In 1972, when Jo Ellen Misakian was a librarian at the Lone Star School in Fresno, California, she had trouble encouraging students to read. That is, until she loaned her 13-year-old son a copy of S. E. Hinton’s 1967 coming-of-age novel, The Outsiders. After that, she had kids coming up to her and asking, “Do you have another book like this?”

Misakian envisioned the blockbuster movie that could be based on the book. She wrote to the local daily The Fresno Bee, asking for advice. She sent a letter to Hinton but didn’t receive a response. Then she read a Newsweek review of 1979’s The Black Stallion, produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and thought, Maybe he’d make the movie. One hundred students signed a petition, while Misakian found a mailing address for Coppola.

In 1983, The Outsiders, the story of a young gang in Tulsa, was released in theaters. Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, shunned by most people, the characters—young boys, barely teenagers—are as rude and unruly as their hair. In 60s-speak, they’re “greasers,” and they have a running dispute with the opposing faction, the “socs,” which leads to murder and exile. The outstanding performances of the young actors—Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and others, largely unknown at the time—make the movie.

“I’d only heard of Diane Lane and maybe tangentially Matt Dillon,” the set photographer, David Burnett, tells me. “For most of them, it was their first movie, and they were feeling their way around. Yet in the pictures, they look like they belong—they have attitude.”

Burnett is now publishing a book, The Outsiders: Rare and Unseen, which celebrates the film’s 40th anniversary with hundreds of never-before-released images. Burnett’s lens captures the atmosphere on set as well as the feeling in Hinton’s novel, what Coppola describes as “an enchanted moment of time in the lives of all those boys.” It’s just as Burnett himself remarks: “Get them together, let them be themselves. Those are the best pictures.”

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for AIR MAIL