On this day in 1982, the teenage coming-of-age comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High opens in theaters around the United States. Written by Cameron Crowe and directed by Amy Heckerling, the film follows a year in the life of high school students Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Linda (Phoebe Cates), Mark (Brian Backer) and Mike (Robert Romanus) and their assorted classmates and teachers. The ensemble cast also featured the (then relatively unknown) future A-list actors Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage and Forest Whitaker, as well as Judge Reinhold, Eric Stoltz, Ray Walston and Anthony Edwards.
One of the film’s most memorable characters was the surfer-stoner Jeff Spicoli (whose lines included his greeting of Walston’s teacher character with the salutation “Aloha, Mr. Hand”), played by Sean Penn. The actor, who was born in 1960, made his feature-film debut in 1981’s Taps. Following Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Penn went on to a lengthy list of critically acclaimed performances in such movies as Bad Boys (1983), At Close Range (1986), Casualties of War (1989), Dead Man Walking (1995), for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and The Thin Red Line (1998). He earned another Oscar nomination for his starring turn as a jazz musician in Sweet and Lowdown (1999) and a third for playing a mentally disabled man in I Am Sam (2001). He finally took home the Oscar for Best Actor for 2003’s suspenseful drama Mystic River. Penn is also an accomplished filmmaker who wrote and directed 2007’s Oscar-nominated Into the Wild.
Following his minor role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Nicolas Cage, who was born in 1964, eventually went on to star in a long string of movies, including 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award, and 2002’s Adaptation, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Forrest Whitaker, who was born in 1961 and also had a small part in Fast Times, won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High marked Cameron Crowe’s feature-film debut as a writer and was based on a 1981 book of the same name that he penned after going undercover to research it at a San Diego high school. Crowe, who was born in 1957, went on to write and direct another classic teen movie, Say Anything (1989), starring John Cusack, as well as Singles (1992); Jerry Maguire (1996), which starred Tom Cruise and was nominated for five Oscars (Cuba Gooding Jr. won for Best Supporting Actor); and Almost Famous (2000), which was based on Crowe’s real-life experience as a teenage journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. Almost Famous was nominated for four Oscars (Crowe won for Best Original Screenplay). His other movie credits include Vanilla Sky (2001) and Elizabethtown (2005). After Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the director Amy Heckerling was best known for the comedy Look Who’s Talking (1989) and Clueless (19995), a sharply written update of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma set in a Southern California high school.