Most every school library from the 1960s on stocked at least one well-read copy of The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s 1967 coming-of-age novel about teenagers in Tulsa who struggle with class distinction and the violence it provokes. If they didn’t, that’s because districts frequently banned it for its depictions of gang assaults and underage drinking.
For the 1983 film adaptation, director Francis Ford Coppola cast a group of actors—including Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, and Rob Lowe—who would go on to become some of the most recognizable performers of the decade. On the 35th anniversary of the film's release, check out some facts on the bizarre audition process, Hinton's cameo, and how Bart Simpson had something to do with a sequel.
1. THE BOOK WAS WRITTEN BY A TEENAGER.
S.E. Hinton was Susan Eloise Hinton, a 15-year-old high school student in Tulsa who had grown bored with the trite plots of books targeted to her demographic. “Mary Jane wants to go to the prom with the football hero … didn’t ring true to my life,” Hinton told The New Yorker in 2014. So she decided to write a more authentic look at teenage struggles. When she finished, she handed the manuscript to a friend’s mother, who had contacts at a book agent in New York. Editors suggested she go by “S.E.” so readers could infer a male author was responsible for the testosterone-heavy characters. It has sold more than 14 million copies.
2. A HIGH SCHOOL CLASS CONVINCED FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA TO ADAPT IT.
By the 1970s, The Outsiders had become standard-issue reading material in high school English classes, where it packed an undeniable emotional punch by zeroing in on an adolescent’s search for an identity. A librarian in Fresno, California’s Lone Star School named Jo Ellen Misakian noticed that even ardent non-readers were picking up the book: She decided to have her 7th and 8th grade students sign a petition for director Francis Ford Coppola to turn it into a feature. Because Misakian mistakenly sent it to a New York address that Coppola rarely used, the letter—with the paperback of the novel included—grabbed his attention. He contacted Hinton and agreed to adapt the work.
3. COPPOLA’S AUDITION PROCESS WAS BONKERS.
In his 2011 autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe recalled that auditioning for the film was an unusual experience. Instead of private meetings with actors for specific roles, Coppola would herd up to 30 of them into a room at one time and ask them to sift through the different parts. Dennis Quaid tried out for Darrel, the paternal older brother role that went to Patrick Swayze; Scott Baio read for Sodapop, which went to Lowe. Despite the teenage-heavy ensemble, Kate Capshaw also auditioned—she was nearly 30 at the time.
4. COPPOLA KEPT THE “GREASERS” AWAY FROM THE “SOCS.”
In The Outsiders, the Curtis boys are part of a clique of “Greasers,” lower-income Tulsa residents in perpetual conflict with the socials, or “Socs,” the sweater-sporting affluent kids. To perpetuate that rift, Coppola divided the actors in Tulsa according to their fictional social status: the Socs got better rooms, more spending money, free room service, and leather-bound scripts.
5. COPPOLA SHOT THE ENTIRE MOVIE ON VIDEO FIRST.
To help the cast establish their rapport and to block shots, Coppola spent two full weeks during production shooting the entire movie on videotape before he began using film. It’s believed to be one of the first times that technique was incorporated into a film schedule. While that footage rarely turns up, Ralph Macchio had a similar experience in 1984, when director John Avildsen shot rehearsals for The Karate Kid on a home video camera.
6. THE POSTER WAS A CANDID SHOT.
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve likely come across a pretty iconic shot of all the principal actors gathered together on the theatrical release poster. There’s a reason everyone is laughing: According to Lowe, the cast was sitting for a photographer when actor Leif Garrett (who played Soc Bob Sheldon) walked into the room just as the crew was throwing out a local for grabbing food from the catering table. When Macchio heard the crewman tell the intruder the treats were for the actors, he yelled, “Yeah, Leif, you hear that—those are for the actors!” Everyone’s reaction was captured on film.
7. THE RUMBLE GOT PRETTY INTENSE.
The all-out war between the Greasers and the Socs reaches a fever pitch at the end of the film, when the two groups meet for a rain-soaked rumble in the mud. According to Emilio Estevez, so many bodies were being flung around in the week Coppola took to shoot it that he cut his lip, Howell got a black eye, and Tom Cruise broke his thumb.
8. HINTON HAS A CAMEO.
Although Coppola’s production company, Zoetrope, was so low on funds at the time of optioning The Outsiders that they could pay Hinton only $500 of her $5000 rights fee, the author was friendly with the director and agreed to shoot a cameo. Hinton appears in the scene where Dallas (Matt Dillon) is being looked after by a nurse. Hinton also had cameos in other adaptations of her work, including 1983’s Rumble Fish (which Coppola also directed) and 1982's Tex.
9. COPPOLA BROUGHT THE CAST BACK TO THE SCHOOL.
When the film premiered in March 1983, Coppola and Warner Bros. dispatched Dillon, Swayze, Macchio, Howell, and Garrett to Lone Star School to visit with students. Later, a private screening was held for Misakian and the 104 students who had written to Coppola in 1980. (The New York Times reported that they “shrieked and giggled” every time any of the above misplaced his shirt onscreen.)
10. COPPOLA ADDED OVER 20 MINUTES TO THE DVD RELEASE.
Although the movie was generally well-received by both fans of the book and film critics, some took it to task for omitting key scenes from the novel and rearranging others. In 2005, Coppola re-released the film on DVD as The Outsiders: The Complete Novel, which inserted roughly 22 minutes of unseen footage and added a contemporaneous soundtrack that replaced the original’s musical score. That may not have sat well with his composer: his father, Carmine Coppola, had recorded the theme to the 1983 release.
11. IT WAS (BRIEFLY) A TV SHOW INTRODUCED BY BART SIMPSON.
Could The Outsiders work without Swayze, Lowe, Cruise, Estevez, Macchio, Howell, and Dillon? No, it could not. But Fox tried anyway. In 1990, the network was looking to extend the number of nights it was broadcasting and attempted to continue Hinton’s story with a television series that secured the cooperation of Coppola. While the young cast was full of mostly unrecognizable faces, it did cast Billy Bob Thornton as a bar owner; David Arquette took over Estevez's role of Two-Bit and Jay R. Ferguson, Mad Men's Stan Rizzo, played Ponyboy. Although the premiere (featuring a short introduction by Bart Simpson) drew an impressive rating, interest dropped off quickly and the network canceled it after just 13 episodes.
12. A MUSICIAN WANTS TO SAVE THE CURTIS’S ORIGINAL HOUSE.
Avowed Outsiders fan and hip-hop artist Danny Boy O’Connor (House of Pain) stopped by the Tulsa, Oklahoma house that acted as the fictional residence of the Curtis family in 2009. When he saw the property was being neglected, he and some friends gathered enough money to buy it. O’Connor is now asking for donations to pay for the $75,000 in renovations it needs. If successful, he plans to turn it into an Outsiders museum. If you want to chip in, you can visit O’Connor’s GoFundMe. Do it for Johnny.