By Steven S. Drachman
I was watching Mannix the other day — not in 1968, but really the other day, in late 2023 — and there was Harry Dean Stanton in a supporting role, playing some kind of hippy-adjacent, possibly shady character.
“This guy is really famous,” I told my kid. “He was in Paris, Texas, which is really a great movie. But for you, he’s notable because he was in the original Quantum Leap. He was like the hologram who helps the hero!” (My kids are fans of the new Quantum Leap.)
So I pulled up an episode of Quantum Leap on the streaming box to show them and … Harry Dean Stanton wasn’t on it at all. That was Dean Stockwell.
I know Dean Stockwell perfectly well, I used to watch that show every week, I just never noticed that Dean Stockwell and Harry Dean Stanton were two different guys.
For years, whenever I thought about Quantum Leap (which is all the time), I picture Scott Bakula and Harry Dean Stanton.
This has happened to me more than once, in life and in art. I know someone well; I take classes with him, or work in an office with him, say hello to him every day; I just never notice that he is two people, not one. When everyone is calling him “Sam,” I call him “Sam,” too. When everyone is calling him “Todd,” that’s what I call him. I don’t really pay attention to people’s names. I have bigger things to worry about. Like world peace. Climate change.
It’s not because these people look alike, it’s something else. Like their souls. I see into their souls, as George W. Bush once said.
Is it just me?
Anyway, America loves a listicle, or used to love a listicle. So here is a listicle about that.
Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell.
They are both named “Dean.” Is that all there is to it? There are plenty of other “Deans” in the world, after all.
Jean Jacques Annaud and Jean-Jacques Beineix.
Back in the 1980s, I would pretentiously tell anyone who would listen that I was a great admirer of the director of The Big Blue, The Bear, Diva and Betty Blue, who I generally referred to as Jean Jacques Annaud (which comes first in the alphabet before Jean-Jacques Beineix, is easier to pronounce and is really fun to say fast); and my admiration for this director carried over to his offbeat commercial projects, like The Fifth Element, which I dragged my wife to see, eager for the latest film by my favorite French director. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered to my shock that Jean Jacques Annaud and Jean-Jacques Beineix are two different directors, not one amazing genius, and that neither one of them is Luc Besson.
Mae Questel and Una Merkel.
Why do I have any opinion about either of these actresses? A year or two ago, I sat down to watch Jack Benny in It’s in the Air (a good movie, incidentally, which Oblivioni will cover again soon), and I was kind of impressed by the chemistry between Benny and his leading lady Una Merkel. In another timeline, Jack Benny would have made a good romantic lead. But I was also impressed that a woman best-known as the voice of Betty Boop was also so good at conveying the subtler and edgier sexiness required in this film. Because if there is one thing I know about Una Merkel, it’s that she was the voice of Betty Boop, and pretty funny in her late-career comeback as Woody Allen’s mom in Oedipus Wrecks. Nope.
Melinda Naud and Deborah Raffin.
I was the biggest fan of Deborah Raffin this side of China (where she was the number 1 star for years), but I thought I originally fell in love with her when she starred in the Operation Petticoat TV show in the 1970s. So for years after that show was quickly canceled, I slavishly followed her career. I watched her miniseries, The Last Convertible, and I read the novel on which it was based and pictured her while I read it. I watched her movies, The Dove, and Morning Glory, with Christopher Reeve, which she also produced. All because of her role in the short-lived sitcom, Operation Petticoat! But she wasn’t on that show: that was someone named Melinda Naud. Why did I like Deborah Raffin for all those decades and mourn her death? Because she was just exactly like Melinda Naud, in some indefinable way.
Russell Hoban and Donald Barthelme.
For years, I thought Donald Barthelme, the English post-modernist author of Snow White and Riddley Walker, was unable to find a publisher for his work in America, turned to writing kids’ books with his wife and unexpectedly hit it big with a series of stories about some kind of large adorable talking rat who went to school and learned important lessons about life. I studied him in college, I especially liked his funny book about being in the hospital, I can’t remember the title. He had a beard and glasses, and pleasingly unruly gray hair. If there was one thing I always knew for sure about Donald Barthelme, it was this: his name was Russell Hoban.
GE Smith and Phil Hartman.
Phil Hartman was the hardest working man on Saturday Night Live. I was always impressed to see him leading the band between sketches.
Shane Campbell-Staton and Shane Campbell-Staton.
I have it on good authority that there are two evolutionary biologists named Shane Campbell-Staton. One Shane Campbell-Staton is the host of a great and massively entertaining show on PBS called Evolution Earth, which Oblivioni will be writing about soon. The other Shane Campbell-Staton is some other guy with the same name who has the same job. I did see this once on the web. But I can’t duplicate the research. So I’m not sure if it is true. So the picture on the right, above, is an image of what AI thinks an evolutionary biologist named Shane Campbell-Staton would look like. If it is true, it’s funny. It’s probably not true. But I hope it’s true, because it would be funny if it were.
Christopher Cross and Randy VanWarmer.
I never got these two mixed up. Christopher Cross is a so-so talent who swept the Grammies one year. The late Randy Vanwarmer was an unrecognized genius who had one hit song in the ‘70s and went on to record a little-heard cult masterpiece, “Terraform.” But to the extent anyone thinks about Vanwarmer’s hit, “Just When I needed You Most”, they picture Christopher Cross when they do. A long time ago, I knew Randy Vanwarmer a little bit, who told me he got in a lot of arguments about this, about who sang “Just When I needed You Most”. He would say, “It was me.” And people would say, “No, it was Christopher Cross.” Also, one time in 1983 I was walking through Penn Station and someone asked me if I was Randy Vanwarmer. This has nothing to do with the subject of this column, but there it is. Another little story about me.
Steven S. Drachman is the author of Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead, which is available in trade paperback from your favorite local independent bookstore, from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on Kindle.