Summer of '42: Nostalgia-Driven Coming Of Age Movie From 1971 That Made Millions

By Kellar Ellsworth
Actress Jennifer O'Neill and actor Gary Grimes in a scene from the Warner Bros. movie 'Summer of '42.' (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In the 1971 film Summer Of ‘42, a teenage boy played by Gary Grimes has an interlude with an older woman played by Jennifer O'Neill during a summer on Nantucket Island. It's based directly on the life experience of its writer, Herman “Hermie” Raucher, and no -- it's not the most earth-shattering plot you've ever heard of. But something about this modest, inexpensively made coming-of-age story struck a chord with audiences in 1971 like few other movies in the genre, and the public flocked to see it. 

The movie was a throwback to a different time for a country that had recently been through the wringer with the Vietnam War, unrest on college campuses, changing social norms, reckonings with racial inequality -- you name it, Americans had been forced to confront it in the streets or at least on the nightly news. For a nation reeling from the turbulent end of the '60s, a jaunt back to the summer of 1942 was the best kind of escapism. Yes, there was teenage lust and a little bit of sex, but it was all so innocent, and innocence was appealing.

Summer Of '42 tapped into a feeling that would be further explored by The Last Picture Show later in 1971, and American Graffiti in 1973. We could never go back to how it used to be -- and how it used to be was never as idyllic as it seems -- but in 1971, moviegoers were all too happy to sit in a darkened movie theater for a couple hours and wish it were so.