Creator of 'Breakfast Club,' '16 Candles,' 'Vacation,' and more left a huge mark on film comedy
Before I ever saw a single film he was involved in, I was already a fan of John Hughes and his comic writing.
My first exposure to him was through his work for National Lampoon, where he was part of that magazine's best era. In August of 2008, Zoetrope magazine republished the original short story that Hughes wrote that became the source material for "National Lampoon's Vacation," and the new introduction that Hughes wrote now looks to be his last word on his own Hollywood career that we'll see in public, made all the more noteworthy because of how rarely Hughes spoke about himself:
"... Despite my finishing the story in time for the FedEx pick-up, it was ultimately bumped from the vacation issue to an annual edition comprised of pieces that didn't make their intended issues. Unbeknownst to me, Warner Brothers purchased the story upon publication in September. I was in Chicago, and my only experience of any reaction to "Vacation '58" occurred on a flight home from New York, when I heard two businessmen laughing out loud and discovered they were reading my story. As a salaried editor, I had no ownership. The publisher, Matty Simmons, generously invited me to write the screenplay despite my never having even seen one.
This was all happening during Hollywood's post-Shampoo era of gold chains, red Ferraris, and big sideburns. As a print humorist-envisioning myself as Chicago's Booth Tarkington Jr.-I willfully knew nothing of show business, except that it was a rich target for satire. P. J. introduced me to the eminent literary attorney Morton Janklow, who advised me to go to Los Angeles and get an agent. When I arrived at the incipient powerhouse Creative Artists Agency in my poplin suit and rep tie, I was mistaken for an IRS agent. Despite my contrastive definition of hip, I passed the audition and got the Agent and the requisite accessory, the Lawyer. After securing a copy of a screenplay to use as a format model, I returned to Chicago to write a script and inexorably alter my life for WGA scale."
Yet even as he waxed nostalgic about his own beginnings in the business, there's some mythmaking and some revisionism going on. Didn't he write for "Delta House," the "Animal House" spin-off TV show? And wouldn't that predate "Vacation"? How did he do that if he'd never seen a screenplay? These contradictions and half-truths are hallmarks of the incredible lengths Hughes would go to in order to protect his privacy, writing under a pseudonym at times, rewriting his own personal history, and just plain disappearing when he felt like it. For the last twenty years, I would argue that he has been an artistic non-entity. His last film as a writer/director was "Curly Sue," for god's sake.
[more after the jump]