AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Alternate Title: Hot Lunch
Director: Alan Parker (Dir)
Release Date:   20 Jun 1980
Premiere Information:   World premiere in New York: 12 May 1980; Los Angeles and New York openings: 16 May 1980; National release: 20 Jun 1980
Production Date:   9 Jul--late Oct 1979
Duration (in mins):   134
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Eddie Barth (Angelo [Martelli])  
    Irene Cara (Coco [Hernandez])  
    Lee Curreri (Bruno [Martelli])  
    Laura Dean (Lisa [Monroe])  
    Antonia Franceschi (Hilary [van Doren])  
    Boyd Gaines (Michael)  
    Albert Hague (Shorofsky)  
    Tresa Hughes (Mrs. [Naomi] Finsecker)  
    Steve Inwood (François Lafete)  
    Paul McCrane (Montgomery [McNeil])  
    Anne Meara (Mrs. Sherwood)  
    Joanna Merlin (Miss Berg)  
    Barry Miller ([Raul Garcia] Ralph [Garci])  
    Jim Moody (Farrell)  
    Gene Anthony Ray (Leroy [Johnson])  
    Maureen Teefy (Doris [Finsecker])  
  Players: Debbie Allen (Lydia)  
    Richard Belzer (M.C.)  
    Frank Bongiorno (Truck driver)  
    Bill Britten (Mr. England)  
    Eric Brockington (Plump Eric)  
    Nicholas Bunin (Bunsky)  
    Cindy Canuelas (Cindy)  
    Nora Cotrone (Topless student)  
    Mbewe Escobar (Phenicia)  
    Gennady Filimonov (Violinist)  
    Victor Fischbarg (Harvey Finsecker)  
    Penny Frank (Dance teacher)  
    Willie Henry, Jr. (Bathroom student)  
    Steven Hollander (Drama student)  
    Sang Kim (Oriental violinist)  
    Darrell Kirkman (Richard III)  
    Judith L'Heureux (Nurse)  
    Ted Lambert (Drama student)  
    Nancy Lee (Oriental student)  
    Sarah Malament (Dance accompanist)  
    James Manis (Bruno's uncle)  
    Carol Massenburg (Shirley)  
    Isaac Mizrahi (Touchstone)  
    Raquel Mondin (Ralph's sister)  
    Alba Oms (Ralph's mother)  
    Frank Oteri (Schlepstein)  
    Traci Parnell (Hawaiian dancer)  
    Sal Piro (Rocky Horror M.C.)  
    Leslie Quickley (Towering Inferno student)  
    Ray Ramirez (Father Morales)  
    Loris Sallahian (Drama student)  
    Ilse Sass (Mrs. Tossoff)  
    Dawn Steinberg (Monitor on stairs)  
    Jonathan Strasser (Orchestra conductor)  
    Yvette Torres (Ralph's little sister)  
    Frank X. Vitolo (Frankie)  
  [and] Stefanie Zimmerman (Dance teacher)  
    Tracy Burnett (Principal dancer)  
    Greg De Jean (Principal dancer)  
    Laura Delano (Principal dancer)  
    Michael DeLorenzo (Principal dancer)  
    Aaron Dugger (Principal dancer)  
    Neisha Folkes (Principal dancer)  
    Karen Ford (Principal dancer)  
    Robin Gray (Principal dancer)  
    Hazel Green (Principal dancer)  
    Eva Grubler (Principal dancer)  
    Patrick King (Principal dancer)  
    Cynthia Lochard (Principal dancer)  
    Julian Montenaire (Principal dancer)  
    Holly Reeve (Principal dancer)  
    Kate Snyder (Principal dancer)  
    Meg Tilly (Principal dancer)  
    Louis Venosta (Principal dancer)  
    Philip Wright (Principal dancer)  
  [and] Ranko Yokoyana (Principal dancer)  
    Adam Abeshouse (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Yvette D. Carrington (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Fima Ephron (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Anthony Evans (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Crystal Garner (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Lisa Herman (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Thais Hockaday (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Karen Hoppe (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Frankie Laino (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    April Lang (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Richard Latimer (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Lisa Lowell (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Ann Marie McDermott (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Kerry McDermott (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Maureen McDermott (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Josh Melville (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Peter Rafelson (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Anne Roboff (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Boris Slutsky (Principal musician and vocalist)  
    Alan Vetter (Principal musician and vocalist)  
  [and] Evan Weinstein (Principal musician and vocalist)  

Summary: In New York City, teenaged actors, musicians, and dancers audition for enrollment in the prestigious High School of Performing Arts. Among those accepted are Montgomery McNeil, an aspiring actor who grapples with his “closeted” homosexuality; Lisa Monroe, a fussy, unmotivated ballerina who prefers gossip over dancing; Coco Hernandez, a street smart singer-dancer with unwavering ambition; the shy and awkward Doris Finsecker, who is bullied by her overbearing “stage mother”; Raul Garcia, an arrogant compulsive liar who masks his Puerto Rican descent by changing his name to “Ralph Garci”; pianist Bruno Martelli, who vexes the conservative music teachers by infusing classical compositions with electronic synthesizers; and Leroy Johnson, a gangster with a special talent for dance, but no interest in school. On the first day of freshman year, homeroom English teacher Mrs. Sherwood insists the teens must excel in their academic studies as well as their performance skills. Throughout the afternoon, the students are warned that their ambition will most likely lead to rejection, as well as physical and emotional hardship. Only the strongest will survive high school, and the chance of gaining fame after graduation is highly unlikely. At the cafeteria, the students improvise a chaotic music and dance party with Bruno on piano and Coco singing about the school’s “hot lunch.” Aspiring actors Doris Finsecker and Montgomery McNeil are intimidated by the ruckus and huddle outside the cafeteria, becoming fast friends. Later, singer-dancer Coco Hernandez tracks down Bruno Martelli, her accompanist during the “hot lunch” jam session. She suggests they form a duo and perform at social events to earn a living, but the young man does not wish to collaborate. By sophomore year, however, Bruno hesitantly allows Coco to record lyrics over some of his compositions. When Bruno’s taxi driver father, Angelo Martelli, discovers a cassette tape of Bruno and Coco’s song “Fame,” he parks his cab on 46th Street in front of the school and blasts the tune through makeshift bullhorn speakers. Students love the song and create a traffic jam, dancing in the road and on top of cars. Bruno scolds his father for broadcasting the unfinished song, but Coco is elated to hear her voice resounding through the busy street. Sophomore year also marks a transition for dancer Leroy Johnson, whose illiteracy is exposed by Mrs. Sherwood. Although Leroy is enraged by the school’s high standards, he wants to keep dancing and slowly trains himself to read. Meanwhile, Leroy catches the attention of a new addition to the dance department, a wealthy and highly talented ballerina named Hilary van Doren. The overconfident girl fends off Coco, who is already courting Leroy. In the sophomore year drama program, students are instructed to recreate their most painful personal memories, and Montgomery reveals his homosexuality to the class. Although jokester Ralph Garci maliciously teases Montgomery and his best friend, Doris, he later reveals his own vulnerability while performing a monologue about the recent death of his idol, Freddie Prinze. As the year comes to a close, Miss Berg, the dance department head, tells her awkward and distracted student, Lisa Monroe, that she does not have the talent or ambition to be a professional dancer. Despite Lisa’s protests, she is expelled from school and terrifies her friends by walking toward an oncoming subway train. When the train passes, Lisa declares she will stay in school and transfer to the drama department. By junior year, Montgomery McNeil and Doris Finsecker become allied with Ralph Garci, and Ralph and Doris fall in love. One night, while the friends rehearse, Ralph’s five-year-old sister is attacked by drug addicts at their home in the Bronx, and the Ralph blames himself for not being there to protect her. He later tells Montgomery and Doris about his abusive father, who beat Ralph when he entertained his sister with comedic antics. On one occasion, Ralph’s sister was caught in between the two men, and her father smashed her head into a wall, leaving her disabled. Ralph’s father is now in prison, but the young man believes his gift for comedy provoked the attack. As Doris comforts her sobbing lover, Montgomery tosses his apartment keys on the bed and leaves. Doris and Ralph later bond at a raucous midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show while Montgomery stays home, playing guitar in solitude. As the kids head into senior year, Ralph auditions at a comedy club called “Catch a Rising Star” and his stand-up routine is received by a cheering audience, as well as an offer for future work. However, his success leads to alcoholism and drug abuse. One evening at the club, Doris accuses Ralph of emulating Freddie Prinze and begs him to follow his own path. As Ralph takes the stage, Doris storms away and he botches his routine. Ralph mourns the loss of his girl friend and his good standing at the club, but Montgomery consoles his companion backstage. He reminds Ralph that fame comes at a cost. High school offers them training and a “hot lunch,” but in the real world, they may never be satisfied by their own success, just like Freddie Prinze. Senior year also brings tragedy to ballerina Hilary van Doren, who becomes pregnant with Leroy Johnson’s baby. She secretly decides to get an abortion, drop out of school, and move to San Francisco, California, where she has been offered a place with the city’s ballet company. Meanwhile, Coco and Bruno continue to collaborate and become close friends. One day, a shady American named “François Lafete” approaches Coco in a diner, and offers to make her a star if she takes a screen test. She expects to audition for a blockbuster, but finds herself in a seedy apartment, sitting in front of an amateur camera set-up. Lafete suggests she “make love to the camera” and orders her to expose her breasts. When she objects, he accuses her of being unprofessional, and she cries as he films her naked body. Back at school, Leroy learns that his nemesis, Mrs. Sherwood, is at the hospital with her mortally ill husband. There, Leroy tries to bully the English teacher into giving him a passing grade, because he will not be able to join the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater company if he fails to graduate. As the two argue, Leroy realizes that Mrs. Sherwood has problems of her own. He lets down his guard and comforts her. At graduation, the students who began their journey four years earlier showcase their talents with new ingenuity and confidence. Their song and dance performance is cheered by teachers and parents, who championed the youths all along. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.  
Production Text: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents
An Alan Parker film
Fame Presented by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Brand Name:

Distribution Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.  
  United Artists Corp. (Transamerica Corp.)
Director: Alan Parker (Dir)
  David Golden (Unit prod mgr)
  Robert F. Colesberry (1st asst dir)
  Raymond L. Greenfield (2d asst dir)
  Joe Ray (2d asst dir)
Producer: David De Silva (Prod)
  Alan Marshall (Prod)
Writer: Christopher Gore (Wrt)
Photography: Michael Seresin (Dir of photog)
  John Stanier (Cam op)
  Tom Priestley, Jr. (Cam op)
  Joseph F. Coffey (Cam op)
  Vincent Gerardo (1st asst cam)
  William Gerardo (2d asst cam)
  Catharine Bushnell (Still photog)
  Holly Bower (Still photog)
  Leroy Patton (1st cam (N.Y.))
  Frank O. Schulz (Gaffer)
  Marty Nallan (Key grip)
Art Direction: Geoffrey Kirkland (Prod des)
  Ed Wittstein (Art dir)
Film Editor: Gerry Hambling (Ed)
  Yoshio Kishi (Addl ed (N.Y.))
  Michael B. Hoggan (Addl ed (L.A.))
Set Decoration: George De Titta (Set dec)
  Joe Caracciolo (Prop master)
Costumes: Kristi Zea (Cost des)
  Ellen Mirojnick (Asst cost des)
  Al Craine (Men's ward supv)
  Beverly Cycon (Women's ward supv)
  Thelma S. Gregory (Women's ward supv)
Music: Michael Gore (Orig mus by)
Sound: Chris Newman (Sd mixer)
  Les Wiggins (Sd ed)
  Jerry Bruck (Stereo consultant)
  Arthur Bloom (Rec)
  Dennis Maitland, II (Boom op)
  Rusty Coppleman (Sd ed)
  Eddy Joseph (Asst ed)
  Norman Hollyn (Asst ed)
  Terry Busby (Asst ed)
  Jack Gardner (Asst ed)
  Leonard Green (Asst ed)
  Stefna Smal (Asst ed)
  Chuck Irwin (Mus rec eng)
  Michael J. Kohut (Re-rec mixer)
  Aaron Rochin (Re-rec mixer)
  Jay M. Harding (Re-rec mixer)
  Tom Scott (Dolby consultant)
  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (Re-rec at)
Dance: Louis Falco (Choreog)
  William Gornel (Asst choreog)
Make Up: Joseph Cuervo (Makeup)
  Joseph G. Coscia (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Howard Feuer (Casting)
  Jeremy Ritzer (Casting)
  Margery Simkin (Spec casting)
  Pamela Adler (Asst to Mr. Parker and Mr. Marshall)
  Renee Bodner (Scr supv)
  Arlene Albertson (Prod office co-ord)
  Ellie Linas (Prod auditor)
  John Kane Solters & Roskin, Inc. (Unit pub)
  Solters & Roskin, Inc. (Unit pub, John Kane)
  Angela Mickleburgh (Prod's asst (London))
  Joy Todd, Inc. (Extras casting)
  Whitey McEvoy (Transportation capt)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: “Red Light,” music—Michael Gore, lyrics—Dean Pitchford, sung by Linda Clifford, courtesy of RSO/Curtom Records, Inc.; “Dogs In The Yard,” music and lyrics—Dominic Bugatti and Frank Musker; “Hot Lunch Jam,” music—Michael Gore, lyrics—Robert F. Colesberry, Lesley Gore, vocal and melody arrangement by Irene Cara; “Fame,” music—Michael Gore, lyrics—Dean Pitchford; “Out Here On My Own,” music—Michael Gore, lyrics—Lesley Gore; “Is It Okay If I Call You Mine?,” music and lyrics—Paul McCrane; “I Sing The Body Electric,” music—Michael Gore, lyrics—Dean Pitchford, arranged by Steven Margoshes.
Composer: Dominic Bugatti
  Robert F. Colesberry
  Lesley Gore
  Michael Gore
  Paul McCrane
  Frank Musker
  Dean Pitchford
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Company 28/7/1980 dd/mm/yyyy PA76496

Physical Properties: Sd: Recorded in Dolby Stereo™
  Prints: Prints in Metrocolor®
  Lenses: Panaflex® Camera and Lenses by Panavision®

Genre: Musical
Sub-Genre: Teenage
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  High school students
  High schools
  New York City
Subjects (Minor): Abortions
  Actors and actresses
  Battered children
  Drug addiction
  English language

Note: End credits include the following acknowledgments: “Monologue from ‘Dark at the Top of the Stairs,’ by William Inge through the courtesy of Warner Bros., Inc.; Excerpt from ‘Marty’ courtesy of Paddy Chayefsky; Excerpt from ‘Steambath’ by Bruce Jay Friedman,” and, “The producers would like to thank the students and their parents of the High School of the Performing Arts and the High School of Music and Art, New York City, who made this film possible.”
       The last name of principal dancer Ranko Yokoyama is misspelled "Yokoyana."
       The film is divided into five acts indicated by title cards stating: “The Auditions,” “Freshman Year,” “Sophomore Year, “Junior Year,” and “Senior Year.”
       Referring to the picture by its working title, Hot Lunch, a 15 Sep 1978 DV news item announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) had acquired film rights to a story about New York City’s High School of Performing Arts by producer David De Silva and writer Christopher Gore. A 2 Apr 1979 Publishers Weekly column stated that the property sold for $400,000. At the same time, the film’s novelization was purchased with a $150,000 advance by Fawcett Publications, even though a writer had not yet been selected.
       According to an article by director Alan Parker in the 2 Oct 2009 Telegraph (London), De Silva was inspired to make a film about the High School for Performing Arts, also known as “PA,” after taking a fancy to a song called “Nothing” from the hit Broadway musical, A Chorus Line (New York, 25 Jul 1975). The song is performed by the character “Diana Morales,” a Puerto Rican dancer who was formerly an acting student at the High School of Performing Arts. “Nothing” expresses the self-doubt and professional ostracism Morales endures at PA when she is unable to replicate the sensation of riding a bobsled through the snow, an event that would never occur in her Caribbean homeland. Morales’s lyrics state that her PA acting teacher insisted she was talentless, and he bullied her out of the school. When Morales later learns the teacher died, she feels “nothing.” In Fame, a Puerto Rican character named “Coco” is approached by a man in a diner; he claims to be a successful filmmaker, but is instead a homespun pornographer. Although Coco is still in high school, and has never landed a role on Broadway, the stranger gets her attention by pretending to mistake her for an actress in A Chorus Line.
       De Silva, who was a theatrical talent agent at the time, wanted to make a “pre- Chorus Line” film that showed how ambition and rejection influences the lives of vulnerable, adolescent over-achievers. His aim was to portray the youngsters before they ended up on chorus lines and casting call auditions. In 1977, De Silva paid Christopher Gore $5,000 to write a script based on his idea.
       The High School of Performing Arts’ dance department chairwoman, Lydia Joel, told the Jul 1980 edition of Dance magazine that Hot Lunch first came to her attention in 1977, when De Silva visited the head of the drama program after the death of Freddie Prinze. The successful, twenty-two-year-old actor-comedian was a High School of Performing Arts dropout and died on 29 Jan 1977 from a self-afflicted gunshot wound. Lydia Joel explained that De Silva was researching “the enormous motivations and problems” of talented youths, and was intrigued by the inner workings of the school. Prinze is cited throughout Fame as the role model for a young comedian named “Ralph,” and Lydia Joel is represented onscreen as the character “Lydia,” a bit part performed by Debbie Allen.
       On 15 Dec 1978, DV included Hot Lunch among MGM’s production schedule for 1979, listing an anticipated budget of at least $7 million. Christopher Gore finished the script, but no director was formerly attached to the project by mid 1978. In a 25 May 1980 NYT article, Alan Parker stated that MGM sent him Gore’s screenplay “in very rough draft form.” However, he was interested in the story and, after visiting the school, he invited Gore to London, England, where the two men wrote a second version of the screenplay. Parker returned to New York City and spent many days “hanging out” at the school so he and Gore could replicate the students’ vernacular. In his Telegraph article, the director claimed that he infused the teens’ stories into his new draft of the script. For instance, the film’s lunchroom sequence and the scene at The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, see entry) were based on Parker’s real-life experiences with the kids. He promised PA students that they would have priority in the film’s casting, but he also explained that he was “casting the net as far as possible” to search for talent.
       Neither De Silva nor Parker is credited onscreen as a writer or literary source.
       Parker’s contract to direct Hot Lunch was announced in the 12 Feb 1979 DV and the 14 Feb 1979 Var. At the time, Parker had directed two theatrically-released feature films, Bugsy Malone (1976, see entry), a musical cast entirely with children, and Midnight Express (1978, see entry), Oliver Stone’s controversial screenwriting debut that won Stone an Academy Award and Parker a Best Director nomination. The success of Midnight Express prompted Parker and producer David Puttnam to acquire a three-picture contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., but the arrangement was non-binding, so Parker was free to work on MGM’s Hot Lunch. While Puttnam was not included in the Hot Lunch deal, his production partner on Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express, Alan Marshall, was hired to produce Hot Lunch with David De Silva. However, De Silva had little to do with the production, according to Alan Parker’s 2 Oct 2009 Telegraph article. Fame marked Parker’s first movie to be filmed in the U.S.
       Although the filmmakers intended to use the High School of Performing Arts on 120 West 46th Street as its primary location, the 30 Mar 1979 DV and HR announced that New York City’s Board of Education prohibited production at the building. Educators took issue with the script’s depiction of violence, “four-letter words,” and drug use, and complained that the film had “overtones” of pornography. A 14 Oct 1979 LAT article noted that a pornographic film titled Hot Lunch had been released around the time of the board’s evaluation, and the institution feared the school system would be stigmatized. In addition, Parker had been widely criticized for his “exaggeration” of Turkish prison violence in Midnight Express, and one board member told the director that she did not want to “risk” the chance of him portraying New York schools “in the same light as Turkish prisons.”
       MGM fired back to defend its upcoming production, now budgeted at $8 million, claiming that the film did not “sensationalize contemporary manner and morals.” The studio remained committed to the project without censorship, and the director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Nancy Littlefield, vowed to protect the production due to its potential benefits to the local economy. Various contemporary sources, including Dance magazine and a 26 May 1980 New York article, pointed out the irony that the film offered lucrative job opportunities to the very children that the Board of Education was trying to help. By forestalling the production, the board denied students the chance to exhibit their talents in front of a mass audience.
       In defiance of New York City’s educational bureaucracy, Nancy Littlefield provided the filmmakers two abandoned schools outside of the board’s jurisdiction, P.S. 122 on East 9th Street, and Haaren High, on 59th and Tenth Avenue. She also granted permits to film in Times Square. Since Parker had already spent so much time researching the script at the High School of Performing Arts, he did not find it difficult to replicate the building. According to New York, Haaren High was transformed into a mass sound stage at the cost of approximately $200,000, and remained a production house after the film was completed. The structure also contained carpentry shops and offices for MGM executives. Shots of staircases and dance studios were filmed at P.S. 122.
       Along with the controversy surrounding New York City’s Board of Education, Parker was challenged by local labor unions which objected to Parker’s British production team. The filmmaker was unwilling to disperse the crew he had worked with for over ten years, and convinced the U.S. unions to agree to a “standby” arrangement, in which local laborers were on set as backups. He also established a reciprocal agreement, by which an American cinematographer would be hired for a future British production.
       The filmmakers auditioned more than 2,000 young artists over the span of four months at the Hotel Diplomat on 108 West 43rd Street. The High School of Performing Arts’ principal of twelve years, Richard Klein, read the script before it was rejected by his superiors, and found it to be generally favorable. Although he was pressured to go along with the board, he did not want to forsake the students’ chance to perform in a major feature film. As stated in New York, Klein circumvented the board’s ruling by encouraging the filmmakers to schedule the teens’ work during non-school hours. State law mandated that students were “free agents when classroom time was completed.” With the approval of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), Parker printed casting calls that were distributed at both the High School of Performing Arts and the High School of Music & Art, where Richard Klein also presided as principal. Klein’s position on the production remained within official school board policy. Filming took place predominantly during summer vacation, when he had no authority over his students’ activities.
       As Klein predicted, the project was embraced by teen performers and their teachers, who clamored to audition. The chorus and orchestra in the finale sequence were composed of actual students, and background actors were primarily selected from the student body. The school’s drama instructor, Jim Moody, played the role of “Farrell,” and music teacher Jonathan Strasser performed the “orchestra conductor.” Of the eight lead characters, several young actors were formerly enrolled in the High School of Performing Arts, including Antonia Franceschi and Gene Anthony Ray, who was “expelled for disruptive behavior,” according to a 22 Sep 2009 USA Today article. Laura Dean was still a student during production, and scheduled to graduate in Jun 1980. Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, who also attended PA, made his feature film debut in the bit role of “Touchstone.” Choreographer Louis Falco was a PA graduate along with other crewmembers.
       Fame marked the motion picture debut of Meg Tilly, who was one the film's nineteen "principal dancers," and the first credited role for "principal musician and vocalist" Peter Rafelson, the son of filmmaker Bob Rafelson.
       According to the 25 May 1980 NYT, pre-production included one week of rehearsals in which Parker grew familiar with the teens’ personalities and developed their roles accordingly. In one such instance, Parker discovered that Paul McCrane, who plays “Montgomery,” was a songwriter and included one of his tunes on the soundtrack. Much of the rehearsals’ improvised dialogue was incorporated into the final script. The dance and music scenes were rehearsed for six weeks before production began.
       Principal photography for Hot Lunch began on 9 Jul 1979 in New York City. The following day, a 10 Jul 1979 DV news item announced that the title had been changed to Fame. In his Telegraph article, Parker explained that he was reminded of the school board’s antagonism toward sexuality in Hot Lunch when he saw the same title on the marquee of a pornographic movie theater. The title change was solidified when he learned that “hot lunch” was slang for a sex act, and that one of the most successful porn stars at the time was coincidentally named “Al Parker.” MGM suggested alternate titles including Neon Dreams, Break a Leg, Shooting Star, Pizzazz and Razzle Dazzle, Stagestruck, and Spotlight, but Parker eventually took the title from the hit 1975 song “Fame” by David Bowie, John Lennon, and Carlos Alomar.
       On 22 Aug 1979, Var reported that school exteriors was being filmed at the stand-in Church of St. Mary the Virgin at 145 West 46th Street. At that time, the production was in the seventh week of its seventeen-week schedule. The film made its last appearance on Var production charts on 31 Oct 1979.
       The 46th Street dance sequence was filmed over the course of three days, using eight different choreographed routines and 150 student background actors, sprinkled with fifty professional dancers. On the eve of the shoot, lead camera operator John Stanier was called home to London for personal reasons. Without a replacement, director of photography Michael Seresin manned the camera for several hours before leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 644 Camera Union showed up on set and shut down production until Parker hired one of their men. By the second day, the New York Police Department was overwhelmed with traffic blockages and demanded a 4:00 p.m. curfew. In addition, the dancers went on strike the second day, and their union leaders demanded extra “stunt” pay for performing on the roofs of taxicabs.
       The scene was filmed to the Donna Summer hit “Hot Stuff” because the movie’s theme song, “Fame,” had not yet been written. The previously mentioned 1975 David Bowie release, “Fame,” was not used in the film’s soundtrack. According to Parker’s Telegraph article, composer Michael Gore, (no relation to the film’s writer, Christopher Gore), was inspired to write the movie’s version of “Fame” after listening to “Hot Stuff” for three days straight. Parker also noted that the finale song, “I Sing The Body Electric” was inspired by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) song “Eldorado.” The director had repeatedly listened to the tune while working on script revisions, and brought it to Michael Gore as source material. The title was taken from Walt Whitman’s 1867 poem of the same name.
       On 27 Aug 1979, HR announced that distributor United Artists Corp. (UA) projected a national opening in Jun 1980. By 26 Feb 1980, Parker was completing post-production at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, according to a HR column published that day.
       As noted in a 25 Apr 1980 DV news item, Fame was scheduled to make its world premiere on 12 May 1980 at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City. The event benefitted the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), a non-profit organization focused on the city’s renewal and growth. An 8 May 1980 HR column added that the film’s “regular openings” on 16 May 1980 in New York City and Los Angeles, CA, were celebrated with a premiere at the Cinerama Dome theater. The screening’s profits were donated to the Performing Arts department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
       On 30 May 1980, DV announced that Fame grossed $118,169 during its first three days of release in New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto, Canada. Another DV news item published that day added that the film earned $335,539 in the eleven days proceeding its limited three-city release. According to an 11 Jun 1980 DV report, the picture generated an income of $665,806 in the two months before its 20 Jun 1980 national release date. A UA marketing executive explained that the advance screenings were part of the studio’s strategy to generate critical response and word-of-mouth publicity. MGM was so concerned by the film’s lack of stars that it provided a record number of free tickets to the special screenings, as stated in the 26 May 1980 New York article. The 20 Jun 1980 national opening in 450 theaters was heralded by a ten-day, $2.1 million advertising campaign, and the soundtrack album, released five days before the movie, saturated radio stations.
       Although UA is listed as Fame’s distributor throughout contemporary sources, it is not credited onscreen in the print viewed for this record.
       Just three weeks after Fame’s wide release, the 10 Jul 1980 HR announced that the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was planning a television spinoff of the movie, and by 12 Dec 1980, MGM-TV had begun production on the pilot in New York City, according to DV and HR news items published that day. Filming for the television movie took place at Haaren High with four actors reprising their roles, including Gene Anthony Ray as “Leroy,” Lee Curreri as “Bruno,” Albert Hague as “Shorofsky,” and Debbie Allen, as “Lydia.” The show, created by Christopher Gore with David De Silva as a “consulting producer,” ran on NBC for two seasons, starting 7 Jan 1982 and ending 4 Aug 1983. However, the series was renewed for first-run syndication in 1983 and continued to air for an additional four seasons. The syndicated version of Fame earned $360 million due to its mass popularity in foreign countries. However, Alan Parker and Alan Marshall were not beneficiaries of the show’s success, and MGM insisted the film did not generate residuals.
       Ten years after the first airing of the Fame television series, an 11 Jan 2002 DV article announced that MGM and the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) were co-producing a two-hour-long television film sequel to Fame. ABC was hoping the picture would spark new interest in the story, and create a demand for a weekly series. Michael Gore, who scored the original film, was set to executive produce the ABC television film with his partner at White Cap Productions, Lawrence Cohen. Neither the television movie nor its anticipated spinoff series were produced as of May 2015.
       A feature film remake of Fame was released by MGM in 2009 (see entry).
       As noted in Parker’s Telegraph article and the 28 Apr 2000 WSJ, David De Silva retained theatrical musical rights to the property and had a vested interest in keeping the franchise viable. Citing the lyrics to the Fame theme song, De Silva told WSJ that it was his personal mission to make Fame “live forever,” and he referred to himself as “Father Fame.” He believed that Fame was “the West Side Story for the millennium” and therefore conceived a stage production of Fame—The Musical, which premiered in 2000 to underwhelming reviews. The show also ran under another title, Fame on 42nd Street. Since the stage show was resoundingly popular abroad, De Silva continued earning “six-figure” annual incomes without having a hand in the productions. Parker’s Telegraph article pointed out that De Silva only “fathered” the story of Hot Lunch. The success of Fame was based on the collaboration between Parker, Christopher Gore, and Alan Marshall.
       According to a Jul 1980 edition of After Dark magazine, Fame was the first U.S. feature film to use a specific high school as its subject matter. Although principal Richard Klein was ultimately displeased with parts of the final picture, and claimed that it was “not an accurate representation,” he appreciated its depiction of a spirited student body. The movie marked the end of an era at the High School of Performing Arts; the eighty-nine-year-old-building on West 46th Street was set to be vacated in Sep 1982. Its 600 students merged with the 2,000 teens at the High School of Music and Art in a new building at Lincoln Center. The combined schools took on the name of New York City’s former mayor, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. According to Parker’s Telegraph article, Fame prompted cities around the world to establish high schools for visual and performing arts. He noted the irony that decades after his dispute with New York City’s Board of Education, the LaGuardia High School website refers to the institution as “the Fame school.”
       Fame was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Film Editing; Music (Original Song) – “Out Here On My Own,” music by Michael Gore, lyric by Lesley Gore; Sound (Michael J. Kohut, Aaron Rochin, Jay M. Harding, and Chris Newman); and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen). The film won two Academy Awards for Music (Original Score) and Music (Original Song) – “Fame,” music by Michael Gore, lyric by Dean Pitchford.
       The song “Fame” was also recognized as #51 on AFI’s “100 Greatest American Movie Music” in its list of 100 Years…100 Songs.  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
After Dark   Jul 1980.   
Daily Variety   15 Sep 1978.   
Daily Variety   15 Dec 1978   p. 1, 48.
Daily Variety   12 Feb 1979.   
Daily Variety   30 Mar 1979.   
Daily Variety   10 Jul 1979.   
Daily Variety   25 Apr 1980.   
Daily Variety   30 May 1980.   
Daily Variety   11 Jun 1980.   
Daily Variety   12 Dec 1980.   
Daily Variety   11 Jan 2002   p. 1, 55.
Dance   Jul 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 Mar 1979   p. 1, 28.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Aug 1979   p. 1, 17.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Feb 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   7 May 1980   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   8 May 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jul 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   12 Dec 1980   p. 27.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Apr 2007   p. 4, 19.
Los Angeles Times   14 Oct 1979   Calendar, p. 5.
Los Angeles Times   11 May 1980   p. 1.
New York   26 May 1980   pp. 56-57.
New York Times   16 May 1980   p. 14.
New York Times   25 May 1980   p 15, 20.
Publishers Weekly   2 Apr 1979.   
Telegraph (London)   2 Oct 2009.   
USA Today   22 Sep 2009.   
Variety   14 Feb 1979.   
Variety   9 May 1979.   
Variety   22 Aug 1979   p. 32.
Variety   31 Oct 1979.   
Variety   30 Apr 1980   p. 36.
Variety   18 Jun 1980.   
WSJ   28 Apr 2000   Section A, p. 1, 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.