“Stand by Me”: A Look Back at a Summer Coming-of-Age Classic and a Cast Update
Almost four decades after its release, Stand by Me – based on true events in Stephen King’s life – remains one of the most poignant Summer coming-of-age films.
Set over a scorching Labor Day weekend in 1959, Stand by Me, Rob Reiner’s tale of four boys traipsing across a small Oregon town searching for the body of a missing boy, was based on King’s novella “The Body.” The master of horror himself was quoted as saying that the story was culled from his childhood memories, except for the boys’ mission to find a dead body.
The drama, that memorably starred River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Wil Wheaton and Kiefer Sutherland, and went on to earn two 1987 Golden Globe nominations (for Best Motion Picture, Drama, and for Best Director, Motion Picture for Reiner), almost did not get made.
Several studios rejected the project before Embassy Pictures took it. Then, just as filming was about to start, Embassy Pictures was bought by Columbia Pictures, which announced its decision to cancel the production just two days before cameras started rolling.
Today, Stand by Me is considered one of the finest films of the 1980s and one of the best adaptations of King’s work. Watching again the four adolescent friends carrying rolled-up sleeping bags and canteens, walking on railroad tracks and into the woods, coming across a leech-infested pond, and sharing stories by a campfire reminds us of our own summers of self-discovery.
Here is an update on the main cast and the director.
Wil Wheaton (Gordie Lachance): The actor who got to play the budding writer, just as King was, and was also the character with whom Reiner identified most, continues to act. Currently playing Wesley Crusher on the Star Trek: Picard series, Wheaton will also contribute a story to the new oversized edition of the “Star Trek” comic, celebrating its 400th issue.
A narrator of audiobooks, Wheaton hosted the experimental competition reality show, Rival Speak, and appeared as a fictionalized version of himself in many episodes of The Big Bang Theory.
Married since 1999 to Anne Prince, he has adopted her two sons from a previous relationship.
Jerry O’Connell (Vern Tessio): O’Connell, who played the chubby sidekick among the four friends in his first film role, would grow up to be tall and lean in real life.
He told People magazine in 2017, “I was fat. In between making Stand by Me and it coming out, I went through puberty. I got tall. I’m a tall guy. I just stretched out.”
Like Wheaton, O’Connell starred in a Star Trek spin-off series (Lower Decks) and guested on The Big Bang Theory. He headlines three coming movies, The Donor Party, Play Dead, and Summer Gold.
O’Connell has been married since 2007 to actress and former model Rebecca Romjin, with whom he has twin girls. While dating Romjin, he learned that when she was growing up, she adored Stand by Me and displayed the film’s posters in her bedroom.
River Phoenix (Chris Chambers): The world was shocked and saddened when Phoenix, who played the charismatic de facto leader of the quartet of buddies, died from a drug overdose in 1993. He was only 23.
On his way to becoming one of the finest actors of his generation, Phoenix earned a 1989 Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Motion Picture for Running on Empty and also received acclaim for My Own Private Idaho.
Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara named their first child River in honor of the deceased actor.
Corey Feldman (Teddy Duchamp): Feldman was already a busy child actor in TV and movies before landing the role of bespectacled loose cannon Teddy in Stand by Me.
Feldman has talked openly about his struggles with drug addiction and has figured in a series of controversies. He will reportedly reprise his role of Mouth in The Goonies 2, with Chris Columbus, who wrote the original screenplay, also penning the script.
Feldman married Courtney Anne Mitchell in 2016 after two divorces.
Kiefer Sutherland (John “Ace” Merrill): The role of the blond, knife-wielding bully was the Canadian actor’s first US feature film role. He has gone on to earn many roles in film and television, including that of Jack Bauer on 24, for which he bagged several Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama and and Award in 2002.
Sutherland, who has been married twice, is engaged to model-actress Cindy Vela. He has a daughter, actress Sarah Sutherland, with his first wife, Camelia Kath.
Rob Reiner (director): He took over the project after Adrian Lynne, who had first been tapped to direct, withdrew, claiming exhaustion after helming 9½ weeks.
Reiner is credited for coming up with the film’s title, Stand by Me, after the classic Ben E. King song that plays over the opening and ending credits. Columbia Pictures was reportedly worried that the novella source’s title, The Body, was misleading and sounded like an adult film, a fitness video, or a Stephen King horror flick.
The director, who initially found the script lacking focus, is also credited for suggesting that the Gordie character should be the main focus.
Now 75, Reiner is in pre-production for Spinal Tap II, the sequel to his iconic1984 mockumentary and movie directing debut, This Is Spinal Tap, which reunites him with Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer.
He is currently filming Albert Brooks: Defending My Life, a documentary about the comedian and director.
Reiner has four children: he adopted the daughter of his first wife, the late actress-filmmaker Penny Marshall, and has three kids with his current wife, photographer Michele Singer.
Stand by Me also starred John Cusack (Denny Lachance), Casey Siemaszko (Billy Tessio), and Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner went through two actors before finally deciding that his long-time friend, Dreyfuss, had the right tone as the film’s narrator, Gordie, grown-up, a writer like King and penning his memoir of that particular summer.
The 2019 4K Ultra-HD Blu-Ray edition of Stand By Me came with a bonus video of deleted or never-before-seen and alternate scenes.
Since 2007, a Stand by Me Festival has been held each July in Brownsville, Oregon, where many of the movie’s scenes were filmed. A pie-eating contest, just like that in the movie, is one of the events in the fest, which will be held on July 23 this year.
Thirty-six years after its release, Stand by Me endures as a quintessential tale of growing up and friendship. The film continues to inspire TV and film projects, one of the latest being Stranger Things.
In this summer of 2022, watching Stand by Me again affirms that it is indeed one of those films that get better with time. And that memorable line by Gordie as he looked back and pondered about that summer couldn’t be truer for many of us: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”