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John Hughes pictured in 1990. (Getty Images)

The 'Brat Pack' Grows Up, But Doesn't Grow Old

Apr 9, 2010 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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In June 1985, New York Magazine ran a cover story about a group of hot young actors who were cropping up in angsty teen film after angsty teen film. The headline was "Hollywood's Brat Pack." In her new book, You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, Susannah Gora profiles the Brat Pack — the young stars who so fervently expressed the anger and anxiety of the generation that grew up after Woodstock but before YouTube.

In various combinations, the Brat Pack collaborated on coming-of-age classics — The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, St. Elmo's Fire and Pretty In Pink. The late writer and director John Hughes was behind many of those films, starring Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, and others. Hughes died suddenly of a heart attack last year at age 59.

Sheedy, who played Allison Reynolds in The Breakfast Club and Leslie Hunter in St. Elmo's Fire, was a core member of the Brat Pack. Howard Deutch directed two of Hughes' films, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. They join author Gora to talk with NPR's Scott Simon about Hughes' impact on generations of teens.

'I'm Finally Popular'

Though the Brat Pack has a certain pop culture cache to it today, that wasn't always the case, Gora says. "When it first came out ... these actors were stuck with that label. It was kind of a difficult and painful thing to deal with both personally and professionally."

But Sheedy says that even at the time, she felt like the Brat Pack was family. She says her feeling was: "I'm finally popular with these guys. I was not popular in high school. I have some real friends. And we get to work. I was just blissfully happy. And I really do love those people."

The family bond went beyond the actors — Deutch says he remembers Hughes having a special creative chemistry with his teen actors — Ringwald in particular.

"John saw in Molly the perfect actress," he says.

Hughes and Ringwald had a shared passion for music, Gora says. It's probably Hollywood legend that Ringwald introduced Hughes to the Psychedelic Furs song "Pretty in Pink" — Ringwald says she's sure Hughes knew the song already — but it's possible that "her love of the song helped him kind of listen to the song in a new way," Gora explains.

"He was always a major music head," he says. "As a teenager he loved the Beatles, and as a grown man he always wrote scripts with music playing. He often came up with the idea for a film soundtrack before he even wrote the script."

Chain-smoking and blasting music, Hughes often wrote in late-night frenzies; Deutch remembers frequently falling asleep on Hughes' couch around 1 a.m.

"One night, I woke up and he handed me 50 pages," Deutch recalls. "And as I looked at it, it said on the title page: 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.' So he had written in about six hours the first half of Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Taking Teenagers Seriously

There's been plenty of speculation about why Hughes largely retreated from the Hollywood scene in the mid-1990s.

"He was not happy living in Los Angeles," Deutch says. "And I think he also was tired of the criticism and the critiques of the films. ... There's revisionist history. In retrospect, a lot of these movies ... are held up as iconic movies. At the time, a lot of reviewers did not like them, and he was sensitive about that."

As for whether there will be more Hughes films to come, Deutch suspects the answer is yes. Deutch was invited back to the Hughes' house after the director's funeral, and his son asked Deutch to come into the "writers room" to see where his father had been working for the last 10 years.

"There were diaries and journals and scripts and books piled up to the ceiling," Deutch says. "I'd never seen anything like it ... [he] never stopped writing."

Revisionist history or not, Hughes' early films have endured for more than two decades.

"He was smart enough to take teenagers and their problems seriously," Gora says. There's a timelessness to adolescent angst — coming-of-age struggles that crop up with every new generation of teens.

Sheedy says it was a "mixed bag" to grow up as a member of the Brat Pack. "For a while there in my 30s it was tough because I was so identified with that one role," she says. But now, at 47, she says it's a "blessing" to see so many people — grown-up teens and current teens — identifying with her characters. She was surprised to find that her 16-year-old daughter's high school friends are watching The Breakfast Club — 25 years after it first came out.

"Not a day goes by," Sheedy says, "where I don't have someone come up to me and tell me they were Allison in The Breakfast Club. Literally not a single day."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried
By Susannah Gora
Hardcover, 384 pages
Crown Books
List price: $26
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