MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Movie director John Hughes, who died yesterday, made films that helped teenagers define and maybe survive their high school years, films such as "Sixteen Candles" and "Pretty in Pink." One fan was so moved by his film, "The Breakfast Club," that she wrote a letter to John Hughes, and that began a pen pal relationship with him that lasted for years afterwards.
Her name is Alison Byrne Fields, and she joins me now from our studios in Washington.
Ms. ALISON BYRNE FIELDS: Hello.
BRAND: So what happened? You were 15 years old at the time. You'd just seen "The Breakfast Club," and you wrote what was probably a typical fan letter. And what happened?
Ms. FIELDS: Well, I actually don't think it was all that typical of a fan letter, or maybe they were in John Hughes' world, but I really do think that I kind of spilled my guts to the guy and just told him that he had touched me as a, you know, teenager who was uncomfortable with being a teenager, uncomfortable with life in general.
And so, I sent it to him. I, probably, about a month later, received a form letter back from him. You know, you are now an official member of The Breakfast Club and kind of that kind of nonsense.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FIELDS: And I was pretty irate. I wrote back to him and, you know, let him know that I had really spilled my guts, and I didn't think a form letter was an appropriate response.
And so, from that point, he wrote back and apologized for having sent me a form letter.
BRAND: And then you wrote back and it just continued?
Ms. FIELDS: Yeah, I wrote back to him and asked if he would be interested in being a pen pal on an ongoing basis. He said, yes. And then we continued a correspondence for about two years, just, you know, me telling him about things in my life and him telling me about his experiences.
You know, that's the story growing up. It's just about an adult who really listened to a kid and encouraged a kid.
BRAND: So here is this major film director at the time. I mean, he was huge in the '80s, and he's writing to you, and you - I mean, he doesn't know you at all, really.
Ms. FIELDS: No, he didn't know me at all. And I think what the reasoning behind it - and, you know, obviously I can't speak for the man - but I think what it was is that he was sincere about his desire to tell the story of young people in a way that was honest and that having a, you know, a conversation, a communication with a real young person who was out there, and maybe it helped him.
BRAND: Helped him in his movies?
Ms. FIELDS: Yeah. His - you know, for him, it was - he said, you know, I make these movies for you. And so, you know, he would laugh at the slang that I used, and he would, you know, ask me about teachers and, you know, talk to me about my relationship with my parents. And so, you know, I think that it did inform him. But he also - I just - I like to think he just also cared.
BRAND: Alison, your letter-writing correspondence lasted for two years. But then I understand you got back in touch. What happened?
Ms. FIELDS: Yeah. In 1997, I was working in North Carolina at a small nonprofit organization and doing work on diversity education, and I decided that I wanted to let John know what I had done with my career and what I had done in the 10 years since I had stopped writing him.
And so, I sent him a video about the project and he gave me a call in the office, where he just let me know that he was proud of what I had decided to do with my life and he reminded me of how important I had been to him when he was working in Hollywood. And he talked a little bit about his decision to leave Hollywood.
BRAND: Oh. What did he say about that?
Ms. FIELDS: He said that he left Hollywood because he felt it could potentially cause his sons to lose their perspective on what was important, and even himself, to lose perspective on what was important.
BRAND: And he seemed happy, and he seemed like he was glad that he had made that decision?
Ms. FIELDS: He seemed like it was pretty clear that it was the right decision for him, yeah.
BRAND: Alison Byrne Fields lives in Washington, D.C. The details of her correspondence with director John Hughes are at her blog, and it's called wellknowwhenwegetthere.blogspot.com.
Alison, thank you very much.
Ms. FIELDS: Thank you.
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