Submitted by Amisha Upadhyaya
John Hughes was incredibly talented, had a tremendous impact, and successful by any standard, with a string of hits like Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Weird Science, the National Lampoon franchise, and the Home Alone franchise. I rarely watch movies I love twice, but his are the only ones I’ve seen repeatedly, like Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Yay for quirky girls! Yay for underdogs! Effortless comedy. Iconic lines and characters. An original, authentic — and very funny — voice.
After 1991’s “Curly Sue,” he disappeared. As a director and from Hollywood though he continued writing, sometimes under his pen name “Edmond Dantes” (after “The Count of Monte Criste” protagonist). Not like other personalities, talented or just famous, he was not a “where are they now” story. He chose to leave, at some point moving to a farm in northern Illinois until he died of a heart attack this week in Manhattan, the place where he got his first break.
I did some digging and found this story about a penpal correspondence that catapulted my respect for him as a genuine and rare man with character. Until I read further and of course, it is this rare genuineness that caused him to leave films.
Though this story is from a blog and thus must be taken with the grain of salt the Internet demands, it does corroborate what he himself has said in rare interviews.
As per this blog, he was terrified “of the impact [Hollywood] was having on his sons; …scared it was going to cause them to lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant. And… a big reason behind his decision to give it all up was that “they” (Hollywood) had “killed” his friend, John Candy, by greedily working him too hard.”
It is disheartening — or perhaps not depending on your age and level of “fuck’em” mentality — to know that bona fide successes like John Hughes is driven to a farm because the business of film sickened him; Peter Jackson cannot get “The Hobbit” made; Shane Black struggled to get his vision out there after proving himself by reinventing the buddy action movie (Lethal Weapon); the Coen Brothers still struggle to raise money. If nothing — not box office sales or track record or awards — can make it easier, I tell you: there is still no cause for despair. As long as you have your joy.
In my post a few days ago, I was afraid by telling others it was okay to walk away from “the biz” that maybe I sounded like I was advocating not being committed. But then, I noticed something. I read about how and why John Hughes worked when he worked: he was excited and full of joy for the story that was, no doubt, reflected on screen. I read about the Berkshire Fringe Festival and heard the joy of creativity from each of the founder’s mouths. I had dinner with a Berkeley Rep director who was joyous about the projects she was working on as well as excited about the one we were working on.
And I realized why I was so hesitant about LA and why I worked in several mediums as stressful as it can be. Because there is rarely joy in LA. And I thrive on joy as much as love and good stories. I need to be cocooned in it. No glamourous suffering drug or alcohol addiction for my art for me. I drank 2 glasses of wine and had a migraine for 2 days so that’s that.
Some would argue, it is show business and not art at any rate so a comparison with theatre or music and other such forms is not possible. I disagree. Whether a show or film, a work is being created. Magic and craft combine to lift page to screen. Yet, despite all the money, there is rarely anything resembling joy in LA meetings about the work much less your work or anybody else’s. There is joy if an A-lister is on board. Never about the work. Maybe in a writer’s room after their upcoming season is guaranteed. I can see there’s probably joy in Lost or Mad Men or 30 Rock and other shows (bring back Terminator…Chronicles!! I know there was joy there.). It can’t be faked.
People like Mr. Hughes kept working driven by love for what he did. He lost it at some point, which is why he up and left. And the loss, as it always is, is only Hollywood’s. And that’s an idea, a system, so there is no reason to bother what “it” does or thinks. It isn’t real. Which is what I meant in my post — if you can’t find the joy and aren’t happy due to economics or otherwise, then call it a day. It bears no reflection on your talent or even success.
John Hughes gave entire childhoods to his fans. He was loyal to his fans, even penpals to some, but he never compromised his own peace, and working when he damn well felt like it. That’s success! That’s inspiration! I’ll be watching Ferris again this weekend.
Be sure to view Through the Eyes of John Hughes, a video tribute by David Blanchard.
Also check out Don’t You Forget About Me, a compilation of essays about John Hughes films, edited by Jaime Clarke, with a forward by Ally Sheedy.