SANGER, Calif. -- When Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Outsiders' opened in the nation's theaters this weekend it was the happy ending of a three-year fairy tale for a group of Central California elementary school children.
For it was 104 seventh and eighth graders at Sanger's Lone Star Elementary School and their librarian, Joe Ellen Misakian, who suggested three years ago that Coppola make a movie of S.E. Hinton's book about the problems between rich and poor youths in rural Oklahoma.
'It started out as just another of my projects to get kids interested in books and using the library,' Mrs. Misakian said in an interview the day before the movie opened. 'When I wrote Mr. Coppola and included the petition signed by the kids asking that he consider 'The Outsiders,' I had no idea it would come to this.'
She said she got the idea in March 1980 when students from several English classes at Lone Star raved about the book which was read to them in class.
'I'm always encouraging students to write to authors of books they like and this was just an extension of that idea,' she said. 'We just got to talking about it one day in the library and several of the studetns thought it would make a good movie, so I said we ought to write to somebody in Hollywood.'
Mrs. Misakian said she saw and liked 'The Godfather,' which Coppola directed, and that some of the students mentioned they liked 'The Black Stallion,' which Coppola produced.
'So we picked him and wrote the letter and enclosed a petition signed by 104 students who liked 'The Outsiders,'' she said. 'I thought we might get a polite reply from one of Mr. Coppola's aides, but we didn't hear anything before school was out so I just sort of forgot about it.'
That summer Mrs. Misakian got a letter at school from one of Coppola's people thanking her and the students for their idea and saying Coppola was considering their suggestion.
'Then, two months later, we heard Mr. Coppola was negotiating with the author and we began to get excited,' she said.
The eighth graders who signed the petition went on to high school in September, but the seventh graders returned to Lone Star and were there when Coppola sent them the first draft of the movie script.
'He actually asked that the kids take a look at it and send back their comments,' Mrs. Misakian said. 'What was even more surprising was that he took the students' suggestions seriously.'
She said the students wrote back that they didn't like the idea of leaving a gang fight out of the script.
'We found out later that the rumble was put back in the final script, so we know he took our suggestions seriously,' she said.
From then on, there was a regular flow of correspondence between Hollywood and the school.
'They kept us up to date on what was happening,' Mrs. Misakian said. 'And once they actually started shooting, they sent us pictures from the set.'
Shooting began in 1982 and by then, all 104 students who signed the petition had gone on to high school. But they kept in touch with Mrs. Misakian 'so they could keep track of their movie.'
When filming was completed in late 1982, Coppola addressed the students by conference telephone call in the Lone Star auditorium for about 45 minutes and then last week, he sent several of the members of the cast and crew along with Warners Brothers officials to the school for a face-to-face meeting.
Mrs. Misakian said they managed to find about 75 of the kids who signed the petition so they could meet with the movie people.
'They gave the school a 16mm copy of the movie, spent about two hours with the kids and then took us all to a rented theater to preview the film,' Mrs. Misakian said.
She said the students liked the movie, but the biggest thrill came when they saw a credit line at the end dedicating the movie to them and the school.