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Call Him Mr. Nice Guy

Good Howard obscures bad Howard as the radio shock jock films the story of his life, 'Private Parts.'

September 01, 1996|John Clark | John Clark is an occasional contributor to Calendar

NEW YORK — Howard Stern is a nice guy. This is what people who know him say, and this is what his new movie, "Private Parts," based on his best-selling 1993 autobiography, may demonstrate.

However, it is the "awful" Howard Stern--the one who draws 18 million listeners to his nationally syndicated radio show (airing locally on KLSX-FM)--who is on display on a relatively cool summer day in New York's Bryant Park. The makers of "Private Parts" are staging a scene in which Stern (playing himself) appears dressed like Louis XIV before 3,000 or so fans. Preceding him is his real-life radio gang: sidekick Robin Quivers, engineer Fred Norris, producer Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate and writer Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling. Stern then makes an entrance, introducing his parents and his wife (all played by actors) and the rock group AC/DC (played by themselves). While the band performs, Stern's wife, who is pregnant, tells him that her water has broken, so he rushes her through the crowd and into a waiting police car. End of scene.

They go through it many times, all for 30 seconds of film. Stern varies a speech that begins, "People of New York! We are gathered here in praise of--me!"

As the afternoon wears on, the tops come off. A number of women have "HOWARD" written across their chests. In fact, Stern has done some of the handwriting, prompting his stand-in to remark, "They never do that for the stand-in. They never go there."

"There" is even encouraged by the director, Betty Thomas, who at one point yells over the public-address system, "Women of Howard! This is your last chance to be topless. I have a very long lens that will capture you."

"Wow, yeah," says Stern, grinning at a woman bouncing up and down on someone's shoulders. "A masterpiece."

The crowd is fairly well behaved, but at least one person does get out of hand. While the police and the production assistants move people aside to create a corridor for Stern and his wife, Alison, to rush through on their way to the police car, one of the extras steps into their path and exposes herself. A cop roughly pushes her aside.

"That wasn't in the script," says one of the crew members.

But it could have been.


A week later, the other Howard Stern is in attendance. He is seated in the first-class section of an L-1011 parked at Newark International Airport's now-abandoned North Terminal. Seated beside him is supermodel Carol Alt, who plays a fellow passenger who can't stand the sight of him. To win her over, Stern proceeds to tell her his life story. The film will flash back to his childhood and then move on to his college years, his marriage, his early days in radio, his struggles with ignorant program directors and his eventual triumph. We then return to the "present" (actually, 1992), where Alt delivers her verdict.

The scene is a simple framing device. It also represents, in a way, the journey taken by a number of people associated with this film, which is planned for a February release. Not all of them were Stern fans, so, as with Alt's character, he had to win them over. Even those who like him had problems.

"I think there's a level of perceived danger that comes to people in our profession in being associated with him," says producer Ivan Reitman, who has shepherded the project and is a longtime Stern fan. "It's certainly controversial for me. I did two 'Beethoven' movies, 'Ghostbusters,' 'Dave' and 'Twins.' They're all perceived as broad-range entertainment, and this is going to be a pretty edgy picture. But I felt I had to stay fresh."

"I'd never heard his show before I went out to meet him," says Mary McCormack, who plays Alison (she's also a regular on the TV series "Murder One"). "I'd heard things about him, and I was sort of like, 'Oh, my God, what am I doing, what have I done?' And then I listened to the show--I remember it was right around Easter--and he was painting a woman's breasts like Easter eggs in the studio."

"I didn't hate Howard, but I didn't love Howard either," says Thomas, who directed "The Brady Bunch Movie" but might be better known as Lucy Bates on "Hill Street Blues." "I was always forced to listen to the show because my boyfriend was a huge fan. So many a morning I awoke to his show, and I didn't want to."

Both of these women have completely turned around about Stern.

"There's such great loyalty amongst his people," Thomas says. "I guess that was the one thing that shocked me. But then when you get to know him, you go, 'Of course.' You're almost protective of him." When her friends try to give her a hard time about working with Stern, she tells them, "You're me a couple of months ago."

For at least one person, however, this transformation from indifference, apprehension or downright hostility was even more extreme.

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