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American Hot Wax (1978)

The story of Alan Freed, the pioneering disc jockey who was instrumental in introducing and popularizing rock 'n' roll in the 1950s.


Floyd Mutrux


John Kaye (screenplay), John Kaye (story) | 1 more credit »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Tim McIntire ... Alan Freed
Fran Drescher ... Sheryl
Jay Leno ... Mookie
Laraine Newman ... Teenage Louise
Carl Weaver Carl Weaver ... Member of The Chesterfields (as Carl Earl Weaver)
Al Chalk ... Member of The Chesterfields
Sam Harkness Sam Harkness ... Member of The Chesterfields
Arnold McCuller Arnold McCuller ... Member of The Chesterfields
Jeff Altman ... Lennie Richfield
Moosie Drier Moosie Drier ... Artie Moress
John Lehne John Lehne ... D.A. Coleman
Stewart Steinberg ... Stone
Jack Edward Ellis Jack Edward Ellis ... Phillips
Richard Forbes Richard Forbes ... Donahue
Stephen Pearlman ... Peter Overmyer


This is the story loosely based on Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed, who introduced rock 'n' roll to teenage American radio audiences in the 1950s. Freed was a source of great controversy: criticized by conservatives for corrupting youth with the "devil's music"; hated by racists for promoting African American music for white consumption; persecuted by law enforcement officials and finally brought down by the "payola" scandals. Written by Martin Lewison <lewison+@pitt.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


1959. New York City. The battleground was Rock and Roll. It was the beginning of an era. You shoulda been there.


Drama | History | Music


PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

17 March 1978 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

American Hot Wax - kuumaa vahaa See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (Ontario)

Sound Mix:



Color (Metrocolor)
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Marilu Henner auditioned for the role of Sheryl Berkowitz six times, but lost out to Fran Drescher. See more »


TV newscasts were not regularly televised in color in 1959. See more »


Alan Freed: Hey, look. If they took it all away tomorrow, we'd be even. No we wouldn't. We'd be way ahead.
See more »


Referenced in Grindhouse (2007) See more »


Reelin' and Rockin'
Written by Chuck Berry
Performed by Chuck Berry
See more »

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User Reviews

Earnest Hollywood Effort
10 November 2001 | by sed-1See all my reviews

The anachronisms fly in this Hollywood rendition of the beginnings of Rock and Roll (a genre best defined as the introduction of black Rhythym and Blues music "crossing over" to white teenage audiences in the early and mid-fifties).

The subsequent discovery of the economic power of these teenagers buying the records would change popular music forever.

The movie is redeemed by some energetic youthful performers and the exuberance that was such a feature of the time. But nowhere near enough credit,however,is paid to the original black harmony groups who were overwhelmingly responsible for this explosion of a new popular culture without precedent in US history. They are overshadowed by white single performers who Freed never played.

The movie stars Tim McIntyre, son of renowned character actor John McIntyre, delivering a sensitive portrayal of Freed. A pretty Fran Drescher is here before she assumed her affected froggy-voiced caricature so familiar today. Jay Leno is here also, sincere as always, and quite good as Freed's chauffeur.

Framed around the payola scandals, an ill-disguised attempt to destroy the music and its too-black associations, Freed was convicted of what was hardly a major offense (a common practice in the industry at the time), lost his job, and died a few years later. It's hard to convey today how virulent was the opposition to this music by the moral majority of that time.

One has only to listen to the Chesterfield's ersatz performances in the movie imitating Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, which are workmanlike, and then listen to the original. It is probably the best way to understand how this movie doesn't quite measure up to the reality it is trying to describe (what Hollywood movie ever does?). The real Frankie Lymon had a voice that was simply unbelievable, and a stage presence that awed Bing Crosby (!). Frank Sinatra, uncharacteristically, said he had never seen nor heard anything like him. (Crosby and Sinatra had been invited to the Apollo to see Lymon). Frankie Lymon died tragically about a decade later - long forgotten, and a microcosm, perhaps, of the black groups who started the whole thing.

Worth watching, but for a more truthful approach to the music itself, and much grittier, catch the earlier rock movies from 1956 with the real Alan Freed and the great original artists. Not much plot, but - oh! what performances!

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