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Ferris Bueller: Ben Stein’s Debut

Ben Stein was a nobody in Hollywood when he arrived for one day of work on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “By total chance, without ever having seen the inside of an acting school, without ever having read scripts or gone on a cattle call, I was given a part in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” said Stein. “By a stroke of luck, my part was built up on the day of shooting, and the director and editor left me in the final cut. Now my life has changed, based on no more than 150 seconds on screen.”

Stein recalled, “They wanted me to just do one simple thing – call the roll, offstage. And the studio extras and all the crew laughed so hard that John Hughes called producer Michael Chinich aside and had a hurried conference, and they said, ‘We’re going to put you on camera. We’d like you to improvise a scene, a subject you really know well.’”

“So I said, ‘Well, what do I know really well? Let’s see, I really know a lot about the Great Depression.’ So I just improvised that scene on camera. And we did it all in one take. I did it all out of my head.”

After the jump, read how Richard Nixon started Ben Stein’s acting career.

Ben Stein had graduated from Columbia in 1966 with a degree in economics. Later, he became a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford, and worked as a journalist as well, but he had no experience with acting. “I was cast by producer Michael Chinich,” said Stein. “Michael is a close friend through a fellow named Steve Green, who used to be an executive at Warner Bros., and also through a fellow named Eddie Bleier, who was a high executive at Warner Bros., and who was friends with Bill Safire, the famous New York Times columnist, who was my predecessor as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon. So really it all started with Richard Nixon, because had I not gone to work for Richard Nixon, I would never have met Bill Safire, never met Eddy Bleier, never met Steve Green, never met Michael Chinich, never met John Hughes, never been in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. So really, Richard Nixon started it all.”

Stein admitted, “Working on this movie was the most laughs, the most giggles, the high point of my life ever since I helped write Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. I’m totally serious.”

Stein found his sudden change of status to being “cool” extremely pleasant, and suggested that it might be the solution to the problem of worldwide aggression. “No more defense program. Instead, we’ll put Gorbachev in a movie. No need to aid the contras, because we’ll put Commandante Ortega in a comedy with Rodney Dangerfield.”

“And I didn’t have to change at all!” Stein marveled. “No crash diets, no new clothes, no trips to Club Med, no drugs. I’m still the same brained-out nerd. But to the outside world, I’m a righteous dude, cooler than ZZ Top, just for standing in front of a klieg light. Who in his right mind would not do anything for this kind of miracle?”

Stein managed to parlay this first taste of fame into a career in comedy. He even had his own Emmy-award-winning show on Comedy Central—Win Ben Stein’s Money. “Now I earn my living doing comedy in movies, commercials, television shows and even in person,” he said. Even so, Stein admitted, “I expect it will say on my gravestone, ‘Bueller, Bueller.’”

To this day, Ben Stein feels a debt of gratitude to Ferris Bueller. “Ferris didn’t do a single thing to hurt anybody else. He just freed the people he was around. When I walk down the street in Georgetown on a summer night, when there are all the college kids there to be summer interns, every few steps somebody says, ‘Bueller, Bueller – Anyone? Anyone?’ I love it. I love it, love it, love it, because see – Ferris Bueller liberated me, too. Ferris Bueller said, ‘You don’t have to be locked away at your typewriter. You can be yourself and let people see your personality.’”

“Eating the Lotus of Movie Stardom,” New York Times, 8/6/86
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Production Notes
Getting the Class Together DVD Bonus Feature
“Guess What’s 20 Years Old?” People, 10/16/06
“It’s Hard To Be Funny When You Can’t Hear Them Laugh,” New York Times, 9/20/00
The World According to Ben Stein DVD Bonus Feature

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