Cameron Crowe’s Deceitful Path to 80s Classic 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High'
Welcome to Comedy Lost and Found, a repository of forgotten ephemera that deserves a small room somewhere in your comic heart. Historic, hilarious, or just plain ol’ gobsmacking weird, we’re collecting it here. Got a suggestion? Hit me up on Twitter at @monkeemind.
If you didn’t know that classic teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High was based on a book by Cameron Crowe, that’s understandable -- it’s been out of print for about forty years. It’s not impossible to get your hands on a copy but be prepared to open your wallet. The cheapest used paperback is going for $469 on Amazon. (Psst -- we might know where you can get a PDF version for free.)
Another thing you may not know is that Fast Times (the book) was based on a lie. Crowe cops to his deception in the book’s introduction:
In the summer of '79, I had just turned twenty-two. I discussed the idea for this book with my New York publisher. Go back to high school, he said, and find out what's really going on in there with the kids. I thought about it over a weekend, and took the project.
And that’s how we got Fast Time at Ridgemont High: A True Story -- an impossibly young-looking Crowe pretending to be a high school student, befriending a bunch of 17-year-old kids, then exposing their sex lives and delinquent behavior for all the world to see. All it took for Crowe to convince the principal to let him do it was mentioning that he had met Kris Kristofferson.
A few of Crowe’s teachers were in on the scheme, but none of the kids on whom he was actually eavesdropping. He imagines that his classmates probably knew him as “the guy with the bad bladder” -- because when Crowe heard something juicy at the cafeteria table, he would sneak off to the restroom to write down what he’d overheard. “I began to feel like a third-rate spy.”
It’s a weird thing to do to people you come to know and like. “Through Linda Barrett, I met her best friend Stacy, Stacy's brother, Brad, and many others I would come to write about. As the year progressed, they became my group, and they were the characters I spent most of my days with. They were my friends.” Crowe even went to prom!
To Cameron’s credit, he did come clean at the end of the school year, letting his new friends in on his secret. You might think the kids would be angry. Instead, according to Crowe, their nearly universal reaction was “Who would write a book about Ridgemont High?”
At least one student wasn’t thrilled with how he came off, however. Andy Rathbone was the real-life kid upon which Crowe based shy, sweet Mark “Rat” Ratner. Rathbone’s gripe was that Ratner was much nerdier than he was in real life. And cool things that Rathbone actually did, like order take-out pizza for an entire classroom? Those acts of goofy rebellion were reassigned to cool kids like Jeff Spicoli. Rathbone even filed a lawsuit against Crowe, which he eventually dropped when Crowe gave him one of his wife’s guitars (that’s Nancy Wilson from the rock group Heart).
But no need to shed a tear for Andy Rathbone. He went on to write PCs for Dummies and many of its (Blank) For Dummies descendants. With tens of millions of copies in print, this version of The Rat did just fine.
Crowe was invited to the class’s high school reunion but declined. “I still consider many of these people my friends, and I think most of them feel that way about me,” he said. “But there are a few who are still upset about the movie, so I think it’s best that I just stay away.”
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
For ComedyNerd exclusive content and more, subscribe to our fancy newsletter:
Top image: Universal Pictures