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The Real Reason You Don't Hear From Daniel Stern Anymore

Daniel Stern started his acting career on the New York theater circuit, but in the late 1970s, he stumbled into a part in the coming-of-age dramedy Breaking Away, which opened doors for him in Hollywood. He dipped his toe into the action genre as well as sci-fi and horror over the next decade, but his reputation as a goofball funnyman was cemented in 1990, when Home Alone hit cinemas.

His performance as hapless burglar Marv Merchants was instantly memorable, and the holiday hit — and its 1992 sequel Lost in New York – have enjoyed regular airtime over the yuletide season year after year. It's now been more than a quarter of a century since Stern last played Marv, yet it remains his most recognizable role, despite the fact that he's never stopped acting. Stern's stayed busy, so why don't we see him as often anymore? Read on to find out.

His debut as a director was disappointing

Stern was the narrator on The Wonder Years between 1988 and 1993, directing a handful of episodes along the way. After Home Alone 2: Lost in New York wrapped, he decided he wanted to take a shot at directing a movie, and helmed what would be his first — and last — feature the following year. Family-friendly baseball comedy Rookie of the Year is the story of a 12-year-old pitcher who fires the Chicago Cubs to glory after discovering that his recently broken arm has healed with super strength. It's a logic that you don't think to question as a kid, but the grown-up critics reviewing the film at the time weren't as easily placated.

"Juicy satirical targets like sporting commercialism are passed by, and the action scenes are full of fumbles," The Independent's Quentin Curtis wrote in 1994. "As the wonder-kid, the relentlessly uncharismatic Thomas Ian Nicholas confirms the adage that you should never hire a leading man with three first names. If you don't know baseball, you won't understand the climax. If you do, you'll find it preposterous." Stern (who also acted in the movie, playing the part of pitching coach Phil Brickma) went on to direct a few TV episodes here and there after that, but he'd blown his audition as a Hollywood helmer.

He failed to shake his goofball typecast

The box office success of the Home Alone movies (coupled with the underwhelming response to Rookie of the Year) meant that Stern had little choice but to carry on acting the goofball under other directors. He reprised his City Slickers role in 1994 sequel The Legend of Curly's Gold and spent the remainder of the mid-'90s hamming it up in comedies like Bushwacked and the disastrously bad Celtic Pride. With the end of the decade approaching and the threat of being permanently typecast looming, Stern decided to take radical action and signed on for Peter Berg's controversial 1998 comedy Very Bad Things.

The film (about a group of men on a bachelor weekend trying to dispose of a prostitute one of them accidentally killed) was supposed to be edgy, but for the majority of critics, it crossed the line into bad taste far too often. Veteran film critic Roger Ebert called Very Bad Things "reprehensible" in his one-star review. "It presents as comedy things that are not amusing," he said. "If you think this movie is funny, that tells me things about you I don't want to know." Stern did think it was funny, telling AV Club that he "enjoyed it thoroughly," but the gamble didn't pay off for him in the long run.

He's been heard, but not seen

Very Bad Things led to very bad things for Stern, at least in terms of his film career. His next appearance (not including an uncredited cameo in the "unendurable" comedy-drama How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog) was in a little-known crime caper called Viva Las Nowhere (2001), which failed to open any new doors for him. From the outside, it looked as though Stern's time was up, but while his onscreen career was floundering, he was prospering as a voice artist.

"After The Wonder Years, I ended up having a voiceover career, which was something I never even knew was possible," he later recalled. Stern did everything from Burger King and 7 Up commercials to Primetime Emmy-winning shows, voicing the title character in the TV adaption of the Dilbert comic strip between 1999 and 2000. "I think my voice kind of fit for that," he said. "It was a good learning experience. The scripts were funny, and it was an iconic character." Stern's other notable voice credits include Nickelodeon kids show Hey Arnold! and Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy.

His Malibu club keeps him busy

In 1999, Stern opened a club in Malibu, though not the kind of club that many actors tend to open to occupy their spare time. The Boys and Girls Club of Malibu was founded in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting when a group of local parents recognized that a similar tragedy could happen in their community if teens didn't have an outlet. One of those parents was Daniel Stern, who called in a favor from his former partner in crime Joe Pesci to get the venture off the ground. "He's a genius and a great actor," Stern told The Hollywood Reporter. "Joe did some golf tournaments to raise money."

The Boys and Girls club went on to be a success, helping children from all backgrounds receive higher education. "Because of the club, I will go to college," 17-year-old Mariarely Cruz said at the club's 2013 gala (via Variety). "I will become an educated woman, and I will start a new life." The star-studded event was hosted by Pierce Brosnan, though Stern took the stage himself at one point to remind those in attendance of their community responsibilities. "The people in this town — all of you — live very extraordinary lives," he said. "This town is filled with the most talent, the most wealth, the most creativity. You see the kind of fantastic elegance we can provide here. Our job is to raise this family within this community."

He did 500 hours of volunteer work in a single year

Originally from Maryland, Stern relocated to New York at 17 to pursue his acting dream. After getting married and having children, he decided his family needed more space and moved them across the country to Malibu, where the Stern name is now well-known. According to The Malibu Times, the local hero was honored on a national level in 2010 when he became a recipient of the President's Volunteer Service Award, which "celebrates the impact we can all make in bettering our communities and our world" and has a "shared mission of inspiring more to answer the call to service."

So why wasn't Stern getting honored by President Obama big news? Well, the reason it didn't make headlines outside of Malibu is that this is an award you have to apply for. According to the official website, if you want a PVSA, you have to provide proof that you have completed the required amount of volunteer hours. Still, even though you have to put yourself forward for it, the threshold for the top prize is 500 hours of volunteering in a single year, which really does deserve celebrating. "My success as an actor," said Stern, "has afforded me the unique opportunity to give back to my community, putting my vision of creating a strong and sensitive society into practice."

He spends a lot of time making bronze sculptures

With the Boys and Girls club running smoothly, Stern was free to pursue his interest in the arts, specifically bronze sculpting. He set up a workshop in Malibu, and before long, local galleries began showing an interest in his work, which he sees as just another form of storytelling. "It is a basic human need to tell stories," he said. "I am a storyteller at heart and my sculptural work allows me to give a literal and visceral dimension to my characters."

Stern took park in San Diego's Urban Trees exhibition in 2013, contributing an eight-foot bronze statue of a man doing a handstand, one of 30 pieces erected along the waterfront. The actor-turned-artist unveiled an installation in Monrovia as recently as 2016, a three-part sculpture in front of the Krikorian Theatre paying tribute to the area's contribution to the film industry. The bronze piece (entitled Action!) consists of a windswept director, an old-time camera, and a director's chair, which is more than sturdy enough to support filmgoers queuing outside.

His return to Christmas cinema didn't bring tidings of comfort and joy

Perhaps the biggest reason most of us haven't seen Daniel Stern in a long time is that he hasn't actually appeared in a feature film for a number of years. His increasingly busy schedule of extracurricular activities has led to his career in the movies reaching a standstill, with his last feature film credit coming in 2012 when he agreed to return to the realm of festive comedy. A Christmas Story 2 was no Home Alone, however. Far from it, in fact.

A straight-to-DVD sequel to much-loved yuletide classic A Christmas Story (1983), the film was released just days before a musical version of the original was set to debut on Broadway, with Warner Bros. more than likely hoping to jump on the bandwagon and cash in on the hype surrounding the stage production. Unfortunately for the studio, hardly anyone noticed, and the few critics who did bother to review the film were less than enthusiastic about it. "Shamelessly derivative and plasticized," Blu-ray.com said in their scathing review. "A Christmas Story 2 will only have you wondering why you're not watching the original picture again."

Few saw his dramatic TV comeback

For many actors, falling out of favor in the film world makes television the next best option, and nowadays, it isn't uncommon for big stars to take on roles in TV dramas even when their careers aren't in trouble. In 2014 Stern attempted to take this path, winning the part of mentor and scientist Dr. Glen Babbit in WGN America's Manhattan, a show about the real-life project of the same name that gave birth to the first nuclear weapons. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews the show received, people just weren't tuning in to watch it, which left WGNA with a "very difficult decision" to make.

"We are proud of this critically acclaimed series, an extraordinary original drama, and are deeply disappointed that such a wonderful show could not find a larger audience," WGNA president Matt Cherniss said in a statement (via Entertainment Weekly) after pulling the plug in 2016, just two seasons in. "We thank the immensely talented [executive producers] Sam Shaw and Thomas Schlamme, along with the exceptional cast and crew and our great partners at Lionsgate and Skydance, for crafting a masterful series. We are equally grateful to the dedicated fans for their support over the last two seasons."

He helped his son reach the Senate

He might have a signed certificate of recognition from Barack Obama, but that was nothing compared to the pride Stern felt after helping his son become the youngest California State Senator in history. In 2016, 34-year-old Henry Stern won the honor of representing the 27th District, which stretches from Malibu to the Santa Clarita Valley. The Democrat, a graduate of Harvard and UC-Berkeley Law School, is the first millennial to make the Senate, and he plans on representing that demographic during his term. "They are sick of the old kind of political leadership,” he told The Signal. "They want it unvarnished, no talking points. I brought Facebook live into my swearing-in ceremony, and I don't think anybody's done that before.”

One of his biggest supporters on the campaign trail was his father, who would regularly turn up to support Henry and often endorsed him via social media. When he won, the elder Stern could barely contain his joy, revealing that he cried when the Children's Choir began singing at the swearing-in ceremony. "I have done all I can for my own children and they are children no more," he wrote in an Instagram post. "They are forces of nature. And knowing that my child is now going to be doing everything he can to protect those children in that choir, and their pure belief in the goodness of our country and the world, well... that made me choke up."

The whole world knows him as Marv

Stern started grooming his son to be a responsible and knowledgeable citizen from a young age, taking him to Iraq to visit the U.S. troops stationed there in 2003. During their trip a group of soldiers drove them into a secure area of Baghdad so they could purchase some local souvenirs to take home for the family, and what happened next drove home just how far Home Alone's influence had spread for Stern. 

"I went with my son Henry at Christmas time to thank those incredible men and women for their service and to see for myself what the heck was going on there," he said in a Facebook post. "We drove into town and pulled up in a couple of armed Humvees to the front of a small shopping area. Henry and I were a little scared but got out and were starting to get our bearings. A couple of kids were playing in the street and looked up at me. I had seen that look before, their brains recognizing my face, computing how they know me, making the Home Alone connection and then out of their mouths popping the word 'Marv!'" 

Stern was swamped by local kids who recognized him as the bumbling burglar from the movies, and while he's always appreciated attention from Home Alone fans, the fact that he's globally recognizable as Marv Merchants might ultimately be part of why we don't hear from him anymore.

Daniel Stern is the go-to dad actor

Daniel Stern was such a reliably enjoyable presence in so many projects in the 1980s and 1990s that he became a comedy icon for a generation who grew up watching him in the Home Alone movies or listening to him on The Wonder Years. A lot of those Stern fans grew up to be actors, directors, and showrunners and, in the 2010s and 2020s, cast the loveable actor in their movies and television programs. 

Stern has enjoyed a career renaissance with a very particular niche: playing kind, doting fathers of teens and young adults. The parts aren't always huge, but they are memorable. He played the conservative father of Ellen Page's rebellious roller derby star in Whip It, guest-starred on Judd Apatow's Netflix dark rom-com Love as the father of Gillian Jacobs' troubled character, and has a recurring role on Aidy Bryant's Hulu series Shrill as her character's laid-back, supportive dad.

For Daniel Stern, everything is peachy

As he started to pull back on his movie career in the early 2000s, Daniel Stern headed for the stage. In 2003, his comedic play Barbra's Wedding opened off-Broadway, via the Manhattan Theatre Club. Something of a time capsule, it takes place on the day that Barbra Streisand married James Brolin ... in the house next door, as the easily excitable residents deal with all of the chaos of the event, such as celebrity arrivals and paparazzi helicopters swirling close overhead. While this could have led to lasting theatrical success for Stern, Barbra's Wedding was not well-received – Variety called it a "shrill, pointless production," and TheaterMania derided it for its persistent lack of funny moments. 

Nevertheless, in 2018, Stern signed on to make a film adaptation. He's set to produce and star in Everything is Peachy, the movie version of Barbra's Wedding. He'll also direct, marking his first attempt at helming a feature film since Rookie of the Year.