The Outsiders came to life last Wednesday at St. Andrew’s when actors C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy Curtis of “The Greasers”) and Darren Dalton (Randy Anderson of “The Socs”) thrilled the Class of 2024 with a two-hour visit made possible by St. Andrew’s parents Adria and Brian Sheth.
Sixth-grader Deven Sheth introduced the pair, who spoke briefly then watched the rest of the 1983 film with the students. Afterwards, they answered several questions from the students and shared some of their favorite memories from behind the scenes of the star-studded movie.
“We formed such a camaraderie and brotherhood - we were like a fraternity,” Howell told the students. “The best part about it was the relationships we formed.”
In addition to Howell and Dalton, the movie featured future stars Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, Tom Waits, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez and Matt Dillon.
“Every year we get new fans,” he said, referring to the likes of the St. Andrew’s students and kids their age around the world.
In addition to staying in touch with many members of the cast, Howell said that he speaks frequently to Hinton, who made a cameo in the movie when she appeared as a nurse.
“She came to the set every day. She was very close with all of us,” Howell said. “Amazing woman. We called her our ‘Honorary Greaser Mother.’ What an incredible woman.”
According to a 2017 New York Times article celebrating the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, The Outsiders has sold over 15 million copies. It is, “A remarkable novel about teenagers, for teenagers, by a teenager,” according to a book jacket for a first-edition hardcover copy.
Hinton began writing the book, set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of 16 and published it when she was 18.
“I think that’s why it still resonates with teens, because they feel like that,” Hinton told the times, “Your feelings are over the top. You’re feeling and seeing injustice, and you’re standing up against it.”
Both Howell and Dalton auditioned for several parts. Dalton read for the part of Dally, eventually given to Matt Dillon.
“I read for Dally through the whole audition process,” Dalton recalled. “In New York I walked in and I saw that Matt Dillon was there and I said, ‘OK, I’m done with this. I can go home now.’ ”
“Matt’s a lot like Dally. What you see is what you get,” said Howell, “He was larger than life. I had never seen a New Yorker embodied. The girls went crazy for him.”
Howell said that when they made the film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, he never expected it to become so popular. The book by S.E. Hinton is so popular and widely-read, though, that someone approaches him almost every day to ask him about the film.
Howell shared several anecdotes about the filming of the movie, emphasizing several moments that were included in the film that weren’t originally in the script. Coppola, he said, taught the actors to submerge themselves into the moment and to continue acting even if something unexpected happened - also to let the director stop and start the scene. To this end, Howell said that Coppola shared an anecdote about how Marlon Brando would do this.
“One time we were rehearsing and I messed up and (Coppola) said, ‘Tommy, I’m the director and I’d appreciate it if nobody cut but me.’ And he told me a story about Marlon Brando. He said, ‘Marlon would never stop a take no matter what. A herd of buffalo could go through running through the scene and Marlon would say, ‘Look at the pretty buffalo,’ ” Howell laughed.
“I learned not to stop and use whatever came to us,” he added.
During a church scene featuring Johnny and Ponyboy, a dolly fell, prompting Howell to look suddenly surprised and say, “Johnny, there’s a monster outside.”
Rather than leaving this on the cutting room floor, Coppola used this take, combining it with a quick clip of a raccoon outside the church.
“That wasn’t in the script. And the movie’s filled with those kinds of moments,” said Howell.
Students inquired a lot about the burning church scene, in addition to the rumbles. Howell said the hardest scene to film was the drowning.
“It was like thirty degrees out - freezing!” he said.
Both men recalled how Coppola even encouraged a separation between the actors playing the Greasers and those playing the Socs or pitted them against one another in basketball games in order to encourage their on-camera rivalry.
Howell and Dalton said that young actors should be willing to try everything. “Failure is the best teacher,” Howell said. Sixth-grader Jack Blaha said that The Outsiders is now his favorite book. “It had depth and ups and downs,” he said, adding that Ponyboy is his favorite character. “He was part of the gang but not completely like the others - he was special in his own way.” Classmate Harry Deane enjoyed the famous “Stay Gold” message derived from the Robert Frost poem referred to in the book. “I can kind of relate to that,” said sixth-grader Matt Gilbert. “That’s really appealing to us is that Ponyboy is our age. We’re going through some of the same things.” Ava Walrath said the pair “made a good impression.” “They were modest and humble and funny,” she said.
Sixth grade English teacher Gracie Helms said The Outsiders is a fantastic book with which to the end the year. “This book seems to peak to timeless issues - the adolescent experience regardless of time and place - friendship, loyalty, identity and discovering healthy conflict resolution.”
“It’s the kind of book that brings us together as a class and grade,” she said. “There’s merit to having a ‘community book’ that brings us back together at the end.”
Also, Helms said that she read The Outsiders in sixth grade and heard from a lot of St. Andrew’s parents who had also read it as kids and who loved that their children were now reading it.