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Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland

Episode #402 First Aired: February 15, 2011

“No movie featuring Harry Dean Stanton could be altogether bad.”

Roger Ebert

[Editor’s note: Harry Dean Stanton died Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles.]

“Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland,” a Kentucky Muse production produced by Tom Thurman, examines the life of one of Hollywood’s more eccentric and intriguing personalities. Tracking the actor’s path from humble beginnings in West Irvine, Ky., through a prolific and storied film career, “Crossing Mulholland” paints a striking portrait of this one-of-a-kind Kentuckian.

Interviews with family and friends reveal that by the time Stanton left home to pursue acting in California, he had already acquired the raw look and intense presence that would become his on-screen signature. After attending Lafayette High School in Lexington, Stanton served in the Navy. He later attended the University of Kentucky on the G.I. Bill, studying everything from journalism and radio arts to acting and music. From there, he drifted west, finding a home at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he began honing his craft and making a name for himself.

“Crossing Muholland” viewers discover that in the 1950s, whenever television called, Stanton was there to play the loner, tramp, killer, thief, or whatever was required. More than half a century ago, he had already acquired that face: wolf-like, lonely, dangerous, and friendly at the same time.

Such notable Hollywood figures as actors Billy Bob Thornton and Richard Dreyfuss; musicians Kris Kristofferson and Michelle Phillips; critic Leonard Maltin; and directors John Carpenter and Wim Wenders discuss Stanton’s talents. Producers and directors have turned to Stanton again and again in films like “Paris, Texas,” “Repo Man,” “The Green Mile,” HBO’s acclaimed series “Big Love,” and the 2011 animated feature “Rango.”

“Crossing Mulholland” also takes time to look at Stanton’s other passion — music, featuring several intimate, living room jam sessions with friends Michelle Phillips and Jamie James. Stanton expresses his love for singing and playing music, while his unique voice brings a sense of mystery to each song.

A favorite of directors, critics, colleagues, and audiences, Kentuckian Harry Dean Stanton has carved his name into the cultural consciousness of cinematic arts. “Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland” offers an insightful look at this versatile and talented actor while giving viewers a chance to hang out with a pretty interesting fellow.

Harry Dean Stanton Bio

Harry Dean Stanton was born on July 14, 1926, in West Irvine, Ky. He grew up in Central Kentucky and later attended Lafayette High School in Lexington. During World War II, Stanton served in the United States Navy and fought at the Battle of Okinawa. After the war, he attended the University of Kentucky on the G.I. Bill. By his account, while at UK he changed majors frequently, studying journalism, radio broadcasting, and music, and also acted in several productions at UK’s Guignol Theater.

Traveling west to California, Stanton pursued his interests in acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, a theater built by a community of artists in the 1920s. The playhouse was home to a school of theatre arts that helped train such talents as Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Raymond Burr. Honing his craft on stage, Stanton eventually found work in television throughout the 1950s, playing numerous roles that called for gruff, sinister, intense-looking men. This led to supporting roles in Hollywood films, when directors began to notice the appeal of his signature look and style for certain characters, as well as the reality he brought to each part.

Stanton has been a feature player in many notable films, including “Cool Hand Luke,” “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Cisco Pike,” “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “The Godfather II,” “Alien,” “Repo Man,” “Red Dawn,” “Wild at Heart,” and “The Green Mile.” He has worked with legendary directors Sam Peckinpah, John Milius, David Lynch, Monte Hellman, and Wim Wenders, who directed Stanton in his first leading role, in “Paris, Texas.”

An avid musician, Stanton also enjoys performing and recording his signature brand of country-Western tunes. He has appeared in music videos for Dwight Yoakam, Ry Cooder, and Bob Dylan and performs regularly with The Harry Dean Stanton Band.

Stanton lived on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, near the home of his friend Jack Nicholson.