Tinseltown Talks: David Stollery moves from Disney star to designer
Actors who leave Hollywood don’t automatically flourish in a second career, but David Stollery did. First working in film during the late 1940s, Stollery appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, including many Disney productions, by the time he was 18. Then, he suddenly quit the business.
“I started working when I was six years old, became well-known, and was making good money,” said Stollery, who turned 78 in earlier this year. “I asked myself if this was what I wanted to do with my life and the answer was ‘no.’ I’d always been interested in drawing and design so when I was accepted into the ArtCenter College of Design, now in Pasadena, I knew I’d made the right decision.”
Focusing on automotive design at school, Stollery worked for General Motors in the ‘60s, then Toyota. Later, he was hired by millionaire Lou Richards to help design the novel front-wheel-drive Trihawk three-wheeler vehicle. Only about 100 were produced and, after Richards’ death, another job would lead to the creation of Stollery’s own company.
“I had heard through a friend that the State of California was looking for someone to redesign their lifeguard observation towers,” he explained. “I didn’t know anything about lifeguard towers but came up with a design and they gave me a contract.”
To date, he says his Santa Ana company Industrial Design Research, Inc., has sold over 700 of the modern fiberglass towers around the U.S. and internationally.
Despite having left Hollywood decades ago, Stollery says people still recall his screen years.
“I appreciate that they remember me, mostly from ‘The Adventures of Spin and Marty’ in the ‘50s,” he said, referring to the short western serial set at a summer boys’ camp which aired during Disney’s original “Mickey Mouse Club” show on ABC. Stollery played Marty, a pompous rich kid who eventually befriended the camp’s most popular kid, Spin, played by Tim Considine.
But it wasn’t the first-time young Stollery portrayed a snobby child. He appeared in the black and white sequences at the beginning and end of Abbott and Costello’s 1952 comedy “Jack and the Beanstalk,” reading the bedtime story to Costello that leads to the film’s color dream sequence.
“I was so excited to be in an Abbott and Costello film,” Stollery recalled. “At the end of the movie I even got to hit Lou over the head with a breakaway vase. I was supposed to keep a straight face, but Lou would go into all these gyrations from being hit and I couldn’t stop laughing. And after all these years, I still have the top of that vase!”
Another vivid memory from Stollery’s early Hollywood days is the 1956 Disney film “Westward Ho, the Wagons!” starring Fess Parker. Also cast was Iron Eyes Cody, best known for playing Native Americans in westerns although reportedly he was of Italian descent.
“There was one scene where I was shooting at some Indians from behind a rock and Iron Eyes was off camera shooting arrows at me which would bounce off the rock near my face,” recalled Stollery. “It never occurred to me until much later that Iron Eyes could miss and I might have ended up with an arrow through my head!”
The young actor didn’t shy away from danger on “Spin and Marty,” either.
“Tim and I did our own riding stunts. We were taught how to ride bareback, to stay on a horse when it reared up, and to rope a calf. We never gave it another thought that we might get injured because it was just part of the job.”
That dedication to work was instilled in Stollery by his parents and it’s a philosophy he has maintained throughout his career whether working for Disney, GM, Toyota, or himself.
“You listen to people, learn from them, and work to improve yourself or the product you’re making,” he said. “That’s the way I do business.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns and interviews for over 700 magazines and newspapers. See http://www.tinseltowntalks.com.