Howard Stern Does Hollywood
He will not stop. Sitting on a fold-out chair on 50th Street in Manhattan, Howard Stern just keeps moving. Even when he is sitting still, he is moving. Leg tapping, plot hatching. “I don’t know,” he says, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s see it on the monitor.” And then he’s back on his feet, moving through a cloud of PAs and ADs, pleasant-looking young people (clipboards, Styrofoam cups) who control the block like an occupying army. “Everyone quiet,” they say. “We’re making a movie.” This is on location for Private Parts, the film that Paramount Pictures is releasing of Stern’s best-selling autobiography. Stern has now returned, along with a 120-person crew, to the Rockefeller Center entrance to NBC, where, 15 years ago, his radio co-host, Robin Quivers, was frozen out of a job. Howard was hired by NBC radio; Robin was not. In the movie, for dramatic effect, Robin is simply fired. “It can be very hard playing your life,” says Stern. “When I bring back some of these old feelings, I get really fucking emotional.”
It is 6 a.m. Sunday. August. In America, if a celebrity wants to move through a city like a regular person, he must do it early. “We try to shoot before the people show up,” says Stern, who has been here since 5, grappling with his past: How does a man at 43 remember the anxieties of being 20? Was I the same person back then? Even now, with the city still cool and full of shadows, the crowds have begun to gather. They stand across the street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, in Fashion Cafe caps and T-shirts that say things like “I’m With Stupid.” Yokels in town on weekend packages. Stern lets his eyes move over them, scratches his stomach, yawns. He lives under their gaze, like a meal under keep-hot lights, bubbles coming up through the sauce. “The advantage is, I’m playing myself,” he later says. “So I go back and say, ‘OK, what the fuck was I really like?’ Then I try to tap into those moments in my life. I want people to feel like they’re really watching this guy — like they’ve stepped into a photo album.”
He walks over to a monitor, where an engineer will play back the scene that has just been filmed. Someone asks for the time. The crew must finish by noon, before the Dominican Day parade rolls through midtown, grinding up any errant clipboard boys. Stern, standing between Private Parts’ director, Betty Thomas, and a makeup man who waves a blush brush, taps his foot. He is dressed like a kid who has waited all night for Pantera tickets, in khakis, white T-shirt and a denim button-down, sleeves cut off. “I’ve never seen myself on a big screen,” he says later. “I’ve only seen it on little monitors. But I’ve seen it enough to get used to myself on camera.” He pushes back his long hair, revealing sharp Old World features. “Here it is,” he says, looking at the screen, which flickers to life.
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Robin, as herself, racing out of NBC. Howard chasing. The neon Rainbow Room sign glowing in daylight. Robin saying she’s been fired and wants Howard to quit. Howard saying that’s just what the execs want him to do. Robin saying, “Oh, you’re going to hang me out like garbage,” climbing into a ’70s-style high-top yellow cab. The driver also looking like something from the ’70s. Robin rolling down her window, yelling at Howard, telling him to fuck off, the words echoing off the buildings like a gunshot. The yokels tittering. New York!
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When the monitor goes black, Stern looks at the street, where the cab is moving back into place. And there is Robin, being driven in reverse, like someone moving the wrong way through time — which is exactly what Stern has been doing all summer: moving back through time, playing himself at all ages, taking the moviegoing public on the 43-year journey that has been Howard Stern. “It’s the story of a guy coming up,” he later says. “No different than Don Corleone or Stallone coming up as Rocky, or anybody who did it other than the conventional way.”
Peter Travers’ 1997 Private Parts Review
Stern grew up in Southwest Long Island, in New York, where the Manhattan skyline is never far from the horizon. He spent his first years in Roosevelt, a village that was one day all white, the next day all black. As one of the only white kids in school, he says, he was a symbol of oppression — a victim. Though his parents soon moved to a whiter town, Roosevelt remains a place on his map. Roosevelt taught Stern to be an outsider, a role he still plays every day. “I have no idea what my place in show business is,” he tells me. “I’m sort of this outcast.”
Stern’s father was a sound engineer at a radio station in Manhattan. Howard often went with his old man to work, where he watched stars like Don Adams record voice-overs. On weekends, Howard used a tape player to record his own show, a kid’s version of the show he still does today. He would sit upstairs with friends, saying the most disgusting thing that came to mind. He would go to the phones, harassing local merchants. Calling a pharmacy, he might ask, “Do you stock LSD?” Whenever one of these tapes made it down to Howard’s father, he would call his son a moron, saying that Howard had no idea what he was doing. When Stern sent a tape of his college radio show home, his father sent back a note: “You stupid idiot, this is terrible. They don’t talk like that on real radio stations.”
“My father was harsh,” Stern says. “But I always felt loved by him. And all the criticism kept me in check. Someone who grew up in my house can’t get too full of himself.”
After high school, Stern went to Boston University, the school of communications. Same old story: parties, pot, coeds. He studied, was rejected by girls, worked on college radio. The first record he cued as a DJ was by Santana. And he met Alison Berns, who would become his wife. Before he met Alison, who later became a psychiatric social worker, Stern was the sort of lonely college kid who can’t get a date. All these years later, he’s still amazed that this sweet, attractive woman went out with him. “I was so punch-drunk from getting knocked around by women that I couldn’t imagine someone this dynamite would be into me,” he later wrote. “Within a week after our relationship began, I knew I was going to marry her.”
Maybe that’s why, even as he became a big shot, as models dropped their pants and let him play Butt Bongo, Stern stayed faithful. Long ago, when there was something he really wanted, she was the only one who would give it to him. When Stern’s first book came out, it was dedicated to her: “To my wife, Alison, who stuck with me through thick and thin, who never gave a shit about material things or put any pressure on me, who let me finger her on the first date and who loved me before I had a radio show.” Stern graduated magna cum laude.
After college, Stern moved in with Alison, took a 9-to-5 job (doing marketing in an ad agency) and griped. With her support, he quit and got himself back on radio, a tiny station in Westchester, N.Y. During the next few years, he followed the jobs, which he read about in Radio and Records, a trade publication. He went city to city. The stations were usually run-down joints in just the worst part of town, paper peeling off the walls, know-nothing program directors with bullshit rules. “You know, ‘Don’t do anything different,'” says Stern. “‘Keep your fucking mouth shut. Don’t talk to women on the air — you sound wimpy.’ And just when you defeat one guy, you go somewhere else, and they tell you the same shit all over again.”
It was a strange way to live. Stern wore open-collared shirts, corduroy pants, a mustache. His short hair was feathered back. He would wake in the dead of night, dress in the dark, sit all morning in some booth, coming up with bits. In Hartford, Conn., he asked local leaders to talk about their best dates; in Detroit, he petitioned the governor to change the state song to Ted Nugent’s “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”; in Washington, D.C., he made light of Alison’s miscarriage. “We got him in formaldehyde,” he said on air. “Just because he’s in a bottle doesn’t mean he can’t have a life of his own.” And everywhere, he made enemies.
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