Thursday, May 16, 2013

Scott Schwartz talks with TV STORE ONLINE about A Christmas Story and The Toy

TV STORE ONLINE: So how did A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) come to you as an actor?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   I had already done a few other films.   I was coming home from shooting THE TOY and Bob Clark called and asked me to come in to see him.   So I went in and saw him with my dad and the three of us went to lunch.    We came back and he said, "Well it was great to meet you."   We left, and by the time we got to my agents office he had called and offered me the part.   I didn't have to read or anything for it, because he had just seen me in THE TOY.  I think he just wanted to see if I was a normal kid.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I've always been really blown away by your performance in movies like THE TOY (1982) or KIDCO (1984). In particular, because of the range of emotion you were able to deliver at such a young age.  When did the acting bug hit you as a kid?

Schwartz in A CHRISTMAS STORY (L) and today (R)

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   I think I sort of always had it.   I was just a fan of movies growing up.  I used to do impersonations and I used to do scenes from movies to myself.   When I was a kid I used to ride my bike to school and I would listen to the audio from my favorite movies like HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1 (1981), AIRPLANE! (1980), BLAZING SADDLES (1974), YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).  I would just listen to them back and forth.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So you're a big Mel Brooks fan?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:  A big big Mel Brooks fan, yes.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where did you guys shoot A CHRISTMAS STORY?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   We shot in Cleveland.  That's where the exteriors of Ralphie's house were filmed.  Then we shot the school in St. Catharines Ontario, Canada.  And all of the interiors we shot on a sound stage in Toronto.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I was wondering if you ever saw that A CHRISTMAS STORY 2 (2012) direct-to-video sequel that came out last year.

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   I wouldn't see that if you paid me.   That was done just as a money grab.  They just wanted to do something cheap that they could package up with the first movie.  Nothing against the filmmakers or any of the actors in it, but the fans were just so against it in the first place.  They don't even want anyone screwing with the first one.  I mean, if you're gonna make a sequel then why don't you get all of the kids together now as grown-ups and then base the story around their kids.    

"I double dog dare you!"  
TV STORE ONLINE:   Could you tell me about the famous scene where your character got his tongue stuck on the pole?  

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:    So there was a plastic tube that went over the pole.   Then in front of my tongue there was a little hole in the plastic. It was a little hole about the size of your pinkie nail.  They put a vacuum tube up inside the plastic and it created a suction.   So when I put my tongue on it is sucked it to the pole.    It didn't hurt, I could pull my tongue off of it without any problems.   I wasn't really stuck whatsoever.

TV STORE ONLINE:   How many takes on a scene like that?  Where there any rehearsals on something like that?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:  Well, we actually shot the scene twice.   The first time we shot that, it took about 12.5 hours.   The film went to be developed and when it came back it was under-exposed so we had to do it all over again and the second time we shot that it took about 11.5 hours.   There were no rehearsals whatsoever.  Bob was a reactionary director, so he just let you do your thing and if he didn't like it, he'd tell you.

TV STORE ONLINE:  In your opinion, was the first attempt on it any different or better than the one that we see in the finished movie?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:  No, they were pretty much the same.  

Behind the scenes photo
Scott Schwartz on
TV STORE ONLINE:  One of the things in the scene that's pretty funny is the fact that while your character's tongue is stuck to the pole 'Flick' decides to talk.  Was that something in the script or was that something that was made up on the spot?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:  That was Bob Clark saying, "Do you have any ideas for this?"  I had done THE TOY and had done a lot of improvisation with Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor on that.   So he knew I was comfortable doing that.   Bob just told me" Just go with it, and we'll see how it works."  In the script it just read:  'Flick' gets tongue stuck to pole... That's it. 

TV STORE ONLINE:    A CHRISTMAS STORY has come to be considered a classic film over the last 20 years.  When did you realize or see the film yourself as being a classic?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   When they started making action figures, and lunch boxes and a Monopoly board based on the movie.   When all of the merchandise came out it had already started to be shown on TBS.  They did a marathon of it every year.   It took about five or six years of the marathon before it really took hold and exploded.  The marathon is what really gave the film its status today.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Why do you think the movie has such a timeless appeal?

The cast of A CHRISTMAS STORY all grown up
w/ director Bob Clark (center) at a reunion screening.
SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   It's a generational movie.  Grandma and Grandpa remember those days.  Then you have kids who are growing up with it now.   Everybody, no matter what age has had that one Christmas where they wanted something special.  Everyone has that story.   It's something that just reaches everybody.   Also, it's a movie that kids will watch with their parents.   Not many movies can offer that.   There are people that have A CHRISTMAS STORY parties over the holiday.  They'll have parties where people gather and watch the marathon all night long.  Last week I met the wrestler Jerry 'The King' Lawler and we were talking and he told me that his favorite movie of all time is A CHRISTMAS STORY.  His girlfriend walks up to us and we start talking about it, and she told me that they even have a leg lamp at home in their window and that on December 1st, Jerry turns on the leg lamp and leaves it on all through the holidays.   It's just one of these movies that everyone just loves.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How does it make you feel to be part of something so iconic in American culture today?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   How would it make you feel?  I mean, it is what it is.  I was a small part in an assemble cast.  It's a wonderful movie.  It was a small movie that was put out there and it just took off.  It's been 30 years now since it was released and people are still asking me about it.  It's lucky, it's wonderful...There aren't enough adjectives to explain how wonderful this has all been.  This is something that will last way past my time.   The success of A CHRISTMAS STORY was all because of Bob Clark.  I mean, he had done so many different types of movies before A CHRISTMAS STORY.  He had done CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1973), then that movie with Margot Kidder, BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) and Bob did PORKYS (1982).  

Did you know that MGM was trying to make Bob make PORKYS 2 (1983) before he did A CHRISTMAS STORY?  But he stood his ground and told them that he was gonna do things his way.     Bob did all kinds of different movies.  He had hits and he had bombs.  We all saw RHINESTONE (1987).   But that wasn't even Bob's fault!  They had hired another director on that and then they fired him after several weeks of shooting and they offered Bob a absurd amount of money to finish that movie.  They offered him a fortune to finish that.  He couldn't believe it.

TV STORE ONLINE: Weren't there some things cut from A CHRISTMAS STORY?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:  Yeah there were.   It was too bad that the movie wasn't made in the age of digital because we may still have that footage.  It's all gone now.   There was a scene that they did with 'Ming The Mercliess' and 'Flash Gordon' that was incredible. It was hilarious.  That's gone now.  There are only a couple still photos from that left today.   It's too bad.  

Still Photo from a cut scene from A CHRISTMAS STORY before
it was released by director Bob Clark.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Then what about Jean Sheperd, the writer of the film and book?  Did you have any interaction with him?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   Not really.  I only talked to him once.  I walked up to him and asked "How am I doing?"  He looked at me and said, "You're terrific kid. Your marvelous.."  That was all he ever said to me.  He was more concerned with Peter [Billingsley].     He'd go over to Peter and tell him something, then Bob would go over to Peter thirty seconds later and say, "Do not pay any attention to him. Just do it the way we talked about."   This went on and on between the two of them.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Then what about THE TOY?  How did that come to you?

Scott Schwartz and Richard Pryor in THE TOY (1982)
SCOTT SCHWARTZ:    I did like 10 or 11 auditions for that.   I originally went on for that on what they call a "cattle call."   There were like 400 kids that were up for that with me.   That was just in New York.  They did casting calls in Boston  and Los Angeles too.  They did them all over the country.    Eventually they just started whittling us down.   Finally it got down to 3 of us, and we did screen tests in Los Angeles.     They had a Toys R' Us promotion before that.  It was a Jackie Gleason look-a-like contest.   If you looked like Gleason then you got a screen test and a free trip to Los Angeles.  So you really couldn't count the winner of that contest in with us.  It was strictly like for promotion.  So it came down to me and Henry Thomas for the role.   The difference between us was that Henry had just shot E.T. (1982) with Spielberg but it hadn't come out yet.   I think I was chosen because of the fact that Henry was like much more serious about everything, and I was just this kid that was jumping on the walls.   I was like one of those Super Balls that you could buy in the '70s.

TV STORE ONLINE:    You've got such a range of emotion as that character in THE TOY.  Where did you find that as such a young kid?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   Well, there wasn't really anything to draw on when you're that young.     Most of the tears are fake.  They just blow this clear stuff into your eyes and you cry.  It's like standing over an onion, but if you can give into that and react to that,  the emotion comes.

TV STORE ONLINE:   As a kid, did you pick up on any of the adult oriented jokes or any of THE TOY'S racial undertones?

Richard Pryor and Scott Schwartz on THE TOY (1982)
The film was directed by Richard Donner

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   To be honest, no I didn't.  I didn't pick up on any of the masturbation jokes or anything.  Do you remember that one scene where all of us are sitting at the dinner table?   Between takes, we're sitting there.  It was me, Teresa Ganzel who played 'Fancy' and then Gleason and Pryor.   So Gleason and Pryor just start going hog wild. I'm just sitting there laughing.   It was were 'Fancy'  is sitting there talking about her boobs.  So they were running through it and Teresa's left boob popped out of her top.  Gleason looks at her and of course he can't not stay something.  He says, "Honey... Umm...Your left is more than your right."     Of course, if someone says something, you're gonna look.  So I looked!   Then Richard starts chiming in and he's just brilliant.   I'm busting out laughing.  I can't control myself.   So we go to shoot the scene and I had to say the line, "Fancy, what did your boobs like before?"   But I couldn't do it.   I couldn't say it without laughing because every time I'd try Richard would be fumbling around with something.     That's why I'm laughing on the line in the movie. It was because I just couldn't do it with a straight face.   I'd try but then Richard would spit out that water and then I'd just burst.  I just couldn't do it.   That's why it's like that in the finished movie.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I've heard stories about Gleason on the set of THE TOY?  Was he difficult to work with?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   There have been a lot of stories going around.  There are stories that Gleason was yelling at me on the set, and that's just not true.  Gleason was known to be rough but I didn't have that experience with him.   We had a meeting with him before we started shooting.  Even as a kid, I was a Gleason nut.  I loved him in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977) and I loved The Honeymooners of course.  THE TOY was directed by Richard Donner.    Richard took me to meet Gleason and once I was in front of him, Richard said to me, "Hey Scotty, do that Smokey impression you did for me back at the office."   Now, if your director tells you to do something you do it.   So I walked up to Gleason and I said to him [Gleason impression], "There's no way...No way that....You could come from my loins.  The first thing we do when we get home is punch your mama in the mouth."    He asked me to keep going, so I ended up doing like everything from the movie.  I did like 10 minutes of it.   I think he did it to test me.  I think he saw that I was this kid who knew who he was and that I was a kid that knew his work.   Impression is the highest form of flattery right?   We got along so well on THE TOY.  He would take me, this 13 or 14 year old kid into his trailer between takes, and we'd just talk about everything.  He molded me.  He didn't treat me like a kid.  I was a kid, but I didn't have the mind set of a kid. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   What did you learn from Gleason?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   So much.  Gleason actually taught me how to shoot pool.   He took me over to his house once and we just started to play.  I could barely see over the top of the table.  

Schwartz and Pryor in THE TOY 

TV STORE ONLINE:  What about Richard Pryor?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   The greatest human being to ever walk the planet.  I can't tell you how much he did for me.   Talk about ad-libbing.   I was on the set with Richard two weeks and I was ad-libbing with him.   He used to say, "Who gives a shit about the script?  Just say something close. It don't matter."    I was with Richard from THE TOY onward and I  was friends with him until he passed away.   He was like a second dad to me. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  What did you learn from Pryor in your relationship with him.

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:  Everything.  Timing.  Reaction.  You can't really put it into words.  It was everything.  He taught me how to be comfortable on a set when there are a 100 crew members.   I had never been on that big of a set before.   You're working and all of the crew members are looking at you to make the movie run the way it should.   I learned confidence from working on THE TOY. I mean I couldn't have had a bigger ego after we finished THE TOY.    I had just stood toe-to-toe with Gleason and Pryor for four months.   Not many could do that.

TV STORE ONLINE:   What about KIDCO (1984)?

Scott Schwartz in KIDCO (1984).   
SCOTT SCHWARTZ:    That was hysterical.  I was only home from shooting THE TOY for like two weeks before I got offered KIDCO.   It was supposed to have a 9.5 week shooting schedule.  KIDCO was supposed to finish shooting on December 20th.   THE TOY was supposed to open up into theaters on December 10th.   This didn't work for me.  My ego was huge.  I was out of hand but in a good way.  So we had a meeting with the director and the producers and my dad.   I called this meeting, and their jaws dropped on the ground.   They couldn't believe that this 14-year-old kid was calling a meeting.   I told them, "I can't be shooting past December 10th.  This shooting schedule doesn't work for me."  I told them I had to be done because I had to do promotion for THE TOY.  

They all looked at me and threw me out of the room.   My dad said, "Listen, my kid just did 4 months with Gleason and Pryor.  He's a monster.   He'll get this done.  You can jump on his shoulders and let him take you to the finish line..."   So they called me back in the room. They tried to push the same shooting schedule on me again.  I mean these producers and the director had like over 100 years of experience between them.  But I told them that if we could do it my way I'd be ready to go any time and any place.   I memorized everyone's lines in the movie before we started shooting.    So we shot the movie, and we wrapped on December 10th on a Friday...laughing

As a thank you, the production rented out the first four rows of a theater locally in Tuscon, Arizona where we shot KIDCO so that everyone could come and watch THE TOY with me...laughing   I saved them shooting time and money.  I saved them like a million dollars just by being so prepared!

TV STORE ONLINE:  So  what about 'Dickie Cessna'?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   He was a direct off-shoot of who I was at that time.   More than you can imagine.  There was a golf course down the road from my house, and a friend of mine and I used to go into the woods and find golf balls and then we'd sell them back to the golfers.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Wasn't KIDCO actually based on a true story?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:   Absolutely.   They were a real family who lived in San Diego County.  They came to the set even and we took pictures with them, and that scared the shit out of the director because he was worried that if I met the real Dickie it would somehow influence my performance.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  I hear you're working on a book?

SCOTT SCHWARTZ:  Yeah, I am.   I've just finished writing it.  I'm calling it -- Whatever Happened To Me?    I wanted to write something where when someone finishes reading it they don't go, "Oh that's too bad."  I want them to go, "OH MY GOD."   It's got about 25-30 pages of photos in it.   People are going to like it. I'm hoping to have it out by the end of this year.