"At Ocean Front High, what do they call a guy who cuts classes, hates homework, and lives for summer vacations? Teacher.
Starring Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley and Courtney Thorne-Smith
Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is a high-school gym teacher who has been coasting by doing the bare minimum. After getting roped in to teaching remedial English over the summer against his will – and against his skill set – he realizes the bare minimum is going to get him fired. He steps up his game to save his job and, in the process, connects with his students and helps them grow and succeed.
Why it’s rad:
In a decade where high school students owned the big screen, Summer School flipped the script to give the spotlight to a teacher teens could relate to – one who didn’t care and didn’t want to be there
Plus, this is the movie that made Mark Harmon a movie star!
What’s your damage?
Mr. Shoop is a teacher with boundary issues. The idea of the movie is that Shoop is a lazy, terrible teacher. However, Mark Harmon plays him which such easygoing charm that teen viewers wish they had a teacher like Shoop. Harmon’s likeability, therefore, makes the unacceptable seem acceptable. For instance:
1. One of the field trips is orchestrated by teacher Shoop just so Chainsaw and Dave can ogle Anna-Maria in a bikini.
2. At the age of 16, Chainsaw already has a drinking problem. Shoop not only doesn’t address it, he becomes complicit in Chainsaw’s alcoholism. The audience is told Chainsaw is under the influence through much of the film. Other than one admonishment when Shoop won't let Chainsaw drive under the influence (which seems intended purely as a set up for Chainsaw's line "You know why so many drunk drivers get in wrecks? Because they don't learn to drive drunk!"”, Shoop does nothing about his student’s drunkenness. In fact, later, Shoop covers for the minor’s possession of alcohol (and goes to jail for it) – and is lauded for it by both the respectable teacher Ms. Bishop and the judge.
3. Shoop lets his students throw a Fourth of July party at his house, complete with alcohol and illegal fireworks – which, inevitably, leads to a fire. Ah well, kids! What are you gonna do?
4. Shoop discovers one of his students sleeps all day because he works at night as an underage stripper. Shoop does nothing.
5. Shoop allows a 16-year old student who has romantic feelings toward him move in with him and operate as a wife. Again, Ms. Bishop – the voice of reason in this film – tells him the situation could be damaging to the girl, but she doesn’t level the boom. This is a reportable situation in which a teacher would likely get fired.
6. While Shoop does get his students to score better on the test, he never explores or shows any interest in why the kids are in remedial English. Luckily, Ms. Bishop recognizes that Denise is dyslexic. But…
a. ...what’s going on with Pam? Does she have ADD? Where are her parents? Is she suffering depression?
b. What about Rhonda? She doesn’t have a Lamaze partner – we are made to understand that she doesn’t want to disclose the father of her baby, but where are her parents in this pregnancy? And, by the way, there’s a joke at the beginning that she’s in remedial English because she’s pregnant…but, wait, what does that mean?
c. Um….what happens to the rest of Mr. Shoop’s class over the summer? The amount of kids pulled in the first day dwindles by movie’s end, with no explanation.
d. And, what about Jerome? How does Mr. Shoop not realize he’s absent every day?
Most overlooked about Summer School is that the takeaway is that Shoop grows to care about his students and their well-being, and they strive to be better students. However, Shoop has spent a great deal of time with the kids on field trips and outings and caring about them is not what motivates him or them to pursue academic achievement. Shoop is fired for taking the kids to the beach and the amusement park instead of educating them – as he should be! But, he’s given one last chance to get their test scores up. So, Shoop only cares about their education when it affects him. Then, to get them to study, he bribes them.
On the other hand, one thing has changed in American society, and that’s the acceptability that not everyone is “smart.” Not everyone has the intellectual capacity to be an academic, even if they study nonstop. In fact, at one time in American history, being “an intellectual” could even be seen as a negative. One could still make a nice living for themselves in a trade that didn't rely on I.Q. but rather, the capability to a particular job well. However, today, individuals are judged harshly or made the butt of jokes for being “dumb,” when sometimes, the ability to grasp certain concepts is beyond their capability. It’s no different than a handicap. Summer School reflects the turning point in American history where test scores started to rule the school and people's worth became attached to intellectual achievement.
Behind the Scenes
The role of Mr. Shoop was originally written for Joan Rivers. Carl Reiner decided to go a different direction after seeing Mark Harmon play serial killer Ted Bundy in the 1986 made-for-TV movie, “A Deliberate Stranger.” Reiner said Harmon’s charm and personality were perfect for the gym teacher and that Harmon “gave the character surprising depth.”
Harmon was declared People Magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Year in 1986, the year before Summer School. He was also the spokesman for Coors beer.
The ChapStick scene at the end of the film came from a moment Harmon experienced. While waiting in the valet line at the Beverly Hills Hotel, he pulled some ChapStick out of his pocket and started applying it. He heard someone ask, “May I have some of that?” and turned to find the asker was a beautiful woman. Director Carl Reiner liked it and used the experience to end Summer School.
Freddy Shoop seems to shop exclusively at Tommy Bahamas, wearing a variety of Hawaiian shirts. Perhaps this serves as a reminder that Mr. Shoop was headed to Hawaii when he was strong-armed into teaching over the summer. One might also think it was on trend, given that Hawaiian shirts had been popularized by Tom Selleck on the hit TV show “Magnum, P.I.” However, the Hawaiian shirts are actually a tip of the hat to Montgomery Clift's character in From Here to Eternity. In fact, Harmon’s shirt is the exact same brand and style as one that Montgomery Clift wears in that film. Summer School's final scene ends with Freddy and Robin kissing in the surf, just like the iconic Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr embrace in From Here to Eternity.
During filming, Mark Harmon broke his shoulder – for the second time. The first time was during the filming of a Coors commercial, just before filming of Summer School began. Ken Olandt ("Larry") says you can tell in the scene where Mr. Shoop is rollerblading. Harmon underwent surgery on his shoulder in 1988.
Harmon reportedly suffered another injury during filming: he hurt his finger putting out the couch fire during the Fourth of July class party.
Moviegoers will recognize that, clearly, horror movie fans Chainsaw and Dave (Dean Cameron and Gary Riley) have great potential to go on to have a career in special-effects makeup…especially because in the horror movie scene they put on for the substitute teacher, the makeup was really done by movie makeup legend Rick Baker.
Chainsaw and Dave weren’t originally obsessed with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The script had the duo obsessed over the 1932 cult classic Freaks. Freaks was to provide a connection to the summer school class, who were the “freaks” of their school. However, according to Dean Cameron, “Carl Reiner saw Freaks and went, ‘that movie is too f***ing weird!” Thus, it became Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The last actor to be cast was Richard Steven Horvitz, who played nerd Alan Eakian. Dean Cameron and Horvitz say the delay was because the character was supposed to be Jewish, originally had the last name Goldbergian and that the script was full of “Jew jokes.” Horvitz says he’s only half-Jewish, so they revised the script including changing his last name to Eakian, which is Armenian.
Alan wasn’t the only character to change based on casting. Anna-Maria was originally written to be Danish, rather than Italian.
Ken Olandt said that after completing the dialogue portion of his audition for the role of night-time male stripper Larry, he had to show Reiner and the casting director he could dance like a Chippendale’s dancer. He says he did a kind of “snake” dance movement, then Reiner said, “Okay, you got the part, get out of here.”
On the other hand, Patrick Labyorteaux originally read for the part of Larry. He says he did his best sexy dancing moves, and Reiner and the casting director said, "‘you’d be great for the role of the football player!’”
The first day of filming was Larry's big scene at the male strip club.
The character's full name is Larry Kazamias. That odd last name is a play on words: kiss-my-ass.
Mark Harmon pranked the cast of students by tying four of their backpacks together, according to Olandt.
The special effects prosthetic used on Ken Olandt during the horror scene is a gaping hole in his stomach with intestines coming out is the same used on James Woods in Videodrama (1983).
Summer School’s horror scene was a great introduction for Shawnee Smith. She went on to become the star of the Saw horror franchise, as well as roles in The Blob, The Grudge 3, Wes Craven’s Carnival of Souls, and the Stephen King mini-series “The Stand.” She also has had a great TV comedy career, co-starring in Ted Danson’s hit TV series “Becker” and Charlie Sheen FX comedy “Anger Management.”
Richard Steven Horvitz says he freaked out the first time he saw Patrick Labyorteaux. Special effects makeup artist Rick Baker was making a mask of his face for the horror scene but could see just a tad out of the eyeholes. When Labyorteaux walked in, Horvitz says he pointed at him (while his face was covered in plaster) and shouted, “Andy Garvey!,” the name of Labyorteaux’ character on the TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” From that point on, Horvitz – who says he was a huge “Little House on the Prairie” fan, said he’d quote lines to him from the show and constantly ask questions about filming it. The two grew to be great friends.
COINCIDENCE? Student Pam House (Courtney Thorne-Smith) develops a crush on Mr. Shoop. Mark Harmon got married March 21, 1987 to a woman named Pam. (Pam Dawber, of “Mork & Mindy” fame, to be clear.)
Harmon playing a gym teacher and football coach is playing to his strengths: he was a star quarterback for UCLA and his dad Tom Harmon won a Heisman trophy playing for University of Michigan.
Mark Harmon became famous playing Dr. Bobby Caldwell, a handsome plastic surgeon at St. Eligius on the hit TV series St. Elsewhere. Harmon had asked to be written off the show so the producers had Caldwell contract AIDS, a disease consuming the minds and fears of America. The episode was criticized for promoting false information about the disease.
The movie’s release date coincided with Patrick Labyorteaux’s ("Kevin") 22nd birthday. He had all of the young cast members come over to his house in Northridge for a pool party in which they’d all watch Siskel & Ebert review Summer School on “At the Movies.” Um……
In the review, Gene Siskel laments that Harmon would waste the goodwill he earned on TV by choosing Summer School as his first feature film role, saying “it won’t win him any fans.” Ebert says it’s a “totally innocuous, forgettable film” that people won’t remember a week after they’ve seen it. Today, Summer School is considered a cult classic that many count as one of their favorite films of the ‘80s.
Incidentally, Chainsaw and Dave reference “At the Movies” throughout the film, mimicking Siskel and Ebert’s style and signature thumbs up. In real life, Siskel and Ebert both gave the film a thumbs down.
One year prior to Summer School, Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Dean Cameron and Patrick Labyorteaux all co-starred in the TV movie “Prince of Bel Air” (no, not the Fresh Prince of Bel Air…that came a decade later). Harmon put the trio up for the roles in Summer School. The favor paid off. Decades later, Patrick Labyorteaux was a series regular on the CBS series “JAG.” Over lunch, the show’s creator, Don Bellisario, shared with Labyorteaux that he was starting a new TV series, “NCIS.” He described the kind of actor he was looking to cast in the lead. Labyorteaux suggested Mark Harmon, whom Bellasario was unfamiliar with at the time. Harmon was subsequently cast in the long-running series. The character Labyorteaux played on “JAG” –Bud Roberts, Jr. – has shown up in three episodes of “NCIS.”
At a cast reunion in 2013, Cameron teased Labyorteaux that Harmon never invited him to be on “NCIS.” That was quickly rectified. In 2014, Cameron plays “Landlord” in the episode titled “Shooter.”
Labyorteaux created the NickMom show “See Dad Run” starring Scott Baio in 2016. Olandt and Cameron both have had guest starring roles.
In 2001, Cameron and Labyorteaux wrote and starred in Hollywood Palms, which starred other ‘80s teen actors like Matthew Adler (Teen Wolf), David Packer (Can’t Hurry Love), Eric Stoltz (Some Kind of Wonderful) and Judge Reinhold (Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
Richard Steven Horvitz is in a couple of episodes of Cameron’s 2017 digital short YouTube series, “Some Kind of Joke.
Millennials, today’s teens and children know Horvitz from his successful voice acting career. He’s top villain Kaos in the Skylanders video game series, Billy in “The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy,” Grey Matter in “Ben 10,” ZIM in “Invader Zim” and Alpha 5 in “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” among many others.
In "Prince of Bel Air," Harmon played a womanizer who runs his own pool cleaning company – Alley plays the one attractive woman who isn’t interested in him. Sound familiar?
Alley was pretty famous at the time of Summer School’s release. She was best known for playing Vulcan Saavik in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, she made a strong impression in the popular "North and South" miniseries, and she’d just been given the part of replacing "Diane" (Shelley Long) as the love interest for Sam Malone (Ted Danson) on the ‘80s legendary TV sitcom “Cheers.”
Fran Drescher (best known as “The Nanny”) was the only other actress considered for the role of Robin Bishop.
Originally, Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) was hired to direct Summer School. She was directing episodes of the TV series “Fast Times” (based on her film) and had tapped two actors from that show – Patrick Dempsey (“Mike Damone”) and Wallace Langham (“Ratner”) to play Chainsaw and Dave. Dean Cameron was also on “Fast Times” (as Spicoli) and wanted to be in the movie. However, when Paramount shelved a film that Carl Reiner had been making, Cameron says Paramount offered Reiner any film they had in development – and he picked Summer School (Reiner said the script “held his interest” and made him laugh). Hecklering was out, as was Dempsey and Langham. Cameron said he then had the opportunity to audition for Chainsaw, and he read with Henry Thomas (E.T.) for the role of Dave, which eventually went to Gary Riley. Riley had just had a role in Rob Reiner’s movie, Stand by Me, so there's a good chance Reiner recommended Riley to his father, Carl.
Reiner encouraged improvisation and shot hours of extra footage of the actors improvising scenes. Deleted scenes include:
The students breaking out into dance after their scores are read.
Another was intended to depict the embarrassment of when your parent kisses you goodbye. So, Alan Eakian (Richard Steven Horvitz)'s grandmother kisses him goodbye on the mouth and the camera circles them.
When Mr. Shoop comes in with his briefcase for the first day of class, Cameron adlibbed “Hey, look, it’s the Sexiest Man Alive!” Cameron says Harmon finished the take and then chased him into the parking lot.
The lyrics to James Brown’s song “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” are written on the chalk board behind Mr. Shoop during the assignment to write a complaint letter. A scene was filmed, but not used, where Shoop diagrams and sings the song to the lass.
It wasn’t just Chainsaw who had success with his complaint letter. Another complaint letter was written to a hair product company and the deleted scene had a shipment of hair products arrive with the students using the hair products on each other – this is why Larry’s hair is different in this scene.
During the beach scene, Anna-Maria takes off her bikini top, runs into the water, and then Chainsaw and Dave run into the water and both propose marriage to her. (Dean Cameron said on that day, it seemed, more Paramount executives showed up for a “set visit” than they’d ever seen before.)
Carl Reiner was 65 years old when he directed Summer School, an odd choice for a film about youth. But, that might explain why Summer School is a somewhat more innocent teen film than those of the ‘80s – while some of the ‘80s high school tropes are in the film (like Chainsaw and Dave’s obsession with Anna-Maria’s figure), it’s really kind of a sweet film about the kids who get lost in the system and a gym teacher who realizes he’s the only one who cares about them.
Reiner’s film before Summer School? Summer Rental.
Reiner was the creator of the iconic and influential TV comedy, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
In between shots, Reiner would engage the kids in games like Simon Says and, according to Labyorteaux, “…he would eviscerate us. We thought we were all smart, and then he’d just kill us.”
The cast of “students” say Reiner would tell funny stories about “his friends” and they would be in awe, figuring out that his "friend" would be Mel Brooks, Dick Van Dyke, and other legends.
Fabiana Udenio, who plays foreign exchange student Anna-Maria, says that the feeling on the set under Reiner was paternal, guidance, mentorship and fun. She says he instilled confidence into the young cast confidence, and his tips stayed with her the rest of her career.
The cast had a photo shoot that was unpleasant because of a grumpy photographer. A publicist tried to prank the kids the next day, saying the photos didn’t come out and they were going to have to reshoot. Olandt says Reiner raised his voice to the publicist and backed him up against a wall, shouting, “Don’t f*** with those kids! They’re good kids! Leave them alone!” In that moment, Olandt says the young cast saw Reiner “he really was like our father, or our grandfather – he protected us.”
The feature film debut of Courtney Thorne-Smith (Pam House) was Lucas, co-starring two other rising stars: Corey Haim and Charlie Sheen. At the time of casting, Thorne-Smith was playing the lead in "Fast Times," the TV series adaptation of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Summer School isn’t what made Thorne-Smith famous, though – it was five years later, when she starred in the megahit Fox TV series Melrose Place, a soapy nighttime drama geared to 20somethings.
If Thorne-Smith looks just a little irritated when she’s dreamily looking out the window, it’s because she was. While filming Pam's window gazing scene, Dean Cameron got a case of the giggles that spread to Harmon, and then to the rest of the class. Thorne-Smith had to do several takes. Cameron says she was not amused and as soon as Reiner said, "cut!" they all scurried to their trailers to save them from her wrath. As they ran, Reiner could be heard saying to the guys, "You've been naughty boys! Naughty, naughty boys!"
Between takes, Harmon and Cameron could both be found both with dip in their lip - they both chewed Redman tobacco.
E.G. Daily sings two tracks on the Summer School soundtrack. Daily was the lead actress in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, which was Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman’s first gig as music supervisor on a feature film, and he'd asked to use her song "Seduction." Debbie Harry was tapped to sing Summer School’s single, “Mind Over Matter.” However, a conflict with Harry’s record label made her unavailable at the last minute. Daily replaced her. Most of the youth cast showed up for Daily’s “Mind Over Matter” music video – as did Carl Reiner, who plays the principal who shuts the music down.
If you’re wondering where all the beach shots take place…as we were…Mr. Shoop’s house is on the Venice Boardwalk. It is no longer there … and, of course it isn’t, because good luck to a gym teacher affording oceanfront property today, especially in edgy cool Venice. We had been confused by the roundhouse seen at the end of the pier – that’s because that, too, is no longer there.
Chainsaw’s house, on the other hand, is in San Pedro, as are all the scenes related to learning to drive. San Pedro is about as far south as a city can be and still count as the greater Los Angeles area. San Pedro is the last city before Los Angeles becomes Long Beach.
Ocean Front High School is really Charles Evans Hughes Junior High School, which was no longer in service. Fittingly, Hughes Junior High is located on a street named Shoup.
Hughes Junior High is also the same school used in The Karate Kid.
Hughes Junior High is in Woodland Hills, which is part of “the Valley” and there is absolutely no way a kid from San Pedro would go to school located there. The drive is so heinous, even if Chainsaw was on scholarship (and we all know he wasn’t), parents would pass on the opportunity.
The roller coaster and petting zoo was shot at Knott’s Berry Farm. Los Angeles-area schools and summer camps go on field trips to Knott’s All. The. Time. So much so, that this field trip is actually defensible.
The night before the film’s release, Mark Harmon called each of the young cast individually to wish them luck.
In a decade where teen movies ruled the big screen, Paramount told the young cast that they were going to put them through the publicity machine and they’d all emerge big stars. Dean Cameron says Paramount sent him and Gary Riley to a teen club in Orange Country to promote the film, where they threw T-shirts into the crowd... and that was it as far as promotion. The Lost Boys was released the next weekend, and Summer School was effectively snuffed out. (Incidentally, Kelly Jo Minter had a minor role in The Lost Boys, as a clerk in Max’s video store.)
Additionally, a WGA writer’s strike began in March 1988 and lasted for five months, so no new movies were being made. Horvitz says that kneecapped the up and comers from capitalizing on the career boost they should’ve gotten from Summer School.
Summer School writer Jeff Franklin went on to great success: he created the long-running and recently rebooted “Full House.”
Fun fact about Mark Harmon: he’s the uncle of Matthew and Gunnar Nelson of the ‘90s pop band Nelson. (They were the sons of ‘50s teen heartthrob Ricky Nelson, who married Harmon’s sister.)
Paramount has tried to reboot Summer School. The last announcement, though, came in 2012. Adam Sandler was handed the film for a remake through his Happy Madison productions. Since that announcement, there’s been no word on a production moving forward.
Summer School's music was put together by Danny Elfman. It was Elfman's second time scoring a film. At the time, he was known as the frontman for Oingo Boingo, but he has gone on to be one of cinema's most prolific alt-composers. "Happy" which Elfman performed with Oingo Boingo can only be found on the Summer School soundtrack.
"Happy" by Oingo Boingo
"Mind Over Matter" by E.G. Daily
"Jackie" by Elisa Fiorillo
"I'm Supposed to Have Sex with You" by Tonio K.
"Seduction" by E.G. Daily
"Brain Power" by Paul Engemann
"All I Want from You" by Tami Show
"Second Language" by Tone Norum
"My Baby" by Fabulous Thunderbirds
"Get an Education" by Billy Burnette
Director: Carl Reiner
Screenwriter: Stuart Birnbaum , David Dashev, Jeff Franklin
Release Date: July 22, 1987
Opening Weekend Rank: #3. At #1 was Robocop, #2 was likely the rerelease of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Other new releases were Superman IV: Quest for Peace (#4) and La Bamba (#5).
Opening Weekend Box Office: $6 million
Lifetime Gross: $35.7 million
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures