“I, you know, I never had a good perspective on the career. I had a good perspective on myself and my life and what that needed. The career, I think I’ve screwed it up, quite frankly, I don’t know…” Last spotted tripping down the stairs and falling into another of Kevin McCallister’s many traps in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Daniel Stern has undeniably enjoyed a stellar career over the last four decades. Also known for his work as the narrator of The Wonder Years, Stern’s venture into acting came early in his life when he first took a job backstage as a play hand with his high school’s theater department. Eventually making his way to center stage and snagging bigger and bigger roles, Stern is incredibly proud of his career but, at 60 years old, is now happily focused on his life at home with his family rather than landing his next major project.
The son of a social worker and a daycare manager, Daniel Jacob Stern was born into a Jewish family on August 28, 1957 in Bethesda, Maryland. He attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School where he worked as a play hand and starred in productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Promises, Promises before he headed to Washington, D.C., where he applied for a position as a lighting engineer with the Shakespeare Festival. Not yet believing he was talented enough to audition for a role on stage, Stern was shocked when he wasn’t hired for the position but was hired on the spot as a walk-on in the company’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, which starred the talented Glenn Close.
Earning praise for his performance in the Shakespearean classic, Stern dropped out of high school and set his sights on launching his career on the stage in New York City. “I’ve been one of the luckiest guys I know,” Stern said. “I moved to New York and did plays… and I actually, you know, made my $300 a week in plays and I thought was just on top of the world and I’d made it. And then I landed in Breaking Away, that first movie. I got an agent from being in the play, then I auditioned for the… it was the second movie I ever auditioned for and I got it, and it was a great part, and then I got other great parts…”
Stern honed his talents on stage in the Big Apple with lessons at HB Studios and starred in productions of True West and How I Got That Story before he made his film debut in Breaking Away in 1979. He snagged another leading role in It’s My Turn the following year and turned even more heads in 1982 for his performance as Laurence “Shrevie” Schreiber in Diner. Enjoying bit parts in C.H.U.D., Hannah and Her Sisters and Stardust Memories, Stern finally came into his own in Hollywood in the 1990s when he made his comedic debut as Marv Merchants in Home Alone. Reprising his role in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York in 1992, Stern’s wave of success continued as he became a popular character actor with credits in City Slickers, Rookie of the Year, Bushwhacked and Celtic Pride.
“I was on a good roll there and the movies were good and good parts, but then they started kind of like… I mean, first of all, I don’t think I brought in enough money to, I wasn’t a big enough box office draw… I’m a character,” Stern said. “I’m supposed to be the best friend. When you put me in the lead part, your movie is in trouble. When they’re coming to me for their lead, it can’t be a good movie, because that means they couldn’t get Tom Hanks or whoever else is at the top of their list, and they’re down to me. But, I’m supposed to be in the supporting role. That’s where my strength is.”
Although he was seemingly content as a character actor, Stern stepped away from bigger films in the mid-1990s and focused his attention on voice acting after narrating The Wonder Years from 1988 to 1993. Coincidentally, his brother David was a television writer with The Wonder Years and invited Stern to direct a few episodes. Learning a different side of his trade, he even directed Rookie of the Year and later wrote, created and starred in the CBS television series, Danny. He also earned credits as a voice actor in The Simpsons, Family Guy and Dilbert but, by the new millennium, he was looking to spend more time with his wife, Laure, and their three children at their 500-acre cattle ranch in rural California.
“I thought the most interest thing I’ve ever created is there, at home, and I want to be there,” Stern said of his shifting interests. “And so that actually opened up a new avenue where I then wrote a TV series and I wrote a play, and I stayed home and I started sculpting at home. I found the things to do at home so I could be at home, and I’d already squirreled the money that I wanted so it was like, that was the line that I drew and I don't remember the exact time or what instigated it but it was like, I thought if I could be creative at home and be home, I could coach a baseball team and write during the day and blah, blah and be the dad that I wanted to be.”
With his last silver screen credit coming in 2012 in A Christmas Story 2, the 60-year-old Stern surprised fans with a return to television in Workaholics, Getting On, and House of Lies. From 2014 to 2015, he starred as Glen Babbit in Manhattan and, most recently, appeared in an episode of Love. Apart from the occasional cameo, Stern continues to focus on his work as a sculptor and is an artist in residence at the Studio Channel Islands Arts Center. He also co-founded and runs the Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families and The Malibu Boys and Girls Club alongside his wife.
Honored for his philanthropy with the President’s Call to Service Award in 2009, Stern is amazed by his career both on and off the screen. “My career has been more than I ever dreamed,” he says. “I got to play baseball at Wrigley Field. I got to ride horses with Billy Crystal… so many fun experiences, it’s hard to pick out the best.”