John Hughes had a knack for speaking to teenagers without speaking down to them. Even before he was anointed the poet laureate of teen heartache with movies like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, the filmmaker’s internal age hewed closer to that of his high school protagonists.
“He was unlike any other director that I had ever met. He had spiky hair and these crazy sneakers,” Molly Ringwald says of Hughes nearly 40 years after their first meeting. “We really clicked and got along almost immediately. I was fairly introverted, but he just had so much confidence in me, to the point that I felt like I could do anything.”
The films Hughes and Ringwald made together treated the experiences of their teen characters with sincerity and depth. Hughes understood that high school was a reservoir of class warfare and emotional bloodshed, where a snide remark (“Where’d you get your clothes? A five-and-dime store?”) could cut deep. If the plotting seemed threadbare – a girl’s family forgets her birthday, a group of students in detention form an unlikely bond – that was exactly the point. With a talent for imagining the lives of teenagers that you wouldn’t find populating Porky’s or Delta Tau Chi, Hughes provided suburban youth with pictures of themselves onscreen (featuring flawless ’80s soundtracks to boot).
Pretty in Pink, Hughes’s third and final film with Ringwald, was also his most hopelessly romantic. Released 35 years ago this week, the teen rom-dram follows Andie Walsh, a working-class high school student whose secondhand clothes make her an outcast among her more affluent peers. Styled like Fran Lebowitz by way of Cyndi Lauper, Andie must navigate the duelling affections of her best friend, Duckie (Jon Cryer), and popular rich boy Blane (Andrew McCarthy), all while caring for her deadbeat father (the late, great Harry Dean Stanton). Empathetic to its characters’ plight without being saccharine, Pretty in Pink has lingered in the pop consciousness for its thoughtful recognition of just how euphoric, uncomfortable, and downright painful it is to be 17.
“Before John, there was really nothing being marketed to teenagers that actually spoke to me,” Ringwald recently told Vogue. “Kids were going to see movies more than their parents were, so we wanted to make something that took the content of their lives seriously.”
Written by Hughes – who passed away in 2009 – and directed by Howard Deutch, Pretty in Pink hit number one at the box office, making such a big splash that Ringwald graced the covers of both Seventeen and Time in 1986. The decades since have only seen new audiences debate whether Andie should’ve ended up with Duckie (per the original ending that was shot and scrapped) or Blane (per the reshot ending that we all know). To commemorate 35 years of Pretty in Pink, Ringwald spoke to Vogue about working with Hughes, being forced to wear that prom dress, and why she always assumed Duckie was gay (or at least closeted).
© Photo: Courtesy of Paramount
The story goes that you introduced John to the Psychedelic Furs song “Pretty in Pink”, and he started writing a script with that title. What can you tell me about how the concept for the film evolved from there?
John had been wanting to write something for me, and he often used song titles for his projects since most of what he wrote was inspired by music. He wrote Pretty in Pink in between Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club and based it loosely around the Psychedelic Furs song. At that point in my life I also just really liked pink – Andie’s room was basically modelled after my own. The prop people even took a collage from my personal bedroom and used it in the movie for Andie’s room, if that tells you anything.
What attracted you to Andie compared to the other characters you’d previously played in John’s films?
I liked that Andie was so different from the character I had just played. John wrote The Breakfast Club before he knew me – the role of Allison [the ”basket case,” ultimately played by Ally Sheedy] was the first part he thought of me for and I asked him to play Claire [“the princess”] instead because I thought she was so different from the types of roles being written for young women. I loved the script for Pretty in Pink and really enjoyed working with John, so it just felt like the right time for me to play a character like Andie that was closer to who I actually was. Plus, there’s something really flattering about someone writing a script for you.
I read that you got Andrew McCarthy cast after noticing him in ‘St Elmo’s Fire’. What made you think he was right for Blane?
Andrew was cute with a sorta bookish quality. He didn’t come off like some typical jock, which I didn’t think Andie would ever be interested in. He seemed like the kind of guy that Andie would’ve been into because Andie wasn’t that different from me, and I thought Andrew was really cute. We read with a bunch of different people, but even from his first audition, we just knew he was Blane.
The director Howard Deutch recently gave an interview where he said there was some tension on set because you had a crush on Andrew that wasn’t reciprocated.
I don’t know what Howie is talking about because Andrew totally had a crush on me. [Laughs.] I was only 17, and Andrew was already in his 20s, so we were definitely living very different lives. But we got along fine and ended up doing another movie together a few years later. I feel like we had an interesting dynamic because we definitely were not a couple, and we weren’t really friends either, but we had a lot of chemistry.
Is it true that you lobbied for Robert Downey Jr to play Duckie?
I had wanted Robert for the role. I think John wanted either Anthony [Michael Hall] or Michael J Fox, who was gonna do it at one point but had to drop out because he got Back to the Future. It would’ve made for a completely different movie had any of them played Duckie. But once Jon [Cryer] stepped into that role, there was no question that he was the guy. He put so much of himself into that role that it’s impossible to imagine anybody else.
Jon Cryer said that during filming you and the rest of the cast seemed “irritated by [him] from day one”. Is that true from your recollection?
I still feel so bad that he felt that way because I never had any problems with Jon. I think he might be referring to a scene we filmed where Duckie was supposed to get mad at Andie for showing up to the club with Blane. Andrew and I were egging him on from the other side of the camera to get a strong reaction, and Jon ended up getting furious. The reaction you see on film is him getting legitimately upset with us for pestering him. But that’s the only time I can recall us ever butting heads. I would say that I probably hung out with him more on set than I did with Andrew.
What can you tell me about working with the costume designer Marilyn Vance to interpret your personal style for the film?
At that point, people were still mostly going to the mall and shopping at places like Judy’s or The Gap. The idea of shopping vintage was somewhat bizarre. Everything Andie wears was sourced from vintage stores in Los Angeles, and that was very much the way I shopped at the time. I definitely think the film had an impact in that teens started dressing in more vintage outfits and in more layers. I really loved everything Marilyn did except the prom dress, which I’ve been pretty open about not liking at the time.
Can you talk me through how Andie’s prom dress came to be?
I remember having a discussion with Marilyn about the dress and thinking it was going to look a certain way. It was the time of Dynasty, with all these big shoulders and unusual silhouettes. But when the dress showed up, I thought, “What is this? How could anyone look good in that? It’s a triangle!” The inverted-triangle silhouette made it really difficult to wear. Plus, it was the colour of Pepto-Bismol! There were so many different shades of pink that could’ve been chosen, but that one was brutal. I burst into tears when I first saw it, and my teacher at the time kept reprimanding me. She said I was being rude, but it was truly just a visceral reaction. I understand how iconic that dress is now, but I was so bummed out at the time.
Why wouldn’t they let you wear something else if you felt so strongly about it?
They’d already made multiple copies of Marilyn’s design. When we had to reshoot the ending, I got so excited because I thought I’d be able to wear a different dress, so I had my friend Colleen Atwood design something really fabulous. I begged Howie to let me wear it instead, but he didn’t wanna have to reshoot any of the scenes where I’m in the Pepto-Bismol dress and talking to Duckie right before the prom. I kept all of the clothes except for that dress because I hated it so much, and of course now I wish I could frame it!
I was just about to ask if you got to keep Andie’s clothes. Have you incorporated any pieces into your current wardrobe?
Sadly I’ve moved so many times over the years that I’ve lost track of everything. The one thing I may still have in my closet is a little bag that Andie carries around. I don’t know if everything else has been lost or stolen or whether they’re just in a box somewhere that I haven’t unpacked. I may not know where it all went, but I did keep everything. My favourite piece was that light green corduroy bomber jacket that Andie wears when she visits Iona at her apartment.
In John’s original script, ‘Pretty in Pink’ ends with Andie and Duckie dancing together at the prom. (“Duckie laughs. Andie squeezes him tight and lifts him off his feet.”) When Paramount screened the film with that ending, test audiences reportedly booed because they wanted Andie to end up with Blane. Did you anticipate that kind of reception?
I definitely felt like the audience was going to have that reaction. It just didn’t make sense because of how the entire movie was structured and the way these characters were cast. I could maybe understand Andie choosing Duckie if Blane had been portrayed as a vapid punk or if there had been no chemistry between me and Andrew. But it didn’t make sense to have the entire movie be this Cinderella story [yet] she doesn’t get to end up with the guy she wants. It would’ve been unsatisfying. Jon was fantastic in that role, but to me, in my mind, Duckie was clearly a gay boy with a fierce crush on his friend.
To this day, Jon seems perplexed that LGBTQIA+ audiences embraced that character so passionately because he didn’t intend on playing Duckie as gay. Did you always read his character through a queer-coded lens?
It just always made sense, given the way that Jon decided to play him. The character was based on my best friend Matt Freeman, who ended up coming out later in life. I got him a job as a PA on Pretty in Pink when he was 20 and not quite out yet. Some of our friends suspected he might be gay, but he and I always had an extremely nonromantic relationship, and I felt the same way about Andie and Duckie. The studio agreed, so we had to go back and reshoot the ending where I ended up with Blane. By that point, Andrew had already shaved his head for a play he was doing in New York, so that’s why he’s wearing a really bad hairpiece in the prom scene.
What do you remember from shooting the original ending, where Andie chooses Duckie?
All I remember is the studio having to put me up at the hotel where we were filming because I was so sick. I would rest between takes, and someone would have to come and get me to go back on the extremely hot dance floor. I remember Jon and I spinning around and around until I literally passed out in the middle of the prom. But I don’t think anyone ever saw that, unless the studio decided to put it out on one of the DVD releases or something.
From my research, it seems like nobody’s ever seen it.
Howard recently gave an interview where he said he’s never been able to track it down.
Wow, that’s so interesting. I would imagine John had it or that it’s with his estate or something.
[Writer’s note: A representative from Paramount confirmed that, despite their best efforts to recover it, Pretty in Pink’s original ending remains lost.]
Why do you think John was so fascinated with exploring the internal lives of teenagers through his work?
I feel like there was a big part of him that was still a teenager. High school was not easy for him, and he just held onto every hurt and personal injury from that period of his life. He was a real grudge keeper, and I feel like a lot of that mentality fuelled him creatively later in life. I feel like the films he made about teenagers were the most personal films that he did. All of the broad comedies he made later on are really funny, but they didn’t really speak to what was going on inside of him emotionally.
You wrote a piece for The New Yorker about revisiting the films you made with John with a more critical eye in the wake of #MeToo. How has your relationship with these films evolved over the years?
I recognise that those films are so meaningful for generations of people. I feel very protective of them, but at the same time I also have complicated feelings toward them. I definitely feel like they’re flawed, and there are things I don’t like about them – the lack of diversity in particular always bothers me. I’m more conflicted about The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles than Pretty in Pink, which I feel is actually the least problematic of the three. But I would say overall that I feel very loving and nostalgic towards the films I made with John. They occupy an important part of my life.
Have you watched them with your own kids yet?
I’ve already watched them with my 17-year-old daughter, but I haven’t watched them with my twins yet. They’re just now getting to the age where they wanna watch those. I usually start with Pretty in Pink because I feel like it holds up well and that Andie is a strong, feminist character. You get the feeling that she gets what she wants and stands up to her bullies pretty well.
Why do you think a film like ‘Pretty in Pink’ still resonates with teen audiences almost four decades after it came out?
I think it’s because all of the issues John wrote about are still the same. Kids have to go to school and navigate these various cliques while feeling othered, and that hasn’t changed. I’ve experienced it with my own kids. My daughter is in high school, and my twins are going into middle school, and it hasn’t gotten any easier than when I was 17. The rules about bullying have changed, but teenagers will always figure out a way to bully each other – they just do it online now. Teens have to navigate that while figuring out who they are, and I feel like there haven’t been enough movies that speak to that experience in a real way. That’s why something like Pretty in Pink is still so special.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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