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business and pleasure: john hughes and molly ringwald

In this six-part series, Kiah Meadows takes a look at the relationship between famous directors and their muses throughout Hollywood’s history.

 

For this article, we’re looking at a relationship of muse and artist, of mentor and mentee, but not of romantic interest. The voice behind and the face of the 1980s: John Hughes and Molly Ringwald.

They first worked together in 1984 on a film that kids from every generation watches mandatorily on their 16th birthdays, Sixteen Candles. From then on, when you think of John Hughes, the image of the sulky, well-dressed redhead isn’t far behind.

‘John saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself,’ wrote Ringwald in the New York Times after Hughes’ death.

‘He had complete confidence in me as an actor, which was an extraordinary and heady sensation for anyone, let alone a sixteen-year-old girl.’

‘I base a lot of my material in my pictures on my life and my childhood.’ said Hughes.

Agreeing with this perspective, Ringwald wrote, ‘I still believe that the Hughes films of which both [Anthony Michael Hall] and I were a part (specifically Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club) were the most deeply personal expressions of John’s.’

‘In retrospect, I feel that we were sort of avatars for him, acting out the different parts of his life.’

That Hughes entrusted the retelling of his life to Ringwald says something pretty significant about his belief in her.

‘He continually told me that I was the best,’ Ringwald said, ‘And because of my undying respect for him and his judgement, how could I have not believed him?’

What was it that he gravitated to in this teenage girl that spoke to him so?

They worked together twice more, in The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986), but as Molly grew up, John wanted her to continue being his teenage avatar.

‘John wanted me to be in Some Kind of Wonderful. I declined because I felt like the script wasn’t strong enough and was too derivative of the other films I’d already made with John,’ Ringwald told an interviewer for The Atlantic.

‘I felt that I needed to work with other people as well.’ Ringwald wrote in The New York Times.

‘I wanted to grow up, something I felt (rightly or wrongly) I couldn’t do while working with John. Sometimes I wonder if that was what he found so unforgivable.’

The two didn’t speak after they stopped working together, although they had been so close for the 3 years they made films together.

‘He was kind of like a big kid.’ Ringwald said in an interview for ABC.

‘He was in his thirties but he remembered exactly what it was like to be a teenager and I felt like even though he was married and had two kids and had an adult life, he managed to speak our language.’

‘There’s a scene in Sixteen Candles where my character, Samantha, and Michael’s character, “the geek,” have a heart-to-heart talk.’ Ringwald wrote.

‘The scene lasts all of six minutes, but it took us days to film because we were all laughing too hard. John, too. He sat under the camera…while the assistant directors stood around rolling their eyes waiting for him to stop laughing and reprimand “the kids.” But how could he? He was one of us.’

John Hughes died at the age of 59 from an inexplicable heart attack. As Allison says in The Breakfast Club: ‘When you grow up…your heart dies.’

He was the voice of a generation. Not just his, but every generation of teenagers. He was able to put those feelings of not fitting in and being ignored into words for many talented young people to deliver. But the one person who we all remember showing us that a teenager, no matter how surly, poor, or insignificant, has a story, is Molly Ringwald, John Hughes’ golden girl.

 

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