John Hughes: A Life In Film

Review by Willard Manus

John Hughes’ numerous fans will be pleased to know that a new, lavishly-illustrated biography of the late film-maker has just been published.
JOHN HUGHES: A LIFE IN FILM was written by Kirk Honeycutt, a long-time member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The 224-page book was published by Race Point Publishing in a hard-cover format and sells for $40. It’s money well-spent. Honeycutt’s book not only details Hughes’ extraordinary life but talks wisely about such famous films of his as The Breakfast Club, Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The biography also has a foreword by Chris Columbus and contains tributes by the likes of Steve Martin, Ally Sheedy, Kevin Smith and Judd Nelson.
Hughes was a mid-westerner who never felt comfortable in swanky Hollywood, even though he became one of the highest-paid screenwriters and directors in town, head of his own production company as well. “He never gave up his Illinois home, and tried with some success to make Hollywood movies at arm’s length from the town. He had no close friends in the industry. Indeed he battled with its ‘suits’ almost on a daily basis,” Honeycutt explains. “He hated it when studio executives gave him notes on his screenplays. He hated it when actors turned down roles in his films.”

The best thing Hughes had going for him was his understanding of American teenagers. “He connected with an entire generation in a way that hasn’t been duplicated since,” Honeycutt writes. “He broke down the veneer of high-school stereotypes to discover not what separates teens, but what unites them.”
Hughes was a prolific and swift writer; he’s officially credited with forty-six screenplays but he also wrote many other scripts and treatments which were never filmed. As a director, he helmed only eight films (circa 1984-1991), but among them were some of the highest-grossing comedies of all time (Ferris Bueller; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; The Breakfast Club).
“His M.O. was to shoot nearly a million feet of film per picture–-vastly more than the industry norm–-and to encourage improvisation,” says the author.
Hughes also discovered and tutored such neophyte actors as Molly Ringwald, Charlie Sheen, Matthew Broderick and Anthony Michael Hall, some of whom he fell out with over the years, for reasons that were not always clear. (As his costume designer Marilyn Vance said, “John put up a wall of some kind. He got really short with people after a while. He was tough personally.”)
He never had problems, though, with his favorite actor and collaborator, John Candy. “The intense friendship between the two men began when they worked on a trio of pictures in the late 1980s,” Honeycutt states. “They probably spent more time in each other’s company off movie sets than on. The Midwesterner and Canadian found a kinship in comedy, family, strong marriages, and a love of music.”

When Candy died suddenly of a heart attack in 1994, Hughes was affected in a profound way. “Candy was his creative muse,” one of Hughes’ collaborators points out. “His death shook John to the core--on the mortality level as well–-on his relationship to his family and Hollywood and how much he wanted to deal with the bullshit.”
In the end, Hughes grew tired of the rat-race. He quit Hollywood and returned to the mid-west, where he continued to write–-“memoirs, short fiction, and even screenplays, but never for publication or production.”
The Teen King turned into J.D. Salinger.