The Story Behind Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High is Surprising

As many of you may or may not know, the movie Almost Famous was autobiographical.  Turns out that its director, Cameron Crowe, started his journalistic work at the age of 13, graduated high school by the age of 15, and was in fact working with Lester Bangs and Ben-Fong Torres of Rolling Stone.   While the band “Stillwater” from the movie is fictional, many of the accounts from that movie are based loosely on Crowe’s real experiences.   I bring this up because another one of Cameron Crowe’s famous films, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, is also based loosely on Crowe’s real life experience.    Since Crowe graduated high school at 15, he had to “relive” the high school experience to write Fast Times.  The story goes something like this.

At the age of 22, Crowe came up with the idea to pose undercover as a high school student and write about his experiences. Simon & Schuster gave him a contract, and he moved back in with his parents and enrolled as Dave Cameron at Clairemont High School in San Diego. Reliving the senior year he never had, he made friends and began to fit in. Though he initially planned to include himself in the book, he realized that it would jeopardize his ability to capture the true essence of the high school experience.

His book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story, came out in 1981. Crowe focused on six main characters: a tough guy, a nerd, a surfer dude, a sexual sophisticate, and a middle-class brother and sister. He chronicled their activities in typical teenage settings–at school, at the beach, and at the mall, where many of them held afterschool jobs–and focused on details of their lives that probed into the heart of adolescence. This included scenes about homecoming and graduation as well as social cliques and sexual encounters.

Before the book was even released, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was optioned for a film. Released in 1982, the movie version lacked a specific plot and featured no major name stars. The studio did not devote any marketing effort toward it. Nevertheless, it became a sleeper hit due to word of mouth.

So there you have it.  Pretty cool huh?  I can’t possibly imagine attending high school at 22.  Man that would have been amazing.

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