The Friday rush hour before Labor Day had scarcely begun, but there was already a laid back lull that had settled on Hollywood; anyone who cruised past Pink's Hot Dogs on September 4 at just the right evening hour would have found one of the shortest lines in the stand's history. Not everyone got out of Dodge for the last holiday of summer, however, as evidenced by the capacity crowd that turned up for the third night of the New Beverly Cinema's tribute to the late, great John Hughes, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack last month. The director's teen meisterwerks Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink screened earlier in the week, but Friday night (and Saturday) it was time to revel in arguably his two finest films: every teen's truancy fantasy writ large in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the white-collar everyman's worst commuter nightmare in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
Of course, it wouldn't be a New Bev shindig without some special guests to join in the love, and they scored some big guns to salute Ferris : Cindy Pickett, who played Matthew Broderick's ultra-doting mom (and whose lovely portrait of Hughes, taken on the set of the film, was hung in the box office window); the inimitable Edie McClurg, who appears in both films but whose Grace the bubble-headed secretary in Ferris is one of her finest; and the hapless, hotheaded principal of Shermer High School himself (and one of our great character actors), Jeffrey “Eeeeeedddddddd Rooney!” Jones.
The trio, clearly touched by the continued outpouring of love for Hughes's masterpiece of teen mayhem, shared memories of being cast — McClurg read aloud a passage about her hiring from the book by casting directors Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirschenson, and Jones even dug up his nearly 25-year-old date book to recall his first meeting with Hughes on the Paramount lot. (Hughes was late, he arrived, they sat down, they stared at each other, and when finally asked if he was going to say something, Jones replied that he was waiting for an apology. “I think that probably got me the part…”)
In between fielding audience questions, the actors remembered Hughes as an easygoing, thoughtful presence on the set who was remarkably open to ideas from those around him. The use of Wayne Newton in the first half of Ferris's legendary parade scene, for example, came from Jones. Hughes, known for his knowledge and use of cutting edge rock music on his soundtracks, had no idea who the crooner was until, while driving his cast around the locations prior to shooting (“Poor Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara and Alan Ruck were being slammed around in the backseat,” Jones laughed), Hughes remarked that he wanted something “a little cheesy” for the sequence. At Jones's suggestion, he drove to the nearest record store, ran in, bought a Newton tape, slammed it in the stereo deck of the car and declared, “Perfect!” Jones also ad-libbed the moment in the film where a frantic Principal Rooney dashes through the school, stopping only to calmly walk past each classroom door because “there's no way he'd ever let anyone see him running in the halls.”
McClurg, meanwhile, giggled through an anecdote about the on-set hairdresser having no idea how to tease hair for Grace's old-school bubble hairdo, which was her idea, so she snatched the brush and did it herself. The moment Hughes' saw the poofy 'do, he asked, “How many pencils do you think you could hide in there?” Thus, the gag where forgetful Grace pulls a series of pencils from her hair was born. The actress also managed to snag the biggest laugh of the Q&A while discussing Hughes's gift for capturing the boredom of teens when faced with yawn-inducing lectures the likes of the economics teacher in the film, played by… “Oh, gosh, what's his name?” When the audience helpfully pitched in with “Ben Stein,” McClurg deadpanned, “Of course. Sorry, I forgot his name because he's such an ass.” D'oh!
All zingers and warm remembrances aside, it was clear to everyone how sudden and shocking Hughes' passing was to those who had been lucky enough to work with him; both McClurg and Jones broke down in tears before the end of their Q&A, and in between the two films, editor Paul Hirsch — who cut both Ferris and Planes, as well as dozens of films including some little-known sci-fi flick called Star Wars — couldn't say enough good things about his experiences in the editing bay with the director. Hughes was, after all, fairly bursting with great ideas, as evidenced by the rough cuts of each film. (Ferris originally clocked in at two hours and 45 minutes, while Planes was an hour longer than that. Criminy!) The first 60 pages of Planes, it turns out, were written in one night while Hirsch and Hughes were editing Ferris, and virtually unchanged from page to screen. Now that's a true original.