Here are some bonus thoughts and stories about John Hughes that didn’t make it into my V.F. feature on the man, “Sweet Bard of Youth,”—courtesy of the stars of his celebrated teen films of the 1980s. Plus: A selection of short stories by Hughes and photographs of items in his archives.
BY DAVID KAMP
FEBRUARY 10, 2010
Molly Ringwald, star of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.
Anthony Michael Hall, star of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science.
Matthew Broderick, star of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Edie McClurg, character actress in six Hughes movies; best known as Grace, the school secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Of
On getting to know Hughes:
Ringwald: I remember the first thing that I saw of him—I didn’t know what he looked like; I didn’t know anything—were his tennis shoes. He was really into sneakers. It was not what I really thought of as a film director. His hair was spiky. He looked kind of relatable to me.
Broderick: He had his own cool. He was not a nerd. He had cool glasses, a cool haircut—well, it might not look so good now.
McClurg: That hairdo he had, the mullet? He did it ‘cause it kept him young. I just thought that was really kind of sweet!
Ringwald: Every director I had worked with up to that point was significantly older. I didn’t expect anybody that was sort of young and cool, like him. John definitely didn’t feel like a parent to me. He rarely ever felt like an authority figure. But I wouldn’t say, exactly, that he felt like he was the same age, either. I feel like he was different than anybody else in my life, before or since. I feel like we sort of mutually idealized each other from the get-go.
Broderick: Molly was much younger than me; I felt much more old and rotten than her. My soul had already been seen into by Neil Simon and Harvey Fierstein. [Broderick had appeared onstage in New York in the former’s Brighton Beach Memoirs and the latter’s Torch Song Trilogy.] So I didn’t need a mentor. However, in some unconscious way, I do think that John saw into me. I mean, the way that movie has held on, and the fact that I am called Ferris Bueller very often when I walk on the streets—or if, God forbid, I go to a baseball game.
Hall: Though I’d been in Vacation, I didn’t meet John until the auditions for Sixteen Candles. Those were on 57th Street and Park Avenue, at Universal’s New York offices. I think that what he saw in me maybe was something of himself—that I was a funny kid. I remember thinking “This script is so cool and funny!” With every successive audition or callback, there were more executives in the room. Then they’d start pairing us—me, with, you know, Haviland Morris, who played Jake’s girlfriend. I could sense, “I must be getting this part!” I was a little dull then: “After seven or eight auditions, I think I should have this wrapped up!”
On making movies with Hughes, and his embrace of actor input:
Hall: Cut to the experience of making Sixteen Candles. It was beautiful. We went on location in Skokie, Illinois. Suddenly I’m plopped down in the Midwest with my aunt, who was my guardian; my mother was working back in New York. From the very beginning, it was magical. The whole experience of making those films transcended even what they mean to people.
Ringwald: If you wanted to change something or make it your own, John completely encouraged it. Subsequently, when I’ve worked with other writer-directors, they get so precious about every single line, you can’t change anything. There was none of that with John—he was so free.
Hall: For example, there’s a line I wrote in Breakfast Club, where I’m asked why I would get a fake ID. I say, “So I can vote!” I made that up.
McClurg: We went through that line about how popular Ferris was—“The sportos and motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads … They all adore him! He’s a righteous dude!” The “righteous dude” line was mine, added in the audition.
Hall: The word “dweebie”? Gotta credit Judd Nelson for that. I was on the Breakfast Club set when he ad-libbed that. I think Judd’s responsible for that being part of our vernacular: him yelling, “You’re a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie!” I remember John laughing.
Broderick: It was extremely pleasing to make John laugh. He had a quiet, very real, uncontrollable laugh: an eyes-closed, head-half-down, bent-over-quiet thing.
McClurg: My character in Ferris Bueller was a woman who’s a secretary in the high school. This is in the 80s. So I decided that maybe my hairdo would be 60s, because Grace felt she looked best in the 60s and kept her look from that era. So I went into hair and makeup in the morning and said, “I’d like a big bubble hairdo.” They had hired a guy who I think was Mia Sara’s blowout guy. He didn’t know anything about setting hair. So I said, “I’ll just do it myself.” I just teased it up, all the way out, sprayed it, and then gave it a big bubble.
I arrived on the set with this hairdo. And John looked at me and said, “How many pencils do you think you can fit in that hair?” I said, “I don’t know. Let’s see!” So we put one in. I looked down; nothing came out. I put another one in. I looked down; nothing came out. And the third; nothing came out. Fourth: then it finally dropped. I said, “I can hold three.” He said, “O.K., let’s start that way.” And that’s my intro in the film.
Broderick: Ferris’s singing “Danke Schoen” in the shower was my idea, I think. Although it’s only because of the brilliance of John’s deciding that I should sing “Danke Schoen” on the float in the parade. I had never heard the song before. I was learning it for the parade scene. So we’re doing the shower scene and I thought, “Well, I can do a little rehearsal.” And I did something with my hair to make that Mohawk. And you know what good directors do: they say, “Stop! Wait till we roll.” And John put that stuff in.
McClurg: John encouraged me to improvise. In Planes, Trains & Automobiles, I do that scene at the rental-car counter with Steve Martin, where I’m talking on the phone and putting up my finger, making him wait longer. John said, “Talk about Thanksgiving.” So I said, [singsongy midwestern accent] “Well, you know, we’re gonna get Mom up so she can get the turkey on!” And then I put in: “We gotta keep Uncle Billy away from the bourbon and ginger, or he’s gonna get into the virgin birth with Father, and we can’t have that.” Now, John was Protestant, so he didn’t understand how funny that was to Catholics. He cut that part out.
On Hughes’s love of music:
Ringwald: Music played a huge part in his life and a huge part on the soundtracks of his movies. And I really loved music as well. It wasn’t just him making mix tapes for me; I made mix tapes for him, too. One of my favorite things to do when I was doing movies in Chicago would be to go to his office at his house and go through his record collection. He just had masses and masses of records and all this incredible equipment. Things like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan—that was all introduced to me by John.
Hall: In his house, he had a room with rows of 12-inches everywhere, stacked like a mom-and-pop record store. Literally thousands of albums, with just a little path to the door.
Broderick: He would take you into this room with a beautiful stereo and a TV that, for the time, was really fancy. I remember that he had the stereo components built into the wall. I was like [impressionable-teen voice], “Wow! How do they make a hole in the wall where that fit in?!”
Hall: There’s a scene in The Breakfast Club between the principal and the janitor, Paul Gleason and John Kapelos, where one asks, “Who’d you want to be when you grow up?” and the other says, “John Lennon.” I think that was really John to some extent. He was such a Beatles fan.
Ringwald: When The Breakfast Club ended, he started writing a script called Lovecats, because I played him that song by the Cure, “The Lovecats.” I was obsessed by the Cure—still am. I think Robert Smith is an underrated songwriter. Anyway, I played this song for John, and he started writing a script, and he gave me a mix tape of what the soundtrack was gonna be. Which was pretty much Dave Brubeck, with the last song by Bob Dylan.
Hall: At one point when we were doing The Breakfast Club, John had an idea for a movie called The Last Good Year. It was something that he pitched to me as something he wanted to do with me, about the last good year being 1962, before the Beatles’ invasion. Maybe it was a sarcastic title. The idea was, I think, that the cultural shift was significant to him—the crossover in time from Pat Boone America to Beatles America. He didn’t have too many of the story elements worked out, but, man, did he have a mix tape put together.
On life after Hughes:
Hall: When I was doing Weird Science, I got a call from my agent on a Wednesday, saying, “Stanley Kubrick is interested in you for a role in his Vietnam drama that he’s doing, Full Metal Jacket.” Got a call back on a Friday saying, “Well, now he wants you for the lead, as Private Joker. He’s gonna call you tomorrow.”
All I can compare this to is waiting for Oz to call. The stories preceded him: his privacy, living in London, sort of extricating himself from Hollywood, all that shit. I was shaking in my boots. The phone rings. Stanley Kubrick gets on and says, “I want you to know: I just screened Sixteen Candles three times … and you’re my favorite actor since I saw Jack in Easy Rider!” I’m like, “Whaaa? Am I fucking hearing this?”
The long and short of it was, it was such a drawn-out, wild process of negotiating with Kubrick, via his attorneys, that it had a real effect on my family. [Hall ultimately withdrew from the negotiations.] But my point in telling this story is, had I not had this collaboration with this great guy, I never would have gotten that call from Kubrick. I received the greatest compliment of my life, and I owe that to John Hughes.
Ringwald: John really idealized me. I don’t know if I ever would have been able to do an adult movie with him. I just wish that I could have sort of gotten through to him more. I feel like he didn’t know how much I valued him: as a person, as this incredible force in my life. I think we would have gotten along so well as adults. Part of this is my fault; I feel like I should have followed up with him more.
Hall: I had done the three films with him, and I felt like I wanted to grow: you know, the mind-set of an 18-year-old kid. I didn’t know what it was all about yet. Maybe that was something he never forgave me for.
I never knew why we weren’t able to reconnect. I did this TV film about 10 years ago where I played Bill Gates [the 1999 movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, also starring Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs], and I wanted to invite him to a screening in Chicago; I wanted to get together with him. I left messages numerous times with his company, to no avail.
Ringwald: I always thought that we would have some sort of follow-up discussion or something. And that’s one of the reasons his death was so painful to me, because that didn’t happen. I’m really grateful that I did write him this letter [in 1994, when Ringwald was living in Paris], and that he did receive it. He sent a note and flowers, so that was something. The flowers were so John, so over-the-top. Huge.
Broderick: We did stay in touch for a while. We thought about a sequel to Ferris Bueller, where he’d be in college or at his first job, and the same kinds of things would happen again. But neither of us found a very exciting hook to that. The movie is about a singular time in your life.
There was no falling-out with us, no fight. He just … stopped being around, is the best way I can describe it. There were a couple of “almost” things. I almost did another script he wrote, which I now regret. But he was very easy to talk to for an hour and a half on the phone, even if you had not spoken in three years.
On Hughes’s death last August:
Hall: A lot happened to me last summer. My own father died on June 14. And then John. It connects to a thought I had about my father for years. It’s like, sometimes, people’s silence—their distance—is their gift to you, in a way. John, whatever his reasons were—none of us know, really. I only ever met my father once. But it was the same thing: why would he abandon all these people? I don’t know. Maybe I used it as some sort of psychological justification for not knowing him: someone’s absence is their gift to you.
Ringwald: I had just had my twins, on July 10. I think somebody sent me a text or something, and it said, “I’m so sorry about John Hughes.” Immediately, I Googled “John Hughes” and found out that he had died. I was kind of in shock. I’m still kind of in shock about it. I mean, I feel like I’ve made my peace with him, but [beginning to cry] … but it does made me really sad.
Broderick: When he died, I had a horrible feeling of a punch in the gut, even though I hadn’t seen him in so long. Because it was a large part of me, or my life, that was gone.
I saw John’s family at the funeral. My impression was not of somebody who withdrew from Hollywood or thought, “O.K., you don’t want me.” It wasn’t like an exile. It looked more like a very full life that he loved, a whole full second act that I didn’t know anything about—it’s the life that Ferris Bueller’s parents have, in a way. He had to sort of return to who he was, which was a guy from a well-to-do suburban neighborhood in Chicago.
David Kamp is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.