How a 1985 magazine article launched the Brat Pack phenomenon — and how to read it now

Nearly four decades after it established itself as a cultural force, the Brat Pack is once again front and center.

“Brats,” a Hulu documentary from director Andrew McCarthy — himself one of the stars who fell under the Brat Pack umbrella — focuses on the impact the moniker had on the young actors of the 1980s who were considered to be part of it.

The "Brat Pack" name was coined by writer David Blum in a 1985 New York magazine article that was supposed to be about Emilio Estevez, but wound up instead focusing on a crew of actors in their 20s at the time, most notably Estevez, Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson.

Blum hung out with the trio for a night out in Los Angeles, and then again with Estevez for a few days. The resulting story painted the group in what many felt was a negative light, with unnamed actors even offering some disparaging quotes about their contemporaries.

“He plays all his roles with too much of the same intensity. I don’t think he’ll make it,” one unidentified star says of McCarthy, who is barely mentioned in the piece.

The article, which New York Magazine has made available online, was published June 10, 1985 — 18 days before the release of “St. Elmo’s Fire,” one of the most quintessential Brat Pack moves, and slightly more than four months after another, “The Breakfast Club."

Breakfast Club (Everett Collection)
Breakfast Club (Everett Collection)

“This is the Hollywood ‘Brat Pack,’” Blum wrote in his piece. “It is to the 1980s what the Rat Pack was to the 1960s — a roving band of famous young stars on the prowl for parties, women, and a good time."

The story continued: “They make major movies with big directors and get fat contracts and limousines. They have top agents and protective P.R. people. They have legions of fans who write them letters, buy them drinks, follow them home.

"And, most important, they sell movie tickets. Their films are often major hits, and the bigger the hit, the more money they make, and the more money they make, the more like stars they become.”

The article is now a fascinating time capsule, not only because of the signature and lasting nickname is bestowed upon the group, but also because it names some stars who years later are not identified as being Brat Packers, including Nicolas Cage, Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton.

What was the Brat Pack article about?

Titled “Hollywood’s Brat Pack,” the story mentioned the attention Lowe got from female fans, how none of the stars spent years studying acting and how fame had affected them.

It also dubbed Estevez, whose father, actor Martin Sheen, was a star thanks to films like "Apocalypse Now" and "Badlands," the "unofficial president of the Brat Pack."

ST. ELMO'S FIRE, from left, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Mare Winningham, R (Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)
ST. ELMO'S FIRE, from left, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Mare Winningham, R (Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

“Barely 23 years old, he is already accustomed to privilege and appears to revel in the attention heaped upon him almost everywhere he goes,” Blum wrote about Estevez.

Blum also articulated the pressure the actors felt making movies with their frequent collaborations.

"Each new Brat Packer movie carries with it an increased burden – if it is not a success, the young unknowns starring in the hit movie of the moment might come up from behind and replace them," he wrote. "And that would mean the end of the kind of ensemble efforts that created the Brat Pack."

What was the impact of the article?

The article lumped together a series of actors, creating a shorthand to refer to a group of stars that grew to include the likes of Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy — none of whom whom were interviewed in the article. (Moore's name is mentioned just once, as an on-again off-again girlfriend of Estevez's.)

Many actors featured in the piece felt hurt by the picture Blum had painted with his words.

“It was naive of me to think that this journalist would, in fact, be my friend,” Estevez tells McCarthy in “Brats,” adding he felt “derailed.”

Estevez also said he and McCarthy skipped out on making another movie together — titled "Young Men with Unlimited Capital," based on the founders of the Woodstock music festival — because of the article.

“Working together, it almost felt like we were kryptonite to each other,” he said.

Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy and Demi Moore  (Theo Wargo / Getty Images)
Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy and Demi Moore (Theo Wargo / Getty Images)

McCarthy has also been open about his desire to put the Brat Pack days behind him before opening up in his 2022 memoir, “Brat: An ‘80s Story.”

“This book is an examination of a time that I had willfully ignored for so long — albeit a generation of moviegoers would not always make that easy to do,” he wrote. “Sometimes things happen, we live with their result, and then occasionally, a long time distant, we try to make sense of them.”

In “Brats,” McCarthy also explained to Estevez why the Brat Pack name was problematic.

“I perceived it to be very harmful for us because Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg is not going to call somebody who's in the Brat Pack,” McCarty says in the film.

Estevez agrees, saying the article “created the perception we were lightweights.”

What does David Blum say about the article now?

Blum defends his piece to this day.

“I still maintain my story didn’t change anyone’s career trajectory,” he wrote in Vulture earlier this month.

“Sure, in the ensuing decades some members of the Brat Pack would subsequently fail to reach the starry heights they’d dreamed of when they first got famous. Was that my fault? It certainly seemed so to less successful members, who have watched the phrase live on for almost 40 years.”

Andrew McCarthy (Theo Wargo / Getty Images )
Andrew McCarthy (Theo Wargo / Getty Images )

Still, Blum, who appeared in “Brats” to recount his experience putting the article together, understands and accepts the idea that his article endured.

“The fact that a Brat Pack documentary even exists in 2024 — let alone deserves a Times Square billboard, a glittering red-carpet premiere and an after-party — demonstrates the lasting and emotionally resonant hold this group of actors had on the culture, then and now,” he wrote.

And, as for the name he thought of, Blum offers no apologies.

“I was proud of my creation, the phrase,” he tells McCarthy in “Brats.” “I definitely knew it was going to have a reaction.”

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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