The Magnet 26: The Sculptor of Rock and Roll High School

The two most memorable 1979 movies about teenagers are Over the Edge and Rock and Roll High School. If you’re in the mood for realism, watch Over the Edge, which was inspired by a true story of disaffected teens going on a suburban vandalism spree. Over the Edge cast real teenagers, bucking the trend of using actors in their 20s and 30s to play high school students. (When Grease was shot in 1978, Stockard Channing was 33, Jamie Donnelly was 30, and Olivia Newton-John was 29).

Over the Edge is one of my favorite movies, but I also recommend the lighthearted musical comedy Rock and Roll High School as a fun and fascinating 1970s time capsule. It stars former Warhol Factory habitué Mary Woronov as the youth-hating autocratic Principal Togar, B-movie icon P.J. Soles as the energetic rock and roller Riff Randell, and Clint Howard as a sleazy fixer with an office inside the boy’s lavatory. It has an incredible soundtrack that runs the gamut from MC5 to Brian Eno and, of course, plenty of screen time for The Ramones. (Producer Roger Corman tried and failed to get Cheap Trick or Todd Rundgren for the movie, but chose The Ramones after actor Paul Bartel, who played the high school music teacher, suggested them.)

With a budget of $300,000 (typical for a Corman picture), Rock and Roll High School was shot in just a couple of weeks. At the end of the movie, the high school blows up. (I would have given a spoiler alert but could a movie called Rock and Roll High School possibly end any other way?) The notoriously parsimonious Corman filmed the movie at Mount Carmel High School in Los Angeles, taking advantage of the school’s planned demolition to save on special effects costs (according to Wikipedia, the demolition was so loud that several cast and crew members fled in terror and had to be persuaded to return to the smoldering set).

I first saw Rock and Roll High School a couple of years after it came out, and then a couple of years after that with Carla. I watched it for the third time with Carla and my two daughters last week. It’s both dated and timeless, and we laughed out loud at several points. We especially liked the character of the adorably nerdy Kate Rambeau, played by the then-unknown Dey Young. Even though Young didn't receive top billing like Woronov, Soles, Howard, and Vince Van Patten, she is arguably the movie's central character. Kate begins the movie as a stereotypical bookworm who enjoys “splitting protons” in her basement and ends up a Ramones-loving punk who puts her chemistry knowledge to use to blow up the high school as payback to Principal Togar for trying to stop her and Riff from attending The Ramones concert.

I was interested in finding out what Dey Young was up to now, and was happy to learn that in addition to continuing her career as an actor, she’s also an accomplished sculptor who works in bronze, stone, and other media.

Here’s a piece she created in 2007, title “Artemis,” as part of her Goddess series:

And here’s a 2017 video profile of Young and one of her sculptures:

Follow Dey Young on Instagram.


Thanks for reading! The Magnet is written by Mark Frauenfelder and edited by Carla Sinclair.