The Ice Cream King
November 29, 2004
Clint Howard has been in front of a camera since before he can even remember. To lifelong fans of The Andy Griffith Show, such as yours truly, he’s little Leon — the cap-pistol packing pad’nah always ready to offer Deputy Fife a peanut butter sandwich at the least opportune moment. In the 40 sum years since, he’s steadily become one of mainstream Hollywood’s hardest working, most recognizable and talented character actors. In tandem, Clint’s also ascended to no less than B-royalty among genre fans thanks to gobs of oddball turns in such low-budget gems as Evilspeak, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, The Wraith, Carnosaur, The Dentist 2 and the egregiously unsung Ice Cream Man!
In this exclusive interview, Mr. Howard serves scoops of tasty insights on this kiddo chiller’s twisted turn down a rocky road, how Edward Penishands auteur Norman Apstein (a.k.a. Paul Norman) nearly went legit and the unspoken kinship between B-movies and their more uppity ilk …
For me, this is truly a "Happy, happy, happy day!" because I’m a huge Ice Cream Man fan. One of the few, apparently.
Moviemaking isn’t a perfect science where you can guarantee yourself a return on your money or guarantee yourself a certain kind of picture if you make it a certain way. The wonderful thing about moviemaking is that you give it a shot and let the chips fall where they may.
Wasn’t this sort of Norman’s bid for legitimacy?
It’s not all just screwing. It’s a huge, huge business. There’s probably 10 or 15 little companies shooting blue movies in the San Fernando Valley right now. Moral judgment aside, those blue movies have a sound man, they’ve got a couple camera operators, they have set people, they have makeup and hair people. On Ice Cream Man, almost the entire crew had worked for Norman.
You even had a scene with his then wife — porn siren Tori Welles.
Are you ever recognized as the Ice Cream Man?
Tell me about Marty, your neighborhood ice cream man.
If Marty didn’t influence your characterization, where did the stoop and gravelly voice come from?
But I honestly don’t recall the thought process I had behind doing the guy. I knew from the script that he was really messed up as a kid. He got winged on the head and he was missing many cards from his deck. So, I do the voice. I find the walk. I find the stoop. It was just a fun character to create. You know, they’d actually hired somebody else before me.
This is not the pat answer — this is the truth — I love working in the low-budget world! I get a hoot out of it. I’d rather catch a gig that may be kind of funky, but do it and have some laughs, get some experience and get a few bucks in my bank account. It’s even just psychological. I’ve learned through my dad: "Work begets work." If I’m working on something, it’s just a vibe I carry to the next audition or meeting.
Your career puts you in a better position to answer this than most: What is the real disparity between so-called A and B pictures? Is it budget. Is it mindset?
Also, there are these little companies that make genre-specific movies. Horror or whatever. They’re always looking to find really interesting material that will surprise the public or a script that will elevate the genre. But, meanwhile, they have to keep fueling their machine.
There’s a lot of market out there for B-movies. Especially, with foreign audiences. If a company puts together the right little package and can make a movie for the right price — it doesn’t have to be great, because it’ll sell in 20 different international markets and may even get some cable TV play. Plus, it helps if they can encourage an actor that has foreign juice to be in it. Then we all get to go off and make a fun little movie!
I also don’t think too many people start out knowing they’re just going to make a piece of shit. In the back of the minds of 99-percent of filmmakers, they believe they know a way to make their project a surprise. To make it good. To make it better than average.
Listen, making movies is hard. For a movie to go right, it’s as if the movie gods have to come down and kiss it. Casting. Timing of the release. The music. Actors that click with the material. Directors that click with the actors. A good crew. Good weather. A good assistant director who can keep the company moving and give the director an opportunity not to race through every day of filming. There’s so many things that can go wrong. A pretty decent concept for a movie, even with a good roster of personnel to make that movie, can just not quite click. Then it goes to the B-movie pile.
You just touched on the benefits of casting. How did Ice Cream Man arrive at such an eclectic cast?
Oh, he’s certainly one of my faves. Wasn’t that a particularly rough time for him?
I don’t know who came up with getting Steve Garvey. He’s great. Steve spent more time signing autographs than he did acting. I’m a big baseball fan, but that may have been the only day I had off, so by then I didn’t care if it was Steve Garvey. I wasn’t going to come to the set. I needed to stay home and sleep!
Was it a quick shoot?
You’d certainly know a thing or two about child stars. I dug your interaction with Small Paul.
You’d be surprised how much coverage Ron does on movie stars. For instance, I just worked a day with Jim Carrey on Fun with Dick and Jane. And, of course, I got to work with him on The Grinch. That man is frighteningly brilliant as a comedian! But a good director knows that, to make Jim’s performance extra special, you have to protect for the weak moments. What may feel organic and work on the set may not be as strong in the editing room. You have to be able to cut around that and be able to pick and choose.
Kids don’t have control of their acting tools quite like veteran pros. Kids can be natural and really fascinating. But you can’t expect them to repeat stuff too much and, for every wonderful moment a child actor has, there’s something flat or something that feels mechanical. If you’re a good director you can cut around it and help the kid’s performance. The last time I saw Ice Cream Man, I can remember thinking, "Ooo-boy, Norman could’ve used a little more coverage on the kids."
He had plenty of coverage on your puppetry of the severed heads!
That begs the question: Where’s the Naughton noggin!?!
I’m certainly one of those and can’t think of a more fitting note to end on. Thanks for the time, Clint!