- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

NEW YORK | Writer-director John Hughes, Hollywood’s youth impresario of the 1980s and ‘90s who captured and cornered the teen and preteen market with such favorites as “Home Alone,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” died Thursday, a spokeswoman said. He was 59.

Mr. Hughes died of a heart attack during a morning walk in Manhattan, Michelle Bega said. He was in New York to visit family.

A native of Lansing, Mich., who later moved to suburban Chicago and set much of his work there, Mr. Hughes rose from ad writer to comedy writer to silver screen champ with his affectionate and idealized portraits of teens, whether the romantic and sexual insecurity of “Sixteen Candles” or the J.D. Salinger-esque rebellion against conformity in “The Breakfast Club.”

“At the time I came along, Hollywood’s idea of teen movies meant there had to be a lot of nudity, usually involving boys in pursuit of sex, and pretty gross overall. Either that or a horror movie. And the last thing Hollywood wanted in their teen movies was teenagers!” Mr. Hughes said in one of his rare interviews in recent years, when he was promoting the 2008 release of a DVD box set of several of his classic movies.

Mr. Hughes’ ensemble comedies helped make stars out of Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and many other young performers. He also scripted the phenomenally popular “Home Alone,” which made little-known Macaulay Culkin a sensation as the 8-year-old accidentally abandoned by his vacationing family, and wrote or directed such hits as “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and “Uncle Buck.”

Other actors who got early breaks from Mr. Hughes included John Cusack (“Sixteen Candles”), Judd Nelson (“The Breakfast Club”), Steve Carell (“Curly Sue”) and Lili Taylor (“She’s Having a Baby”).

Devin Ratray, best known for playing Buzz McCallister in the “Home Alone” films, said he remained close to Mr. Hughes over the years.

“He changed my life forever,” Mr. Ratray said. “Nineteen years later, people from all over the world contact me telling me how much ‘Home Alone’ meant to them, their families and their children.”

Actor Matthew Broderick worked with Mr. Hughes in 1986 when he played the title character in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

“I am truly shocked and saddened by the news about my old friend John Hughes. He was a wonderful, very talented guy, and my heart goes out to his family,” Mr. Broderick said.

As Mr. Hughes advanced into middle age, his commercial touch faded and, in Salinger-style, he increasingly withdrew from public life. His last directing credit was in 1991, for “Curly Sue,” and he wrote just a handful of scripts over the past decade. He was rarely interviewed or photographed.

The Chicago-based director was philosophical about his films’ focus on American suburbia, telling Miss Ringwald when she interviewed him in 1986 for Seventeen magazine that “I think it’s wise for people to concern themselves with the things they know about. I don’t consider myself qualified to do a movie about international intrigue - I seldom leave the country.”

His impact on the current generation of comic filmmakers was acknowledged in 2008 by Judd Apatow, the writer-director-producer of such films as “Superbad,” “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

“It’s pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we’ve been doing, with outrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes’ films,” Mr. Apatow told the Independent, an Irish newspaper, in 2008. “Whether it’s ‘Freaks and Geeks’ or ‘Superbad,’ the whole idea of having outsiders as the lead characters, that all started with Hughes.”

From combined dispatches.

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