Hughes Got Mail

“I get a tremendous amount of mail from kids about the movies,” he said, between 3,000 and 4,000 letters about 'The Breakfast Club' alone.

That was in 1986, in an interview with the New York Times. Thousands of letters and John Hughes was a sprightly 36, The Breakfast Club was only a year old, and Pretty in Pink had just opened. Three months later, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would arrive. The next year: Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In 1989, Uncle Buck. A year after that, it was the turn of Home Alone. His hit rate during that period remains unfathomable to me, and I’ve spent many an hour imagining just how many people must have put pen to paper after falling in love with Hughes’ work over the years, hopeful that a letter would somehow, against all odds, reach him.

We put our tree up on Saturday. Naturally, Home Alone was on in the background, and for the 3196th time my mind returned to that quote and to all the kids and teenagers who wrote to John Hughes over the years, and I revisited a beautiful story that appeared online shortly after Hughes’ untimely death in 2009, written by a lady who at the age of 15, over a two year stretch that straddled the New York Times interview, somehow managed to become Hughes’ pen pal. Given how touching it is and how widely shared it was at the time, it’s very possible that you’ve read the piece before. Regardless, I recommend reading it again.

James’ email arrived at 10.20pm on 8th April 2011, but I was so busy that I only glanced at the subject line before putting my phone down and turning to something I incorrectly believed to be more important. I eventually opened it three days later.

subject: Submission: John Hughes

Hello. My name is James Hughes. When my father John Hughes passed away in 2009, he left behind several closets filled with stationery he collected from around the world, including reams of letterhead from his former projects and production companies…

Scientists could not have engineered, in a lab, a more exciting opening paragraph for a letter nerd who grew up in the 1980s. True to his word, over the coming days James sent over scans of various letterhead his father had left behind, including The Breakfast Club stationery—like that one up there—and scans of notepaper circa 1990—like that one down there—bearing a Hughes Entertainment logo with reflective silver star (dulled by the scanner) that was designed by Nick Egan. Apparently John Hughes made “a lot” of stationery for the family home and farm over the years and obsessed over the fonts and logos used in his films. James reckons that Letterheady—an online homage to notable letterhead that I began shortly after Letters of Note—is “exactly the kind of thing I would have emailed my dad about, or he would have found first.”

Writing a random little boy a note of encouragement was merely a small, dashed-off kindness on Hughes’s part, but at the time it meant a lot to me. It still does. In the intervening years, I’ve learned that many people can afford to be that kind, but of those who can, most don’t. After reading Hughes’s letter, I knew I’d found my calling.

Those are the words of Greg Sestero. Christmas 1990, having just watched Home Alone for the first time, 12-year-old Greg began to plot and then wrote a script for Home Alone 2: Lost in Walt Disney World, a proposed sequel in which he would star opposite Macaulay Culkin. He sent it, along with a movie poster he’d designed and other materials, to Hughes’ production company. Sadly, the screenplay was rejected, but when it arrived back at his home a month later it was accompanied by a handwritten letter from John Hughes that ended, “Believe in yourself, have patience, and always follow your heart.” Sestero says he took Hughes’ advice on board, going on to star alongside Tommy Wiseau in The Room, a movie so terrible that it became a cult classic and led to Sestero’s memoir, The Disaster Artist, which contained this very anecdote and inspired an award-winning, Oscar-nominated film adaptation of the same name. So we have John Hughes to thank for that, too.

It would be remiss of me to hit Publish on this particular newsletter without including the following letters, written by the stars of Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Both are form responses to fans, and both were sent years before said movie was released into the wild. Steve Martin’s, which he amended very slightly for each recipient, is particularly good.

(Steve Martin’s letter, by the way, features in the original Letters of Note book, which, by the way, is an excellent Christmas gift for pretty much anyone and, by the way, I happen to have the final copies of its **Special Edition** for sale over here).

To end the newsletter with anything other than this letter would be a profound mistake.

Huge thanks to James Hughes for sending me the stationery 9 years ago, and for letting me quote his email. If you haven’t already signed up for this newsletter, hit the button below. You can subscribe for free, or you can help support it—and gain access to a monthly ‘members-only’ email!—for a few pounds per month. Whichever option you pick, thanks for signing up, and thanks for reading. Until next time.