The Clothes Made the Dean
The fabulous fashion sense of the late Dean Stockwell
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When Dean Stockwell approached David Lynch to audition for Dune, it shocked the director because he had heard Stockwell, having been scarce in Hollywood recently, had died. “I was really surprised because that’s the first time anybody ever told me that I was DEAD,” the veteran actor laughed. The “plenty alive” actor eventually nabbed the role of Dr. Yueh when John Hurt backed out, cementing yet another distinctively-styled cult role in his 70-year career. From Broadway to sci-fi, Stockwell’s suavely quirky fashion was the aspic in which his characters’ wardrobes gelled, mixing dapper jackets, bolo ties and Panama hats with his trademark cigarette or cigar. When the actor passed away for real on Sunday at 85, he left behind a lifetime of legendary Emmy- and Oscar-nominated role–and the fantastic clothes that draped them.
The son of the voice actor who played the Prince in Snow White, Stockwell was a snappy dresser since childhood when he shared screentime with heavyweights like Gregory Peck, Errol Flynn, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Dean’s first sacrifice for fashion came at the age of 12 while filming The Boy With Green Hair, where the green wigs he wore gave him a year-long infection that turned his scalp bloody and raw. Ironically, the film is on the list of movies that the Church of Satan officially endorsed for its portrayal of Satanism’s 9th rule of the earth: Do not harm little children.
Dean dove into psychologically complex roles in his 20’s, but the fits stayed crisp. He played half of a sociopathic murder duo in 1959’s Compulsion, a Broadway adaptation for which he won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival. The courtroom drama was based on a real life homicide committed by two wealthy university students attempting to pull off the perfect crime; Stockwell seethed in bespoke suits, nailing the preppy-sinister vibe half a century before Patrick Bateman.
In 1962’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he made family dysfunction look like a Gucci ad, playing the troubled, smoldering Edmund alongside Jason Robards and Katherine Hepburn.
Stockwell went full-on feral in his 30’s, co-starring with Jack Nicholson in the 1968 hippie-sploitation film Psych-Out and The Dunwich Horror (1970). For the occult ritual scene, Stockwell called in an artist friend who spent four hours painting elaborate runes and symbols on his chest.
Wearing the tools of his trade as the complicated Dr. Yueh in Dune, 1984. The movie would mark a pivot back to big projects that would endear new generations to his work. Other actors suffered in heavy rubber suits during the brutal summer shoot in the Sonoran desert, but Stockwell wore a lightweight cloth uniform–and filmed at an indoor studio in Mexico City.
Dune led to Blue Velvet in 1986, where Stockwell serenades Dennis Hopper as creepy scumlord Ben. Who could listen to Roy Orbison afterward without thinking about that paisley smoking jacket? Dean and Dennis, notorious for their off-set partying together, also teamed up on Tracks, Hopper’s onanistic cult Western The Last Movie, and Human Highway, a nuclear fever dream Stockwell co-wrote and directed with Neil Young. Director David Lynch paid tribute to Stockwell on Tuesday by dedicating the Blue Velvet song “Honky Tonk, Part 1” by Bill Doggett in his honor.
Arguably Stockwell’s most enduring role was Al Calavicci, the sardonic, hedonistic hologram who helps Scott Bakula bounce from one history-fixing adventure to the next in Quantum Leap. Stockwell’s wardrobe similarly ping-pongs through time in a dazzling pastiche of bolo ties, metallic puffy jackets, fur coats and zoot suits. Costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorléac (The Blue Lagoon), who the Emmys four times for his work on the show, says Stockwell was game to wear anything with one exception: fuschia. Co-star Scott Bakula recently paid tribute to Dean Stockwell, saying “I loved him dearly and was honored to know him. He made me a better human being.”
One thought on “The Clothes Made the Dean”
Dean Stockwell and David Lynch. Will there ever be a more perfect marriage of performer and material?