Harold Ramis directed National Lampoon’s Vacation, which John Hughes wrote, based on his own short story.
I read the screenplay. I thought it was very good. And John and I had some meetings, and I guess I probably made some notes, and then Chevy [Chase] and I did a rewrite, which I’m not sure John was happy with [Laughs]. And I didn’t see him much, and then the ending of the film didn’t work at all when we tested it, so I had a notion for a new ending for the film, and John very quickly scripted that.
He was really quick. The meetings were short; we didn’t hang out or anything. It was very business-like, which I guess became his style, He was tremendously productive, obviously. But the thing that surprised me — and I can’t even say I was bitter about it — but after Vacation came out and was a pretty big hit, I saw John quoted in an interview saying he was going to start directing his own movies because he was tired of seeing his scripts ruined by other directors. [Laughs]
I ran into him once in Chicago. I moved back there like 12 years ago, and I went to our local multiplex. The usher said, “Hey, John Hughes is in the next theater.” So I walked over and John is standing there in the tunnel [entry hall outside the theater], not going in, but standing where he can see the screen. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I want to see how my trailer plays.” I said, “John, you’ve got 100 million dollars. What do you care how this trailer plays?” [Laughs] And he said, “No, no, I care.” I thought, wow, that’s probably why he was so much more successful than I was—or at least productive. He really did care.
I wasn’t really surprised [he left Hollywood]. He was so focused on a certain area of life — adolescence and particularly suburban adolescence — he might have reached a point where he said all he could say about teenagers and their families and just didn’t have any new stories to tell. I always thought that was a mature and respectable choice. We lived two suburbs away from each other. He bought an amazing piece of farmland and developed it into a virtual English park. The story I heard was he bought this beautiful farm acreage, which was really flat, and had earth-movers come in and sculpt it into an English garden. And had a beautiful house up there, and it was a good life for him, I think.
I admired him. I was jealous of him. I really felt that John Hughes tapped into that same kind of Disney core of the American movie-going audience: There’s something wholesome and appealing and yet slightly subversive about his movies. As hard as I try sometimes, it’s hard for me to get real mainstream because I’m inherently counter-cultural. But John’s not. He was not a rebel, but he understood the rebelliousness of teenagers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Locke/PR Photos
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