ENCORE: Why S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders continues to speak to us 50 years later
Susie Hinton wrote most of The Outsiders story when she was 16 and still in high school. When she submitted a shorter version of the story for a creative writing class her teacher gave her an 'F'.
Thankfully, a family friend recognized her talent and contacted a publisher on Hinton's behalf. By the time she was 18, the book was in print.
In fact, Hinton signed her publishing contract on the day she graduated from high school.
I ran up to the school and told anybody I could grab in the hallway.- S.E. Hinton, author
When asked by Day 6 host Brent Bambury which was more important, the book contract or her graduation, Hinton laughs.
"Oh, the book deal. I couldn't wait to get out of high school anyway," she says. "I [was] just going like, 'ha! This is no longer important. I've sold my book'."
Hinton says she was home early that day and was alone when she signed the deal. But she was so excited that she had to tell someone.
"So I ran up to the school and told anybody I could grab in the hallway," she says.
April 24th marked the 50th anniversary of the book's publication, and the occasion is being celebrated throughout the year with readings, local events and a final tour by Hinton that has already taken her to Vancouver.
To date, more than 13 million copies of The Outsiders have been sold worldwide and it's been translated into 30 different languages.
How the book began
Hinton grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the city she still calls home. In high school, Hinton was dismayed by the divisions in her school, particularly by the gang rivalries.
The gangs were determined by economic and social status. In The Outsiders, Hinton writes about the Greasers - the poorer kids from the rough side of town. Their rivals are the Socials, or Socs - the wealthy, preppy kids who drive expensive cars.
Hinton says she grew up on the Greaser side of town.
The book is set in the 1960s and details the conflict between the Greasers and the Socs, but also the bonds between the young men who form the gangs.
"It's perfect because not only are the outsiders the Greasers, they're characters like Ponyboy and Cherry who feel like outsiders, even in their own group."- S.E. Hinton, author
The Outsiders was published under the name S.E. Hinton at her publisher's recommendation. There was a fear that boys might not be interested in the novel if they knew it was published by a female writer.
The name of the novel was a whole other issue. Though the book's title seems obvious now, at the time, Hinton and her publisher struggled with a name.
"We were almost at publication date before we had a title," Hinton recalls.
She and her publisher sent lists of titles back and forth via mail and telegram. Rejected names included A Different Sunset, and The Leather Jackets.
"They called me one afternoon and said: 'what would you think of The Outsiders?' And I said 'great, that sounds good'."
"It's perfect because not only are the outsiders the Greasers, they're characters like Ponyboy and Cherry who feel like outsiders, even in their own group," says Hinton.
The feeling of being an outsider is universal, and it's part of the appeal of the book. The Outsiders is one of the best-selling young adult novels of all time and is part of the reading curriculum in schools around the world.
Hinton says her readers around the world respond to the book in the same way.
"Even though life in 1965 America, you'd think they couldn't respond to it, but they do," she says.
In 1980, a group of students in California loved the book so much that they petitioned for it to be made into a film.
Their teacher wrote a letter, including their petition, to Francis Ford Coppola, who had recently directed The Godfather series and Apocalypse Now. Within two years, Coppola began shooting the film and it was released in theatres in 1983.
"Francis asked me if I wanted to write the screenplay with him, and I said: 'sure'."
Coppola also decided to shoot the film in Tulsa, so Hinton was able to be involved with every aspect of the movie.
I immediately took on the job of being their den mother.- S.E. Hinton, author
The film cast young, mostly unknown actors in the lead roles, including Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio and C. Thomas Howell, who played Ponyboy.
Hinton was a constant presence on set and became quite close with the actors in the film.
"I mean, they took all these little kids and turned them loose in Tulsa with no adult supervision or adult backup. So I immediately took on the job of being their den mother," laughs Hinton. "Greaser den mother is what they called me."
She says it was a thrill to see the teenagers on set transform into actors.
"In most ways they were goofy, clown around teenagers. But then you get them in front of a camera and they're serious actors and it was just amazing to watch."
Over the past 35 years, she and the boys from the film remain close.
"Rob Lowe just came through town a couple of weeks ago and we hung out," says Hinton. She says she and the actors try to get together whenever they're in the same town.
Danny O'Connor is a Los Angeles hip hop artist perhaps best known as Danny Boy from the group House of Pain. O'Connor grew up in Brooklyn and says that when he saw the film as a teenager it changed his life.
"I didn't read the book until much later. I was one of the those kids who wasn't well-read," O'Connor says. "I definitely saw the film when it first came out and was immediately drawn to it."
He says once he read the book, he loved it even more. O'Connor now says he's Hinton's biggest fan.
Last year, he bought the Tulsa house in which Darry, Sodapop and Ponyboy lived in the film. He's now restoring it and hopes to open it as a museum by the end of the year.
"Not in a million years, if you told me two years ago, that someday I'd own The Outsiders House and have it turned into a museum … I would still be like, 'nah, you're kidding me'," says O'Connor.
O'Connor first discovered the house while he was on tour in Tulsa in 2009.
"We had a 3-day layover," explains O'Connor. "And it occurred to me that my favourite film was filmed there, and I went looking for the locations and when I found the house I was blown away."
He says the house still looked just like it did in the '80s when it was filmed.
Every year he'd go back, sometimes taking friends to show them The Outsiders House. But every time he visited, the house was in a worse state of repair.
"I started thinking, 'it's a shame. Someone should step up and save this thing'," recalls O'Connor. "After years of going back and forth I started to think, if someone doesn't do it, why don't I do it?"
O'Connor bought the house, having only ever been on the outside of The Outsiders House. When he finally got the keys and opened the front door, his jaw dropped at the sight.
"It was in such bad shape," says O'Connor. "Every part of it was in dire need of replacing."
O'Connor and his team of friends and volunteers have spent the past year fixing everything from the foundation up. The house was gutted and the roof was replaced. New floors, which are actually old floors, have been installed. Similarly, the "new" windows are actually windows from a 100-year-old house that was being torn down.
The goal is to restore the house to how it looked in the film. The living room, kitchen, Ponyboy's bedroom and the bathroom will be staged.
O'Connor jokes that he didn't realize how important the bathroom scene was to the film's fans. That's the scene in which Rob Lowe is filmed coming out of the shower with just a green towel wrapped around his waist.
The other rooms will house memorabilia from the film and book.
Hinton has donated to the project, both financially and by donating memorabilia but says she doesn't want to interfere with O'Connor's work.
"Danny's the one that's put it together. It's really been a project for him and he's done an amazing job."
To hear Brent's full conversation with Susie Hinton and Danny O'Connor reflect on The Outsiders House project, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.