Why John Hughes Left Hollywood
Among the outpouring of requiems for John Hughes, few if any boast the poignancy or revelation of the one written last night by his one-time pen pal Alison Byrne Fields. Yes, John Hughes had a pen pal -- a fan at first, then something of a friend and eventually a confidante who may or may not have just revealed the dirty little secret behind the prolific filmmaker's abrupt exit into reclusion.
Fields's eulogy is worth reading for more than that: Hughes's early support of her writing as a teenager clearly paid off, and her escalation of correspondence to Paramount's president when Hughes once went AWOL is priceless. That said, it was the phone call Fields received almost three years into the director's self-imposed exile -- the stuff he didn't want to put in writing -- that seems most striking:
John told me about why he left Hollywood just a few years earlier. He was terrified of the impact it was having on his sons; he was scared it was going to cause them to lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant. And he told me a sad story about how, a big reason behind his decision to give it all up was that "they" (Hollywood) had "killed" his friend, John Candy, by greedily working him too hard.
He also told me he was glad I had gotten in touch and that he was proud of me for what I was doing with my life. He told me, again, how important my letters had been to him all those years ago, how he often used the argument "I'm doing this for Alison" to justify decisions in meetings.
Sniff. That would probably do it.
Still, though -- Hollywood killed John Candy? Moreover, retirement? However bitter, angry and/or disillusioned, how does a mind like Hughes's just... stop? He had even advised Fields in the '80s: "As for your English teacher...Do you like the way you write? Please yourself. I'm rather fond of writing. I actually regard it as fun. Do it frequently and see if you can't find the fun in it that I do." Even if Hollywood ceased being "fun," you have to imagine the stacks of unpublished material accumulated in repose -- the Salingeresque variety, where one's work transcends one's grudge. The alternative is too depressing to bear or even really believe.
But will we ever see it? Do we even want to? Also, if it was his wish to disappear -- for the sake of avenging a man's death and to be a better father (if we take Hughes at face value, and I do) -- then should Fields have made their correspondence public in the first place? His myth gets a nice posthumous polish, but there's something about "doing this for Alison" that seems to guarantee we haven't actually heard, seen or read the last of John Hughes.