In addition to saving Brooke Shields from drowning, Jeff Spicoli also saved Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The cult classic high school movie is celebrating its 35th anniversary and writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling have recently shared some little-known facts about the making the movie and one of them is that Sean Penn's Spicoli character saved the movie and lead to its success on home video. Another fact that was shared was that David Lynch was recommended to originally direct the comedy.
Heckerling and Crowe spoke to Variety about the making of the movie and some of the hardship that they faced. The studio didn't think that there was any money to be made from a movie about high school kids and thought that it was a complete waste of time. Fast Times at Ridgemont High initially only opened in just 200 theaters in the United States and quickly faded from those theaters with a lack of commercial push behind the trailblazing movie. But before the movie left theaters, word of mouth started to spread about the stoned surfer bro in the movie.
That stoned surfer bro who only needed some "tasty waves and a cool buzz" was Sean Penn's portrayal of Jeff Spicoli. Spicoli's antics started to get some people into the theater. Cameron Crowe explains.
"The word got out that there was this movie with this character who wore checkerboard Vans, called the teacher a d-, and ordered pizza into the room. They started showing up."
It was already too late and Fast Times at Ridgemont High faded from theaters, but the home video release shot the movie into the cult status that it is today, mostly thanks to the quotable Jeff Spicoli played by the method acting Penn. Sean Penn wouldn't let anybody on set call him Sean, they had to call him Jeff Spicoli. It wasn't until the last day of filming that Penn allowed anybody to call him by his real name.
In another twist, the studio originally wanted David Lynch to direct the movie after the director had released Eraserhead and The Elephant Man. Crowe even set up a meeting with the director who apparently had a smile on his face during the whole meeting and drove up in a VW Beetle. In the end, Lynch decided not to work on the project. Fast Times would have ended up a whole lot different if Lynch signed on to direct.
In the end, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a seminal high school movie that has inspired countless movies and TV shows over the last 35 years. Spicoli is the high-water mark for onscreen stoners and all who have come after are compared to the legend of Spicoli, the kid who saved Brooke Shields from drowning and paid Van Halen to play his birthday party. Fast Times at Ridgemont High laid the groundwork for John Hughes and countless others to strike box office gold with the lives of high schoolers on the big screen. All thanks to Jeff Spicoli.