“Kids are smart enough to know that most teenage movies are just exploiting them. They’ll respond to a film about teenagers as people. [My] movies are about the beauty of just growing up. I think teenage girls are especially ready for this kind of movie, after being grossed out by all the sex and violence in most teenage movies. People forget that when you’re 16, you’re probably more serious than you’ll ever be again. You think seriously about the big questions.”
John Hughes (talking to Roger Ebert on the set of The Breakfast Club)
For the past couple days I’ve followed the thread of John Hughes working in advertising before his screenwriting career took off. But another aspect of John Hughes that made his work special was he was Midwestern to the core. He was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1950, moved to the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, IL as a teenager, and graduated from Glenbrook North High School in 1968. He did attend college in Arizona but didn’t graduate and moved back to Chicago where he began working in advertising.
Here’s the thing that many people don’t realize–he never left Chicago. Here’s what Hughes once told Roger Ebert:
“I’m going to do all my movies here in Chicago. The Tribune referred to me as a ‘former Chicagoan.’ As if, to do anything, I had to leave Chicago. I never left. I worked until I was 29 at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and then I quit to do this. This is a working city, where people go to their jobs and raise their kids and live their lives. In Hollywood, I’d be hanging around with a lot of people who don’t have to pay when they go to the movies.”
I don’t think all of his 30+ films are set in Chicago but certainly his most memorable films have a Chicago emphasis; Mr. Mom, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Christmas Vacation and if I recall correctly Sixteen Candles, She’s Having a Baby, and Pretty in Pink. And several more I’m sure.
“Refusing to move to Los Angeles, he once told me why he preferred to bring his young acting discoveries to Chicago to film: ‘I like to check them into a motel far away from their friends, keep them out of trouble, and have them focus on the work.’”
John Hughes: In Memory
For whatever reason Hughes only directed from 1984-1991. Though he continued to write screenplays over the years he in part retreated to a farm outside Chicago. (And actually just a two hours from the Iowa-Illinois border.) I don’t know if he just was seeking a simple life or just burned out from producing more work in a decade than most people do in a lifetime. Hughes wasn’t big on being interviewed so we may never know. Which, of course, adds to his intrigue.
Which makes the Robert Nolan article a nugget of gold. Nolan speculates on where Hughes got the idea for Planes, Trains & Automobiles:
John had an 11AM presentation in New York on a bleak winter Wednesday. He flew out of Chicago at 7AM, planning to return to Chicago on the 5 PM plane. But high winter winds were buffeting La Guardia and one after another, flights were canceled including John’s so he was forced to spend the night at a hotel nearby. The next morning, he stood by for a flight to Chicago, but many of these were being canceled as well because a big snowstorm was now raging in Chicago. When John finally did get out, his plane had to be diverted to Des Moines. But as they approached Des Moines, that airport became snowed in as well and the flight ended up in Denver. Not being able to get back to Chicago right away, John stayed on the plane and took it on to Phoenix. “Well, Phoenix is warmer”, he explained.
I talked to him a lot while he was stranded because John was tired and frustrated and needed to explain why he wasn’t in the office. Without luggage and running out of money, he complained that all he wanted was “A clean shirt! A clean shirt!” It took until the following Monday before he could get back to Chicago.
The other day, someone on TV said that Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was simply a rehash of Vacation and the material came from the same story. Not true. You can’t make up an odyssey like that.”
And lastly I found this little tribute to John Hughes on You Tube that is bound to bring back a few memories. If you’re looking for an example of a writer from outside L.A., who wrote stories that took place outside L.A., and stayed outside L.A., and found great success—then John Hughes is your man.