R.I.P. John Hughes: The Tolstoy of American teenagers is gone but not forgotten
John Hughes died ridiculously young, at age 59, apparently while sightseeing in New York. He hadn't set foot in Hollywood for years, didn't have an agent and had no interest in giving interviews. But he wasn't forgotten. In fact, the impact of his astounding string of 1980s and early 1990s hits was unparalleled. It was hard not to see a piece of ourselves in his films, especially his great '80s teen comedies, which seemed to have a direct pipeline into the depths of the angst-ridden teenage soul.
A year ago last spring, I discovered that an upcoming Paramount release, the largely forgettable "Drillbit Taylor," was loosely based on an old Hughes story idea. (Hughes used a favored pseudonym, Edmond Dantes, sharing story credit with Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown.) Knowing Hughes wouldn't talk, I started calling around town, eager to hear from filmmakers who'd been influenced by his movies. When the story ran, I got more mail than from any story I'd written in years, mostly from fans of a certain age who felt that Hughes had perfectly captured the essence of their adolescence.
The filmmakers I spoke to felt the same way. You can read the whole story here, but here are a few highlights from some charter members of the Hughes Fan Club. I'd like to think that Hughes, who had the opportunity to read all these plaudits while he was still alive, was cheered by how much of an impact he'd had on so many gifted younger artists:
"Funny People" director Judd Apatow: "John Hughes wrote some of the great outsider characters of all time. It's pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we've been doing, with outrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes' films. Whether it's 'Freaks and Geeks' or 'Superbad,' the whole idea of having outsiders as lead characters, that all started with Hughes."
"Clerks" director Kevin Smith: "He's our generation's J.D. Salinger. He touched a generation and then the dude checked out. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be doing what I do. Basically my stuff is just John Hughes films with four-letter words."
"Role Models" producer Scott Stuber: "As a teenager, when I wanted to impress a girl, I'd just buy her the soundtrack album from a Hughes movie. He somehow knew we were all struggling with the same things. Whenever I watch a Hughes film now, I remember the euphoria of being 13 and falling in love with movies."
"Wedding Crashers" director David Dobkin: "I especially loved 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.' It has a bunch of fantastic comic performances, but it's also a wonderful example of Hughes' clear voice as a filmmaker. That argument between Steve Martin and John Candy in the motel is pitch-perfect. It's the great thing about Hughes' films. He made them for himself, but when you're watching them, you always feel that he made them especially for you."
Photo of John Hughes by Jean Moss / 20th Century Fox.