Born July 13, 1957, in Palm Springs, CA; son of James (a businessman) and Alice (a professor and activist) Crowe; married Nancy Wilson (a musician), 1986; children: twin boys. Education: Attended California State University.
Home—Seattle, WA. Office—Los Angeles, CA. Agent—c/o Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Associated with Rolling Stone, San Francisco, CA (now New York City), 1973-82; writer, 1981—; screenwriter, 1982—; director of films, including Say Anything . . . , 1989; Singles, 1991; Jerry Maguire (and producer), 1996; Almost Famous, 2000, and Vanilla Sky, 2001. Appeared in film American Hot Wax, 1978. Creative consultant, Fast Times (television series), 1986.
Grammy Award nomination, best album notes, Association of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1986, for Bob Dylan's Biograph; Academy Award nominations, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and Best Picture, both 1996, both for Jerry Maguire; Academy Award, Best Original Screenplay, Boston Society of Film Critics Award for best screenplay and best director, and San Diego Film Critics Society Award for best director, best screenplay, and best picture, all for Almost Famous, 2000; Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for best screenplay, Online Film Critics Society Award for best screenplay, and Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards for best screenplay and best picture, all for Almost Famous, 2001.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (adapted from Crowe's book), Universal, 1982.
The Wild Life, Universal, 1984.
Say Anything . . . , Twentieth Century-Fox, 1989.
Singles, Warner Bros., 1991.
Jerry Maguire, TriStar, 1996.
Almost Famous, DreamWorks, 2000.
Vanilla Sky, Paramount, 2001.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
Cameron Crowe is one of Hollywood's premier filmmakers. He began his cinematic career by penning the screenplay for the wildly popular 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and he made his directorial debut in 1989 with Say Anything . . . , a sophisticated teen romance. Crowe is perhaps best known, though, for the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, and Almost Famous, which earned the Academy Award in 2001.
Crowe was born on July 13, 1957, in Palm Springs, California. His father was a real estate agent and his mother, according to Rachel Abramowitz in Premiere, "was a teacher, activist, and all-around live wire who did skits around the house and would wear a clown suit to school on special occasions." She worked as a psychology professor and family therapist, and often participated in peace demonstrations and causes relating to the rights of farm workers. He had two older sisters, but one died during childhood. Crowe was a sickly child, suffering from the kidney disease nephritis, but he was also precocious, and skipped kindergarten and two primary grades. For this reason, Crowe never really felt comfortable with his peers. In an interview with Abramowitz, Crowe described his high school years in San Diego: "everyone split into two groups: those who had a tan and those who did not have a tan. I could even go to the beach and I would still not haveatan. . . . The girl I asked to the prom laughed hysterically."
Begins Journalism Career
One thing that Crowe did enjoy about school was writing for the school newspaper. By the time he was thirteen, he was also writing for the San Diego Door, an underground newspaper, and he soon began submitting articles to the popular-music magazines Creem and Circus. Crowe graduated in 1972 at age fifteen, and on a trip to Los Angeles met Ben Fong-Torres, the editor of Rolling Stone, who hired him to write for the magazine. Crowe's first cover story was on the group the Allman Brothers Band. He went on the road with them for three weeks at age sixteen and interviewed not only the whole band, but also the entire road crew. On his last night with the group, Gregg Allman asked Crowe to his room and told him to bring identification to prove he was not a police officer. Although Crowe showed him his I.D., Allman nevertheless confiscated all his tapes. Two days later, the president of the Allman Brothers' record label called Crowe to let him know he was returning all the tapes. Allman later claimed he did not recall the incident. During his seven years with Rolling Stone, Crowe profiled such artists as the Eagles, Peter Frampton, King Crimson, and Led Zeppelin.
When Rolling Stone moved their headquarters to New York, Crowe left his position. Crowe appeared in the 1978 film American Hot Wax, also featuring comedian Jay Leno, but then returned to his writing. At age nineteen and still boyish, Crowe came up with the idea to pose undercover as a high school student and write about his experiences. Simon & Schuster gave him a contract, and he moved back in with his parents and enrolled as Dave Cameron at Ridgemont High School in Redondo Beach, California. At the school he made friends and began to fit in. Though he initially planned to include himself in the book, he realized that it would jeopardize his ability to truly capture the essence of the high school experience. In an interview with Richard Harrington of the Washington Post, Crowe described his assignment as "the senior year I never had."
Originally, Crowe had planned to be a character in the book that he wrote. But as he became friends with the students, he realized that omitting himself as a character would close the distance between the reader and subjects. He portrayed the students realistically in their own settings—school, the mall where many of the students worked after school, and the beach. "I thought the kids were a lot smarter than they were being given credit for," Crowe said to Harrington. "They're anonymous Joes who are not unwed mothers or angel-dust cases; they're just average kids slugging through life. When I saw the inner trauma in these kids' lives, I started getting excited."
Publishes Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story is the book that resulted from Crowe's year in high school in Redondo Beach, California. There are six major characters in the book: an already-jaded sexual sophisticate, a tough guy, a nerd, a surfer, and a middle-class brother and sister. The usual school occasions, such as homecoming, prom, and graduation, are chronicled, as well as several more personal situations, including one student's experience in getting an abortion. Because Crowe left himself out of the book, it reads like fiction, but, as a reviewer noted in Publishers Weekly, it contains "some unmistakably real slices of high school life." "Margaret Mead or Robert Coles might have probed more deeply," Harrington added, "but it's doubtful they would have gotten so close to the heart of adolescence."
Film rights for Fast Times at Ridgemont High were sold even before the book was published. The film was filled with vignettes depicting the rituals, sexual anxieties, and humiliations that high school students face, but it did not have a discernible plot or a famous actor to star in it. For this reason, the studio, Universal, underpromoted the film. Studio executives were pleasantly surprised when Fast Times at Ridgemont High emerged as the sleeper hit of the year, garnering huge audiences by word of mouth and favorable reviews.
Some reviewers found Fast Times at Ridgemont High unconvincing, others found it plausible, and most found it entertaining. Writing in the New Yorker, Pauline Kael noted, "Watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I was surprised at how not-bad it is. It may fall into the category of youth-exploitation movies, but it isn't assaultive, and it's certainly likable. Directed by a young woman—Amy Heckerling, making her feature-film debut—the movie has an open, generous tone." Janet Maslin, reviewing the film in the New York Times, called it "a jumbled but appealing teenage comedy with something of a fresh perspective on the subject."
Fast Times at Ridgemont High launched the careers of several actors, including Sean Penn, who played the partying surfer Jeff Spicoli; Jennifer Jason Leigh, who played Stacy Hamilton, a freshman who is disappointed by her first sexual experience; Nicholas Cage, who made his film debut under his real name, Nicholas Coppola; and Eric Stoltz, who has appeared in all of Crowe's projects to date.
Next, Crowe wrote the screenplay for The Wild Life, which was crafted as a sequel to Fast Times. This film depicts teenagers living in a singles apartment complex immediately after high school, and stars Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson, and Christopher Penn (Sean Penn's younger brother). In a press release from Universal News, Crowe explained that "The Wild Life is also about the last week of summer. These young people reach the end of this period of time when you are supposed to have a really wild time and, as it gets towards the end of the summer, they realize they haven't stockpiled enough experiences yet and decide to blow it out a little more. The film is about these kids who blow it out a bit more and discover how hard it is getting back to normal."
Unlike its predecessor, The Wild Life was not popular with reviewers and it bombed at the box office. The late Gene Siskel, writing in the Chicago Tribune, commented that the film "is totally preoccupied with sex" and noted that he disliked "the depiction of males exploiting females." David Ansen, reviewing the film in Newsweek, wrote that The Wild Life is "more interested in flattering its audiences with fantasies of wild partying and romance than telling it like it is. This is one for the kids; had it tried harder, it could have been one for everyone."
Although The Wild Life bombed at the box office, it opened a number of doors for Crowe because producer, writer, and director James L. Brooks saw that Crowe had potential. In an interview with Michael Walker of the New York Times, Brooks observed that "There are only a handful of people who have a distinctive voice. Cameron has that voice. He really does see the world in a certain way. If he doesn't do a movie, no one else will." Brooks worked with Crowe, meeting frequently to discuss his writing. In an interview with Susan Morgan for Details, Crowe remembered that Brooks was "brutally honest ... It was my version of film school," said Crowe.
Debuts as Film Director
It was Brooks who mentioned to Crowe that daughter-father relationships are rarely depicted in film. This idea evolved into Crowe's third screenplay and his directorial debut, Say Anything. . . . The film is the story of a complex triangular relationship between a gifted high school graduate, her doting father, and a likable, underachieving classmate who falls for her. The story concerns a change in the relationship between father (John Mahoney) and daughter Diane (Ione Skye) when the daughter discovers that her father is involved in a nursing home scam. The other important relationship in the film involves Diane and Lloyd (John Cusack), a fledgling kickboxer who feels that he is too much of a misfit to date Diane. In a Los Angeles Times review, Sheila Benson noted that Crowe manages to succeed in his endeavor "to dig among the slag heaps of an almost mined-out genre—the teenage movie—and come up with one of the nicest of the species, a film of warmth, insight, humor, and surprising originality." In the Chicago Tribune, Dave Kehr called Say Anything . . . "a beautiful film, full of wit, freshness and surprise and graced with a vivid, convincing sense of character and place." People reviewer Scott Haller described the film as "Frisky, savvy and wonderfully entertaining. . . . As he [Crowe] showed us with his script for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the glorious champion of this inglorious genre, Crowe is a suburban sociologist wise in the tribal ways of youth." David Ansen of Newsweek noted that the film is "warm and generous-spirited, and Crowe's dialogue is light-years ahead of most adolescent sagas," and New Yorker reviewer Pauline Kael observed, "Crowe . . . keeps faith with teenagers; he doesn't generalize about them (or about the older generation, either)."
After Say Anything . . . Crowe was eager to leave the world of the very young and begin writing about men and women in their mid-twenties. "I just couldn't move on without trying to nail that experience," he explained in an interview with Walker. He wrote, directed, and coproduced Singles, a comedy about a group of young adults living in Seattle. There are four main characters in the film. Janet (Bridget Fonda), a waitress in an espresso shop and an aspiring actress, is obsessed with Cliff (Matt Dillon), a not-so-bright and emotionally callow rock musician whose band has a greater following in Belgium than in his hometown of Seattle. Janet's exboyfriend Steve (Campbell Scott) is a workaholic transportation planner who gets involved with Linda (Kyra Sedgwick), an environmentalist who is afraid of commitment. All of the characters live in the same apartment complex; the familial atmosphere provides the characters with emotional connections to each other. In New York, David Denby wrote that the characters in Singles "are waiting for someone to tell them that it's okay to fall in love—yet no one can tell them such a thing but themselves. That's the gentle point of the picture."
Drawing on his background in rock music, Crowe enlisted Seattle sensations Alice in Chains and Soundgarden to perform live in Singles. The soundtrack for the movie, which was scored by Paul Westerberg, was instrumental in getting the film released. Studio executives, skeptical of both the Seattle setting of the movie and of certain marketing issues, delayed the film's release several times. However, when the soundtrack for the movie, which was released in June of 1992, became a bestseller, no more delays took place.
The film met with mixed reviews. In New Statesman and Society, reviewer Jonathan Romney described Singles as a "1990s update on that 1980s invention, the lifestyle movie, and [it] inherits that form's inherent complacency. Its characters are self-obsessed, strictly part-time neurotics you'd love to slap. . . . It's nevertheless engaging, thanks to the deft touch of director/writer Cameron Crowe." David Ansen, writing in Newsweek, remarked: "Employing an unconventional structure full of funny flashbacks and talking-to-the-camera monologues, Singles is brimful of clever bits and likable performances. Why, then, does it feel so weightless?" Denby wrote that "the movie is a hand-holding charmer." Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Roger Ebert declared, "Singles is not a great cutting edge movie, and parts of it may be too whimsical and disorganized for audiences raised on cause-and-effect plots. But I found myself smiling a lot during the movie, sometimes with amusement, sometimes with recognition. It's easy to like these characters, and care about them." In an interview with Tim Appelo of Entertainment Weekly, Crowe himself said of the movie, "The good thing about Singles is that it comes from the right place. It's from the heart."
"Show Me the Money"
In 1996, Crowe wrote and directed the Academy Award-nominated Jerry Maguire. The film, starring Tom Cruise, is the story of a high-powered sports agent who is caught up in the world of deal-making. He views everything as a commodity, from his clients to his NFL-publicist fiancee (Kelly Preston) to his life. But despite his capitalistic success, Jerry feels disconnected. So he writes a mission statement advocating that Sports Management International (SMI), the company he works for, pay more attention to fewer clients (for less revenue). Within days, he is fired by SMI and stumbles upon a new life. He remains a sports agent, albeit a struggling one. He holds on to a single client, the Arizona Cardinals' brash wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Jerry dumps his fiancee and abruptly marries Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellwegger), a single mom who is so enamored with Jerry and his mission statement that she quits her job as a bookkeeper at SMI to work for him. "I love him for the man he almost is," she says at one point during the film. "To be or not to be—a human being, that is. That's the question that courses through nearly every scene of Jerry Maguire," wrote Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly. In a review of Jerry Maguire in the Nation, Stuart Klawans said of Crowe's direction of the film: "Except for one or two point-of-view shots and a handful of disjunctive cutaways, about the flashiest move he [Crowe] makes is to let you hear the sizzle of the ice cubes in a glass of water. . . . To be subtle without demanding that the audience notice one's subtlety—what a marvelous gesture of respect. It's enough to make you believe in the radical premise that Crowe has been testing throughout his film career: that people want to live decently, most of the time, and with some effort can do it."
Despite limited experience as a director, Crowe earned a reputation for his ability to summon amazingly naturalistic performances from the actors in his films. Sometimes he requires that actors go through more than a dozen takes to achieve this realism. New Yorker reviewer Terrence Rafferty noted that in this film, Crowe's "... delicate touch has a beneficial effect on the star: Cruise looks uncharacteristically relaxed, and in the first half-hour of Jerry Maguire he does the best acting of his career." But Crowe is also a director with whom actors and actresses enjoy working. As Polly Platt, the producer of Say Anything . . ., explained in an interview with Abramowitz, "Cameron gets his way through being an inherently decent human being."
Returns to Rock-Music Roots
In 2000, Crowe tapped his rock-writer roots to write and direct Almost Famous, about the experiences of a teenage music journalist who goes on the road with an emerging band in the early 1970s. Newcomer Patrick Fugit starred as William Miller, the baby-faced writer who finds himself immersed in the hard-knock world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, and Kate Hudson (daughter of actress Goldie Hawn) costarred as Penny Lane, a prominent groupie, or, as the film refers to her, a "Band-Aid." She is based on a real person, also known as Pennie Lane, who headed a group of young female music fans known as the Flying Garter Girls. Digging into his most personal memories, Crowe used a composite of the bands he had known to come up with Stillwater, the emerging act who welcomes the young journalist into their sphere, then becomes wary of his intentions. Seventies rocker Peter Frampton served as a technical consultant on the film.
Crowe's mother figured prominently in the film as well (often admonishing, "Don't do drugs!"), and she even showed up at the film sets to keep an eye on him while he worked. Though he asked her not to bother Frances McDormand, who played her character, the two ended up getting along well. Also in the film he showed his sister rebelling and leaving home, and in real life, his mother and sister Cindy did not talk for a decade and were still estranged to a degree when he finished the film. The family reunited when the project was complete.
In addition, Crowe took a copy of the film to London for a special screening with Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who provided much of the inspiration for the feuding bandmates. They then granted Crowe the right to use one of their songs on the soundtrack—the first time they had ever consented to this—and also gave him rights to four of their other songs in the movie itself. Crowe and his wife, musician Nancy Wilson of Heart, cowrote three of the five Stillwater songs in the film, and Frampton wrote the other two. Considered an unjaded, original, and funny look at the crazy world of rock music, Almost Famous managed to be a feel-good film without sap or self-consciousness. Reviews were almost universally positive, and it was nominated for and won a host of film awards. It received an Oscar as the best original screenplay of 2000.
If you enjoy the works of Cameron Crowe
If you enjoy the works of Cameron Crowe, you might want to check out the following films:
Abre los ojos, 1997.
As Good as It Gets, 1997.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982.
Minority Report, 2002.
For the 2001 film Vanilla Sky Crowe turned to the thriller genre, basing his script on the Spanish film Abre los ojos ("Open Your Eyes"). Sean Chavel in Cinema Confidential News found that "Vanilla Sky is the most surprising departure . . . for the director of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, not so much because it is dark and twisted, but because it comes from the man who has made feel-good romantic comedies." Starring Tom Cruise as David Aames, a wealthy New Yorker who inherited a publishing empire when his parents were killed in a car crash, Vanilla Sky begins as a realistic depiction of Aames's life but soon becomes a labyrinth of puzzling circumstances. After attending a party, Aames is in a car accident that kills his girlfriend and leaves his face terribly disfigured. But when Aames consults a psychiatrist following his accident, he finds himself being questioned about a murder he may have committed. Did his girlfriend die in an accident or was she murdered? Or could it be that she is still alive? Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, found that Vanilla Sky has "a lot of surprises. Surprises on top of surprises." Stephanie Zacharek, in a review posted at Salon.com, called Vanilla Sky an "aggressively plotted puzzle picture." But the puzzling nature of the film is finally resolved in what Steve Rhodes of the All-Reviews.com Web site called a "great science fiction ending, which pulls a wildly improbable explanation almost out of thin air." Ebert summed up the film as "the story of a man who has just about everything, thinks he can have it all, is given a means to have whatever he wants, and loses it because—well, maybe because he has a conscience." In an essay for Cameron Crowe Online, Crowe described his film as a "genrebending, mind-twisting portrait of the American male as he exists five minutes into the future."
After trying his hand at the thriller genre, Crowe is planning to return to the kind of film he has done so successfully in the past: a romantic comedy. In the film Elizabethtown, scheduled to begin shooting in July of 2004, Crowe tells of two twenty-somethings who unexpectedly find love. According to a writer for the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, Elizabethtown "celebrates the resilience of the life force and develops an unexpected romance during a Southern Patriarch's comically extravagant memorial." The film stars Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom in the lead roles.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Newsmakers, Issue 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
America, April 10, 1982, pp. 273-275.
Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1984, Gene Siskel, review of The Wild Life; April 14, 1989, Dave Kehr, review of Say Anything....
Details, September, 1992, Susan Morgan, interview with Cameron Crowe.
Entertainment Weekly, September 18, 1982, Tim Appelo, "Seattle Night Fever," pp. 47-49; March 5, 1993, p. 61; December 13, 1996, Owen Gleiberman, "Agent of Change," pp. 53-54; January 17, 1997, p. 62; September 15, 2000, p. 42; September 22, 2000, p. 22.
Film Comment, September, 2000, p. 61.
Interview, November, 1984.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, May 31, 2002, Vanessa Sibbald, "Top Directors Helm Trio of Gap Ads."
Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1989, Sheila Benson, review of Say Anything ; August 27, 2000, p. 8.
Nation, November 21, 1981, pp. 548-549; December 30, 1996, Stuart Klawans, "Poor Sports," pp. 34-36.
National Review, February 24, 1997, p. 54.
New Statesman and Society, January 15, 1993, Jonathan Romney, "The Grunge Generation," p. 34.
Newsweek, September 20, 1982, pp. 92-93; October 8, 1984, David Ansen, "Careening Teens," p. 89; April 17, 1989, David Ansen, "A Crowe's Eye View of Teen Love," p. 72; September 21, 1992, David Ansen, "The Games People Play," p. 78; September 18, 2000, p. 76.
New York, October 5, 1992, David Denby, review of Singles, p. 102; September 11, 2000, p. 56.
New Yorker, November 1, 1982, Pauline Kael, review of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, pp. 146-151; May 15, 1989, Pauline Kael, review of Say Anything , pp. 122-123; December 16, 1996, Terrence Rafferty, review of Jerry Maguire, pp. 118-119; September 11, 2000, p. 36.
New York Times, September 3, 1982, Janet Maslin, review of Fast Times at Ridgemont High; September 6, 1992, Michael Walker, interview with Cameron Crowe; September 10, 2000, p. 20; September 13, 2000, p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, May 5, 1989.
People,November 19, 1984; April 24, 1989, Scott Haller, review of Say Anything ; May 22, 1989, p. 62; September 21, 1992, p. 18.
Premiere, August, 1992, Rachel Abramowitz, "The Making of the Film Singles," p. 66.
Publishers Weekly, July 17, 1981.
Rolling Stone, February 3, 1978, pp. 32-36.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 10, 2000, pp. 40-41.
Sports Illustrated, December 23, 1996, p. 20.
Sun-Times (Chicago, IL), September 18, 1992, Roger Ebert, review of Singles; December 14, 2001, Roger Ebert, review of Vanilla Sky.
Time, September 28, 1992, p. 75; December 16, 1996; September 18, 2000, pp. 78, 82.
Toronto Sun, September 10, 2000, p. S6.
Universal News (press release), August 1, 1984, Universal City, California.
Video, November, 1989, p. 21.
Vogue, September, 1992, p. 330.
Washington Post, August 13, 1982, Richard Harrington, interview with Crowe.
All-Reviews.com,http://www.all-reviews.com/ (July 6, 2004), Steve Rhodes, review of Vanilla Sky.
Cameron Crowe Online,http://www.cameroncroweonline.com/ (July 6, 2004).
Cinema Confidential News,http://www.cinecon.com/ (December 13, 2001), Lisa Zlotnick, interview with Cameron Crowe, and Sean Chavel, review of Vanilla Sky.
News-Enterprise Online,http://www.newsenterpriseonline.com/ (June 27, 2004), "Filming Date Set."
Salon.com,http://dir.salon.com/ (December 14, 2001), Stephanie Zacharek, review of Vanilla Sky.
Simon Magazine,http://www.thesimon.com/ (November 1, 2000), Russell Brown, "Almost Good: The Films of Cameron Crowe."*