Childhood & Early Life
He was born on July 14, 1926, in West Irvine, Kentucky, US, to Sheridan Harry Stanton, a farmer and barber, and Ersel (née Moberly), a cook.
His parents parted ways when he was in high school. He had two younger brothers, Ralph and Archie, and a half-brother, Stan, who was also younger to him.
He studied at one of the largest high schools in Kentucky, known as the ‘Lafayette Senior High School.’ Thereafter, he attended the ‘University of Kentucky’ in Lexington, where he studied journalism and radio arts. During his university days, he performed at the ‘Guignol Theatre,’ where he had the opportunity to work with British theater director Wallace Briggs.
It was Briggs who motivated Stanton to quit university and venture into acting when Harry was still undecided between singing and acting. He then joined classes at the ‘Pasadena Playhouse’ in Pasadena, California, where he had Tyler MacDuff and Dana Andrews as his classmates.
Meanwhile, he served in the ‘US Navy’ during the Second World War. His tenure saw him work as a cook aboard the tank landing ship ‘USS LST-970,’ during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
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After honing his acting skills at the ‘Pasadena Playhouse,’ Stanton toured across the US with a men’s choir. He also had a stint at a children’s theater before returning to California.
He made his TV debut with the 1954 ‘NBC’ anthology series ‘Inner Sanctum.’ He appeared in the episode ‘Hour of Darkness.’
He featured in uncredited roles in the films ‘Revolt at Fort Laramie’ (1956) and ‘The Wrong Man’ (1956), before playing the role of ‘Private Miller’ in the 1957 Western film ‘Tomahawk Trail,’ where he was credited as “Dean Stanton.” He used this screen name in some of his initial films to prevent people from mistaking him for another actor named Harry Stanton.
In the ensuing years, he performed in several character and supporting roles in films such as ‘Cool Hand Luke’ (1967), ‘Kelly's Heroes’ (1970) and ‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974), before starring in films such as ‘Straight Time’ (1978), ‘Alien’ (1979), ‘Christine’ (1983) and ‘Repo Man’ (1984).
With time, he became a favorite of notable directors, such as Monte Hellman, David Lynch, Sam Peckinpah, and John Milius. He also developed close ties with American actor and filmmaker Jack Nicholson and American filmmaker, screenwriter, and film composer Francis Ford Coppola. He was the “best man” in Nicholson’s wedding in 1962.
After nearly three decades in films, Stanton landed up with his real breakthrough when he garnered the lead role of ‘Travis Henderson’ in the Wim Wenders-directed road movie ‘Paris, Texas.’ He earned the role after being spotted by one of the scriptwriters of the film, Sam Shepard, in a New Mexico bar, while both of them were in the city to attend a film festival.
‘Paris, Texas’ premiered at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ on May 19, 1984, and had its theatrical release in the US on November 2, 1984. It won several awards at Cannes, including the ‘Palme d'Or’, the ‘Prize of the Ecumenical Jury,’ and the ‘FIPRESCI Prize.’ The movie also garnered acclaim from both critics and audiences and grossed US$ 2.2 million at the box office.
This was followed by other starring roles in notable and commercially successful films of different genres, which showcased Stanton’s versatility. Such films included the 1984 American war movie ‘Red Dawn,’ the 1985 American–Canadian Christmas fantasy film ‘One Magic Christmas,’ the 1986 romantic comedy ‘Pretty in Pink,’ and the 1997 action film ‘Fire Down Below’ among others.
The 1999 fantasy crime-drama film ‘The Green Mile,’ starring Tom Hanks in the lead role, featured Stanton in the role of ‘Toot-Toot.’ The film earned four ‘Academy Award’ nominations and garnered immense critical acclaim. It was a blockbuster hit, grossing a whopping US$ 290.7 million at the box office. The cast of the film, including Stanton, earned a ‘Screen Actors Guild Award’ nomination in 2000, in the category of ‘Outstanding Performance by a Cast.’
The directorial debut of Nicolas Cage, the crime-drama film ‘Sonny,’ which released on September 2, 2002, featured Stanton in the starring role of ‘Henry.’ The titular character was essayed by James Franco. The film, however, failed to make a mark at the box office.
One of Stanton’s last film roles was that of the titular character in the John Carroll Lynch-directed American drama ‘Lucky,’ which released on March 11, 2017, and grossed US$ 955,925 at the box office. His remarkable performance as a 90–year-old atheist won him the ‘AISGE Award for Best Actor’ at the ‘Gijón International Film Festival’ and the ‘Satellite Award for Best Actor—Motion Picture,’ apart from a few other nominations.
Other notable films featuring Stanton include ‘Alpha Dog’ (2006), ‘Rango’ (2011), and ‘Seven Psychopaths’ (2012). Throughout his career, Stanton appeared in several TV projects such as the series ‘Gunsmoke’ (1959–1968), ‘Big Love’ (2006–2010), ‘Mongo Wrestling Alliance’ (voice role, 2011), and ‘Twin Peaks’ (2017). Some of the TV movies that featured him were ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’ (1987), ‘Hostages’ (1992), and ‘Against the Wall’ (1994).
His passion for music saw him touring nightclubs, where he sang and played the guitar. He also featured in music videos for songs such as ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ (1985) by Procol Harum, ‘Dreamin' of You’ (2009) by Bob Dylan, and ‘Christmas in L.A.’ (2013) by ‘The Killers’ among others.