"I always preferred to hang out with the outcasts, 'cause they were cooler. They had better taste in music."

Happy Birthday, John Hughes!

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John Hughes was an American screenwriter and film director, most known for his era-defining teen films and classic comedies. His most celebrated titles include: National Lampoon's Vacation, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, Home Alone, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. John Hughes brought many young and child actors to fame with his empathy, understanding and directing skills. These included but were not limited to Molly Ringwald and Macaulay Culkin. Hughe's films showed the world of high school in a brutally honest light. His audiences responded deeply to that, finally seeing in these films what they knew to be true from their own lives. When Hughes died of a heart attack at age 59, he was mourned by the many actors who he had inspired. His films continue to be popular to this day.

JohnHughes2John Wilden Hughes, Jr. (February 18, 1950 – August 6, 2009) was born in Lansing, Michigan. His parents both worked ordinary jobs and he was an only child. Throughout school, Hughes described himself as a quiet child. He did not have many friends in his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan and spent much of his time listening to music and imagining stories. Just as Hughes was becoming adjusted to school, his parents moved him to Lake Forest, Illinois. Hughes attended high school in Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago. This town would become the setting and inspiration for many of his future films.

John Hughes attended college at Arizona State University, but decided not to finish the course. Instead he began to focus on writing, and sold jokes to comedians Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. In 1970 Hughes was hired by an advertising agency in Chicago. He would work in advertising for quite a few years, first at Needham, Harper & Steers then at Leo Burnett Worldwide. His work often took him to New York City, where Hughes got to spend time at the National Lampoon magazine.

Trailer for National Lampoon's Vacation

When Hughes was visiting The National Lampoon, he pitched a funny story about one of his family vacations. The writers loved it, and asked him to write it. "Vacation '58" would one day be turned into a film called National Lampoon's Vacation (1983). The story is about an ill-fated holiday to Disneyland and was a huge box office success, earning over $61 million dollars in the USA. Hughes would be hired as a staff writer at The National Lampoon. His big break both in screenwriting and comedy would arise from this job. During his time at the magazine, Hughes also wrote screenplay Class Reunion (1982) and articles all set in the world of American high school.

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Hughes and Ringwald, On Set

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Screenshot from Sixteen Candles

In 1984 Hughes made his directorial debut with Sixteen Candles. The film was a huge success, making Hughes a hot name in the film industry and earning much praise. The film is about a teenage girl whose whole family forgets it's her 16th birthday. The story is a coming-of-age piece starring Molly Ringwald as she suffers through the day to day existence of high school while dealing with friends, crushes and her thunder-stealing big sister. Teenagers all over the country related to this film and to the character played by Ringwald. The young actress would become a star and appear in two other John Hughes films.

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Hughes with his "Brat Pack" of Actors

Trailer for The Breakfast Club

John Hughes continued to explore his talent in the telling of high school films. Over the course of the late 1980s, he would direct The Breakfast Club, a story about five teenagers surviving a Saturday detention together, Pretty in Pink, a cult classic about teenage love, Weird Science, a sci-fi comedy and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a tale of a teenager loved by all who takes a fun-filled day off from school. He also wrote Some Kind of Wonderful, which was directed by Howard Deutch. Despite the success of all of these films, Hughes decided to stray from his high school environment. He moved on to a broader comedic world. All of Hughes' films incorporated popular music such as the 1961 song Twist and Shout in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Simple Mind's Don't You Forget About Me and Psychedelic Furs' Pretty in Pink, in the film of the same title.

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Screenshot from Ferris

Musical Sequence from Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"At the time I came along, Hollywood's idea of teen movies meant there had to be a lot of nudity, usually involving boys in pursuit of sex, and pretty gross overall. Either that or a horror movie. And the last thing Hollywood wanted in their teen movies was teenagers!" - Hughes

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Martin and Candy in a Screenshot from Planes

JohnHughes8In 1987 John Hughes directed Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a film starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Hughes and Candy would form a strong friendship over the course of this film and the next one they worked on together, Uncle Buck (1989). The story was a hilarious adventure about two men who each want to get home by Thanksgiving. When their plane is delayed, they trek across the Midwest on a variety of transport modes, each being more disastrous than the last. The two characters fight constantly, ensuring comedy gold. In classic Hughes fashion, the film has a sweet and happy ending. The film was met with acclaim and grossed over $49 million dollars. However, Hughes biggest hit yet was just around the corner. 

 

"It's like being at the kids' table at Thanksgiving - you can put your elbows on it, you don't have to talk politics... no matter how old I get, there's always a part of me that's sitting there." - Hughes

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Home Alone Poster

Trailer for Home Alone

The American Holiday classic Home Alone came out in 1990, starring child actor Macaulay Culkin who had been getting attention from his commercial work in New York. The film was about a boy in a large family who gets forgotten when his parents and relatives fly off for a Christmas in France. The ballsy young kid has to come up with schemes to protect his house and himself from neighborhood burglars, resulting in whimsical violence and universal laughs. Home Alone would have a sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York directed by Chris Columbus and three more installments where neither Hughes nor Culkin would be involved. The role brought Culkin fame and access to his pick of big screen movies. Home Alone would be Hughes biggest success. He would only direct one more film after this, called Curly Sue (1991).

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Clip from Planes, Trains and Automobiles

JohnHughes13John Hughes contributed to the writing of two screenplays under pseudonym Edmond Dantes. These included Maid in Manhattan (2002) and Drillbit Taylor (2008). Hughes moved back to Chicago when he retired and disappeared from the public eye when his good friend John Candy died of a heart attack. Once faced with the death of his good colleague and actor, Hughes lost the will to direct films. They had worked together on eight films.

"He talked a lot about how much he loved Candy—if Candy had lived longer, I think John would have made more films as a director" - Vince Vaughn

 

 

Photo (c) Ron Galella, WireImage.com

John Hughes himself died from a heart attack in New York, 2009. He was buried in Chicago and outlived by his wife Nancy Ludwig and two sons, James and John Hughes III. The work of John Hughes influenced many storytellers including Judd Apatow, Matthew Broderick, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Tina Fey and Paul Feig. The actors whom he had taken under his wing spoke affectionately of their relationship with Hughes.

"Basically, my stuff is just John Hughes films with four-letter words. I feel like a part of my childhood has died. Nobody made me laugh harder or more often than John Hughes." - Apatow

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Hughes' work was paid tribute to at the Academy Awards in 2009. A retrospective of clips was shown and the actors he'd worked with stood up to speak about him. The films of John Hughes are still very much alive today. His work and characters are referenced across television, movies and music. A documentary film called Don't You Forget About Me, about John Hughes' life, was released in 2009.

"A nerd will be a nerd all his life." - Hughes

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 18 February 2014
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