By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com August 13, 2012 at 1:02PM
Virtually an entire generation of stars were given their big break in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Anthony Edwards, and future-Oscar-winners Sean Penn (who, already a Method man, insisted on being called Spicoli at all times), Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage (credited for the only time in his career, as Nicholas Coppola). And indeed, they could have ended up in rather different combinations: Penn also auditioned for Judge Reinhold's part as Brad, while Cage actually won it, before it emerged that he was still 17 and too young to take the role. But even more impressive is the list of actors that were considered, but didn't make it to the film. Future megastar Tom Hanks was one early possibility to play Brad, while Matthew Broderick, curiously, went up for the part of Spicoli, a role that Eric Stoltz also auditioned for (he got a smaller part in the film instead). Jodie Foster was a top choice to play Jennifer Jason Leigh's character Stacy, while Diane Lane, Brooke Shields and Ellen Barkin were also considered. For Phoebe Cates's part as Linda, Melanie Griffith, Tatum O'Neal and Justine Bateman were all among those who auditioned, while Meg Tilly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lori Loughlin, Elisabeth Shue, Kelly Preston, Carrie Fisher, Rosanna Arquette and Ally Sheedy all were considered for unknown parts. Elsewhere in the film, "The Munsters" star Fred Gwynne was the first choice to play Mr. Hand, but turned it down because of the sexually explicit content. And more morbidly, keep an eye out for the wife of teacher Mr. Vargas (Vincent Schiavelli); the actress is Lana Clarkson, who over twenty years later was shot and murdered by music producer Phil Spector.
With the film proving such a success, Art Linson was keen to work with Crowe again, and immediately commissioned a "spiritual sequel" from the director, which Linson (who'd made his directorial debut with "Where the Buffalo Roam" in 1980) himself would direct. Released in 1984, the film, "The Wild Life," followed a group of kids, including Eric Stoltz, Chris Penn, Lea Thompson and Rick Moranis, living in their first apartments after leaving high school. A box office flop on release, the film has never been released on DVD due to problems with the music rights. But there was also be a more official spin-off in "Fast Times," a 1986 TV series on CBS, which Heckerling directed and produced and Crowe served as a "creative consultant" on, along with the then-19-year-old Moon Unit Zappa, daughter of Frank Zappa, who was intended to contribute a more contemporary take on teenage life. Only Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli reprised their roles, with Claudia Wells ("Back To The Future") as Linda, Courtney Thorne-Smith ("Melrose Place") as Stacy, unknown James Nardini as Brad, Wallace Langham ("CSI") as Mark Ratner, Dean Cameron ("Summer School") as Spicoli and, most amusingly, Patrick Dempsey as Mike. But as a network show, the series felt tame when compared with the film, and it only lasted seven episodes.
These days, thanks to the likes of "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous," Cameron Crowe is known as one of the major pop-song-soundtrack compilers in the film business. But his influence was only faintly felt on "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," with the music proving something of a battle ground at the time. Producer Irving Azoff had been the manager of The Eagles, and the plan was originally for a soundtrack of classic '70s rock artists, including them. Heckerling objected, however, later telling writer Nicholas Jarecki (who just directed "Arbitrage") for his book "Breaking In," "I guess a lot of people like that stuff, but being young as I was at the time, I really wanted a new edgy eighties music soundtrack. I wanted Fear, Oingo Boingo, The Go-Gos, The Talking Heads, and the Dead Kennedys. I was one of those obnoxious teenagers that thought that the music I liked was great and everything else sucked. Getting that Oingo Boingo song ('Goodbye Goodbye') in the film was a big fight. But I had to make some compromises and put in some songs that I didn’t like at all." (Oingo Boingo, who featured future composer giant Danny Elfman, would later write the theme tune for the "Fast Times" TV series). As a result, The Eagles members Don Henley, Don Felder, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh all contributed solo tracks, while Sammy Hagar, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne and Jimmy Buffett all had songs on the soundtrack. Donna Summer contributed a track, "Highway Runner," but Geffen Records shelved the album it came from, and the record wouldn't see the light of day for another 15 years, while Crowe asked pal Todd Rundgren to write a song, "Attitude," but it didn't make the film, emerging later on curios collection Demos & Lost Albums in 2001. Some of the film's most memorable tracks, including The Cars' "Moving In Stereo," Tom Petty And The Hearbreakers' "American Girl" and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" were featured in the film, but didn't make the soundtrack. Nevertheless, the record was a hit, making it to 54 on the Billboard album chart.