When news of Dean Stockwell’s death hit last week, much of the coverage centered around his career as a child star in the Forties when he acted alongside Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, his role as the holographic advisor Al on the cult time-travel show Quantum Leap, and his work in movies like Married to the Mob and Blue Velvet.
But he was also a part of the late Sixties–early Seventies Topanga Canyon art scene where he palled around with Russ Tamblyn, Dennis Hopper, George Herms, Wallace Berman, and Neil Young. He basically walked away from his acting career at this time and became a full-time hippie, but he did head to Peru in 1970 to help Dennis Hopper create his disastrous Easy Rider follow-up The Last Movie.
When they were down there, Hopper asked him to write a screenplay. “I was going to write a movie that was personal, a Jungian self-discovery of the gnosis,” Stockwell told Neil Young biographer Jimmy McDonough. “It involves the Kabbalah, it involved a lot of arcane stuff.”
He called the movie After the Gold Rush. The script is lost, but some details of the plot were recounted to McDonough by Shannon Forbes, an ex-girlfriend of Neil Young producer David Briggs. “It was sort of an end-of-the-world movie,” she said. “At the very end, the hero is standing in the Corral parking lot watching this huge wave come and this house is surfing along, and as the house comes at him, he turns the knob — and that’s the end of the movie.”
Young read the screenplay and decided to create a soundtrack for it. And had the movie come out, lyrics like “I dreamed I saw the silver spaceships flying/In the yellow haze of the sun” and “Flyin’ Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun” would have fit with the story quite nicely. The only problem was that Universal was less than impressed by Stockwell’s “Jungian self-discovery” movie and he was forced to abandon it. But Young had written a song too haunting and beautiful to abandon along with it, and he made it the title track of his next solo album. (Listen to it right here.).
About a decade later, Young and Stockwell were finally able to team up for a movie when they made Human Highway together. Much like After the Gold Rush, it’s about mankind facing the end of the world. And this one actually got made, even if it was far goofier (and featured a lot more scenes with Devo) than anything Stockwell imagined for After the Gold Rush.
“Dean was a great old friend,” Young wrote on the Neil Young Archives after learning about his death. “He was a true artist of many hands. I am so fortunate to have known Dean, whose screenplay After the Gold Rush was the reason I made that record and wrote many of the songs for the film. Rest in peace my fellow traveler.”