Hey, Dudes, Let’s Party . . . Again: Ridgemont Redux
Ridgemont High is having a reunion.
It’s been ten years since journalist-cum-screenwriter Cameron Crowe enrolled in a supposedly typical American public school—Clairemont High in San Diego—to chronicle a supposedly typical school year. Crowe wrote a book and then a screenplay about his experience; the movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), became the quintessential high school film, depicting all that was chic and geek about the modern adolescent. It also introduced into the language the stoned greeting, “Hey, dude, let’s party.” But for all the movie’s popularity and acclaim, there is one group of people who still regard Fast Times at Ridgemont High with bitterness and skepticism: Clairemont High’s class of ’79. And as they prepare for their ten-year reunion in September, they recall the “student” who used them as models for his characters.
“Cameron didn’t ask us whether we approved of the idea to make a movie,” says Todd Floyd, who was captain of the football team. “He just made friends with people at Clairemont and then turned around and made all this money writing about our private lives. He combined so much fiction with fact. It would have been okay except that everyone knew this movie was based on our class, so they thought everything in the movie really happened.”
For instance, he says, the character he inspired, Charles Jefferson (played by Forest Whitaker), was not an accurate depiction of him at all. In one scene, Jefferson’s little brother goes hot-rodding with stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) in Jefferson’s prized car and totals it. “Crowe made the whole thing up,” says Floyd. “But my mom was furious. She kept asking me, like everyone else did, ‘Is that you? Is that you?'”
Some of Crowe’s characters—such as Spicoli and Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the freshman who loses her virginity to a smooth-talking stereo salesman—were composites; that is, several people were combined to create the roles.
But at least one person felt that he was so identifiable as the movie’s nerd, Mark Ratner (played by Brian Backer), that he threatened to sue Crowe for defamation of character. Andrew Rathbone, like Ratner, was nicknamed the Rat in high school. He reportedly dropped his plans to pursue a lawsuit when Crowe gave him a guitar that belonged to Crowe’s wife, Nancy Wilson, of the musical group Heart. Rathbone did not wish to comment on the matter and wouldn’t say whether he plans to attend the reunion or not.
On the other hand, Mary Jo Zafis cheerfully acknowledges that she was the inspiration for Cindy (played by Kelli Maroney), the annoyingly perky cheerleader who gets on everyone’s case at a pep assembly for their, like, total lack of school spirit.
“Cameron did portray me accurately in the film, though it sort of stereotyped cheerleaders—and everyone else,” she says. “But I liked the movie a lot overall; I thought he did a good job showing what high school life is really like, and I’m really looking forward to the reunion. I hope Cameron comes. Hey, he’s the reason our class is famous, like it or not.”
Crowe says he did receive an invitation, but he doesn’t plan to attend. “It’s not really my reunion, and I don’t want to take anything away from their good times,” he says. “I just want all the people at Clairemont to know that I jumped through flaming hoops keeping their identities a secret.
I still consider many of these people my friends, and I think most of them feel that way about me. But there are a few who are still upset about the movie, so I think it’s best that I just stay away.”
Courtesy of Premiere Magazine – Jamie Reno – September, 1989