Dean Stockwell says child stardom wasn't fun
TORONTOL, Ont. - Oscar and Emmy-nominated actor Dean Stockwell doesn't have fond memories of being a prolific child star in 1940s films including "Anchors Aweigh," "Gentleman's Agreement" and "Deep Waters."
"Not great fun, no. It was work," Stockwell, 76, explained in a recent telephone interview to promote his appearance at next weekend's third annual Wizard World Toronto Comic Con.
"It was six-days-a-week work, and I'd have to work at least eight hours a day and I'd have to fit three hours of schooling in somewhere through the day, in minimum 15-minute segments. So if the assistant director said, 'Go to school' after we'd finish a shot, I'd go in there and I'd have to stay in there 15 minutes, and they'd be waiting at the door for me to come out and block the next shot. So it meant zero education.
"I had one wonderful teacher who really realized that it was ridiculous and impossible to try to teach school to a child under those circumstances, so we played Gin Rummy and it was great. I learned more from that than anything else."
Stockwell did, however, learn performing skills from some showbiz icons early in his career, when he was a curly-haired cutie under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
While playing a runaway child in 1945's "Anchors Aweigh," for instance, Stockwell shared the screen with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
"I kind of remember a little bit of contrast between them because Gene was much more involved in what he was doing and I think he felt a little threatened by a child being involved, because there's an old adage among actors: Don't ever work with animals or kids because they steal the scenes," Stockwell said from his home in Taos, N.M., where he creates collage artwork.
"But Frank was not that way at all. He couldn't care less. He was very warm and very nice to me."
Stockwell has since appeared in dozens of films and TV series, including 1988's "Married to the Mob," for which he received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. He's also been up for four Emmy Awards and four Golden Globes for playing cigar-smoking Rear Admiral Albert Calavicci in the sci-fi series "Quantum Leap." Stockwell also has a fifth Golden Globe nom to his credit — for 1960's "Sons and Lovers" — as well as two best-actor honours from the Cannes Film Festival.
Stockwell said his roles in "Quantum Leap" and "Battlestar Galactica" are what fans are most curious about when he attends pop-culture conventions like Wizard World Toronto Comic Con, which runs April 14 to April 15 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
"Some people are aware that I had a career before those two," said Stockwell, adding with the laugh: "I've had the world's longest career here. It's true — even longer than Betty White ... because I started when I was seven."
Another project Stockwell fans often don't realize he was a part of: legendary Canadian rocker Neil Young's 1970 album "After the Gold Rush."
The album's title track was inspired by the name of an unproduced screenplay that Stockwell had written on Dennis Hopper's insistence after the two shot "The Last Movie" together.
Stockwell said he's not sure how Young — whom he first met while they were living in California's Topanga Canyon — got hold of the screenplay, but "It stimulated him to write" the album.
"We got to know each other pretty well," said Stockwell, who went on to co-direct and co-star with Young in the 1982 comedy film "Human Highway" and designed the cover art for his '77 album "American Stars 'N Bars."
"When he did the album, 'After the Gold Rush,' he recorded it at all his house studio there in Topanga and I was there for the whole recording. It was wonderful."
Other stars scheduled to this year's Wizard World Toronto Comic Con include "Quantum Leap" star Scott Bakula; actor Paul Wesley of "The Vampire Diaries"; "Star Trek: Voyager" actress Jeri Ryan; and Amy Acker of "Alias" and "Angel" fame.