This week marks the 35th anniversary of the release of St. Elmo’s Fire. For some, that milestone might rekindle thoughts of a certain formative time of their lives, and 80’s nostalgia. For others, it will bring to mind a film they loathe or a title song so ubiquitous they cannot seem to escape it. For the actors in the film, it would mark a turning point in their careers as well as the moment they were tarred with the unfair moniker, “The Brat Pack.” But for me, St. Elmo’s Fire was a life changing event, having co-written the film with director Joel Schumacher.
For those who have not seen it, or did and since have done their best to block it out, St. Elmo’s Fire is about first apartments, first jobs, first loves, and trying to hold onto friendships when all this collides with adulthood. When Joel and I first started writing it together, I was living in the laundry room of an anarchist collective. I had an agent, but no paying gig, and was desperately searching for my first “real relationship.” St. Elmo’s Fire would lead me to move into my first real apartment and into a writing career for decades, and meet the woman who would become my wife of 25 years. For me, St. Elmo’s Fire has always been about a search to find your identity, and what I have learned over the years is that process does not stop just because you leave your twenties.
Given this 35th anniversary and Joel passing away last month, I thought it time to share some reflections on the movie. Screenwriters are often not a part of the production process once a movie is green lit, but thanks to the generosity of Joel and producer Lauren Shuler, I had a front row seat and saw everything. I’ve come up with 10 things you might not have known about the film.
1. St. Elmo’s Fire: Worst Movie Ever Made or An American Classic?
Joel was always the first to remind people that St. Elmo’s Fire did not get one positive review when it came out in 1985. While the Hollywood Reporter was kind in describing it as “the freshman year of life which is often rougher than any college course or crisis in a sheltered college life” and predicted the film should “strike some nerves among those who are recently graduated or about to graduate who are experiencing these anxieties,” more reviews were like Siskel and Ebert who gave the movie two thumbs down. Ebert called the characters in the movie “uninteresting”, “shallow”, and “self-involved.” Gene Siskel stated bluntly that the movie nauseated him and called it one of the worst movies of the summer.
Critics took shots at the lavish apartments and wardrobes in the film. (When I complained to Joel that none of my friends could afford this stuff, he had me take the junk from my place and scatter it into the set of Kevin/Andrew McCarthy and Kirbo/Emilio Estevez’s apartment.) Others took shots at the large cast and the frenetic pacing—which in retrospect may have led to underdeveloped characters. Quite a few questioned the verisimilitude of these characters and their lives. This probably hurt most due to many of these things actually happening to myself and my friends. But Joel knew he was not making a documentary, and in some ways we created the fantasy version of life out of college which may be why so many over the years have embraced the film.
I am sad that Joel was not around to hear the recent reappraisals of the movie in stories about his passing. Many referred to the film as “classic.” But in one of his last interviews with the Washington Post, Joel talked about visiting London’s National Gallery and seeing the now highly regarded works of John Singer Sargent and James McNeil Whistler, which were exhibited beside their own horrible reviews. Joel said it reminded him, “Who remembers these reviews?”
For better or worse, the film has endured, been rediscovered by generations, and even re-developed by two different networks as television series. Perhaps because in the end, the movie had something to say about the nature of friendships. As Mary McNamara wrote in the L.A. Times, Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire understood how friends save us, even from ourselves.
2. The movie was almost not called St. Elmo’s Fire.
For those who still bristle upon hearing the title St. Elmo’s Fire, the movie was almost not called that. Someone at Columbia Pictures wrote a 35-page memo saying how much they hated the title and suggested changing it to Sparks or The Real World.
It is an odd name for a movie. The title originally came from a short story I had written in college about an infatuation I had with a waitress while working as bellhop at the St. Elmo Hotel in Chautauqua, New York. Too shy to tell her how I felt about her, I wrote an eighteen-page short story about her and mailed it to her. Today, they might call this stalking, but instead of calling the cops, she encouraged me to “pursue a career in the literary direction.” The story helped land me an internship at Universal Studios. I figured if she liked the short story, she would love the movie… so I turned it into my first screenplay.
As an intern, I met Joel Schumacher, getting him gazpacho, no sour cream, and chopped egg on the side for a lunch meeting he was having with the head of the studio about D.C. Cab, the next movie he was going to direct. A year later, I became his assistant, and one rainy Thursday night I told Joel the story of myself and the St. Elmo waitress. He asked to read my script, and the next day he told me he wanted to use my title and divide my persona in the script into two characters—Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) and Kirbo (Emilio Estevez) —as part of an ensemble he was envisioning for a movie about life after college.
At this point, Joel was not just my employer, but my friend and consigliere in the various crises which made up my social life at the time. For three days, we drove around L.A. talking about life and love, and then wrote the script incredibly quickly.
After several studios passed on the script, with one telling Joel that “these were the worst human beings he had ever read on the page,” Craig Baumgarten at Columbia Pictures believed in the movie and bought it. For Joel and myself, St. Elmo’s Fire was always magical.
3. You can look it up on Wikipedia or ask Rob Lowe: I ruined the romantic mythology of the nautical term St. Elmo’s Fire.
In order to make it more difficult for the studio to change the title, Joel had me craft a speech around the phrase “St. Elmo’s Fire” in the movie. Having no internet back then, I called the research department and received pages from the Encyclopedia Britannica which informed me there was no actual Saint Elmo. It was a nickname used by sailors for St. Erasmus, their patron saint. And there was no actual fire—rather, it was a weather phenomenon where luminous plasma is created in an electric field in the atmosphere during thunderstorms. When sailors would see the bluish, purplish St. Elmo’s Fire in the sky, they took it as a good omen they would make it through rough storms.
With that to work with, I wrote the speech when Billy (Rob Lowe) finds Jules (Demi Moore) in her apartment, shivering and alone and in desperate shape. Trying to get her out of her despair, he brings up the phenomenon “St. Elmo’s Fire” to reassure her she is going to be alright. But it was a rather abrupt introduction to what their favorite bar was named for.
“Jules, y’know, this isn’t real. You know what it is? It’s St. Elmo’s Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them… there was no fire. There wasn’t even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you’re making up all of this. We’re all going through this. It’s our time at the edge.”
Recently, I learned Rob Lowe has been bothered by that speech for years, as people have taken it to mean his character was saying the phenomenon of St. Elmo’s Fire did not exist. When I heard that, I became momentarily incensed and went to Wikipedia to reassure myself we had gotten things right. There, after a lengthy explanation of the weather phenomenon, the entry talks about how St. Elmo’s Fire has been alluded to from Julius Caesar to Charles Darwin and has appeared in literature from Melville’s Moby Dick to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. And then near the bottom of many more references, it states: In St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), Rob Lowe’s character erroneously claims that the phenomenon is “not even a real thing.”
I could argue we were never trying to imply that St. Elmo’s Fire was “not a real thing”, but I want to hereby officially apologize to the scientific community for any misperception we may have caused. And it doesn’t really matter anyway because in the middle of the scene, Rob added this bit where he takes a lighter to a can of hairspray and creates an actual burst of flame to symbolize St. Elmo’s Fire. That is probably what people remember. Memes of this scene come across my social media feed regularly– which must drive even crazier whoever at Columbia Pictures wrote that memo about St. Elmo’s Fire being a horrible title.
4. Apologies for crafting for Emilio’s Kirbo “stalker” storyline, but at least it had a happy ending and reflected my own…well, stalker past.
While we are settling grievances, Emilio Estevez has said if St. Elmo’s Fire was remade today, Kirbo’s crazy pursuit of Dale Biberman (Andie MacDowell) would surely not make the cut. Emilio was not the only one who has felt that way. After a test screening of the movie, the Chairman of Columbia Pictures, Guy McElwaine told Joel, point blank, to get rid of that whole subplot in the movie.
Joel kept it, knowing that most of what happens in the film between Kirbo and Dale was lifted directly from the interactions I had with the St. Elmo’s waitress. Just like Kirbo tells his roommate Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) in their apartment, I met the original girl of my dreams at a fountain that said “Knowledge, art, religion, life.” She was sitting on the life side and smiled at me. I was smitten, or as I said in the original screenplay, “there are several quintessential moments in a man’s life: losing his virginity, getting married, becoming a father, and having the right girl smile at you.”
The real Dale Biberman, Lynn Snyderman, moved to D.C. after college and though a lifelong Democrat, started working for the Republican party. In fact, she even invited me to the Ronald Reagan Inaugural Ball. This was during my radical social history phase in college, so I did not take her up on the invitation, but showed up in the national’s capitol to protest… and then snuck away afterwards to check on Lynn. I showed up in front of her apartment and waiting for her in the rain, an only slight variation from Kirbo, who stands outside that Washington party, looking in at Dale Biberman. When Dale sees a drenched Kirby at the party and asks him how he is doing, he replies “Obsessed. Thanks very much.”
I can understand how this can present a stalker vibe. But Joel said the difference between Lynn and all the other stories he had heard about infatuations was that in this case, she seemed to genuinely care about me—she was worthy of such adulation. Lynn could have called the cops, but instead she ended up inviting me up to her apartment. And like Dale in the film, tried explaining she was not this mythic goddess I had built up in my head, but a regular person who steals People magazine from her dentist’s office.
Joel had me tell Andie and Emilio my real story with the St. Elmo waitress after the table read on the soundstage at Burbank Studios. I remember Emilio shaking his head and laughing as
he learned a version of the ski cabin scene had played out with Lynn and myself with my car really getting stuck in the snow, and with my being forced to spend the night with Lynn and her boyfriend, sleeping on her couch in the next room. He had hoped it was fiction when she really did give me her boyfriend’s pajamas to sleep in.
While I did not get the girl, today Lynn and I live a few blocks away, and are still close friends to this day as are her and my wife, Natalie. I still have a picture in my office of Emilio and Andie from the movie in the snow that was taken by Dale’s boyfriend, and beside it is the photo of Lynn and I in the snow from years ago, taken by her then boyfriend and now ex-husband, Steve. The poses are identical. The only big difference was in the film, Emilio gives Andie a big movie-style kiss when the boyfriend is not looking. That was a re-write.
5. Casting: How Madonna escaped The Brat Pack.
The movie was about a group of friends, so in some ways, it was not just about casting one actor who was right for a role, but a group of friends who would be believable together. As we wrote the script, Joel would mention certain actors he was considering. For instance, the leader of the St. Elmo’s gang, Alec Newberry, had a first name that was spelled that way because of Alec Baldwin, who was in an acting class Joel was auditing who he admired. But Alec at that point was a bit older than “right out of college.” Other actors Joel mentioned were Chris Makepeace, who starred in Meatballs with Billy Murray, for the shy sardonic Kevin character, and Nancy Cartwright, a character actor also from Joel’s class who did funny kids voices, for the Wendy character. She did not get a part but would end up becoming the voice of Bart Simpson.
We saw hundreds if not thousands of actors for these roles. “We” refers to the casting director, Marci Liroff, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, and Joel. I was allowed to sit in on many of the casting sessions, and I still have the casting sheets filled with names of talented actors who life had different plans for.
Some came in for “a general” to see if they were right for some part, like the late singer Laura Branigan of Gloria fame, who was trying to cross over as an actor. Joel also told me about another singer he met with who had similar aspirations– and though she had just acted in some music video, he knew she was going to be a superstar. Despite the fact she had never appeared in a movie, he was unsure if Madonna would even accept a small part in an ensemble.
On June 6, 1984, Lea Thompson, who would play Marty McFly’s mother/girlfriend in Back to the Future and starred in All the Right Moves with Tom Cruise, came in to read for Leslie/Jules. Her Back to the Future co-star Crispin Glover also came in, as did 80’s heartthrob C. Thomas Howell and Linda Hamilton, who had just shot The Terminator. Another day brought in Jonathan Cryer, who did not get a role, but would break out as Ducky in Pretty in Pink. Jonathan would go on to star with Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men. Charlie was scheduled to come in that day, but was a no-show.
6. How the St Elmo’s Gang Came Together.
We had been hearing a lot about Charlie’s brother Emilio, as well as Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson who had been off in Chicago filming a movie for John Hughes, who had offices next to Joel at Universal. That movie was cast by Jackie McNamara Burch, who did D.C. Cab and was raving about their performances as was former Universal exec Ned Tanen who was the executive producer of St. Elmo’s as well as The Breakfast Club.
I had loved Ally from afar from her role in War Games with Mathew Broderick. Joel thought she would make a great Leslie, the young architect in the group. As for Leslie’s boyfriend Alec, there were questions about Judd Nelson, the rebel Bender in Breakfast Club, playing an ambitious young politico. Eventually, Joel was persuaded Judd was talented enough to pull it off. Emilio came into read and wanted the role of Billy, the bad boy of the group. But Emilio’s longtime friend Rob Lowe who he had grown up next to at Point Dume in Malibu was also interested in the part.
Emilio and Rob had made home movies together with their friend Sean Penn and had gotten their big break together starring in Frances Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders with Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, and many others. Rob was an established teen heartthrob, but Joel was unsure if Rob could pull off Billy. Taking on the challenge, Rob showed up to meet Joel on a Saturday in his office with a six-pack. He started chugging beers, persuading Joel he was born to play Billy. Joel excitedly told me that while Rob could come across as a “pretty boy”, he knew exactly how to rough up his look to make sure people bought him as the ruffian Billy.
Emilio also read for the role of Kevin, the sardonic, shy writer. He was great, but Andrew McCarthy came in from the East Coast and nailed that part. Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie from Facts of Life had come in to read for Wendy, the idealist who was always struggling with her weight. Joel was impressed that she was willing to leave the TV show that made her millions for the part. But upon meeting Mare Winningham who he admired for her star turn playing a prostitute in the television drama Off The Minnesota Strip, he knew she was Wendy.
The next part of this story has been told from various perspectives, but here is my account. John Hughes was back in his office at the time casting Weird Science, about two geeks who invent the perfect girl with their computer. Models and actresses were going in and out of Hughes’ suite, but to get downstairs they had to go through Joel’s offices. At one point, Joel and I were standing out by the reception desk in front of his office when a girl in a black leather jacket with flowing dark hair came racing through our suite. Like in the movies, Joel and I both saw her, and whether he said “That’s Jules” or “Who is that?” I went running after her.
In her memoir, Demi says “Joel’s assistant” caught her in the stairway, panting. We both agree on the panting part — I was never in great shape — but I remember running out of the building after her, saying something like “I-know-this-may-sound-weird-” pant, pant, pant, “but-we-are-making-a-movie-and-the-director-would-like-you” pant- “to-come-back-because-you’d-be-great-for-the-part…” Whatever our interaction, Demi came back, and she was perfect for the free spirited, wild child Jules.
We had many bonafide nerdy actors who could have played Kirbo, but Joel kept feeling like he wanted Emilio in the movie. Knowing he was the consummate professional who could play anything, Joel offered Emilio the role of my alter-ego, Kirbo, which I know was a stretch for who Emilio was in real life. In fact, far from being the kind of guy who had trouble landing the girl, Emilio and Demi would begin dating over the course of the filming of the movie. But I am grateful he became part of the St. Elmo’s gang.
With the St. Elmo gang in place, the search for Dale Biberman still eluded us. We saw many stunning models and actresses, but none felt right. To me, no one would live up to the real life goddess who was the actual Lynn Snyderman. Then we met Andie MacDowell.
When Joel, Lauren, Ned, and I met Andie in a suite at the Chateau Marmont, she had full length casts on each of her arms. She explained she had been in acting class in New York and her character was supposed to pound the floor. She had gotten carried away and fractured both her arms. Andie had shot into public consciousness after starring in a Calvin Klein jeans commercial, talking in her Southern drawl about her two friends “Dot and Earl” who lived in a trailer park with their five kids and had this dream that someday, someday, they would see Atlanta. But her transition from model to actress had a bumpy start. She appeared as the love interest Jane in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. After the film was shot, the director had all Andie’s lines dubbed over by Glenn Close. He said Andie’s strong Southern accent that didn’t fit. But that would shake anyone’s confidence.
There was something warm in who Andie was, and surprisingly down to earth for a “supermodel.” She had a compassion and empathy that made her not just another pretty face. By the time she left the audition, everyone agreed we had our Dale.
7. The Georgetown U campus was fine for an exorcism, but not college sex and angst.
With our cast in place, Joel, Lauren, and I flew to D.C. with some of the crew to scout locations. Joel sent me off to check out various Georgetown bars while he went to meet with the Vice Provost of Georgetown, Father Freeze, to get permission to film on campus there.
There were many bars in Georgetown to choose from and I remember going into a sports bar named Champs, and the hostess there looking at me like I was crazy when I said I was scouting for a location for a movie starring Rob Lowe. She promptly blew me off. Eventually some Georgetown students pointed me in the directions of a bar called The Tombs, which I had to go down some stairs to find. When I opened the door, it looked very much like a classic college bar should look—with old photos of Georgetown on the walls, rowing paddles fanned out above a brick fireplace, and beer pitchers hung above the bar.
Unfortunately, when I rejoined Joel, he told me his meeting with Father Freeze had not gone well. The Father had read the script and objected to the movie because it had premarital sex, drugs, and behavior he felt was not in keeping with the values of their Jesuit University. Joel reminded the Father that The Exorcist had shot on the Georgetown campus, and in that movie, a thirteen year old girl pees on a rug and masturbates with a cross. Father Freeze told him: “yes, but in that movie, the devil didn’t win.”
We ended up shooting the “college scenes” where Rob Lowe’s Billy character goes back to his old frat at the University of Maryland. I was riding in the station wagon with Rob when we were mobbed like The Beatles, with college coeds rocking the car back and forth. Rob, who told me he had been a nerd back when he was growing up in Dayton Ohio, took it all in stride. I got the sense he and the character of Billy were merging in persona. And I took more than a little satisfaction when we went back to the bars at Georgetown to film the exterior and the whole town seemed to turn out to watch Demi and the gang in her black jeep pick up Rob from the outside of The Third Edition, which stood in for the exterior of St. Elmo’s.
8. Death By Air Conditioning?
Joel used to say St. Elmo’s Fire was about self-created dramas that particularly young people in their twenties would get into—we had our share both on and off camera. There were little things like Ally Sheedy cutting her hair before the production, which Joel was not happy with. And then our costume designer Susan Becker learned that Mare Winningham was pregnant, and ended up sharing that with Joel. It was more than a little ironic that she was playing a virgin who would eventually sleep with Rob Lowe in the movie, while she was also about to have her third child.
Demi has been open about the drama which unfolded before the production, but the way I learned about what was going on was when Joel came back from a costume fitting with Susan Becker and said it was clear that Demi was wasted. Joel himself had almost self-destructed in his twenties, going from a fashion star in New York to a drug addict who lost six teeth and almost his life. I recall him vowing that “Demi could go kill herself on someone else’s movie.” He and Lauren sat Demi down and gave her an ultimatum: she could go to rehab and get clean before the movie started, or they would recast her part.
We were all rooting for Demi, but to have a plan B, Joel had talked about moving Jenny Wright (who played Rob/Billy’s long suffering wife) into the role of Jules. Or going back to that singer, Madonna, who by then had become an even bigger star since he had met her just months earlier.
To Demi’s great credit, she rose to the occasion and got sober. By the time it came to filming her big breakdown scene, she was bringing her own life experience to the role. I know Rob Lowe has mentioned he also never got the whole “death by air conditioning bit,” but I am afraid that also comes from my own life experience.
My senior year at Duke, through serendipitous circumstances, I ended up living with this girl, Patti, sharing an apartment as her roommate. I was in a radical Marxist phase, and she was a popular Kappa sorority sister. As the semester went on, we would end up making dinner for each other, and after a while, I started to enjoy the domestic life and everyone on campus started to see us as a couple. She invited me to be her date for the Kappa Formal. But then “a friend of hers” from high school, Michael, showed up and went camping with her.
When she came back, I could sense things were different, and as the Kappa Formal approached, Patti told me I was right about Greek life being superficial and she decided she did not want to go after all. Having bought a suit for the occasion with my mother at Barney’s over Thanksgiving break, I was crushed. But then, the night that we were to have gone, Patti did not come home. Distraught as the hours went by, I went to the freezer and pulled out a bottle of vodka Patti kept stashed. Not an experienced drinker, I downed the whole bottle, opening all the windows in the apartment and stripping down to my boxers and a t-shirt waiting for Patti to find me, dead on the floor.
This might have been a more effective strategy had we not been going to school in North Carolina where even the winters are fairly temperate. When Joel heard this story, he thought it was a great climax for the movie and a perfect illustration of the self-created dramas people in their early twenties frequently get themselves into.
Shortly before we were filming, Demi pulled me aside. Having heard that this event came directly from my life, she asked: since her character was supposed to be emotionally naked in the scene, would it make more sense for Jules not to be wearing a t-shirt, but to be naked? I admired her commitment to the part, but mumbled if the gang came in and found her sans t-shirt, it might distract from the anguish of the scene. Joel and our cinematographer Steve Burum took a risk filming the scene abstractly with the curtains flying, and while the idea of freezing yourself is an obvious call for attention, Demi’s performance is genuinely moving. I hope that scene has helped a few people who have faced similar dark times know that, like Demi herself, that they can get through things. I will also say that while Joel later would get grief for costuming George Clooney in a Batman suit with nipples, he could have exploited his gorgeous actress, braless in a t-shirt in a chilled room. He did not.
9. Man in Motion; The Song That Still Burns Bright With Lyrics That Had Nothing To Do With Our Movie.
For the soundtrack of the movie, we had signed with Atlantic Record co-founded by Joel’s longtime friend Ahmet Ertegun. We had hopes of perhaps getting Pete Townshend or Julian Lennon, but they had both passed. While writing the script, I had been listening to Billy Joel’s Songs From the Attic and Joel had incorporated several songs into the script as placeholders. At one point, Joel tried to send the script to Billy with an offer asking him to play the bartender of St. Elmo’s. We never heard back and the part went to stand-up Blake Clark.
Joel hired producer David Foster. While he had success with bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago, this was the first time David had done a soundtrack. I recall one day David coming in, relaxed in tennis shorts, and playing us a little something he had done on his synthesizer which was the St. Elmo’s Fire love theme. Little did we realize that for the next few decades, people would get married to the theme, and even play it at their funerals.
The time for the soundtrack to be locked was getting close, but we still did not have a title song or anything Joel felt would be a hit. Joel and I had flown down to Florida to help do a re-write on the Peter Falk movie New Years’ Day when Joel called me into his hotel suite and told me that David wanted to play us a song. Foster was from British Columbia and was working with John Parr. He was from England, but as they were working, David had shown him a video about Rick Hansen, a paraplegic who was traveling across Canada to raise money for charity. Parr had not even seen our movie, but that inspired the writing of a song called Man In Motion, which David thought we could use. I remember listening over the phone with Joel, who immediately loved it. John Parr has said that Joel did not want the title mentioned in the song, but I recall Joel excitedly telling David Foster to throw in the words St. Elmo’s Fire somewhere in the song. Given all Joel had done to preserve that title, I’d bet on that version.
I only met John Parr once on the video shoot for the song after the movie was finished. It was set on the soundstage with a burnt out St. Elmo’s bar. I don’t think John had seen the movie at that point either, and he later admitted he did not even recognize the actors. Trying to be helpful, he offered them some acting tips. What I remember most from that shoot was Joel and Lauren Shuler trying to corral the cast to take a shot in front of the bar at the studio for Craig Baumgarten, the exec who had greenlit the movie at Columbia Pictures. They were not happy about it, but if you look at that image on the poster with “The Heat This Summer Is At St. Elmo Fire,” they captured the angst of their characters beautifully.
10. The Brat Pack: A Contrived Label That Haunted The Careers Of Actors Who Deserved Better.
Much has been made over the years of the article that was published on June 10, 1985 on the cover of New York Magazine, with a still from the movie of Rob, Judd, and Emilio, which Gregg Gorman took of the guys horsing around at a table at the fictional St. Elmo bar. When it ran with the title “The Brat Pack”, it would, like the St. Elmo’s Fire phenomenon, have an electric effect, linking in the public’s mind the actors in the movie to their alleged behavior.
The article starts off with its writer David Blum at the Hard Rock Café with Rob, Emilio, and Judd, holding court. Emilio had actually invited David there because he knew he was from New York and out of town, and Emilio was trying to be gracious. Having spent a few nights during the movie with some of the cast, I can tell you the evenings I was there were pretty tame. Emilio at that time was dating Demi, who was not drinking. Andrew generally stayed out of the L.A. scene, still identifying as a New Yorker. As Judd and Ally were the two cast members who had gone to college as opposed to straight into acting, I recall mostly talking to them about books. And Mare was pregnant with her third child and so did not go out.
In the article, Blum does note the attention that the guys seemed to attract, and Emilio did not do himself any favors by flirting with a Playmate. And, as I have described, wherever Rob went in the ’80s, he seemed to be, to use the parlance of the day, a babe-magnet. But the frustrating part of the article is that it was supposed to be a profile on Emilio, who was far from the partier the article portrayed. I had watched him on his 32 pound Compaq luggable computer — an early version of the laptop — pounding out a screenplay he intended to direct and star in. He, like the rest of the cast in my experience, took themselves and their craft tremendously seriously.
According to Blum, on his way back to New York, he talked to a friend who made a self-deprecating joke about being part of the “Fat Pack,” a play on Hollywood’s Rat Pack where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis Jr. all hung out together both on and off-screen. That apparently was how the article Blum went from writing a piece that was supposed to be about Emilio being the youngest person since Orson Welles to write, direct, and star in a movie, to one about the group of actors Emilio allegedly hung out with. Blum not only created “The Brat Pack”, but also made Emilio this fictional club’s unofficial president. It included actors like Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton, Matthew Broderick and others who were no more a “pack” than if someone had followed a journalist out one evening and declared that all their co-workers at the paper were part of some clique called “The Rag Pack.”
When “The Brat Pack” article came out, Emilio naturally felt betrayed and called the reporter to tell him he had ruined his life. Judd is said to have wanted to beat the guy up. They understandably felt betrayed. You could argue this all comes with the territory of being young and in the public spotlight. But the saddest part was their managers and agents would go on to advise the cast that they should avoid hanging out with each other or even doing movies with them to try to escape “The Brat Pack” stigma.
Thirty-five years ago, the cast were in their twenties and guilty of many of the things that people in their twenties are guilty of—leading with their passions, flying too close to the sun. But just like there was no “St. Elmo’s Fire” in the sense, that there was not really a St. Elmo nor a fire, I would argue that there never was a Brat Pack. Not in the sense that that article and the related movie made it seem. They were a group of talented actors who worked together with a dedicated behind the scenes crew who tried to say something about the nature of friendship, and relationships, and how it may all fade, but we keep all of those memories inside us.
St. Elmo’s Fire was not without its conflicts on and off screen, and it is in some ways a flawed movie. But so are the lives of everyone who goes through that period in their early twenties as they try to find out who they are. And maybe that is why, after all these years, St. Elmo’s Fire still burns bright.