The Reverend David Stambaugh is a pastor at Green’s Farms Church in Westport, Connecticut. He earned his BA from Messiah College, a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary, and a Masters of Sacred Theology from Drew University.
Prior to entering the ministry, he played Toby Whitewood in THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976), THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING (1977), and THE BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN (1978).
DAVE: I was actually playing Little League at that time, so it was a world I really knew. I remember one time I couldn’t make it to a callback audition because our team was in the area play-offs. I like to think that helped me get the job: “Hey, that kid can’t come in for our movie today— because he’s playing baseball!” The first auditions were readings in NYC casting offices, but then we moved to Central Park, and started playing catch and hitting balls with the director, Michael Ritchie. Getting the job was amazing. Imagine being eleven years old, and someone says, “Would you like to spend three months in California playing ball, and get paid for it?”
JON: Bears was of course notorious in its day because of the kids’ profanity. Watching it today, it wasn’t so much the kids’ dialogue that shocked me, but how much Walter Matthau swears at the kids.
DAVE: I don’t think you could do a word-for-word remake of it. Times have changed.
JON: Another classic scene you probably couldn’t do today is when Matthau is taking you all somewhere in his convertible. He’s drinking a can of beer, doing about thirty-five mph, with maybe four or five of you riding on the back ledge of the car.
DAVE: Yeah, we’re short about twelve seatbelts there. You probably didn’t think anything of it at the time. None of that stuff fazed us. Jackie Earle Haley riding a motorcycle down the middle of Devonshire Boulevard? Fine. The only thing that raised some eyebrows was when Matthau hands out those beers to us after the big game. But even the guy playing my father; his only concern is that we hide the beer because the local news is there. He never says to Buttermaker, “Are you crazy? You can’t give alcohol to kids!”
JON: I think it’s the perfect ending, given how they’ve been watching Buttermaker drink like a fish for the whole picture.
DAVE: I also like that they’re celebrating that they lost. Here’s an interesting note: for a long time we didn’t know how the movie would end, because they actually filmed the last play of the big game both ways. The one they used has Kelly getting tagged out, but they also shot footage of an extra man on base, Kelly making his home run, and the Bears winning the game. Michael Ritchie took some of us out to dinner a few days before the premiere, and that’s when he told us what had been decided. I think we were all pretty happy about it. It seemed like the more authentic ending.
JON: I’m surprised he even shot the other stuff. I would have been afraid the studio would pick the other one. Then again, maybe Paramount made him shoot it.
Was screenwriter Bill Lancaster around a lot?
DAVE: He was. It’s hard at ten, eleven, or twelve years old to recognize the quality of the writing… though we were all certainly proud when Bill won the Writer’s Guild award for Best Comedy that year.
JON: Was Walter Matthau on your kid radar at all? Had you seen any of his movies?
DAVE: I doubt it. I certainly wasn’t like, “Yes! I’m gonna work with Walter Matthau!”
DAVE: Again, you don’t appreciate how amazing some of these people are until ten or fifteen years later. One day, for instance, Walter’s buddy Jack Lemmon dropped by for the day, and the two of them took us all out to lunch at this BBQ place. At the time, we didn’t think much about it. Today? People are amazed: “Man, you got to have lunch with The Odd Couple!” It was the same with Michael Ritchie. Here was a guy who directed a number of really high quality and successful films.
JON: I think he’s due for some reappraisal. He was never a name that excited film students, but you can certainly see The Candidate (1972), Smile (1975), and The Bad News Bears as a pretty biting trilogy of social critiques. And a later one that strikes that same chord is The Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993). I was surprised how many prominent names there are in Bears’ opening credits. Stanley Jaffe produced it. John Alonzo shot it. Polly Platt was your production designer.
DAVE: Even some people in the lower ranks: there was a 2nd assistant director on Breaking Training named David Nicksay who became a very successful producer. Or an actor like Vic Morrow. I didn’t know him going in, but what a great body of work that guy had.
JON: It’s very brave what he does in Bears. Roy is the nightmare suburban dad, and Morrow doesn’t try to sugarcoat him in any way. Not a lot of name actors would want to play a guy who’s so mean to kids, and especially to his own son.
DAVE: You know who played that part in the remake? Greg Kinnear. Now, he’s a fine serious actor—
JON: —but he’s warm and friendly.
DAVE: Exactly. Guy-next-door. It certainly didn’t have the impact of Vic Morrow.
JON: That’s how William Devane comes off in Breaking Training. He’s very likable, but the character has no edge at all. When he cracks that first Budweiser, it suddenly hit me how much I missed grumpy old Matthau.
Now Tatum O’Neal must have had a fair amount of pressure on her. It was only her second movie—after winning an Oscar for her first. She had second billing, was a celebrity, and the daughter of a celebrity. How does an eleven-year-old handle all that?
DAVE: Quite well, I think. I mean it was clear that she was Tatum O’Neal and we weren’t. She had been in the business longer and more prominently than any of us, and when you live in that world, you are different. Personally, I got along with her very well.
JON: I think her best scenes are the ones where she gets to play the same dynamic with Matthau that she had with her father in Paper Moon (1973). The scenes where Buttermaker comes off like a hopeless ne’er-do-well and she’s the more mature person looking out for him are really very touching.
Your character Toby is a straight man. Was it easier on you playing a kid who didn’t have to walk around carrying a cliché like some of the others?
DAVE: Toby felt very true to who I was. There’s no shtick; I didn’t have to be the fat kid eating candy bars. Toby is usually described as the peacemaker. His dad is the downtown politician, and Toby is like the team politician. He explains things to Buttermaker. He’s the one who gets up and says, “We took a vote on this.”
JON: What impresses me about you in all three pictures is your spirit. You’re always engaged and excited by what’s going on, even when it’s a stupid scene, like that Japanese talent show in the third movie. You’re a trouper.
DAVE: Well, I certainly wasn’t the type of actor who stood around thinking, “Hmm. What’s my motivation here? Why am I throwing this ball?” I was a kid having fun playing a kid having fun.
JON: Playing a lesser-known character also must have been easier in the sense that I imagine for years after those films, people would meet the kid who played scrappy little Tanner (Christopher Barnes), and expect him to be Tanner.
DAVE: I think that’s very true. It happens to a lot of kids in the business. And adults. You become identified with a particular role, and then you’re typecast.
JON: Barnes did not pursue acting as an adult, right?
DAVE: No, a number of us decided when we got to be college age that we were going to do other things. The business is very different for kids and adults. When you’re a kid and an agent calls your parents and wants to send you on an audition, the best part is you get out of school for the day! It’s wonderful. And I was lucky enough to have a great guidance counselor who understood what a tremendous gift it was for me to work in the industry, but he also looked out for me by saying it was only okay as long as I kept my grades up. Once you get to be fifteen, eighteen, twenty-five, it’s a different story. An adult has to put money on the table. If you don’t have that passion in your veins to be going out on auditions, hitting the streets, working as a waiter until midnight… you don’t do it.
JON: When the first movie broke out as a major hit, what was the impact on you?
DAVE: I had been in the business since I was about five. I did commercials, and I was on a soap called Love of Life for a while, and those kinds of jobs just came and went. What happened after Bears that was all new to me was suddenly doing publicity tours, and press junkets, and promotions. We went to movie theaters, we did interviews, we went on local TV shows. I can remember big crowds, and signing autographs, and taking pictures with people. I think I realized it was becoming a cultural phenomenon when I went in a convenience store and saw an issue of Sports Illustrated with a cover story about the Chicago Bears, and the title they used was “The Bad News Bears.” Of course, you know the thing has really taken off when they ask you to be in the sequel!
THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING begins with the team setting off in a stolen van for a non-chaperoned road trip to Houston, where the delinquent Kelly enlists his estranged father Mike (William Devane) to serve as their new coach. The Bears take on the best Little League team in Texas at the Astrodome, and win the big game.
JON: I get the impression this one was the most fun for you guys. You seem like an “Our Gang” group of pals now, and without a Matthau or O’Neal in the spotlight, you can all just be yourselves and have a good time.
DAVE: The biggest difference was that for a lot of us The Bad News Bears was the first feature film we ever appeared in. Some of us had been around: Alfred Lutter had been in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), and Jackie Earle Haley had done movies, but for most of us it was a very new experience. So when it came to the sequel, it wasn’t like going to a new school, it was coming back to something we knew. Just walking into the commissary at Paramount, for instance. We were used to that now. And now people knew who we were. One day I was waiting for my mom to pick me up at the studio gate, and Henry Winkler—only one of the biggest TV stars in the country—came walking by. “Hey, what are you doing around here?” “Oh, we’re doing another Bad News Bears.” “That’s great! I loved that movie, blah blah blah… Good to see you!” We also got to travel. We played in the Astrodome, while a lot of that road stuff was shot in El Paso. So it was an actual road trip for us. We spent a lot of time together in that van.
JON: I think it’s the strongest idea in the picture, and the scene where you all fool your parents into thinking the maintenance man is your chaperone is probably the funniest. And underage boys hitting the road is a great premise, so I was surprised that not much comes out of it. I thought there would be all kinds of shenanigans, but the only real Bears-ian moment comes when Jimmy Baio buys Playboy magazines at the 7-Eleven. Overall, it’s really just an amiable family film, with very little of that cynical, politically incorrect tone of the first one.
BREAKING TRAINING was the first studio film by director Michael Pressman, and the first screenwriting credit of Paul Brickman, who enjoyed his greatest success a few years later as the writer-director of RISKY BUSINESS (1983).
JON: Pressman and Brickman were both only twenty-eight years old. How aware were you guys that the reins had passed to less experienced hands? Was Brickman even there?
DAVE: I don’t think so. It could have been just an assignment he turned in. If he did come to the set, he certainly wasn’t the presence that Bill Lancaster had been on the first one. And Michael Pressman may have been just starting out, but he was a great director for us. We worked well together, and I think he had a good handle on the franchise.
JON: Last question on Breaking Training: after the success of the first one, Jackie Earle Haley was starting to be promoted as a young teen idol. Did that increasing fame effect his relations with you guys during the sequels?
DAVE: Not really, because Jackie was a couple years older than most of us. His family and mine became fairly close friends. I think I started playing the drums because Jackie played drums. I think his dad played drums as well. So of course it’s been amazing to watch his comeback. He clearly had a great gift for acting when he was young, and you can see that he never lost it.
Well over a decade after quitting show business, Haley was recruited by director Steven Zaillian for ALL THE KING’S MEN (2006). That same year, Haley earned his first Oscar nomination for the indie feature LITTLE CHILDREN. In ’09, he portrayed the psychotic superhero Rorschach in WATCHMEN.
JON: So come 1977, and now you’re asked to work on the second sequel. You’re one of the few kids who appeared in all three movies.
DAVE: I think there were only five of us: Jackie, Erin Blunt, Brett Marx, George Gonzales, and me.
In THE BAD NEW BEARS GO TO JAPAN, the team is signed by a down-on-his-luck sports promoter (Tony Curtis), who takes them abroad hoping to stage exhibition games he can sell to American television.
JON: Now the franchise has its award-winning screenwriter Bill Lancaster back in the fold… but Japan feels like something he tossed off in a weekend while he was drunk. Was that the way the script read?
DAVE: It was definitely… I’m trying to think of a good word… disjointed.
JON: That’s an excellent word for it. And Michael Ritchie was back as well, except he only produced Japan, he didn’t direct it. What was going on there?
DAVE: I don’t know what decisions were made at the studio level, but Michael was there in Japan on the set supervising. I think we spent a month over there.
JON: It’s also surprising that the Bears are relegated to almost a tag-a-long role in this one. There are long stretches of the picture you guys are not in.
DAVE: Right. Tony Curtis is trying to make deals, or he’s got scenes with Ahmad’s little brother. Jackie is in a different city having a love story. But honestly, as a kid, you don’t care what’s in the script. What did I think when I read it? “We’re going to Japan?! That’s awesome!” I was going to get to hang out with my friends again.
JON: You probably didn’t know who Tony Curtis was, but your parents must have been impressed.
DAVE: Absolutely. Again, it was another opportunity to spend time with a great Hollywood star. And it’s another reason the script took a back seat. “We’re going to Japan with Tony Curtis? How bad could it be?” Until the movie comes out… and you see how bad it could be!
JON: The only thing I like about Japan is how Curtis’s part recalls the sleazy press agent he played in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). I mean, this TV hustler whisks a dozen children off to a foreign country under false pretences, with no money, and no idea what he’s doing. Like, how many laws is this guy breaking?
DAVE: Yeah, somebody should have called Child Protective Services.
JON: It’s so much worse than anything Buttermaker did. And at least Buttermaker wasn’t under any illusions. When he tells Tatum O’Neal, “I’m a bum. You shouldn’t have anything to do with someone like me,” that’s a very incisive portrait of a broken man.
When you guys saw the finished film of Japan, did you all get the sense that the ride was over?
DAVE: By the time it opened, we were all three or four years older than we were in the first one. We were kind of aging into that awkward young teenage stage, and we couldn’t really play a Little League team much longer. I think a lot of the appeal of the first one is that we’re so young. That’s why they did a TV show. Then they could start over with a new cast of younger kids.
JON: That’s how the “Our Gang” series lasted for decades. When the kids got to be about thirteen, they were put out to pasture, and new ones were brought in.
DAVE: We also saw how the box office was declining with each picture. So I think we knew it was over, and people were moving on. It was certainly a great run while it lasted. And it was a great, positive experience for me. I think I am who I am today, and where I am today, because of my work in the entertainment business when I was a little kid. You don’t hear a lot about people like me. The media has always tended to focus on child stars whose lives went astray, like the Diff’rent Strokes kids, or Corey Feldman.
JON: Do the Bears keep in touch?
DAVE: Some of us do. The best story is when I came out to L.A. for a friend’s wedding about fifteen years ago. I called a bunch of the guys who lived here and said let’s get together for dinner. So maybe five or six of us met at the Hollywood Athletic Club—me, Christopher Barnes, Jackie, Brett Marx, Alfred Lutter, and maybe one or two more. We were hanging out in the bar before dinner, the only people in the room. After about half an hour, the bartender quietly leans over and says to me, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” “No, what’s up?” He said, “You guys are The Bad News Bears, aren’t you?”
Originally appeared January 22nd, 2013 at The Hollywood Interview.com