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Here's How Phoebe Cates Really Felt About Her Fast Times At Ridgemont High Bikini Scene

When "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" came out in 1982, it was supposed to be a disaster. Screenwriter Cameron Crowe told Variety in 2017 that the studio almost scrapped the movie's theatrical release after a memo circulated denigrating the entire project. Instead, the decision was made to limit the release to 200 theaters initially, with very unsophisticated marketing (via Slate). And the predicted disaster did not happen. In fact, in 2011, when Universal released a high-definition Blu-ray version of the movie (via PR Newswire), it called the movie one of "the most hilarous decade-defining comedies in history." Not only did it launch the careers of its stars, director Amy Heckerling, and screenwriter, it also became hugely influential in its depiction of teenage life and the acceptance in pop culture of teen movies more generally — John Hughes and more modern teen films owe the movie a huge debt. 

That's a big change in attitude. But the talents of actors like Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, and Nicolas Cage helped elevate the material, the music, and the mall. And the authentic depictions of adult situations these young people were facing helped make it a classic that eventually landed in the Criterion Collection. 

The movie's full of iconic scenes, but there's one, in particular, that's been memorable for fans and the stars alike. In it, Phoebe Cates's character, Linda, is wearing a red bikini and sitting on a diving board. In the imagination of Judge Reinhold's Brad, she comes out of the pool after diving in, tells him how cute she always thought he was, and unfastens her top as she approaches him. And then the real-life Linda, who has gotten water in her ear from the dive, walks in on him in the bathroom. 

Phoebe Cates thought the bikini scene was funny and easy to do

Cameron Crowe, discussing the iconic scene on the syndicated Dan Patrick Show in 2017, said that this scene was done on the second day of filming and that Cates' reaction to discovering Brad was "pretty genuine." As for the toplessness, it wasn't Cates' first time baring her body onscreen. In fact, she'd done it in her first film, "Paradise." The actress' attitude toward the scene might be explained by her background as a New Yorker, which she told The Philadelphia Daily News in 1982 (via Phoebe Cates Scrapbook) had helped her mature faster and made her "street smart." 

In an often-quoted segment, Cates said, "I was only 17 when I did my nude scenes in 'Paradise.' They were serious and more difficult because they were not easily justified. But the topless scene in 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' was funny, which made it easy." She added (via News.com.au), "In this business, if a girl wants a career, she has to be willing to strip. If you've got a good bod, then why not show it?" 

She has expressed dismay at how "Paradise" turned out, saying, "What I learned was never to do a movie like that again" (via Filthy), but doesn't seem to have any qualms about her participation in "Fast Times." In fact, she was able to telegraph this attitude to her co-stars as well, which helped at least one — Jennifer Jason Leigh — feel less nervous about her own nude scenes. "I remember I asked you about nudity, because I was really nervous about doing it. I had done some, but not a lot, and you were like, 'Eh, it's not that big a deal,' Leigh said to Cates in Interview magazine

Her casual attitude resulted in, as Rolling Stone put it (via Giant Freakin Robot), "the most memorable bikini-drop in history." While some have speculated that it also led to her objectification and perhaps contributed to her leaving the industry, its influence on the business of movie-making can't be denied.