40 Years of the Brat Pack: Actors Look Back on the Label

On a night in the mid-1980s, a group of actors finished up dinner at Los Angeles’ then hotspot, Spago. “I think we were literally getting up out of our seats and Liza Minnelli went, ‘Let’s go to Sammy’s,’” remembers Rob Lowe. “So, we follow Liza Minnelli to Sammy Davis Jr.’s house. Who’s not going to do that?”

A new documentary, Brats, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on Hulu, looks back at the moment Hollywood embraced youth culture and a bunch of young talents who would be christened “The Brat Pack” by a magazine article.

Many of them took offense at the title. “I felt a sense of it being unjust,” says Demi Moore, 61. “I just felt like it didn’t represent us. I felt like it was a real limited perspective.”

Many of the young actors called out in the New York magazine piece, including Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton, came out unscathed, but the label seemed to attach itself most strongly to the ones who starred in the 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire and the youth-based dramatic comedies of director John Hughes. “I think it created the perception that we were lightweights,” says Emilio Estevez, 62. “That we didn’t take it seriously.”

The Impact of the Brat Pack Label

Forty years later, many of the actors can also look back at their Brat Pack period with a brighter perspective. Ally Sheedy, 62, who broke out with her role in 1985’s The Breakfast Club, recalls her joy at feeling like she belonged. “In high school, I did not have many close friends,” she says. “I didn’t fit in. I was really lonely. I couldn’t wait to get out of New York and just go to California and get my acting career happening.”

Rob, 60, believes they were all lucky to have been in the right place when Hollywood began making a lot of films focused on young adults. “It wasn’t always like that,” Rob says. “Being around at that time not only changed our lives, but it changed what entertainment is.” He even can forgive the writer who coined the Brat Pack label. “I get why it happened,” Rob says. “There’s just too many of us, so there had to be a catch-all name and Brat Pack is a good name.”

40 Years of the Brat Pack: Actors Look Back on the Label
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Andrew, 61, felt burdened by the label, but he can look back on some of those times with a smile now. The memory of their visit to Sammy Davis Jr.’s home is a standout. “He was so gracious,” recalls Andrew. “He’s like, ‘I’ve got my eye on you cats. I love what you’re doing, keep it up.’ That was my only time in my experience that the Brat Pack met the Rat Pack.”

For his part, Jon Cryer, 59, feels relieved to have outgrown the Brat Pack. “We all want to be taken without the baggage of our pop-cultural references,” says the Pretty in Pink star. As an actor, we just want to act.”

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