If you’re in your late-30s/early-40s, you probably grew up watching John Hughes movies. If you’re like me, you watched them a lot. I mean recite-every-word a lot. These were the early days of the VCR (who knew the bigger VHS tapes would reign supreme over the more compact Beta tapes?), when remote controls were still connected by cord and only offered fast-forward, rewind and pause options. (We had no idea we were in the dark ages!) But they were clearly durable machines; I can hardly fathom the hundreds of hours my sisters, friends and I spent watching movies in our basement. To have such endless free time again!
Several of the movies on constant play were John Hughes offerings: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful (I admit I didn’t watch Some Kind of Wonderful as much — though who could forget Watts’ “I’d bet my hands on it” line? — but the others I knew pretty much verbatim).
Not only did I love these movies and the actors in them, they were a huge influence on how I perceived the world around me as a young teen dealing with friendships, crushes, high school, parents, popularity and all the drama. Everything — everything — is so urgent and intense and emotional at that age. What my friends and I didn’t realize back then (remember: this was life before the Internet and paparazzi and today’s overwhelming obsession with celebrity) is that we were part of an international mass of young people viewing themselves in these films and, for the first time, seeing our emotions and struggles and day-to-day reality reflected back to us honestly, respectfully.
I now know we weren’t alone, because I’ve just finished reading this book about it: You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and their Impact on a Generation, by Susannah Gora.
I loved it. It took me back to those nights spent cuddled up on our basement sofa bed, watching these movies until 3 a.m., even though we’d seen them a hundred times before. It reminded me of Teen Beat and Tiger Beat (which still exists! Who knew!) magazines and how totally cool Judd Nelson was. The book tackles one film per chapter, with behind-the-scenes dish about what happened on set, what the actors were really like and the challenges in getting the movies made, which was in turn endearing, appalling, eyebrow-raising and always insightful.
I loved reading about how driven Hughes was to see teen angst and emotion portrayed seriously on film, even though the picture painted of the iconic writer/director/producer himself — along with his muse — wasn’t particularly complimentary. It was fun to learn revelatory tidbits about the actors and their adventures and misadventures as they handled sudden fame and wealth and fought against being typecast by the roles that set them on the road to stardom. (After all, they were my friends — or at least I thought of them that way.) For example:
- Molly Ringwald tried to convince Hughes to let her play Ally Sheedy’s role in The Breakfast Club. (Can you imagine?)
- The cast did a substance-abuse intervention with Demi Moore during the filming of St. Elmo’s Fire.
- Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly in Back to the Future, but they decided he wasn’t right for the part after four weeks of shooting and fired him, making him available to do Some Kind of Wonderful.
- In The Breakfast Club, there really is no ending to the joke Judd Nelson starts telling (“A naked blonde walks into a bar with a poodle under one arm, and a two-foot salami under the other. The bartender says, ‘I guess you won’t be needing a drink.’ The naked lady says…”) as he crawls, then falls, through the school’s ventilation system. Nelson gets harassed about it to this day.
- John Hughes was seen as this completely brilliant writer, who could bang out an amazing script in a day or two, but was also wildly sensitive and moody; if someone got on his bad side, he shut them out swiftly and permanently.
- In the original ending of Pretty in Pink, Andie and Duckie ended up together, but a test audience hated it, so they reshot with Andie ending up with Andrew McCarthy’s Blane (and he was shooting another movie by that time and had shaved his head, so in the final scene, he’s wearing a bad wig. I never noticed, did you?).
- Robert Downey Jr. was originally in the running to play Duckie. Ringwald now says that if he had gotten the role, she could have seen her character ending up with him, but not with Jon Cryer (ouch!).
- The New York magazine article that first dubbed the group The Brat Pack was a catalyst for the end of their friendship. Being part of the Pack became a negative and the actors, who had become the best of friends, quickly went their separate ways to avoid the perceived stigma. Sniff sniff. Today, however, they all recognize it as a term that associates them with something pretty special.
So, did you grow up adoring these films and actors along with me? Tell me your favourites and what they meant to you, or tweet me @T_Chappell. (And go buy the book! It was one of those I wish I had written this! moments for me.)