My wife seems to be the one always delivering the bad news to me these days â€“ be it that our daughter wasnâ€™t well overnight, the release date of New Moon has been bought forward a week, Michael Jackson has died, or, as was the case this morning, my favourite filmmaker had decided to hitch a ride with a cloud.
Iâ€™m gutted. Speechless. Hurting. It almost feels like the very reason I signed up for this â€˜clubâ€™ has suddenly become void. John Hughes wasnâ€™t just an inspiration, he was the thing that kept meâ€¦ youâ€¦ a lot of us going. He almost single-handedly inspired the first screenplay a Warner outfit optioned of me in 2006 â€“ in fact, it was littered with references to his films. Hughes was the filmmaker we all grew up with. Heâ€™s the guy that gave us such great, timeless characters as Ferris Bueller, Duckie Dale, Neal Page, Amanda Jonesâ€¦..Jake Ryan . He gave teen comedy its crown â€“ and kept it firmly fixed on its head through most of the 80s (later, heâ€™d turn to kids movies). There was just something about John Hughesâ€™ movies that wereâ€¦ areâ€¦. magical. The characters felt real. The situations felt real. The energy of them was infectious. The laughs. The romance. The music. Theâ€¦.they just had it all. Even Lyman Ward.
Hughes, the writer/director of such classics as â€œThe Breakfast Clubâ€ and â€œSixteen Candlesâ€, suffered a heart-attack this morning while on a walk in New York. He was only 59.
I canâ€™t recall the first Hughes movie I saw, but I suspect, since my mother was working at the local Village cinema at the time that it mightâ€™ve been â€œThe Breakfast Clubâ€. I definitely remember the posters for it at the cinema, anyway â€“ which makes me think it was one of the many, many films that babysitted me through my pre-teen years. Iâ€™m positive I sat through it at least once in the cinema before revisiting it time-and-time again on my beastly BETA machine. Iâ€™ll clock anyone that has a bad word to say against the film â€“ it is pure perfection. You laugh, You cry, You cheer, You cringe, You fall for Ally Sheedy. It got no better.
Hughes seemed to know his audience like nobody else. He wasnâ€™t even close to being a teenager â€“ he was in his thirties, or forties, by the time he hit his peak â€“ and yet he knew how they thought, operated, and functioned. He seemed to know what they struggled with on a daily basis, as if he had a glass to the door of the unisex locker room regularly.
His muse was Molly Ringwald. He loved him some Molly. But then, we all loved us some Molly. She was the Julia Roberts of the â€˜80s â€“ for the teen brigade. We discovered her through Hughesâ€™ first big hit â€œSixteen Candlesâ€ (which I donâ€™t believe I saw theatrically; but as a new release BETA with a couple of crazy-haired teenage girls that lived nearby), and then followed her journey through, â€œBreakfastâ€, and of course â€œPretty in Pinkâ€ â€“ another favourite of mine (go on, laugh!). Hughes and Ringwald were the Scorsese and De Niro of the teen-comedy circuit. They clicked. When she wasnâ€™t in one of his filmsâ€¦ you actually felt it.
Molly is understandably shattered today, saying in a statement that sheâ€™s “stunned and incredibly sad to hear about the death of John Hughes. He was and will always be such an important part of my life. He will be missed â€“ by me and by everyone that he has touched,” she added. “My heart and all my thoughts are with his family now.”
And then thereâ€™s Anthony Michael Hall. He was Hughesâ€™ go-to guy for near everything â€“ â€œSixteen Candlesâ€, â€œPretty in Pinkâ€, â€œVacationâ€. And the only reason he didnâ€™t end up doing Ferris Buellerâ€™s shower Mohawk is because they mutually decided at the 11th hour that it wasnâ€™t the right vehicle for him. But wowâ€¦ Hughes did wonders for that guyâ€™s career.
Hughesâ€™ longest collaborator though was the late, great John Candy. The comedy giant appeared in one of the first films Hughes wrote, 1983’s “Vacation.” The two reteamed in 1987’s “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” in which Candy co-starred with Steve Martin as two mismatched holiday travelers. He went on to star in such Hughes movies as “The Great Outdoors” (1988), “Uncle Buck” (1989), “Career Opportunities” (1991) and “Only the Lonely” (1991).
Of all the films Hughes did in the 80s, thereâ€™s not one I dislike â€“ â€œSixteen Candlesâ€ is gold, I can watch it over-and-over; â€œBreakfast Clubâ€ is the second coming; â€œWeird Scienceâ€ is a blast!; â€œPretty in Pinkâ€ is an almost perfect teen-romance; â€œSheâ€™s Having a Babyâ€ is a slightly more serious but still very rewarding expose into couplehood; and â€œSome Kind of Wonderfulâ€ is â€“ despite how drastically the script changed before it went before the cameras â€“ as much as a classic as any of them.
My friend Eric Stoltz, who had the lead in â€œSome Kind of Wonderfulâ€, has fond memories of Hughesâ€¦ but is sad that the experience of their only film together was one that was no less a troubled production.
â€˜â€™He was always onboard, because he was the writer/producer, but as we get closer to shooting he replaced [Martha Coolidge] because he didn’t like what was being done to his materialâ€, Stoltz tells me of Hughesâ€™ original script for the teen-romance. â€œHe fired Martha – and a lot of the cast. I stayed onboard – I don’t know how that happened – but even then, I think I barely stayed onboard. We had shot two or three weeks with my hair below-my-shoulders and I was very greasy and odd looking – because the guy was someone who wasn’t able to fit in, we thought that was a great way to go. Anyway, they shut down production. Someone at Paramount came down and said â€˜We’re going to cut your hair, and clean up your act’. I said â€˜But the role is a rebel who doesn’t fit in’. They said â€˜You’re going to cut your hair, and we’ll clean you up’. I said â€˜Oh, so this is how the world works’.â€
The original script was gold, says Stoltz.
â€˜â€™It was an entirely different script [from the film you know] – it was almost a silent film, because Martha had this interesting idea of trying to make it as much of a non-verbal, non-jokey teen film as possible. Clearly, the powers that be didn’t go for that.â€™â€™
Bruce Berman, who was at Uni when Hughesâ€™ made â€œWeird Scienceâ€ (I saw â€œWeird Scienceâ€ in a double-feature with â€œBack to the Futureâ€ in 1985 â€“ fantastic stuff!), says, “He was one of the most challenging relationships an exec could have, but one of the most fun, most talented and gifted.”
Berman said that although Hughes was one of the fastest writers in the biz — “He could write a draft over a weekend — he didn’t like to be rewritten.”
Hughesâ€™ left behind the teen films in the late 80s, instead turning his attention to family comedies. One of my favourites, of that ilk, was â€œPlanes, Trains & Automobilesâ€. Itâ€™s such a wonderful film. Itâ€™s so much more than the poorly TV spots of the time perceived it to be. It had a real heart.
In the 90s, Hughesâ€™ became the go-to guy for kidâ€™s movies. His biggest success, of course, was the smash â€œHome Aloneâ€ (though he also helmed â€œCurly Sueâ€ and â€œUncle Buckâ€™). Whatever you think of the film, or Hughesâ€™ determination to capture the kiddie-market, you canâ€™t argue it wasnâ€™t a good move. The film made more money than an attractive high-priced hooker on a Saturday night. The family-friendly comedy, starring then-newcomer Macaulay Culkin, grossed $285.8 million domestically for 20th Century Fox and spawned two film sequels.
“He understood young people in a way few filmmakers ever have. He tapped into the feelings of teenagers and literally changed the face of the ’80s. The film industry has lost a giant — a gentle, wonderful giant,” said “Home Alone” actor Devin Ratray in a statement.
“I was a fan of both his work and a fan of him as a person,” â€œHome Aloneâ€ star Macaulay Culkin said. “The world has lost not only a quintessential filmmaker whose influence will be felt for generations, but a great and decent man.”
Hughes continued to write and produce family comedies during the 1990s, including “Dennis the Menace,” “Flubber” and “101 Dalmatians,” as well as an independent film, “Reach the Rockâ€, but his interest in playing the game started to wane and he all but disappeared from the scene about ten years ago. For the past few years heâ€™s been working on his farm in northern Illinois â€“ though he occasionally coughed up story ideas for the odd, usually-forgettable flick (like â€œDrillbit Taylorâ€).
I could say itâ€™s one of my biggest regrets that I never got to interview Hughes â€“ but I doubt that opportunity wouldâ€™ve ever arisen. He was a fiercely private man who hardly ever did pressâ€¦ and has barely done more than a handful of interviews in his career. Alas, I never got to shake his hand and thank him for all the joy heâ€™s bought to my life.
Hopefully heâ€™s sharing some stories and having a nice warm cup of Joe with his old friend John Candy up there.
Rest in Peace.
Empire Strikes Back
St. Elmo's Fire
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
The Breakfast Club