“There is no Shermer, Illinois.”
(Screenplay by Kevin Smith)
A few days ago when my shoot in Chicago wrapped I stopped for lunch just north of downtown and wandered through a few villages that are some of the nicest areas you’ll find in the United States. While the towns Highland Park, Wilmette, Lake Forest and Glenco represent some of the highest priced housing areas and incomes per capita in the United States (basketball great Michael Jordan has a 25,000 square foot house in Highland Park), there is also quite a bit of film history there—this is John Hughes territory.
Hughes was born in Michigan and moved to the Chicago suburb of Northbrook as a youth and graduated from Glenbrook North High School where many parts of Ferris Bueller’s Days Off were filmed back in 1985. Northbrook is just east of the more exclusive and affluent towns that sit on Lake Michigan. Hughes sort of mixed the whole North Shore area and called it the fictitious town of Shermer. In real life Hughes shot Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck, Weird Science, Home Alone, She’s Having a Baby and The Breakfast Club in those towns.
After Hughes died last year, David Kamp wrote this in a Vanity Fair article called Sweet Bard of Youth:
“Nearly the whole of movie-watching America. Duly and fondly recalled were the tragicomic romantic trials of the coltish young Molly Ringwald; the jittery patter of gangly Anthony Michael Hall; the stalking menace and flared nostrils of moody Judd Nelson; and the fictional community that their characters inhabited, Shermer, Illinois, which was at once an Everytown for every teen and an explicit homage to Hughes’s home turf, the North Shore suburbs above Chicago. “
That concentrated North Shore area has many other connections to the film industry. Highland Park is also where writer/director Paul Brickman lived and shot Risky Business. William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) also lived in Highland Park in their youth. Actors Bill Murray, Rain Wilson and Charlton Heston spent part of their early years in Wilmette. Part of Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion starring Jude Law and Matt Damon was shot in Wilmette and Glenco.
Actor Vince Vaugh went to high school in Lake Forest with screenwriter Dave Eggers (Where the Wild Things Are). The novel and Oscar-winning movie Ordinary People is set in Lake Forrest and much of the movie was shot there and in Highland Park.
Why are some pockets of the country more film rich than other areas? That I don’t really know, but I imagine in the case of the North Shore it is at least in part do to an appreciation of the arts and rather deep pockets to fund them. Many of the homes were designed by prominent architects including Frank Loyd Wright and it’s the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What I do know is the short drive along Sheridan Road from Wilmette to Highland Park rivals what you’ll find driving down A1A in Palm Beach, Florida. Beautiful mansions and open water.
P.S. Nice touch that when I took the above picture of the Highland Park movie theater that they featured one movie named after a city in Iowa (Cedar Rapids) and another movie starrring an actress from Iowa (Source Code/Michelle Monaghan).
Related post: Screenwriting da Chicago Way