72. Dean Stockwell
Peak of Hotness: The late 1950s through the mid-1960s
Best Known For: Child actor at MGM who made the transition into adulthood with Long Day's Journey Into Night then into a character actor in Paris, Texas and Blue Velvet.
Will, a fellow Stockwell enthusiast, joins me once again to help me discuss this rarely discussed acting legend.
Dame James: When did you first encounter Dean and, if it wasn't love at first sight, when did you fall in love with him?
Will: I'm sure I saw him guesting on some television show in the '90s, but the first time I remember him making an impression was in Paris, Texas. I think he's a pretty fantastic, under appreciated character actor (which you can also see in something like his WEIRD turn in Blue Velvet), but I wouldn't say I fell in love with him until I saw him in Long Day's Journey Into Night. He's not a horrible looking older guy, but he pretty much checks every box in Long Day's Journey. He's sad and thin and romantic in a tragic sense.
It's like Simon Amstell says, "Thin and ill looking is my type. I like the idea I could go on a date with him and it could be his last."
Plus, it must be said, he-like me-has a strong brow line, and I love that. The only person we have today who comes close in that department is Dave Franco.
I wanted to weigh in on him basically based on my love of him in Long Day's Journey. I'm a little embarrassed to say I haven't seen a ton else of the movies he made when he was younger, so I was curious about his other roles. I know you have an affection for him doing a more rakish character in Sons and Lovers. You seem to have more of an appetite for 1950s melodrama than I, which is what he worked in a lot back then.
DJ: Make that another for Long Day's Journey Into Night. I'm pretty sure I saw that early on in my movie infancy, but Dean's prettiness made quite a vivid impression on me. I love that Simon Amstell quote you use because it's so true, and Dean fits that bill so well in Long Day's Journey. With each terrible cough, he becomes that much more pathetic, and that, for whatever reason, only makes him that much more attractive. Plus, we can't discount the fact that he's playing an Emotionally Damaged Boy, another strange turn-on in my world. With a drug addict mother and a cold, uncaring father, Dean's character is screwed up only in a way I could love.
I haven't seen much of his early work either, actually. He was a child actor in the late 40s and 50s who was one of the lucky ones to transition into adult roles. Apparently, I've seen him in Gentleman's Agreement, where, I'm guessing, he played Gregory Peck's son. Yeah, that one left a vivid impression. Sons and Lovers was great because it played up his sexiness without turning him into a dumbass beefcake, which he clearly wasn't. He plays an intelligent, sensitive guy, who just happens to be really, really horny. Clearly, this was an ideal movie for me as he was not only working his sexiness but he was also at the peak of his prettiness.
|Stockwell in heat in Sons and Lovers|
I saw Compulsion years ago and I remember liking him a lot in that. He plays one half of a Loepold & Loeb-esque duo who are on trial for murder. I remember lots of homoeroticism, especially on Dean's part, which is always a plus for me. Even if you aren't as into 1950s melodrama as I am, you may want to check it out for that. And this leads me to my next question: Dean Stockwell (and his eyebrows) asks you to help him murder someone. In exchange, he'll have sex with you just one glorious time. Do you do it?
W: A pretty, young, AND evil Dean Stockwell? Be still my heart. What else could I say to that proposition but yes?
I had never heard of Compulsion, but all the clips I just looked up from it seem to indicate his character is the bottom in that relationship. Also, it looks like there are extremely long sequences of a halfway-to-Paul-Masson-champagne-commercials Orson Welles delivering court room speeches. I'll have to look it up. Thanks for the recommendation!
DJ: What can I say, I'm a giver.
W: It's a little weird to be talking about the hotness of an actor who is now, like, 75 years old, I must admit. But, If I can bring it up for a second, I wanted to touch on what a strange and interesting career he's managed to carve out for himself. As he got older, he didn't exactly age into a conventionally attractive leading man. That's sad for us, but I think it might have served his career a lot better. He became, ostensibly, a character actor (or as close as you can really be with two Cannes Best Actor prizes under your belt). Rather than getting left behind when the type of actor Hollywood became interested in changed in the late 60s, it seems like he got more and more comfortable subverting audience expectations of a former contracted kid actor from the old studio system. I mean, how many of the hot pieces of unattainable ass you're profiling in this series ever had the balls to go as weird as Stockwell did in something like, say, Blue Velvet?
Can you imagine a current kid actor in transition like Logan Lerman running towards the camera while screaming The Lord's Prayer in Pig Latin for David Lynch in 30 years? I'm sure we can both imagine Logan Lerman doing many things, but I'm not sure about that one.
DJ: His career was certainly a wild ride, starting at MGM and ending up with Wim Wenders and David Lynch. I think it was to his benefit that his period of sexiness was so brief and so early in his career. Hollywood doesn't like pretty character actors and he never would have gotten a chance to thrive as one if he had remained a pretty boy into his 40s. And I say good on him for taking advantage of this. Look, as you have seen and will see in this countdown, prettiness doesn't last forever. It's great to take advantage of it while you have it, but you can't bank on it forever. Dean was one of the smart ones who said, "I won't be a leading anymore. Fuck it. Now is the time to do whatever I want." Looking through my list, the only other actor who even comes close to Dean's career trajectory is Jean-Pierre Leaud, but his auteurial works were "weird" and unexpected in a far different way than Dean's.
See, I can actually imagine Logan Lerman doing oddball stuff later in his career. Granted, I don't know much about him, but from reading interviews with him, he seems like he has a genuine respect for the cinema and could surprise us one day. But I could be totally wrong (as I have been in the past) and your point is a valid one. There are very few child actors I can see doing Lynchian films at any point in the future. Then again, would anyone have predicted in the 1940s that cute lil' Dean Stockwell would be in a film as (amazingly) perverse as Blue Velvet?