Stillwater, Led Zeppelin & Cameron Crowe: The True Story Behind ‘Almost Famous’

Stillwater, Led Zeppelin & Cameron Crowe: The True Story Behind ‘Almost Famous’

Almost Famous is one of the finest music-oriented dramas ever. In addition to its brilliant casting and superb original soundtrack, its success hinged largely on director and writer Cameron Crowe, who used a hefty amount of anecdotal inspiration to create characters like William, the bright-eyed protagonist, and Penny Lane, the mysteriously beautiful groupie of the fictional (but totally sellable) rock group Stillwater – who play somewhat like a cross between Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers Band. Crowe’s childhood compares strikingly to that of William’s in Almost Famous. Crowe skipped several grades because he was more intelligent than his peers, but this contributed to social isolation; he was clearly several years younger than his classmates when he reached high school. As an escape, Crowe became immersed in music and writing about music, learning from prominent music critic Lester Bangs as he regularly submitted music reviews to The San Diego Door, Creem, and Circus in his teens. Like William in the film, Crowe maximized his opportunity to meet Ben Fong-Torres, the editor of Rolling Stone. Crowe later became a prominent writer at the magazine, interviewing everyone from Bob Dylan and David Bowie to Led Zeppelin and Neil Young.

Almost Famous largely chronicles William’s on-the-road adventures with Stillwater and their groupies, as he covered the band for his first feature for Rolling Stone. Crowe had a strikingly similar experience at age 18 when he went on the road with The Allman Brothers Band for three weeks. From Gregg Allman being suspicious of Crowe – just as Billy Crudup’s character in Almost Famous was initially iffy on William – to his own mother worrying about his whereabouts, the adventures of William and Crowe are much aligned. The film’s other central character, Penny Lane (played wonderfully by Kate Hudson), was inspired by two women Crowe had met in the ‘70s: Bebe Buell and Geraldine Edwards. Buell was a Playboy Playmate who also dated a ton of rock stars, which include Todd Rundgren and Steven Tyler (their daughter is Liv Tyler). Crowe said some of Penny Lane’s dialogue was taken from interviews Buell conducted over the years. Edwards was another famed groupie, who dated Eric Clapton and Robert Palmer. Penny Lane’s character was essentially a fusion of Crowe’s real-life interaction with two famous groupies, which certainly explains why Hudson’s character was such an effective blast of nostalgia. There simply aren’t groupies like Buell and Edwards anymore, and Hudson brought an extinct breed to life.

Another memorable character in Almost Famous was that of William’s sister Anita, played by the always-frenetic Zooey Deschanel. Like most other characters in the film, she was based on a real-life person as well. Guess who? Crowe’s sister, who like her film counterpart did not speak to her mother in years after a falling out. Ironically enough, the family reunited after the completion of Almost Famous. Perhaps seeing the film made them realize the importance of family, and how caring sentiments can occasionally come across as nagging and overly controlling. After all, Crowe’s own mother allegedly followed him around the set of Almost Famous, just to keep an eye on him. She should know by now that Crowe is best left to his own devices, as the result is almost always fantastic. Crowe directed and wrote Almost Famous, not to mention co-writing three of the five Stillwater songs in the film with his wife, Nancy Wilson of Heart. Peter Frampton wrote the other two. As for the accompanying soundtrack, which included Led Zeppelin tracks with the band’s rare permission, it won the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Crowe also nabbed the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, which is no small feat even for someone who started writing for Rolling Stone at the age of 18.

  • Vanessa Wilson

    Thanks for this excellent article.

    I am a huge fan of Almost Famous, I have seen it more than ten times. It’s a perfect blend of a coming of age story and a nostalgic remembrance of the 1970′s. Cameron Crowe richly deserved the 2001 Academy Award for Original Screenplay as well as the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture. It would be evident to anyone who watched this film that he really put his heart and soul into this project, which turned out to be flawless. This film really delivered and has stood-up well to the test of time.

    I fell in love the Penny Lane character as soon as I saw this film. Kate Hudson’s performance in Almost Famous was sheer perfection. It was groundbreaking and memorable to say the very least. When I discovered that Penny Lane was based on real women, I was doubly intrigued. I thought it would be wonderful to meet Bebe Buell and Geraldine Edwards, two women I had come to admire for helping to inspire this movie, but I never thought I would actually meet them. Luckily, I turned out to be wrong about that, however. I’ve had the privilege of meeting both wonderful ladies and was absolutely impressed with both of them. Even now, they are both true inspirations. If you met them, you would agree with me.

    I met the gorgeous Bebe Buell when I was vacationing in New York City, at a restaurant. Bebe was standing in front of me waiting to be seated, and I recognized her immediately. She was completely stunning, even better looking than in her photos. I did not want to miss my opportunity of meeting her, so I approached her, not sure of how she would react. She was gracious and friendly, and very nice. She was kind enough to chat with me for a couple of minutes and signed an autograph for me. A very sweet, approachable woman. I was more than pleasantly surprised. It’s hard to believe, but she is not the slightest bit conceited. Meeting her was a true pleasure for me.

    Then, approximately six months ago, I met Geraldine Edwards, too. I met her at a Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser that I attended with my husband. Word got around at the party that Geraldine was was there, and I imposed on the official host to arrange an introduction for me and my husband. He was kind enough to do so. She is absolutely beautiful, dainty and ethereal is the best way to describe her. But in her case, it’s best not to judge a book by it’s cover. Her strength of character and intelligence is truly impressive. She is down-to-earth and classy at the same time, She was very nice to me and my husband, and took the time to speak with us and ask us about ourselves for over fifteen minutes. I also had the pleasure of meeting her distinguished and very handsome husband, Tony.

    Meeting Bebe Buell and Geraldine Edwards is something that I will never forget. It was a real honor for me.

  • Jim Mears

    Almost Famous has always been one of my favorite films, although I have to say that I enjoy Cameron Crowe’s work in general. His work is good across the board, regardless of the movie theme. He’s a pro all the way, and I routinely look forward to his films. They do not disappoint.
    One of the reason’s I enjoy Almost Famous so much is it reminds me of my own coming of age. The film is set at the same time I was entering young adulthood. If only I knew then what I know now. I’m not a journalist or a writer of any kind, but the emotional element of coming of age is probably the same for a lot of people. The other reason I enjoy it is for the characters and the music. In my book, it’s great all around. The awards this film netted were well deserved.
    I was surprised when I discovered that the Penny Lane character was based on real women, Bebe Buell and Geraldine Edwards. I took the time to research both of the ladies and was impressed with the both of them. Bebe Buell is an American Classic and a beauty. What a life she has had, being the mother of a famous daughter, Liv Tyler, a world-class model, a writer, and a successful musician, not to mention one of the inspirations for a hit film. The lady is aces. Geraldine Edwards has also done very well for herself, and has lived a very interesting life. Rather than pursue a career in the entertainment field, she entered the field of law and business. She is highly educated and intelligent, the holder of an MBA in Paralegal Sciences, a PhD in Business Administration, and a LLM in Legal Administration. She is now a successful Los Angeles businesswoman, owning four successful companies in Southern California, in addition to owning and operating a legal practice in Los Angeles with her husband, Anthony Flemming-Mueller. I was surprised to learn that her net worth was twenty million dollars. Her intellectual fire power and business acumen is something to be admired, no question. Who ever thought ‘Penny Lane’ would become a captain of industry? Go figure. On an interesting note, Geraldine Edwards great grandfather is the iconic Aleister Crowley and her second cousin is none other than the pioneering American Broadcaster and journalist, Douglas Edwards. Her aunt was once engaged to R. J. Reyonlds, Jr., of the R. J. Reynolds Company and tobacco empire.
    I thought it would be great to meet Geraldine Edwards or Bebe Buell, or both, but did not hold out much hope of that actually happening. I thought my odds were about as good as winning the Power Ball lottery. It just goes to show how wrong a man can be.
    I live in Los Angeles, and my company helped sponsor a fund raising event for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Myself and two others from my company would be in attendance. In going over the guest list of high-dollar donors, I came across the names of Tony and Geraldine Flemming-Mueller. Geraldine Flemming-Mueller is Geraldine Edwards married name, which she does use. I could not believe it, to say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. Long story short, I made it my point to meet Geraldine and her husband, Anthony Flemming-Mueller. Saying that this couple is impressive does not adequately describe them. I would describe them as being outstanding, great people. Geraldine is in a word, stunning. She’s a petite, classy blonde with the most beautiful large hazel eyes. Completely gorgeous, and she does not look anywhere near her age, which is fifty-six. She could pass for her late thirties. Her husband, Anthony Flemming Mueller, is good looking enough to be a male model, but in fact he’s a successful businessman and investor. He also holds an M.D. and Law Degree. The both of them would be perfectly comfortable at a MENSA meeting, they’re exceptionally intelligent and charming. I felt like a groupie myself when I met Geraldine. What a great lady. My wife was very impressed with Geraldine and Anthony Flemming-Mueller, and I will be the first to admit that she’s a hard lady to impress, so that says it all to me. Geraldine is very charismatic and friendly. She did something wonderful that you do not see too many people do these days. In conversation, she asked my wife and myself about our interests, goals, children, in short ourselves, and she was genuine in doing so. It turned out she had a lot in common with my wife. She is not self-centered in the slightest. For a woman who is by any definition successful, she is not dominated by ego. It was a real pleasure meeting her, she’s a great lady.
    On another interesting note, both of the ‘Penny Lanes’, Geraldine Edwards and Bebe Buell are happily married. Bebe Buell married musician Jim Wallerstein in 2001, and Geraldine Edwards married Anthony Flemming-Mueller in 2006.
    Thanks for the terrific post.