Film Reviews

Stern und Drang

Page 3 of 9

Then, in stepped Ivan Reitman, director of Ghostbusters, Twins, Stripes and myriad other well-received and ultraprofitable comedies. Reitman is a longtime Stern fan and perhaps the only Hollywood player not immediately repulsed by him. The director says he told Stern as far back as 1991 he should make a film about his life; Reitman might even direct, he suggested, giving Stern the sort of instant legitimacy he could never receive belching into the microphone every morning.

"I thought he was an original voice," Reitman says. "I pitched him. I said, 'I think it should be a biographical film, I think you should star as yourself, I think it should be almost documentary in feel.' It just took a while for that to happen."

As Reitman went off to make Dave, the presidential comedy with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, Stern turned away from filmmaking and began writing (with Larry "Ratso" Sloman) his first book. Stern actually tried to get Reitman to direct or produce The Adventures of Fartman, but the director passed. "I told him, 'It's a great Fartman movie, but that's what it is.'" He advised Stern to stay away from it; to become Fartman, to don the silly outfit and fart his way across the big screen, would have meant giving up being Howard Stern. The transformation into a joke would be complete.

Reitman considered buying Private Parts when no other studio wanted to touch it. Stern's 1994 New Year's Eve special nearly ruined his bankability in Hollywood: crass, boorish and surprisingly juvenile for a man who had learned to turn the outlandish and trenchant into high lowbrow art. Unlike his short-lived 1992 television show for New York's WOR-TV, which was syndicated nationally late Saturday nights (where its ratings beat Saturday Night Live's in some markets, including New York), the special was more shit than wit. Of course, it made millions of dollars--at the time, the highest-rated pay-per-view special ever.

"There was a fear I would be somewhat ostracized, thought of strangely" for working with Stern after the New Year's special, Reitman says. "Having just made Dave and Twins and Ghostbusters--these sort of grand traditional Hollywood films--what the hell was I doing working with this outcast? On the special, he just went for the edgy side of himself. It was just about breaking rules as opposed to entertainment. It didn't have the intelligence his daily show has, which is what I wanted to present in a film."

After the publication of Private Parts, Stern entered into a deal with Rysher Entertainment, Inc., to make a film version; at one point, John Avildsen had been signed on to direct, perhaps because Stern liked the idea of Rocky's director bringing his own underdog story to the screen. But Avildsen eventually backed off the project, perhaps because Stern kept rejecting script after script.

From the git-go, Hollywood envisioned Stern's film as a big-screen version of his radio show; it would be bigger, bawdier, wilder--the radio show on a movie's budget. One early script opened with once-regular guest and friend Richard Simmons baby-sitting Stern's kids and running around Stern's Long Island estate in a tutu.

Eventually, Reitman got involved again and brought in longtime collaborator Len Blum, who penned Meatballs and Stripes, to write the script; he also brought in The Brady Bunch Movie and The Late Shift director Betty Thomas, the former Hill Street Blues star who proved she had a deft, affectionate, irreverent touch with pop-culture icons from Greg Brady to David Letterman. Stern would fit right in.

In the end, Private Parts is less about the famous Howard Stern and more about a gawky young man who stumbled through myriad radio jobs until he found his voice. He's portrayed as a nerd who becomes enamored of radio at a young age, a fumbler who can't get laid because of his awkward height and goofy looks, a clumsy deejay who can't even keep the needle on the record. It's a love story, boy meets Marconi--and gets the girl to boot.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky