Kelly Leak Returns
His name was Kelly Leak. He rode a Harley. He wore a fringe jacket. He smoked. He played Centerfield and hit clean up for the Bears. He seemed at least 5 years older than his foul mouthed shortstop, Tanner Boyle. He was the engine that helped the Bears be Bad News, Break Training, and go to Japan. His look defined the mid to late 70’s teenage derelict. He was their best player and the most identifiable character to come out of The Bad News Bears Trilogy. In a lesser known role, Kelly Leak also played for my late 80’s computer baseball Boston Red Sox Team. He was a monster. Besides Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans and Roger Clemens, that team also featured an aging catcher, Crash Davis, and a rookie pitcher, Nuke Laloosh. Suffice it to say, my team was unbeatable. Just ask the guys who captained the Yankees, Mets, and Orioles in the summer of 88. There was no stopping that lineup and Kelly Leak was the anchor. Just a great character, and it wouldn’t have been as iconic if he hadn’t been played by Jackie Earle Haley.
Jackie Earle Haley parlayed the success of Kelly Leak into another great role as Moocher in the Academy Award Nominated film, Breaking Away. Even though he was only 17, he held his own with cast mates, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Christopher, and Daniel Stern, who were already well into their 20’s. Moocher had a temper and liked to hit people. Kelly Leak was the same way. He must be a phenomenal actor because he is incredibly small. Maybe 5’5”, yet he pulls off being a tough guy. It doesn’t make sense on paper, but somehow it works on screen. I expected big things from Haley, but after a few television roles, and some B-Movies, by 1993, he had vanished. Stopped acting completely. Instead, he delivered pizzas, drove limousines, and worked for a while as a security officer. If Kelly Leak were on patrol, I’d think twice about causing any trouble. He didn’t make his return to acting until 2006, when Director Steve Zaillian cast him opposite Kate Winslet in All The Kings Men. Zaillian remembered Haley’s late 70’s lexicon and brought him back into acting. That opened the flood gates. That same year, he was cast opposite Winslet again, in his Academy Award Nominated performance in Little Children. He’s great in that movie. Disturbing, yes, but an excellent performance.
I was happy to see him return to the screen. You always wonder what happens to these child actors when they grow up. Some end up doing drugs like the Two Coreys and that girl from Full House, some rob liquor stores like Dana Plato, some find religion like Kirk Cameron, and some do steroids and lift weights constantly like Danny Bonaduce. All tragic stories. There are very few Ron Howard’s out there who have transitioned into successful careers. The train wrecks always make the news, but I imagine most of these child actors went the route of Jackie Earle Haley. They made their livings outside the spotlight of Hollywood. So when someone makes as dramatic a comeback as Haley, it’s something to be applauded. He didn’t descend into darkness, he just waited it out until people recognized he still had talent. It’s great because this guy was born to be a character actor. He’s odd looking and small, yet his presence in a film always makes an impact. He has a very small role in Shutter Island, but his few minutes on screen are the most memorable.
Over the last few years, he has had big roles in big films. He starred in Semi-Pro and Watchmen, and has a recurring role on that new show Human Target. But it wasn’t until I saw a preview for the re-make of Nightmare on Elm Street that I knew he was totally back. Yes, he plays Freddy Krueger. I imagine he’ll bring an even creepier vibe to that legendary character. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with it. I wasn’t looking forward to that film until I realized he was Freddy.
I think I’ve done a relatively good job of not just referring to Haley as Kelly Leak. It was difficult. When someone jumps into your consciousness in a particular role, it’s hard not to refer to them as that forever. It’s the same reason I’ll always call Seann William Scott, Stifler, and I’ll always refer to Julie Bowen as Carol Vescey. They’ve had many parts since American Pie and Ed, but none that can wipe those roles out of my head. Kelly Leak was on the bench for a while. 13 years to be exact. But like Robert Redford in The Natural, you can’t keep that kind of talent down. It needs to get to the surface. It’ll always find a way. Now lets see if Tanner, Engleberg, Ahmad, and Ogilvie can find their way back too.