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He was called the Philosopher of Puberty, the Auteur of Adolescence - filmmaker John Hughes died yesterday of a heart attack at age 59. Hughes made his reputation in the 1980s with teenage comedies that included "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty in Pink," and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." An entire generation of filmgoers came of age watching John Hughes movies, including NPR's Neda Ulaby.
NEDA ULABY: I saw "Sixteen Candles" back in 1984 with my best friend - the day she didn't make the cheerleading squad. What happened to actress Molly Ringwald in the movie put everything in perspective.
(Soundbite of movie, "Sixteen Candles")
Ms. MOLLY RINGWALD (As Samantha Baker): I can't believe this. They (bleep) forgot my birthday.
ULABY: Plus she has an embarrassing encounter with the school geek, and she cannot handle her crush on the school stud.
(Soundbite of movie, "Sixteen Candles")
Ms. RINGWALD (As Samantha Baker): Oh my god. What should I do? Should I go up to him and should I say, hi, Jake, I'm Samantha - or no, maybe I should let him come to me.
ULABY: These suburban high school heroes were in many ways deeply conventional, but for Hughes they were archetypes. The dweeb, the jock, the prom queen still share one defining trait: insecurity. Here's Hughes on NPR in 1988.
Mr. JOHN HUGHES (Director): You know, you drive yourself crazy because you think you're the only person that feels ugly or stupid or left out or hopeless, whatever. And I've dealt with that theme a lot. We're all from the same family.
ULABY: Another theme underpinning John Hughes comedies was the issue of class. He wrote the script for the Chevy Chase film "Vacation" in part out of long-held, simmering resentment over never having visited Disneyland as a child.
(Soundbite of movie, "National Lampoon's Vacation")
Mr. CHEVY CHASE (As Clark Griswold): I've got to be crazy. I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose.
ULABY: "Vacation," from 1983 was directed by Harold Ramis, who remembered working with Hughes in a conversation yesterday.
Mr. HAROLD RAMIS (Director): John was a lightning fast writer. He could write -legendarily, he could write a script in a couple of weeks.
ULABY: And even though those scripts were geared to teens and families, Ramis says they're a little subversive. Hughes was a former editor of the National Lampoon, and Ramis says Hughes connected with teenagers because he understood their humor and their rebellion.
Mr. RAMIS: All teenagers are countercultural by nature. It's their obligation to be in a state of rebellion against their parents and whatever established authority there is. And John kind of understood that. "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," for instance.
ULABY: "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" concerns an insouciant teenager who turns a day of skipping school into a series of madcap adventures, including converting a Chicago parade into a gleeful, downtown dance party.
(Soundbite of movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off")
(Soundbite of song, "Twist and Shout")
Mr. JOHN LENNON (Singer/musician, The Beatles): (Singing) Well, shake it up baby now. Shake it up, baby.
ULABY: The idea of the kid somehow almost magically empowered to do whatever he wants seemed to resonate with Hughes. A few years later he wrote and produced a little film about a small boy, abandoned by his family, who fends off robbers on Christmas Eve.
(Soundbite of movie, "Home Alone")
Mr. MACAULAY CULKIN (As Kevin McCallister): This is my house. I have to defend it.
ULABY: Since it opened in 1990, "Home Alone" has grossed almost $500 million. Even though Hughes was by then a star for his triple-threat talents of producing, directing and scripting, he told NPR he was still thrilled to work with comedic giants like Steve Martin and John Candy in the movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."
Mr. HUGHES: You know, I just had to get - I had to, you know, wipe the drool off my chin and just say excuse me, you know. You're just a couple of actors and I'm just a guy with a script, and let's go make a movie.
ULABY: Hughes stopped directing. He retreated to the Midwest. He stopped doing interviews. His more recent movies lacked the wit and realism of his early work. But his loving depictions of middle-class, suburban, white-bread youth found a following with younger filmmakers like Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow, who once said from Hughes, he learned how to trust oddball kids as his leads.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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