If you are too young to remember the 90s you might only know Howard Stern as that one America’s Got Talent judge who made kids cry or as Donald Trump’s buddy who loved hearing stories about walking backstage at Miss Universe to peek on nude and semi-nude contestants. However, there was a time when Howard Stern, the self-dubbed “King of All Media,” was a genuine cultural force in America. As the face and voice of the radio shock-jock movement, he continually courted controversy and battled with the censors while also leveraging his fame into a long-running TV series on E! (which was often like a Skinemax substitute), two best-selling memoirs and a cultishly adored biopic in which he played himself:
Private Parts actually turns 20 today (it came out March 7, 1997), and what you don’t get from that trailer is how the movie is actually a love letter to Stern’s then-wife Allison, the mother of his three daughters and ever-patient center of his chaotic universe. The framing device of the film is not unlike Forrest Gump in that it is simply Stern telling his life story to someone, in this case, a gorgeous airplane passenger (played by sex symbol Carol Alt) who failed to really hide her disgust over having to sit next to him. Except unlike Gump Stern routinely addresses the camera during these sections, at one point lamenting how much it hurts knowing that if he wasn’t so in love with his wife he could easily use his undeniable charm and considerable celebrity to bed not only this random woman but countless others like her.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Howard and Allison’s marriage crumbled just two years later, leading to a separation in 1999 and amicable divorce in 2001. He’s been married to another woman since 2008. So, Private Parts now exists as a tribute to a love whose flame extinguished long ago. However, it is still an endlessly funny romp through the history of radio in the 80s and 90s, with an all-time great turn from Paul Giamatti at his most-Paul Giamatti (he’s never played screeching exasperation as well as he does in Private Parts).
So, in honor of Private Parts’ 20th anniversary here are 10 new-to-me facts about the making of the movie:
1. It was made through a development deal Stern had with Rhysher Entertainment which granted him final script approval. He used that power to reject at least 22 drafts and revisions.
2. Oscar-winning director John G. Avildsen (Rocky) was once attached to direct.
3. The original producers wanted there to be more spectacle. Michael Kalesniko, the first writer hired on the film, recalled, “I remember a note about Stern riding an elephant down Fifth Avenue at one point.” That…actually sounds like something Stern would have done.
4. Exactly how toxic was Stern’s reputation in some corners of the world? Well, Kalesniki, who shares a writing credit on the film with Len Blum, lost a friend over his involvement with the project. As he told Variety, “When I mentioned that I was being considered to adapt his book, an East Coast friend of mine replied that if I did, she would never speak to me again. That friend still hasn’t spoken to me to this day, but believe me it was worth it.”
5. They wanted to make an Annie Hall for the 90s. This was easier said than done since Stern’s Private Parts memoir contains surprisingly little about his life and career and more about his love of dirty jokes.
However, Kalesniki’s goal was to lose as much of the raunch as possible and turn it into an underdog story which kept coming back to Stern’s love for his wife, “I knew from the beginning that the story was about Allison and Howard’s relationship. It would be a love story that coincided with his rise to fame.”
6. Ivan Reitman rescued it from development hell in 1995. By that point, Kalesniki had been fired, and multiple further drafts of the script had been ordered and rejected by Stern. He turned to Reitman for advice, who enlisted Len Blum’s help in altering the script to focus less on Howard’s work life and more on his life away from the microphone.
7. The director hated Howard. Reitman recommended Betty Thomas as director based on her work behind the camera on the HBO Original Movie The Late Shift (about the Leno/Letterman late show wars immediately after Carson’s retirement), but she just wasn’t having it, telling Variety, “My boyfriend at the time was a huge fan and I was forced to listen to Howard way too long, until I couldn’t take it anymore. The show would eventually get misogynistic or weird and I’d have to turn it off.” That actually made them want her more. “Ivan thought that might be good. Maybe it shouldn’t be a fan who directs it. Maybe it should be someone who approaches it in a more neutral way.”
8. Stern’s nervousness is what convinced Thomas to direct. She took a meeting with Stern to discuss the directing gig, fully expecting to turn it down. Then this happened: “Howard reached out to shake my hand, and his was trembling. He was so nervous to meet me, and everything changed at that exact moment. I needed to see that vulnerability. He had never done anything like this before, and he had to trust someone to lead him through it. I felt like I could do that.”
9. Paul Giamatti’s character wasn’t exaggerated at all.
According to Stern’s on-air buddy Jackie Martling, who first hooked up with Stern in 1983 and played himself in the movie, “I walked in one day and was introduced to Kevin, the new program director. Everything seemed peachy at first. But after a short while, he and Howard started banging heads. Then each week their relationship deteriorated a bit more until the whole thing imploded. Kevin was truly a cartoon character and Howard wasn’t just pushing the envelope, he was bulldozing it.”
10. Why didn’t they make a sequel? Private Parts remains Stern’s only movie, and Thomas has a theory as to why, “When it premiered and he saw that he could do it, Howard had a couple of ideas about other movies. The thing is, he can’t do anything lesser than what he’s already done, and it was pretty hard to top his first one.”
What’s your favorite scene in Private Parts? Have you even seen Private Parts? Wait, you haven’t. Really? Then, why did you read this article? It’s a pretty funny movie. You should check it out.