Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series. It explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
In this installment, Stephen Chbosky—author, screenwriter, and director of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” a coming-of-age story where mentorship and music play an equally important role in a teen’s life—remembers his first mixed tape and his favorite mentor.
HLN: The main character in your book, Charlie, makes great older friends who shepherd him through his freshman year of high school. Do you remember your very first mentor?
Stephen Chbosky: It’s a very random memory: My family was on vacation in Wildwood, New Jersey, and one day in the motel pool, there was this really fun guy and his two teenage sons (I was a little boy and I’ve always wanted an older brother). For whatever reason, they were incredibly nice to me. We splashed around the pool for about five hours and I remember they kept calling me “champ.” And there was something about having these older boys think that I was okay that meant the world to me. There’s no lesson there, it’s just the feeling of being accepted for who you are. I only hung out with them for one afternoon and never forgot it.
HLN: Another significant mentor of yours is the great writer Stewart Stern. How lucky do you feel to have his influence in your life?
SC: Oh, incredibly! He changed my life! When the writer of “Rebel Without a Cause” says you can do something, you listen. You know, I read the screenplay for it before I saw the film. And his wedding gift to my wife and me was a handwritten page from his screenplay. He gave half of the manuscript to James Dean’s family, and over the years, whenever somebody meant something to him, he would save that page for them. I have a beautiful page from the script where the kids are in the counselor’s office.
HLN: Do you hope to become a mentor like that to someone?
SC: I already have. You absolutely have to pay that back. She started out as my assistant and became an associate producer for the movie. Ava Dellaira -- she’s worked with me now for two and a half years. She came to Hollywood to be a screen writer -- I read her stuff and she’s very good, but I thought, “You’re a novelist -- I think you have this in you.” She never studied it, but she wrote this novel, and she just got a publishing deal and it’ll come out next year!
HLN: After you met him, you sent Stewart a mix tape. Do you remember what was on it?
SC: I don’t remember the songs so much, but I do remember that I included Bill Cosby’s comedy routine about Seattle, about how it rains 365 days a year in Seattle. I love stand-up comics! I collect records, I have for years -- so I remember that, Bill Cosby.
HLN: Do you remember the first mix tape you ever received?
SC: Oh, 100%! Actually, the first mix tape I ever received is in the movie. This girl Mary made one for me called “Mary’s mix.” So I brought it from California and when Sam [Emma Watson’s character] says, “My roommate, Katie, has the best taste in music,” and pops in the tape, that’s Mary’s mix -- the first mixed tape I ever got. I’m a sentimental fellow.
HLN: Mix tapes show up in the film a lot, too. It was really an art, making mixed tapes, wasn’t it?
SC: It was an art! And then you’d run out of tape on one side… It’s funny, because Logan [Lerman, who plays Charlie] asked me, “What does this joke mean, ‘You didn’t time it right?'” I explained it and he got it, but there was that, “What do you mean, run out of tape?” He didn’t know.
HLN: So you’re a bit of a mentor to your cast, too!
SC: It’s really important -- being a mentor to Emma and the rest of the kids whenever they need me to be. I get advice calls from some of them and it’s always really moving to me.
HLN: What did your mentor, Stewart, think of your book, screenplay, and movie?
SC: He was always supportive. To be honest, he loved the movie. And when we shared a stage three weeks ago in Seattle, he said I was his favorite screenwriter. It kind of made me cry in front of everybody!