Molly Ringwald reveals the fights she had with John Hughes over nude scenes and panties

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Molly Ringwald in the 1985 teen classic The Breakfast Club. (Photo: Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Legend has it that John Hughes’s 1985 teen movie classic, The Breakfast Club, scored its R-rating for salty language and nonjudgmental marijuana usage. Had it not been for star Molly Ringwald, though, the film’s list of R-rated offenses would have included nudity. In a fascinating first-person New Yorker article, the ’80s icon — and frequent Hughes collaborator — reveals that she persuaded the writer-director to ditch a nude scene that he had added into a later draft of the script. “In the shooting script of The Breakfast Club, there was a scene in which an attractive female gym teacher swam naked in the school’s swimming pool as Mr. Vernon, the teacher who is in charge of the students’ detention, spied on her,” writes Ringwald, who played quintessential popular girl Claire Standish. “The scene wasn’t in the first draft I read, and I lobbied John to cut it. He did, and although I’m sure the actress who had been cast in the part still blames me for foiling her break, I think the film is better for it.”

That’s just one of the examples Ringwald cites in her article where Hughes allowed a certain crudeness to sneak into his films — specifically in relation to his depiction of teenage girls. While his films are still regarded as the gold standard for teen movies in terms of how they balance comedy, drama, and character complexity, as the decades have passed, not everything about them has aged well. And Ringwald is the first to admit that the trio of features she made with Hughes between 1984 and 1986 — Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink — play very differently in the #MeToo era. “I had what could be called a symbiotic relationship with John during the first two of those films,” she remarks. “I’ve been called his muse, which I believe I was, for a little while. But, more than that, I felt that he listened to me — though certainly not all the time. Coming out of the National Lampoon school of comedy, there was still a residue of crassness that clung, no matter how much I protested.”

In addition to The Breakfast Club’s abandoned nude scene, Ringwald remembers two other instances when both she and her mother challenged Hughes on sexually suggestive moments. The first came in Sixteen Candles when her character, Samantha, gifts lovestruck Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) with her panties so that he can win a bet he made with Bryce and Cliff (John Cusack and Darren Harris). In the following scene, she has a heart-to-heart with her father, which Ringwald says ended in a very different manner in Hughes’s original script.

“It originally ended with the father asking, ‘Sam, what the hell happened to your underpants?’ My mom objected. ‘Why would a father know what happened to his daughter’s underwear?’ she asked. John squirmed uncomfortably. He didn’t mean it that way, he said — it was just a joke, a punch line. ‘But it’s not funny,’ my mother said. ‘It’s creepy.’ The line was changed to ‘Just remember, Sam, you wear the pants in the family.’”

Anthony Michael Hall and Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. (Photo: Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

Ringwald and her mother apparently had less success persuading Hughes to abandon an underwear-based scene for The Breakfast Club. At one point during the movie, Judd Nelson’s flannel-clad rebel, John Bender, hides under a desk and catches a glimpse of Claire’s panties. “They hired an adult woman for the shot of Claire’s underwear,” Ringwald reveals. “They couldn’t even ask me to do it — I don’t think it was permitted by law to ask a minor — but even having another person pretend to be me was embarrassing to me and upsetting to my mother, and she said so. That scene stayed, though.”

Three decades removed from the experience of making The Breakfast Club, Ringwald even finds its crowd-pleasing romance between John and Claire difficult to root for now. As she writes:

“What’s more, as I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film. When he’s not sexualizing her, he takes out his rage on her with vicious contempt, calling her ‘pathetic,’ mocking her as ‘Queenie.’ It’s rejection that inspires his vitriol. Claire acts dismissively toward him, and, in a pivotal scene near the end, she predicts that at school on Monday morning, even though the group has bonded, things will return, socially, to the status quo. … He never apologizes for any of it, but, nevertheless, he gets the girl in the end.”

Watching The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles again with her own daughter, Ringwald admits that she sees a number of other shortcomings beyond those that directly involve her characters. In addition to the general lack of diversity onscreen, there’s a certain level of casual racism — best exemplified by the unfortunately named character of Long Duk Dong — as well as extremely uncomfortable subplots like Ted taking Polaroids of a drunk girl he brings home after a party. (Interestingly, the actress who played that role, Haviland Morris, told Ringwald that she’s not as bothered by the scene today.) Tellingly, she says that plans for her and Hughes to make a fourth film together after Pretty in Pink collapsed when she requested that Hughes, who hated doing rewrites, make some revisions. “Hughes refused, and the film was never made, though there could have been other circumstances I was not aware of.”

Annie Potts, John Hughes, and Ringwald on the set of Pretty in Pink. (Photo: Mary Evans/Paramount Pictures/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection)

Despite some of the misgivings she wrestles with in her piece, Ringwald is also highly conscious of Hughes’s seismic impact on moviegoers, to say nothing of her own career. “John believed in me, and in my gifts as an actress, more than anyone else I’ve known, and he was the first person to tell me that I had to write and direct one day,” she writes in one of the article’s many moving passages. Far from tarnishing the legacy of either Hughes or the movies they made together, her firsthand account makes it clear that these generational favorites still have a lot to teach us about how we should, and shouldn’t, talk about teenagers.

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