'Private Parts' Director Betty Thomas Recalls Crush on Howard Stern: "We Would Have Been a Hot Couple"

Betty Thomas Howard Stern Split - Getty - H 2020
Getty Images (2)

The trailblazing filmmaker's admission came during the second-season premiere of The Hollywood Reporter's 'It Happened in Hollywood' podcast, in which Thomas recounts the making of the raunchy comedy that turned Stern into an unlikely movie star.

Director Betty Thomas has revealed she still harbors a crush on Howard Stern, whom she directed in the 1997 biopic Private Parts.

The admission came during the second-season premiere of The Hollywood Reporter's podcast It Happened in Hollywood, in which Thomas, 72, recounts the making of the raunchy comedy that turned Stern, 65, into an unlikely movie star while also launching Paul Giamatti's career.

"He used to bring his daughters out [to Los Angeles] and we'd get together and do something and that was really fun. But then Beth showed up and ruined everything for me," Thomas jokes, referring to Stern's second wife, Beth Ostrosky Stern, whom he married in 2008. "We would have been such a hot couple, Howard and I! It would have been so good!"

The statuesque Thomas — she stands 6-foot-1 in flats — shared hilarious anecdotes about her start in show business on the podcast, first as a waitress at Chicago's Second City, where future superstars like John Belushi and Bill Murray were honing their comedy skills.

"I'm taking orders right down in front," she recalls. "I go back to the kitchen and in comes Belushi — BOOM! He's like, 'What is wrong with you? There's theater going on here! ... Nobody even laughed at the jokes because they couldn't see me!'"

Thomas' path later brought her to Los Angeles, where she landed her breakthrough role on Hill Street Blues, playing Sgt. Lucy Bates — a part that won her an Emmy in 1985. But it was as a director that Thomas found her calling, first on TV shows like Doogie Howser, M.D. and then on comedy features like The Brady Bunch Movie and HBO's The Late Shift, about the fight to replace Johnny Carson.

Private Parts came to her via Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, who thought Thomas had what it takes to tackle a Stern movie — not just any movie, but one starring the radio host as himself. One problem: Thomas had listened to Stern's show and was pretty sure she hated him. Reitman said that friction would only make the movie better.

It was Thomas' first meeting with Stern at his New York studios that convinced her to do the movie. "He comes in the green room and he's a million feet tall — even by my standards. I'm not used to looking up at men at all. That sort of bothered me," she says. "And he puts his hand out and goes, 'Betty! Thanks so much for being here!' And he's literally shaking he's so nervous. And I went, 'I'm doing the movie.'"

The film used a mix of actors and non-actors — including Stern's sidekicks Robin Quivers and Fred Norris playing themselves. "Robin was really, really nervous," Thomas recalls. "I thought it was going to be a nightmare."

Thomas was amazed at the group's camaraderie — which often came at the expense of productivity. "When they were on the set, they had just left three or four hours of constant talking together [on the radio show]," she says. "And they would still talk constantly [on the movie set]. They would never shut up!"

Thomas helped Stern find his groove in the part, which required him to play himself at various stages of his career — even as young as a college student. Still, the radio star, who was not accustomed to seeing himself onscreen, was highly critical of how he looked.

"He wanted me to change one shot from the movie where it's shot from his 'bad side,' where his nose really looks like a hook nose," Thomas says. "He wanted me to remove the shot. I said, 'I can't remove the shot, I didn't shoot it from any other [angle]. It's a beautiful shot.'" 

Thomas says she did everything she could to reassure her star, telling him, "Your eyes are so blue ... Howard, you look so good."

"Not in that one shot I don't," he replied.

Continues Thomas, "And then he pretty much went and got a nose job right after that — and this is before we did the reshoots." The reshoots were filmed from a distance, Thomas says, making it hard to spot any noticeable changes in Stern's appearance.

Thomas also revealed that the part of Pig Vomit — the New York radio executive that was Stern's biggest nemesis — very nearly went not to Giamatti but another legendary screen actor.

"Here was my choice: I had Paul Giamatti or Philip Seymour Hoffman," she says. "And I was like, 'I don't know...' — like a little snot! 'They're both kind of good, but they were both a little nervous.' I should thank my lucky stars that I ever had those two guys in there."

Ultimately, Giamatti did something "so out of character, weird and interesting and I thought, 'That's the guy,'" Thomas says.


For much more from Betty Thomas on the making of Private Parts, listen to the season two premiere of It Happened in Hollywood and be sure to subscribe.

Click here to access past episodes of It Happened in Hollywood.