Hollywood Flashback: In 1986, Harry Dean Stanton Came Out for the AFM Prom

Ron Galella/WireImage
Harry Dean Stanton and date at the AFM Awards in 1986

The market's mainstay is "the perfect actor for films that were being sold at AFM in the ’90s. Everyone knew who he was, but he was relatively inexpensive to hire."

Considering the vast number of credits Harry Dean Stanton has in low-budget films, it would be difficult to name another actor who’s had as many movies pass through the American Film Market. The 89-year-old’s movie credits begin with 1956’s The Wrong Man (an almost forgotten Alfred Hitchcock film that starred Henry Fonda) and run all the way to his latest project, the Brian McGuire comedy Sick of It All, now in post-production.

Jerry Bruckheimer, who has made three films with Stanton (1975’s Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins and Farewell, My Lovely and 1982’s Young Doctors in Love) tells THR the reason Stanton gets hired so frequently is because "he has authenticity. He comes the role. He's just the real thing."

Some of that authenticity comes form being born in rural East Irvine, Ky., where his father was a small-town tobacco farmer. During World War II, Stanton served as
a ship’s cook during the Battle of Okinawa when the Japanese were using kamikaze suicide attacks ("I was lucky not to have been blown up or killed," he once said). He returned to Kentucky, where he studied journalism, but also was in a drama group that led to him quitting school and coming to the Pasadena Playhouse in 1949.

Stanton worked for 30 years as a character actor before getting his first lead role, in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas. The film unanimously won the Palme d'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Stanton once said: "If I never did another film after Paris, Texas, I'd be happy."

If he had quit acting, he’d have never worked with John Hughes, playing an underemployed dad to Molly Ringwald’s Annie Walsh in the 1986 coming-of-age drama Pretty in Pink (released six days after he attended that year’s AFM Awards), and he’d have missed making 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ with Martin Scorsese and 1990’s Wild at Heart with David Lynch. And audiences wouldn’t have seen him as the Mormon polygamist and self-proclaimed prophet Roman Grant in HBO’s Big Love series
in 2010.

Producer Steve Stabler, who cast Stanton in his 1997 film Midnight Blue, thinks of Stanton
 as "the perfect actor for films that were being sold at AFM in the ’90s. Everyone knew who he was, but he was relatively inexpensive to hire. Having his name on the film and picture on the one-sheet made Blue stand out from the many, many others that didn’t have recognizable talent."

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