Fans of the science fiction television series Quantum Leap will know supporting and character actor Dean Stockwell as the scene-stealing, cigar chomping, dry-witted, and cryptic hologram Al. But to view him only in that role is to see one part of a multi-faceted career that began when Stockwell was seven years old.
Actually, his ties with show business stretch back to his birth for both of his parents were noted Broadway performers Harry Stockwell and Nina Olivette. His father also provided the singing voice of the prince in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1931). Stockwell was born in North Hollywood and started out on Broadway in The Innocent Voyage (1943) at age seven. Curly haired and beautiful with a natural acting style that never descended into cloying cuteness, he made his screen debut after contracting with MGM at age nine in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and continued on to play sensitive boys in such memorable outings as The Mighty McGurk (1946), The Boy With Green Hair (1948), and The Secret Garden (1949). He would continue appearing in such films through 1951 when he went into the first of several "retirements" from films. When Stockwell resurfaced five years later it was as a brooding and very handsome 20-year-old who specialized in playing introverts and sensitive souls in roles ranging from a wild, young cowboy in Gun for a Coward (1957) to a murderous homosexual in Compulsion (1958) to an aspiring artist who cannot escape the influence of his domineering mother in Sons and Lovers (1960). Stockwell topped off this phase of his career portraying Eugene O'Neill in Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962). Stockwell would spend the next three years as a hippie and when he again renewed his career it was in such very '60s efforts as Psych-Out (1968) and the spooky and weird adaptation of a Lovecraft story, The Dunwich Horror. During this period, Stockwell also started appearing in television movies such as The Failing of Raymond (1971). In the mid-'70s, the former flower child became a real-estate broker and his acting career became sporadic until the mid-'80s when he began playing character roles. It was in this area, especially in regard to comic characters, that Stockwell has had his greatest success. Though he claims it was not intentional, Stockwell has come to be almost typecast as the king of quirk, playing a wide variety of eccentrics and outcasts. One of his most famous '80s roles was that of the effeminate and rutlhess sleaze, Ben, in David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986). Stockwell had previously worked with Lynch in Dune and says that when the director gave him the script for Velvet, his character was not specifically mapped out, leaving Stockwell to portray Ben in any way he felt appropriate. The actor's intuition has proven to be one of his greatest tools and helped create one of modern Hollywood's most creepy-crawly villains. Whenever possible, Stockwell prefers working by instinct and actively avoids over-rehearsing his parts. His career really picked up after he landed the part of Al in Quantum Leap. Since the show's demise, Stockwell has continued to appear on screen, starring on series like Battlestar Galactica.