Cast & Crew
William A. Wellman
In 1896, in a small city in New Jersey, John Humperdink Stover, a precocious young boy with a penchant for causing trouble, is expelled from a public school and sent to Miss Wandell's Select Academy for Young Ladies and Gentlemen. John's father Samuel, an upstanding newspaper publisher and editor, hopes that the private school will reform his son, but his hopes are soon dashed when John causes an explosion in his chemistry class and is expelled from his new school. Samuel decides to give John one last chance to reform himself by enrolling him at Lawrenceville, a distinguished preparatory school near Princeton, where John's brother Sambo received his early education. En route to Lawrenceville, John shares a carriage with Mr. Hopkins, the school's headmaster, whose stodginess has earned him the title of "The Old Roman." Unaware that Mr. Hopkins is the school's headmaster, John spins wild tales about his family history, and then grabs the horse reigns and takes the carriage on a wild ride. When John arrives at the school, he is assigned to the Green House, a residence hall filled with an assortment of oddly nicknamed boys. After Tough McCarty, the intimidating elder classman leader of the house, changes John's name to "Dink," he introduces him to Coffee Colored Angel, White Mountain Canary, Cheyenne Baxter, Poler Beekstein, and his new roommate, Butsey White. Dink's initiation begins when White Mountain Canary chases him through the campus and engages him in a fistfight. Dink wins the fight, and later trounces another challenger, Coffee Colored Angel. Though he loses a fight with Tough McCarty, Dink refuses to make peace with the boys and is ostracized for his stubbornness. When summer arrives, Dink joins his family at a beach house and vows never to return to Lawrenceville. At the beach, Dink befriends a group of boys who join him in a number of pranks, including one designed to embarrass a young girl named Connie Brown. The boys, posing as sophisticated and cultured suitors, arrive at Connie's house one by one and pretend to vie for her attentions. The stunt drives Connie to tears, and the boys decide to play the same trick on other girls. At summer's end, Dink decides to return to Lawrenceville for another opportunity to fight Tough. When he arrives at the school, Dink is surprised to learn that he has been reassigned to a new residence hall, the Kennedy House, which is supervised by Mr. Hopkins. At the house, Dink becomes fast friends with the wiry, straight-laced Joshua Montgomery Smeed, known also as "The Big Man," who helps Dink with his studies. McCarty and Dink continue their feud on the football field, where they tackle each other mercilessly until Hopkins suspends Dink from the team. Dink and McCarty put aside their differences during an important football game and eventually forge a close friendship. Dink later gains the respect of Mr. Hopkins when Mr. Hopkins discovers that Dink decided not to cheat, as he had planned to, on an important examination. Dink later apologizes to Mr. Hopkins for misunderstanding him, and Mr. Hopkins realizes that Dink has matured. At the end of the school year, Dink returns to his parents' beach house, and they are pleased to see that their son has finally reformed.
William A. Wellman
Leo G. Carroll
Alan Dinehart Iii
Jacqueline De Wit
Mary Eleanor Donahue
Daniel B. Cathcart
Henry W. Grace
James B. Harper
Paul C. Vogel
Edwin B. Willis
The Happy Years
The screenplay by Harry Ruskin, whose work on a number of Andy Hardy pictures helped prepare him for this project, is based on the "Lawrenceville School stories" by Owen Johnson, a New Yorker and former war correspondent. A great deal of Johnson's output (primarily magazine stories published between 1901 and 1931) was focused on the misadventures and coming-of-age of several characters attending the famous prep school, which was one of the oldest in the U.S. and located near Princeton, New Jersey. In particular, it follows the exploits of "bad boy" Dink Stover, played by then popular child actor Dean Stockwell.
In movies from the age of nine, Stockwell was just entering his teen years when he made The Happy Years, one of his last (and one of his favorites because of its emphasis on comedy over drama) before his youthful popularity waned. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Stockwell bounced around in various TV roles, unable to recapture his earlier stardom, before emerging later as a noted character actor in such films as Blue Velvet (1986) and The Rainmaker (1997) and a long run on the hit TV sci-fi show Quantum Leap.
Stockwell's fellow child stars in the cast of The Happy Years didn't all fare as well as he did, and their life stories add a bitterly ironic twist to the film's title. Scotty Beckett was a veteran of more than 80 movies by the time he appeared in The Happy Years (still playing a teen past the age of 20). He worked constantly, making as many as ten pictures a year at the sacrifice of his own childhood; his best known movies are Marie Antoinette (1938), as the doomed Dauphin, and several in which he played the adult hero as a boy: Kings Row (1942), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), and The Jolson Story (1946), as the young Al Jolson. He also appeared as an inexperienced soldier in Wellman's Battleground (1949). But as he approached adulthood and was no longer in demand as a child actor, Beckett's life grew increasingly troubled. His life became a sad chronicle of drugs, violent incidents, arrests and broken marriages. He died of an apparent suicide in 1968, not yet 40 years old.
Unfortunately, Beckett's story was an all-too-familiar tale of children destroyed by very early Hollywood fame. Another cast member in this picture, Darryl Hickman (brother of Dwayne who was the star of the TV series, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis [1959-1963]), had a more happy outcome, eventually overcoming his difficulties to become a respected acting teacher and TV executive. But in his later years he spoke openly about the damage inflicted on him and his young colleagues growing up in the unreality of motion pictures. "We didn't have the normal opportunities to be with other kids and form relationships," he said. "And we lived in a world of fantasy...I hear it in our voices. They're not fully developed, resonant voices. They haven't been brought forward in time." Being a child actor, Hickman noted, "is an abnormal thing to have to struggle with. I don't see how it can be healthy."
If Wellman identified with his youthful heroes, it didn't help curb his impatience during production. The young cast irritated him more often than not with their rowdy and immature behavior. "I get home at night and I snap at my own kids," he said. "What kind of life is that? Besides, I'm getting too old for this stuff." There's no telling how much of that feeling carried over both at home and on the set for Wellman's son, Tim, who played a small bit in The Happy Years.
Director: William A. Wellman
Producer: Carey Wilson
Screenplay: Harry Ruskin, based on "The Lawrenceville School Stories" by Owen Johnson
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Editing: John Dunning
Art Direction: Daniel B. Cathcart, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Leigh Harline
Cast: Dean Stockwell (Dink Stover), Darryl Hickman (Tough McCarty), Scotty Beckett (Tennessee Shad), Leon Ames (Samuel Stover Sr.), Margalo Gillmore (Maude Stover).
by Rob Nixon
The Happy Years
The working titles of this film were Dink Stover and You're Only Young Twice. Owen Johnson's book, The Lawrenceville School Stories, consists of three distinct sections: "The Prodigious Hickey," "The Varmint" and "The Tennessee Shad." "The Prodigious Hickey" and "The Tennessee Shad" are made up of short stories, while "The Varmint" is a single, novelette-length piece. Many of the short stories were published in Century magazine in 1908. The picture marked the film debut of actor Robert Wagner. An addenda to the film's CBCS sheet indicates that actor Charles B. Smith played a character named "Sock Mazula," and that the character was eliminated from the picture before its release. Some filming took place on location in Lawrenceville, NJ. An October 1949 Daily Variety news item noted that John Pershing, III, the grandson of General John J. Pershing, was set for a part in this film, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. The Happy Years was re-released as The Adventures of Dink Stover.