Sunday, August 09, 2009

John Hughes Addendum

About Yesterday…
Okay. I was originally going to include all this yesterday, as a postscript to my longer-than-I-wanted-it-to-be tribute to John Hughes, but thought better of it for one very good (think: War And Peace) reason.

Nonetheless, today is another day, this is another post, and I’ve had nearly 24 hours to really think about what I wish to say here.

First, please understand that I was so torn up about John Hughes death as to be all but paralyzed. I wanted to write something, anything, that might convey the sadness with which I met the news of his loss to us all, but I really didn’t know how to say it, given the power of his legacy as a ‘Teen movie guy.’

You see, as I kind of indicated in the last post, I never really got that from John Hughes. I wasn’t one of the young people he connected with in the 80s. I never even saw one of his movies in the theater until Home Alone in 1990 — when I was in my mid-thirties, and just a year before he all but bowed out of limelight after directing his last major motion picture (Curly Sue) in ‘91.

As in so many other circumstances in my life, I was late to the party.

I never saw The Breakfast Club until probably the late 90s, because I really never thought it was for me.

I know that Home Alone was the ‘a-ha moment’ for me with regard to Hughes’ films, but perhaps just as great a revelation was Uncle Buck, a movie I very much doubt that Hughes — or John Candy — ever got enough credit for. THAT was the one that cemented John Hughes’ genius for me. But again, I saw it only several years later, after Hughes had stepped away from the Director’s Chair.

So here was my dilemma: I really didn’t know how to fashion what I rather felt was a relatively ‘johnny-come-lately-to-the-John-Hughes-bandwagon’ experience without sounding just that: like a bandwagon-jumper-on’er.

A Shout Out to a Couple’a Bloggers
So, all that to say, there is a reason why I was able to put my emotions into words yesterday. There is one person in particular who paved the way for me, without whose honesty I wouldn’t have been able to pull out of myself what I very much wanted to say about this humble, gifted, and genuine filmmaker.

An important acknowledgment of gratitude is actually due to two bloggers, without either of whom I likely would not have written yesterday’s post: Brian Clark and Alison Byrne Fields.

Brian is a tremendous writer and a really interesting guy. His blog, Copyblogger may on the surface seem to be all business, but his posts and the persona he exhibits on Twitter reveal the heart of a very personable, well-grounded individual. The kind of guy you could really enjoy hanging out with.

I’m a big fan of Brian’s, but have never been so grateful to him as yesterday morning, when he tweeted a link to a story of another blogger; an author whom I did not know, but whom, as I would learn later on (much to her chagrin, BTW), has become somewhat of an overnight Internet celebrity for her heartfelt post last Thursday John Hughes passing, and in particular, the pen-pal friendship the two held from 1985-87.

Alison Byrne Fields is a talented woman with an impressive career apart from her blog, however the publicity of her John Hughes story has apparently taken on a life of its own. The post registered well over eleven hundred comments less than 48 hours. Add in the interviews on NPR and full reprints of her post in the New York Times, and, well, you can understand why all the attention might be a little unnerving.

Her most recent blog post details the shell-shock she’s experienced, and for me reveals in no uncertain terms her true motives in revealing something that that could easily be perceived — and has, by a very few — as little more than a publicity grab.

I don’t believe for a moment that her intentions were anything short of a desire to confirm what we already knew about John Hughes, through the intrinsic nature of his work. I applaud her for her courage and her generosity for sharing such a personal treasure with us.

The Rest of the Story
Alison had mentioned her warm, yet distant relationship with Hughes a few times previously in her blog, but never called it out as any kind of claim to fame. She even admitted just last summer that she indeed knew why Hughes had disappeared from Hollywood, but sprightly declined to reveal the reason. She said that she wished to honor the fact that if the man himself didn’t want to talk about why he decided to step out from under the spotlight’s glare, than neither would she.

In retrospect I believe I appreciate her for that more than anything else she would do later. However, when that part did come this past Thursday, she granted us all the greatest of favors.

Alison finally told the story in detail, from the beginning.

In 1985, following a I’m-pouring-out-my-heart letter to Hughes, thanking him for making The Breakfast Club, the movie that made her “feel like he got what it was like to be a teenager and to feel misunderstood,” she received an unexpected reply.

Really unexpected.

Instead of a personal reply acknowledging her candid and heartfelt thank you letter to Mr. Hughes, she instead received a form letter, along with some Breakfast Club fan club paraphernalia.

Rightfully incensed, she fired back a letter to Hughes, blasting him for the ‘inappropriate response.’

Obviously realizing the seriousness of the influence his work had struck, and being the kind of person he has now demonstrated himself to be, Hughes wrote back apologizing, and later agreed to become pen pals with his young fan. Over the course of the next two years they exchanged letters, forging an active friendship that would last for many more.

Alison would keep Hughes abreast of what was going on with her life; with boys, with her parents; her pursuit of writing, her challenges, dealing with critical teachers, and her dreams for the future.

Hughes’ encouraging responses were more than lip-service. He shared insights, movie ideas, things that anyone, regardless of age would be thrilled to receive from a man of his stature.

He made her feel significant.

“I can't tell you how much I like your comments about my movies,” he would write, “Nor can I tell you how helpful they are to me for future projects. I listen. Not to Hollywood. I listen to you.”

“You've already received more letters from me than any living relative of mine has received to date,” Hughes confided at one point. “Believe in yourself. Think about the future once a day and keep doing what you’re doing. Because I’m impressed.”

Alison obviously took his advice. She would go on to a career that has been heavily involved in advocacy and non-profit concerns, including such notable positions as Creative Director and Chief Strategist of the late 90s ‘Rock the Vote’ initiative, and has also worked with a variety of private and governmental agencies on the formation of policies to combat the AIDS pandemic around the world.

She as well has been a driving force in the development of the use of social media strategies to promote issues advocacy, and currently holds the position of SVP/Group Account Director, Issues & Advocacy/Social Media Strategy Director for global Ad Agency giant, DDB.

Is it any wonder this former ‘misunderstood’ teen would impress John Hughes?

The Right Reasons
Alison Byrne Fields didn’t ‘need’ the story of her friendship with John Hughes in order to receive her fifteen minutes of fame. Hell, she was already going on her fifteenth hour…

She didn’t need to curry favor with the world by revealing the full story, including the contents of that fateful telephone conversation she and Hughes shared in 1997. She did it because she’s honest, and I believe, she wanted the world to know the true heart of the man; someone we already respected, but realize now even more how well-placed that honor has been.

John Hughes walked away from a movie career, making millions, in favor of a simple life on a working farm in rural Illinois. He did it, not because of any physical stress that lifestyle cost him, but rather out of concern for what it could do to his family. He feared that his sons could “lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant.”

He walked away for the right reasons; he placed his family first. As always, his heart was in the right place.

So was Alison’s.

That was the incentive I needed. That was the light bulb that suddenly cleared the cobwebs from my emotionally-tangled head. THAT was who John Hughes was, and that’s exactly what comes through in his movies.

Thank you, Alison.

Rest well, Mister Hughes.

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