Beverly D’Angelo starred as Ellen Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation, which kicked off Hughes’ career as a screenwriter.
He took teenagers really seriously. He took childhood seriously. He certainly was responsible for communicating that in his films. There were things going on in the hearts of these suburban kids that were just as real as any drama. And he did it in a kind of Preston Sturges way.
What touched me was that John made movies from a human level. He wasn’t a guy who sat there and figured out the bottom line of the demographic and played to that. I think he really was an artist and that he had ideas and thoughts and feelings and he manifested those in his films. His films were massively popular, but they weren’t calculated to be popular. He just happened to be one of those people who was able to capture a zeitgeist.
I always considered the Vacation movies a love story. I didn’t think of them as some kind of, you know, film with the fart as a punchline. There was a love story in every one of his movies, and the thing about those Vacation movies is that, he’s truly romantic. He told love stories. In Home Alone, it’s a love story: the parents and the child, ultimately. Boy loses girl, you know what I mean?
I don’t think there’s a parallel for him. I think that he is one of those unsung heroes, someone’s whose work wasn’t taken as seriously as it could have been because they were comedies. But as far as someone who set out to explore the challenges of being a middle-class white kid, he did it in a way that nobody else was doing it. And I really treasure the child-like heart that he had. It’s a shame that it broke, literally. But it’s kind of telling that his heart would go because I think he put his heart into his films, literally.
Chevy Chase [who played D’Angelo’s husband, Clark Griswold, in the Vacation movies] left Hollywood, too. Chevy left in the late ’80s. Hollywood’s not a place for the heart, unless you’ve got a really, really, really tough exterior. He never sold out. Never. Never. The key is that he considered the age of 12 to 21 sacred and kind of adult but without the power of [adulthood]. Cause that’s what those teenager characters struggled with: was being stuck in an adult world that they didn’t create and how to deal with that.
There aren’t any more Breakfast Clubs, there aren’t any more Ferris Buellers. We’ve gone a different way. John treated his teenage characters like the young adults that they were. They weren’t stupid and they weren’t useless. They powered the engine of his films.
PHOTO CREDIT: Everett Collection
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