Sometimes our collaborators come from unexpected places — as was the case for Francis Ford Coppola and his look at troubled teens in Oklahoma. The Outsiders spawned the careers of many of its cast members, including C. Thomas Howell as Ponyboy — the literary loner who quotes Robert Frost poems, reads Gone with the Wind, and is one of the only greasers of the group that has a shot at getting out of his cruddy town and making something of his life. The emotional story resonates with audiences, and you needn't be a 1960s gang member to know what its like to struggle with the frightening and confusing space of adulthood, to feel judged unfairly, or to experience heartbreaking tragedy. We've all been there on varying levels.
Website Letters of Note surprised us with a recent article that reveals an interesting source of inspiration for Coppola's film: a librarian and the students at Lone Star School in Fresno, California. Jo Ellen Misakian wrote to the director in 1980 asking him to adapt a favorite novel of the students at Lone Star. A copy of S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders was included with her plea, signed by 110 students who Misakian felt were "representative of the youth of America." She also emphasized the story's universality: "Everyone who has read the book, regardless of ethnic or economical background, has enthusiastically endorsed this project." Coppola's producer Fred Roos replied to the librarian, Coppola read the novel, and two years later started production on the adaptation.
Read Misakian's letter in full on Letters of Note, and seriously, hug your local librarian. They know things.