The year was 1978. Two young actors, raised just a few miles apart, both sharing the same agent, are the two final candidates for a lead part in a major film set to begin production in a matter of weeks. One of those actors was me, a seven year old with some theater roles and a handful of television credits under my belt. I have patchy memories about that final audition. I do remember a room with fluorescent lighting and no windows. I was being videotaped. The man conducting the proceedings was a soft-spoken British gentleman with a smushed-up face and beady eyes, I must've assumed he was the director. He asked me questions about school, my father, and if I got along with the other boys. I hated school, was afraid of my father, and had no friends. I then began to talk about my best friend, an imaginary one. His name was Pika, and he would communicate via my index finger, which I would bend whenever he spoke. This led to hours of videotaped conversation with the auditor. Two weeks later my agent informed my mother that they had decided to cast the other actor, Danny Lloyd. The film was The Shining, of course.
Tony, Danny's imaginary friend, is touched upon in the book (the Danny character's middle name is Anthony, same as mine). However, the voice and the finger were MY imaginary friend. Never mind that Danny Lloyd and I had the same agent, she knew one of her clients was going to get the part, so she just sat back and didn't fight for me (or him as far as I know). But Stanley Kubrick obviously watched my audition and used my mannerisms as a convenient little device to give voice to Danny's inner monologue…when we saw the film, my mother was furious.
After the film was released, Danny and I had a passing acquaintance, we'd bump into each other at my agent's office and occasionally be up for the same parts. A few years later we were both whisked off to Los Angeles for two weeks while they cast a new series about a military school, run by a hard-nosed colonel played by Robert Conrad. Again, we were up for the same part. When not being interviewed, our days were spent by the Universal City Hilton's pool (with Lloyd's father always nearby and watching him like a hawk). He seemed a painfully shy kid who hated being away from home. I got that part. In fact, I ended winning nearly every part that he was up for (in mostly shitty movies) and made a lot more money for my agent than Danny Lloyd ever did. He never worked after The Shining. Maybe he was unable to live that film down, but I think his heart wasn't in it. He didn't crave attention like I did, he never wanted to be an actor.
|Me in 1978|
If you're detecting sour grapes you'd be wrong. I love the film, but have never regretted missing out on an extended stay at The Overlook. If I had played Danny, no matter what I ended up doing in life I'd still always be "that kid from The Shining"…I'd have probably ended up on Celebrity Rehab (I'm not as centered as Mr. Lloyd seems to be). Also, for a kid, being an actor in movies fucks with your head a little. I'm sure after being trapped in England for over a year with the chilly Mr. Kubrick barking orders at me I'd still be using my index finger to speak. My mother (who's still pissed about it) has asked me "Wouldn't you have loved to have been in a classic like The Shining?" But I am in The Shining. Well, Pika is anyway.
Frank Howard is an actor & louche ranconteur of the first order. His early adolescent charm landed him roles in Sixteen Candles, Sister Act 2, One More Saturday Night, That Was Then...This is Now & Clockstoppers. Now he mainly luxuriates by the pool in much-too-short shorts & gives bourbon its due.