Today we celebrate the the 56th birthday of actor and Hollywood b-lister Daniel Stern, who’s career spans about 35 years and over 50 films. What can I say about the guy, he’s in a lot of movies where there’s either a spider on his face, or he’s getting kicked in the nuts. In today’s article, we will discuss some quintessential Daniel Stern viewing, and delve further into this mythical creature.
Daniel Stern made a splash into Hollywood in 1979 with his role as “Cyril” in the coming-of-age classic Breaking Away, about a group of lower-middle-class high school graduates who struggle with what they are going to do with their lives, and envy the college students attending the nearby university. I’ve seen the movie a few times, and I don’t remember Stern’s character being very memorable, other then a scene where he accidentally throws a bowling ball through a campus window, but this was his first film and worth mentioning. The movie itself was pretty successful, earning five Academy Award nominations, and winning one for Best Original Screenplay. The world was Daniel Stern’s oyster.
Over the next five years, Stern would go on to star in about 10 more films, none of them really memorable other than a role in Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, about a boy who’s dog get’s hit by a car, and the boy brings him back to life. Even though the movie was directed by Tim Burton, I’ve always avoided it because it was put out by Disney, and I fucking hate Disney.
The next film worth mentioning was the 1984 cult classic C.H.U.D., which stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers”. In C.H.U.D., Stern plays “The Reverend” Shepherd, who runs a local homeless shelter, and he believes the recent disappearance of many homeless people to be part of a huge government cover-up. It is found that monsters who were once human lurk in the sewers, transformed by toxic waste into flesh-eating cannibals. Eventually he teams up with photographer George Cooper (played by John Heard), and they uncover that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been dumping waste by-products into the tunnels. The film was a commercial and critical failure, but over the years managed to pick up a cult status, and I personally just saw it for the first time about six months ago on Netflix. It’s basically the teenage mutant ninja turtles, if instead of fighting crime, the turtles mutated into monsters that ate people’s faces, like that guy in Miami.
In 1987, Daniel Stern accepted a role as an ex-con named Jimmy in the comedy Born In East LA, also starring Cheech Marin. Rudy (Cheech Marin) is mistakenly deported to Mexico when he misplaces his ID, and after befriending Jimmy, the two plot to sneak Rudy back into the US. Critics universally panned the film, but what the fuck do they know, I enjoyed it. Plus the film had tons of tacos, so count me in.
Stern would next try his hand at syndicated television, albeit a narrating role, on the baby-boomer throwback The Wonder Years. Stern provided the voice-over of main character Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage) for the four-year run of the series. Stern and Savage would team up again that next year in 1989, along with Fred Savage’s brother Ben in Little Monsters. The movie was a limited theater release, but grew a cult following through VHS, and tells the story of a boy who befriends the monster under his bed, played by Howie Mandel.
This is the decade that would prove important to the career of Daniel Stern, as a slew of hits (as a supporting character) would be released. In 1990 he would be cast in probably his most well-known role as “Marv” in Home Alone. The movie as everybody already knows is basically watching him and Joe Pesci getting their balls bashed and their heads tarred and feathered by Macaulay Culkin, after he is accidentally left home alone by his parents over a christmas holiday. To say the movie was successful would be an understatement, as it grossed $533,000,000 internationally, breaking all records for a comedy film. One fun fact about the film is that director Chris Columbus initially approached Robert De Niro to play the Harry role, and after he declined, they went with their second choice of Joe Pesci (hot off his success and recent Academy Awared in Goodfellas).
In 1991, he would go on to star in City Slickers, alongside Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby. Stern plays Phil Berquist, who manages his father-in-laws grocery store, is stuck in an over-bearing marriage, and subsequently has an affair with a cashier at the store. He joins his friends Mitch (Billy Crystal) and Ed (Bruno Kirby) on a two-week cattle-drive tourist adventure, were they plan to escape their problems, but quickly become in over their heads. Originally Rick Moranis was selected to play Phil Berquist, however due to his wife falling ill, he had to withdraw, opening the door for Stern to creep in and take the role. The movie was critically praised, and still maintains a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The group would re-unite again in 1994 for the easily forgettable City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold. The next couple of years, Daniel Stern was churning out turds on par with Kevin James Zookeeper, such as Bushwacked (1995) and Celtic Pride (1996). Bushwacked was planned to be a spin-off of Stern’s “Marv” character from Home Alone, as he’s wanted by authorities, and tries to hide out in the woods among a boy scout group. Celtic Pride was a failed early attempt by Judd Apatow, about two obessed Celtics fans (Daniel Stern and Dan Aykroyd) who kidnap the star player from an opposing team so that the Celtics will win game seven of the NBA Finals.
The only other project of note in the 90’s was the dark comedy Very Bad Things, co-starring Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Jon Favreau, and Jeremy Piven. In Very Bad Things, a group of friends get together for a bachelor party in Las Vegas, and a drunken Jeremy Piven accidentally kills a stripper by impaling the back of her head onto a towel hook.
The 2000’s to the Present
Things would seemingly slow down for Stern in the 21st century, as he would mostly perform guest roles on television shows such as Monk, Hey Arnold, and Workaholics. He voiced the titular character on the animated show Dilbert for two seasons, and attempted to helm his own ABC television show called Regular Joe, that was cancelled after about six episodes aired. I haven’t seen it, but I can only imagine that it sucks. He also split his time working on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) around this time.
Currently, Stern stars on the WGN original series Manhattan, which is centered around the Manhattan project in Los Alamos in 1943. I also haven’t yet seen this, but it looks promising, and maybe I’ll give it a whirl once it’s on Netflix, or find it somewhere on the interwebs.
So as you can see, Daniel Stern has been in a lot of movies. Some of them have been pretty unremarkable roles, and most are easily forgotten, but he was in the movie nonetheless. Happy Birthday, you fruity bastard! So what is your favorite Daniel Stern movie? Tell me in the comments!