This article was originally part of a November 2019 Plotpoints podcast.. See top right of home page (under slideshow.)
If John Hughes hadn’t been born someone would have had to invent him.
In the 80's John Hughes ruled Hollywood when it came to a 15-30 yr old demographic. And as his repertoire grew, he ruled screwball comedies in the same way in the 90s’ and beyond.
Born in 1950 into a comfortable middle class life in Lansing Michigan, Hughes channeled much of his teen years into film. He credits moving to Chicago for his inspiration for his first film efforts. He in fact met his future wife, Nancy Ludwig there. In high school he was a Rat Pack fan (Sinatra, etc.) and that certainly expressed itself in some of those teen comedies where groups of young misfits would go through 2 hrs of drama and comedy. In fact, some of these teens became known as the Brat Pack.
Hughes dropped out of college and sold jokes to several top tier comedians of the time. He got into marketing and created several dynamic and well-known ad campaigns before he found his comedy groove.
He became a regular contributor to National Lampoon - the magazine - and wrote a story called Vacation 88 which eventually became National Lampoon's Vacation.
National Lampoon's Class Reunion which he wrote while still on staff at the magazine became his first produced movie screenplay but he had a few episodes of a TV show called Delta House and oddly enough, a co-writer credit in a Nicola Tesla film.
Reunion led to Mr Mom starring...Michael Keaton and that got him into the really big times with a three-picture deal at Universal.
Sixteen Candles in 1984, which marked his directorial debut, won him the hearts of America featuring many of the same Brat Pack actors who would go onto massive fame.
Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Ferris Bueler’s Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful were banged out in quick succession cementing Hughes' legacy as the teen whisperer.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles starring Steve Martin and John Candy marked a slight shift in Hughes' work as he became a bit more mainstream and less teen oriented. PT&A still remains one of the better Thanksgiving movies.
Home Alone was Hughes' biggest success. According to Wikipedia it was the top-grossing film of 1990 and remains the most successful live-action family comedy of all time.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York in 1992 and Home Alone 3 in 1997 were also huge Hughes' successes.
John Hughes was a phenomenon and could roll out box office success like some people roll out rugs. Hughes wasn’t failure-free but the exceptions prove the rule in his case. The 2 or 3 box office disappointments just made his successes even more outstanding.
Hughes retired from the Hollywood rat race in 1994 and moved back to his beloved Chicago where many of his films were set.
Without warning, while visiting family in New York Hughes had a heart attack and died.
Many tributes have been made to Hughes with writer/director Kevin Smith saying “Basically my films are John Hughes movies with four-letter words.” Which brings up what I think is a buried point - Hughes' film successes were all PG-13 - amazing he had such incredible success without becoming profane, sexual, or snarky.
M. H. Murray who wrote the TV series Teenagers said: "I loved how John Hughes wrote teens ... They were flawed in this genuine sort of way."
Hughes was 59 when died with 51 writer credits, 23 producer credits, and 8 director credits for his wonderful work.