Guy Stockwell

Monday 18 February 2002 01:00

Guy Harry Stockwell, actor: born Hollywood, California 16 November 1933; married (two sons, one daughter); died Prescott, Arizona 6 February 2002.

An actor who appeared in over 30 films and 200 television shows, Guy Stockwell was the brother of the more famous Dean Stockwell. Though both boys started as child performers, Dean found fame at the age of eight, while Guy had to wait until adulthood to achieve recognition as an actor.

While under contract to Universal in the Sixties, Guy Stockwell was featured in such films as The War Lord, Tobruk and Blindfold, and he had the title role in a remake of Beau Geste, but his film career failed to ignite and he became more active on television and on the stage, creating the Los Angeles Art Theater, where he played leading roles in two productions which received international attention, Hamlet and his own adaptation of Crime and Punishment. He wrote a textbook for actors, Cold Reading Advantage (1991), and in later years taught stagecraft at several universities.

Born Guy Harry Stockwell in 1933 (Dean was born in 1936), he was the son of the actor Harry Stockwell and former musical comedy star Betty Veronica. Harry Stockwell was a major star of the Thirties, touted by the studio as having "the looks of Franchot Tone and the voice of Nelson Eddy"; he introduced the song "Broadway Rhythm" and was the singing voice of Prince Charming in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

He encouraged his sons to pursue theatrical careers, and in 1943 both Guy and Dean had roles in the Broadway play The Innocent Voyage, an adaptation by Paul Osborn of Richard Hughes's 1929 novel A High Wind in Jamaica. The play's scenic design by Stuart Chaney, which displayed the contours of three different ships set against backgrounds of considerable variety, gained more praise than the play or the children's performances, and the run was short, but the following year Guy appeared in the hit family comedy Chicken Every Sunday.

His brother Dean had been signed to a contract by MGM and was an instant success in his first film Anchors Aweigh (1944). Guy was given a small, uncredited part in a film in which Dean starred, The Green Years (1946) and had uncredited roles in two further MGM features, The Mighty McGurk and The Romance of Rosy Ridge (both 1947). He attended the famous MGM school-house before leaving the studio to study at Loyola High School, from which he graduated with honours.

He then attended the University of California, where he majored in psychology and philosophy. Later he taught and served as an administrator in the Placer County, California, school system, and in 1958 he began teaching acting at the Valley Playhouse, where he starred in Billy Budd, receiving rave reviews, and directed a production of The Lower Depths which cemented his reputation in the Los Angeles theatre.

He returned to the screen with minor roles in The Beat Generation (1959) and Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) but his first big film opportunity came when he was cast as the swashbuckling hero of a Spanish-Italian co-production, Le Tre spade di Zorro (The Three Swords of Zorro, 1960). The previous year he had made his first appearance on television, as guest star in an episode of Rawhide, the first of around 250 appearances he was to make in series including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Roaring 20s, Perry Mason, The FBI, Night Gallery and Streets of San Francisco.

He was a regular cast member of Adventures in Paradise (1961-62) and in 1963 he became one of 11 performers who made up the company for The Richard Boone Show, the television equivalent of repertory theatre, with the cast members playing parts, both large and small, in virtually all the plays in the anthology series.

Stockwell's most productive period as a film actor began in 1965, when he was signed by Universal and given an important role in Franklin Schaffner's The War Lord, set in the 11th century, meticulously recreated, with Charlton Heston playing a feudal knight who claims a village girl on her wedding night according to the custom of droit de seigneur. As Heston's brother, who tries to usurp him and meets his fate in a duel to the death, the rugged Stockwell made a strong impression and was voted Outstanding New Motion Picture Actor by the National Association of Theatre Owners.

The studio rewarded him with the title role in a remake of the classic tale of the French Foreign Legion Beau Geste (1966). It was a role previously played on screen by Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper, and inevitably Stockwell's performance, though competent, was judged inferior to those of his predecessors. In another pallid remake, The Plainsman (1966), he played Buffalo Bill Cody, but he was more successful exploiting a flair for sinister menace in the comedy thriller Blindfold (1966), as the leader of a political faction whose plan to kidnap a scientist ultimately leads to his chasing the man's sister (Claudia Cardinale) and psychiatrist (Rock Hudson) through marshy swamps.

He was a villainous pirate plundering the trade route to India in The King's Pirate (1967) and a ruthlessly ambitious golfer who accuses a fellow country-club member (Robert Wagner) of cheating in an implausible would-be exposé of the golfing world, Banning (1967). In the Second World War adventure Tobruk (1967), he was part of a unit out to destroy Rommel's fuel supply, but the prime roles were those played by Rock Hudson and George Peppard, an indication that the studio was no longer promoting Stockwell as star material. He ended his contract with the Second World War espionage adventure In Enemy Country (1968), as the American aide to a French officer (Anthony Franciosa) attempting to destroy a new German torpedo.

Stockwell then focused his career on television and the theatre, though he returned to Universal in 1974 as one of the large cast in the disaster movie Airport 1975. He had a recurring role as Dr Michael Rossi on the daytime serial Return to Peyton Place from 1972 to 1974, and later television appearances included roles in Simon and Simon, Knight Rider and Murder, She Wrote. On stage, he travelled across the United States in productions of The Seagull, Born Yesterday and The Misanthrope, and for two years he taught in the masters programme for acting at the University of California. His last film was Jodorowsky's offbeat melodrama Santa Sangre (1989).

Tom Vallance

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments