who lip-synchs and generally gives off creepy power vibes in Blue Velvet (1986). It was a mere cameo, yet is one of the film's most memorable sequences.
Stockwell, continuing on a roll, was Oscar-nominated for one of his favorite performances, as Tony "The Tiger" Russo in Jonathan Demme's (1944-2017) mafia comedy Married to the Mob (1988), and also won praise for his portrayal of Howard Hughes (1905-1976) in Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), a part he later said he was allowed to basically write himself.
In 1988, The New York Times profiled the actor, then 52, who said his nearly lifelong relationship with the movies was due to his "intuition. Somehow, I was able to find an accommodation with the camera as a child and it became almost like an ally. I got on very intimate terms with it."
From 1989-1993, Stockwell appeared on TV's Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula, a role that brought him four Emmy nominations and his Golden Globe, and the role for which he would become most famous.
He continued working at a feverish pace, and enjoyed two more TV hits with a recurring role on JAG (2002-2004) and as John Cavil on Battlestar Galactica (2006-2009).
After a film shot earlier but released in 2015 called Entertainment and his last TV appearance, on an episode of Bakula's NCIS: New Orleans (2014), Stockwell, who was also a sculptor, retired. He had a stroke in 2015, but managed to recover.
Married and divorced twice, including a union with The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) star Millie Perkins, now 83, he is survived by his two children.