Remembering the TV roles of Harry Dean Stanton
Say goodbye by revisiting the versatile actor's earliest and most memorable TV roles.
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The loss of actor Harry Dean Stanton cannot be understated. He was a tremendously versatile talent whose dark eyes seemed to be right for every role. It seemed like he could play anything, and often he would play his parts even better than directors could've told him to. He had a sixth sense for every scene he was in.
In the 1980s, he deservedly gained fame for major movie roles in Repo Man, Pretty in Pink, and Paris, Texas, and in the 1990s, a new crop of viewers discovered him as Carl Rodd in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, a role he reprised recently for Twin Peaks: The Return. In the 2000s, he joined castmates of The Green Mile, nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Although they didn't win the award, it's a telling mark on Stanton's long history of lifting every cast he joined.
His career started long before the 1980s, though. As longtime TV audiences know well, he got his start in television. His first role came in 1954 with the Inner Sanctum episode "Hour of Darkness." He was credited then as Harry Stanton. For much of his TV roles through 1970, he'd be known to viewers as Dean Stanton, cast on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables and Have Gun - Will Travel, all series that welcome Stanton's immense talent as early as the 1950s.
By the 1960s, Stanton had fully infiltrated TV westerns, appearing in multiple episodes of shows like Bonanza, Rawhide and Gunsmoke. He wasn't typecast, though — each role was a little different, and Stanton took every part in stride, with the confidence of the famous cowboys he sat across from. In The Wild Wild West, he's a criminal sentenced to be hung. In Gunsmoke, he's a young man playing poker. Perhaps no shot is quite so iconic as the moment Stanton appeared on The Rifleman, with his gun boldly trained on Lucas McCain himself.
After a ton of TV westerns and other shows, Stanton also found his way onto sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show in 1967, drawing laughs as a cranky proprietor armed with a flyswatter.
He was equally memorable when he popped up on Laverne & Shirley 15 years later in 1982, as famous singer Johnny Velvet, whose rudeness irritates Laverne and Shirley, leading to an amusing scene in his dressing room where the girls hide in his wardrobe.
A show that Stanton appeared on before steering his career into doing movies was Petticoat Junction in 1969. In the episode "One of Our Chickens Is Missing," Stanton plays a tough biker with just the right comedic touch, offering this line as rationale for feathers found in his gear, "We've just saving up to stuff a pillow."
Beyond these early roles, TV viewers enjoyed more performances by Stanton in 2006 when he joined the massively popular HBO show Big Love as the menacing Roman Grant. When you consider this massive legacy in TV on top of his big impact in movies, it's clear that with Stanton's passing, the film industry has lost one of its most dynamic talents, who could say as much with a monologue as he could with a shrug and a roll of his eyes.