Cooley High

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For the high school in Detroit, Michigan, see Cooley High School. For the high school in Chicago, Illinois, see Cooley Vocational High School.
Cooley High
Theatrical poster
Directed by Michael Schultz
Produced by Steve Krantz
Written by Eric Monte
Starring Glynn Turman
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs
Music by Freddie Perren
Distributed by AIP
Release dates
  • June 25, 1975 (1975-06-25)
Running time
107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $750,000[1]
Box office $13 million[2][3]

Cooley High is a 1975 American film based upon the real high school located on the near north side of Chicago, produced and released by American International Pictures and written by Eric Monte (co-creator of Good Times). The film, set in 1964 Chicago, Illinois, stars Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and features a soundtrack made up of 1960s Motown hits.

The film is considered a classic of black cinema, and its soundtrack featured a new Motown recording, G.C. Cameron's hit single "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday". That song was covered in 1991 by Motown act Boyz II Men on the group's first album, named Cooleyhighharmony in honor of this film.


The film tells the story of a momentous few days in the lives of Leroy "Preach" Jackson (Glynn Turman) and his best friend Richard "Cochise" Morris (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), two black high school students at Edwin G. Cooley Vocational High School in Chicago, Illinois, during the early 1960s. Preach is an aspiring writer who reads poetry and history books for fun, and secretly composes his own poems, but is disinterested in school and thus does poorly. Cochise is a basketball star who hopes to go to college on an athletic scholarship. The boys and their friends live in a poor urban neighborhood, where Preach's mother works three jobs to support him and his two younger sisters, and Cochise lives with his extended family in a crowded apartment. The handsome and athletic Cochise is popular and sought after by girls, while the skinnier and shorter Preach often gets rejected.

One Friday, Preach and Cochise decide to cut class and go to the zoo with their friends Pooter and Tyrone, despite the fact that Preach has missed an entire week of school, much to the chagrin of his history teacher, Mr. Mason (Garrett Morris). Afterwards they end up back at their local teen hangout, a diner named Martha's, where their friend Dorothy invites them to a "quarter party" (admission to the party costs a quarter) that night. She further informs them that Mr. Mason moved the history test up to next Monday, meaning that the boys will need to study over the weekend, since they must pass the test in order to pass history. Inside the diner, Preach's clandestine gambling game with Stone and Robert in the back of the diner is interrupted by Brenda, a haughty and beautiful girl who is annoyed that they are blocking the entrance to the restroom. Preach is attracted to her but she coldly rejects him and tells Martha he is gambling, causing Martha to throw Preach out at the point of her meat cleaver. Preach bets Cochise a dollar that he, Preach, can get Brenda to sleep with him. Preach and Cochise then make out with their girlfriends in a hallway and Preach becomes frustrated that his girlfriend Sandra keeps pushing him away while Cochise's girl is much more willing. Cochise later returns home to find that he got a basketball scholarship to college.

Cochise and his friends celebrate his scholarship by drinking wine and going to Dorothy's quarter party, where Tyrone flirts with Dorothy so his friends can sneak in without paying. All the girls flock to Cochise, whose attention is drawn to Loretta, a pretty girl he hasn't met before. Cochise slow dances with Loretta, kissing and groping her, while Preach happens to run into Brenda reading in a bedroom and recites romantic poetry to her, gaining her interest since she too likes poetry. Loretta turns out to be the girlfriend of hotheaded Damon, the boys' classmate, who arrives late and promptly starts a fight with Cochise over Loretta, throwing the party into chaos and destroying Dorothy's mother's new breakfront which is not yet paid for.

After the four friends leave the party, Stone and Robert pull up in a Cadillac Coupe de Ville, which, it is implied, is stolen. Preach and Cochise decide to ride along with them in order to smoke with them, and Preach brags about his own driving skills until the others invite him to take the wheel. In reality, Preach can barely drive, and ends up attracting the attention of police who give chase in their squad car. Preach drives into an empty warehouse where he manages to evade the police at first, but ends up crashing gently into the rear of another car. Preach, Cochise, Stone and Robert abandon the Cadillac and run away.

Over the rest of the weekend, the boys study a bit for Mr. Mason's test, but spend most of their time having fun. Preach and Cochise pretend to be undercover officers and force two prostitutes to give them money for the movies, where a large fight breaks out in the theater during the film, wrecking the movie screen. Preach and Brenda spend part of a day together and she agrees to go back to his bedroom to have sex, which she confesses she has never done before. Afterwards, Preach accidentally lets slip that he had a dollar bet with Cochise over whether she would have sex with him. Brenda's feelings are hurt and she leaves even though Preach, who is falling in love with her, tries to apologize. The next day, back at school, she makes a point of kissing Preach in front of Sandra and then walks off, leaving him to explain to the upset Sandra.

As Preach and Cochise are getting ready to take their important history test, the police arrive in Mr. Mason's classroom with warrants for their arrest for grand theft auto. Preach and Cochise are interrogated at the police station, along with Stone and Robert, each in a separate room. Unbeknownst to the boys, Mr. Mason talks to the officer in charge and persuades him to release Preach and Cochise; the officer refuses to release Stone and Robert because of their bad past records. Preach and Cochise are released while Stone and Robert are told they will be standing trial for the car theft. Stone and Robert assume that Preach and Cochise "snitched" on them and spread the word to others including Tyrone and Damon, causing Preach and Cochise to be ostracized. Preach then finds out that Mr. Mason was actually responsible for getting him and Cochise released and rushes to tell Cochise, but finds him in a romantic tryst with a willing Sandra. Preach gets mad, decides not to tell Cochise about Mr. Mason, and runs out.

Preach goes to Martha's diner where he reconciles with Brenda before getting attacked by Stone and Robert, who have just been released from jail and are seeking revenge. With Martha's help, he manages to escape, but then learns that Cochise was headed to the diner. Preach goes after him but arrives too late as Stone, Robert and Damon have already beaten Cochise to death. At Cochise's grave, Preach says a private goodbye and resolves to go to Hollywood and succeed. The fate of some of the characters is revealed. Preach becomes a screenwriter in Hollywood; Brenda becomes a librarian and is married with three children and living in Atlanta; Stone and Robert are killed in a gas station holdup; Damon becomes a U.S. Army sergeant, stationed in Europe; Pooter becomes a factory worker in Muncie, Indiana; and Tyrone is killed in an outbreak of racial violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.


  • Glynn Turman as Leroy "Preach" Jackson
  • Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Richard "Cochise" Morris
  • Garrett Morris as Mr. Mason
  • Cynthia Davis as Brenda
  • Corin Rogers as Pooter
  • Maurice Leon Havis as Willie
  • Joseph Carter Wilson as Tyrone
  • Rick Stone as Stone
  • Norman Gibson as Robert
  • Maurice Marshall as Damon
  • Yvonne Johnson as Lillian
  • Steven Williams as Jimmy Lee
  • Jackie Taylor as Johnny Mae
  • Christine Jones as Sandra
  • Lynn Caridine as Dorothy
  • Mary Larkins as Preach's Mother
  • Robert Townsend as Basketball Player in Gym (uncredited)


Monte based the film on his experiences from attending the real-life Cooley Vocational High School (which is no longer standing) that served students from the Cabrini–Green public housing projects in Chicago. While the film was set in and around Cabrini–Green, it was primarily filmed at another Chicago-area housing project. Monte has said he wrote the film to dispel myths about growing up in the projects: "I grew up in the Cabrini–Green housing project and I had one of the best times of my life, the most fun you can have while inhaling and exhaling".

In Chicago on September 29, 1976 actor Norman Gibson was shot and killed by two men while standing on a street corner watching a dice game. He was 25 years old.



Cooley High was a critical and commercial success. Produced on a $750,000 budget,[1] the film grossed $13 million at the domestic box office,[2][3] making it one of the top 30 highest grossing films of 1975.[5] The film holds an 82% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[6]

Filmmaker Spike Lee included the film on his essential film list entitled List of Films All Aspiring Filmmakers Must See.[7] The movie also ranked #23 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[8]

Television adaptation[edit]

ABC planned a television adaptation of Cooley High, but the pilot was poorly received, and Fred Silverman, the head of the network, asked the pilot's producers, TOY Productions, to redo the show as a sitcom with new characters and with a new title so as not to confuse it with Monte's film Cooley High. New writers were hired, cast changes made, and a switch from one-camera to three-camera filming delivered What's Happening!! to the network, where it ran from August 5, 1976 to April 28, 1979. The show and the production company were then purchased by Columbia Pictures Television in 1979 and ran in syndication for a number of years.[when?]

Cooley High also inspired the CBS television show The White Shadow (November 27, 1978 to March 16, 1981), starring Ken Howard.[9]

Release on DVD & HD[edit]

In 2000, Cooley High was released on DVD.[citation needed] In 2010, it was digitized in High Definition (1080i) and broadcast on MGM HD.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The dime-store way to make movies-and money By Aljean Harmetz. The New York Times, (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 04 Aug 1974: 202.
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for Cooley High. Worldwide Box Office. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Mankiewicz, Ben. Comments on TCM broadcast 17 October 2013
  4. ^ Mitchell, John L. (April 14, 2006). "Plotting His Next Big Break". Los Angeles Times. p. A-1. Retrieved February 11, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Top Grossing Films of 1975". 
  6. ^ Cooley High, Movie Reviews. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  7. ^ List of Films All Aspiring Filmmakers Must See. Indiewire. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  8. ^ "The 50 Best High School Movies". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 11, 2009. 
  9. ^ Closs, Wyatt (February 27, 2014). "Erykah Badu Reveals All About Her 'Lo Down Loretta Brown' Persona". Huffington Post. 

External links[edit]