THAT’S AL, FOLKS
An actor with a career stretching 70 years, the internationally respected Dean Stockwell has died aged 85. Stockwell’s career had been ended by a serious stroke in 2015, but he had recovered enough to take to art, showcasing his paintings in Los Angeles until the pandemic. Dean Stockwelll was already appearing in films such as The Valley of Decision or The Green Years before he was even ten years old. A steady career as a child and then teenage actor followed. However, where most child stars burn out quickly, Stockwell found himself moving on to bigger and greater things as an adult, by launching himself into the rapidly expanding US TV market of the 1950s and 60s. He appeared in all the major shows of the time – Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, and Dr Kildare.
In the 1960s he dropped out of acting to become a stoner hippie with Russ Tamblyn, but both return to the acting fold, with Stockwell appearing in The Dunwich Horror and The Last Movie. Which was neither he nor Dennis Hopper’s last movie, nor even their last movie together. Throughout the 70s and 80s Dean gained a reputation for being a solid performer who could steal any scene. He got a bigger break when David Lynch hired him for the role of a Roy Orbison loving gangster in the classic Blue Velvet, where he shares screen time with his old friend, Dennis Hopper. This movie is known for Hopper’s deranged psycho Frank Booth. Hopper introduced himself to David Lynch by saying “I’m Frank Booth” meaning he understood the darkness in the character, but which the crew took to mean “I’m going to kill you all in your sleep”. But despite Dennis Hopper’s ability to pretty much make every movie his own, it is Dean Stockwell who takes the eye effortlessly in the infamous In Dream scene.
After this, Stockwell was signed up for the role that became his most famous, as Al in Quantum Leap. The SF series, in which Scott Bakula jumped from body to body to right historical injustices, became an international success, mostly down to the chemistry between Bakula and Stockwell. Dean Stockwell’s Al was the intermediary between Dr Beckett and the real world, a hologram of his friend from the future who could only be seen by the main character. The role should have been an acting graveyard, but Stockwell pulled it off, and managed to make the Sam/Al act one of the highlights of US TV at the time. Later on, when Bakula was the lead in Star Trek Enterprise, the producers brought in Dean Stockwell as a one episode bad guy to try and use a bit of that bottled lightning. All that they did was remind everyone of a far better SF show. Dean Stockwell continued to act on TV (he was the boss Cylon in Battlestar Galactica) and in film (Air Force One).
When not acting he was a regular at conventions and a fan favourite with attendees, and he also campaigned for environmental causes. He was a fine actor and a fine person who will be missed. Stockwell was picked by three teams: Dial D for Deadpool, Who Turned out the Lights, and Aaah Pass the Mustard.
5 March 1936 – 7 November 2021