Little Hollywood story No. 1
June 16th, 2012
Back in 1986 I was working at an animation facility in Burbank, California when we
got a job to design and shoot a bunch of writhing pink tunnels for the fantasy film
Howard the Duck.
I won’t mention names, but a certain concern far north of us in San Rafael had more
work than it could comfortably handle at that moment and so farmed this project out
to us through our art director on the condition that we keep the whole thing a
deep, dark secret and that we expect no screen credit. Plus there would be hell to
pay if they could see any “ridging” (superfine stripes caused by
equipment vibration or rattle) in the textures on the final product. The code name
they instructed us to use for the film was “Huey.”
It was an exasperating effort involving half a dozen of us but we eventually turned
out between 20 and 30 tunnel sequences and several of them wound up in the final
film. I had high hopes for “Huey” because I remembered the title
character as the wry, cigar-chomping, wisecracking waterfowl not entirely
dissimilar to Bobby London’s Dirty Duck who appeared regularly in the National
Lampoon’s funny pages during the 70s.
Shortly before Howard the Duck was released to the public we were welcomed to attend a
screening at the Alfred Hitchcock Theater at Universal City. The room was
packed and I was told that Stephen Spielberg was in attendance.
Now being perfectly aware of how much blood and sweat go into making a movie — whether it
turns out good, bad, or indifferent — I always try to find something to like and
appreciate when I watch one. Howard the Duck certainly did
have its moments,
and I think so even more to this day. But you could hear a pin drop in there at
times when it was obvious we were all supposed to be laughing. As we filed out at
the end there was a lot of polite murmuring.
The next day at work we were saying things like, “That’s OK, the kids’ll like
it!” and “Boy, there was a lot happening in that picture, wasn’t
there?” As everyone knows, the film went down in history as a spectacular
failure. The trade magazines tried to outdo each other by brandishing headlines
like “HOWARD THE DUCK, A NEW BREED OF TURKEY,” “THE DUCK LAYS AN EGG,” and so
forth. Rumors even flew that Universal production heads Sid Sheinberg and Frank
Price literally got into fisticuffs over who had been more to blame for
greenlighting Howard in the first place.
But by far the most entertaining aspect of this, at least to me, was something Michelle Pfeiffer
said in a 1990 issue of People magazine: “You know, I look like a duck. I
just do. And I’m not the only person who thinks that. It’s the way my mouth sort of
curls up or my nose tilts up. I should have played Howard the Duck.”