What the Hell Happened to Molly Ringwald?
Molly Ringwald defined a specific period in pop culture history. She didn’t win a lot of awards or work with a lot of legendary directors and co-stars. But Ringwald’s cultural impact was far greater than her filmography would suggest. If you were in high school in the early-to-mid eighties, Molly Ringwald was IT. There was Ringwald and there was everyone else.
But just a few short years after appearing on the cover of Time Magazine, the moment passed. Ringwald went from IT-girl to has-been practically overnight.
What the hell happened?
Ringwald started acting on stage at age 5. She played the Dormouse in a production of Alice in Wonderland. The next year, she recorded an album with her jazz musician father and his band, the Fulton Street Jazz Band.
At age 10, Ringwald was cast in the West Coast Production of Annie in 1978. You might expect that the red-headed actress would have played the title role. But no, Ringwald was Orphan #5.
A casting director spotted Ringwald in Annie which lead to roles on TV. The show, Diff’rent Strokes, was a ratings-winner for the hit-starved NBC. They ordered a spin-off centered around Charlotte Rae’s character, Edna Garrett.
The show was The Facts of Life. The first season, which ran from 1979-1980, featured a much larger cast of students. After appearing in Diff’rent Strokes, Ringwald made the cut for the first season of The Facts of Life.
But the first season was not a ratings success. So the show was retooled around a smaller cast. Ringwald was among the students who did not return for the second season.
In 1980, Ringwald recorded songs for two Disney albums. She sang on the patriotic Yankee Doodle Mickey as well as a Christmas album.
In 1982, Ringwald appeared in her first motion picture, Paul Mazursky’s modern-day take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Ringwald played John Cassavetes’ teenage daughter. When her parents separate, they leave New York for Greece where her father begins an affair with Susan Sarandon. Raúl Juliá also appears as an eccentric hermit living on the island.
Reviews for The Tempest were mixed and the movie was not a success at the box office. But Ringwald was nominated for a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year – Female. She lost to Sandahl Bergman who was nominated for Conan the Barbarian.
In 1983, Ringwald appeared in the Avatar of it’s day, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone in 3-D.
In the early 80′s, there was a brief 3-D revival. Spacehunter was billed as “the first quality 3-D film backed by a major studio”. Peter Strauss played a Han Solo wannabe hired to save women from the villain, Overdog, played by Michael Ironsides.
Of course the reviews were bad. It’s a cheesy 80′s sci-fi flick in 3-D. Spacehunter barely broke even at the box office so audiences were spared any further adventures in the Forbidden Zone or anywhere else for that matter.
In 1984, Ringwald put science fiction and 3-D behind her with the movie that would define her career, John Hughes’ directorial debut, Sixteen Candles.
If we’re going to discuss Ringwald, we have to also discuss the man behind her rise to fame, John Hughes. Hughes was a gag writer who came to write for the comedy magazine, National Lampoon. After the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House, Hughes found work writing for the TV spin-off, Delta House.
Although the TV show didn’t last long, Hughes continued to work as a screen-writer. After writing scripts for Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation (both in 1983), Hughes was ready for his chance to direct.
Hughes asked for headshots of young actresses. Ringwald’s picture was among those Hughes reviewed. He put Ringwald’s picture over his writing desk for inspiration and wrote Sixteen Candles in one weekend specifically for Ringwald.
Sixteen Candles received mostly positive reviews and was a hit at the box office. But more important than that, it was the start of something big. And Ringwald was at the center of it.
In 1985, Ringwald starred opposite Zach Galligan (the guy from Gremlins) in the TV movie, Surviving: A Family in Crisis.
In the days before cable, we used to watch a lot of these TV movies of the week. There wasn’t much of anything else on. I sure as hell remember this teenage melodrama!
Ringwald and the Gremlins guy played a modern-day Romeo and Juliet who commit suicide by inhaling exhaust fumes. The movie focuses on the surviving family members and how they deal with the tragedy. It was heavy stuff.
You can tell because of the sad piano music.
Five days later, Ringwald was back on the big screen in another John Hughes coming-of-age classic, The Breakfast Club.
The Breakfast Club was kind of like a teenage version of The Big Chill. Five high school students bond during detention. Each of them represents a different high school stereotype. Seemingly, they have nothing in common. But forced to interact, they find that they realize that they are all dealing with the same teen angst.
The Breakfast Club was some deep shit when you were a teen.
Ringwald wanted to play the eccentric outsider of the group, but that role had already been promised to Ally Sheedy. Instead, Ringwald was cast as the high school princess
Somewhere in my house, there is a mug which was given to all of the seniors in my graduating class. It has artwork of our school mascot, a blue bird, in a graduation gown and cap holding a diploma. And on the mug are the words “Don’t You Forget About Me” because it was our class song.
Well, actually it says “Don’t Forget About Me” because the mug was put together by grown-up who had no idea what the name of the song was. Which in a way, sums up what high school was all about.
What Hughes started with Sixteen Candles, he built upon with The Breakfast Club. Hughes made movies about teens that teens could relate to. At the time, teen movies were expected to be raunchy comedies in the Porky’s mold. The studio pressured Hughes to add nudity in order to make the film more like Porky’s. But Hughes resisted and the result was a new kind of teen movie.
Reviews for The Breakfast Club were good and the movie was a big hit.
In 1986, Ringwald was huge! She was so big, she was on the cover of Time Magazine. Ringwald later recalled the cover, “I had just turned 18. The cover I was really excited about was Seventeen magazine. To me, it was much bigger than Time. Seventeen was where I wanted to be.”
That year, Ringwald appeared in her final coming-of-age film with Hughes, Pretty in Pink.
Ringwald starred opposite Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer in a classic teenage love triangle. Cryer’s role was originally intended for fellow Brat Pack member, Anthony Michael Hall. But Hall turned down the role of Ducky out of fear her had been typecast as a geek.
Once again, Hughes wrote the movie with Ringwald in mind for the lead. Ringwald, however, was reluctant to make yet another coming of age movie. She eventually agreed to star in Pretty in Pink when she saw how much trouble Hughes had finding a replacement.
Pretty in Pink completed a kind of trilogy for Ringwald and Hughes. Like the previous two films, it received good reviews and was a hit at the box office.
Hughes and Ringwald intended to continue collaborating. Hughes had hoped to unite his biggest stars, Ringwald and Matthew Broderick, in a film called Oil and Water. But the timing for that project never worked out.
Hughes wanted Ringwald to star in Some Kind of Wonderful, but Ringwald refused stating that it felt too much like the movies she had already made with Hughes. That is a common criticism of Some Kind of Wonderful which is frequently compared to Pretty in Pink.
Hughes and Ringwald eventually had a falling out possibly because Ringwald turned down Some Kind of Wonderful. Ringwald said she was ready to graduate from the high school roles which had defined her. And she couldn’t do that working with the king of teen coming of age movies, Hughes.
Hughes took the rejection personally and the two didn’t speak for 20 years. Fortunately, they reconciled before Hughes’ death in 2009. Ringwald has done several tributes to Hughes and given him credit for her success.
In 1987, Ringwald attempted to graduate from the Brat Pack opposite Robert Downey Jr. in James Toback’s romantic comedy, The Pick-Up Artist.
The Pick-Up Artist attempted to move Ringwald and Downey into more mature roles. But their fans were reluctant to follow them outside of John Hughes territory. The Pick-Up Artist got mixed reviews and was a disappointment at the box office. It under-performed Some Kind of Wonderful which was also a disappointment.
Later that year, Ringwald appeared opposite Peter Sellars, Burgess Meredith and Woody Allen in Jean-Luc Godard’s adaptation of King Lear.
Seriously, I am not making that up. It sounds made up. Apparently Quentin Tarratino used to include the film on his resume when he was trying to break into acting figuring that no one in Hollywood had seen it and wouldn’t know he was lying.
The film received mixed reviews. And, well, nobody saw it.
In 1988, Ringwald starred in her final “teen film”, the teen pregnancy comedy, For Keeps.
Ringwald played a teen who gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby. She marries the baby’s father and complications ensue. It was the 80′s equivalent of Teen Mom basically. Only, For Keeps admitted it was scripted.
The material was darker than the teen movies Ringwald had made with Hughes. And the execution wasn’t as good either. For Keeps got negative reviews and bombed at the box office.
Later that year, Ringwald reuinted with Pretty in Pink co-star, Andrew McCarthy, for the drama Fresh Horses.
In the late 80′s, the Brat Pack which had been so successful in the middle of the decade was starting to falter. There had been a glut of coming of age movies starring the same core group of actors. Where it was once considered cool to be part of the elite Hollywood clique, the Brat Pack was falling from favor.
Fresh Horses was an attempt by Brat Packers Ringwald and McCarthy to move into more mature roles. But audiences couldn’t get past the Brat Pack label. In spite of decent reviews, Fresh Horses bombed at the box office.
In 1990, Ringwald took one last stab at reinventing herself for American audiences. She appeared in two films that year. The first was a starring role in the romantic comedy, Strike It Rich. Unfortunately, Strike It Rich struck out with critics and audiences.
Later that year, she appeared in Alan Alda’s comedy, Betsy’s Wedding. Alda starred and directed the film which was kind of like Father of the Bride with Alda as the father and Ringwald as the bride.
The movie got mixed reviews. Ringwald and co-star (and fellow Brat Packer) Ally Sheedy were nominated for Golden Razzie Awards as Worst Actress and Worst Supporting Actress respectively. Betsy’s Wedding bombed at the box office.
Those Razzies were a sign of the times. With the 80′s over, it was a bad time to be a Brat Packer. As the symbolic head cheerleader of the group, Ringwald decided to take a hint. She left Hollywood and moved to France where she married and continued to work in foreign films.
In 1999, Ringwald returned to American film for a cameo role as a teacher in Kevin Williamson’s high school horror movie, Teaching Ms. Tingle.
Ms. Tingle was Williamson’s directing debut. It really makes you appreciate what Wes Craven brought to the Scream films. Because it is awful. Ringwald’s role is small, but it allowed her to poke fun at her Brat Pack days.
Ringwald continued having fun with her Brat Pack image with another cameo in the 2001 spoof, Not Another Teen Movie. Ringwald’s cameo is easily the highlight of the movie.
Although she was no longer an A-list movie star, Ringwald continued working in smaller movies and TV. In 2008, she landed the mother role on the hit cable show, The Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family. American’s favorite cinematic teenager had become a TV mom.
So, what the hell happened?
Ringwald rightfully credits John Hughes with her success. Without him, she struggled to find success.
But as much as Hughes was responsible for Ringwald’s meteoric rise, the Brat Pack was responsible for her career implosion. Shortly after the Brat Pack came on the scene with The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, a backlash began. All the popular young actors and actresses scambled to distance themselves from their teen images. But most failed to do so.
Eventually, Ringwald stopped trying and just walked away. Probably a good call. I don’t think American audiences were going to accept her outside of the coming-of-age movies that made her a star. The Brat Pack label was too hard to shake. And Ringwald was the face of the Brat Pack.
Kim Basinger Thora Birch Matthew Broderick Nicolas Cage Chevy Chase Kevin Costner Geena Davis Bridget Fonda Brendan Fraser Mel Gibson Cuba Gooding Jr. Heather Graham Melanie Griffith Steve Guttenberg Daryl Hannah Helen Hunt Michael Keaton Nicole Kidman Val Kilmer Jude Law Jennifer Jason Leigh Penelope Ann Miller Demi Moore Rick Moranis Eddie Murphy Mike Myers Michelle Pfeiffer Molly Ringwald Meg Ryan Winona Ryder Arnold Schwarzenegger Steven Seagal Elisabeth Shue Alicia Silverstone Christian Slater Mira Sorvino Wesley Snipes Sharon Stone Mena Suvari Uma Thurman John Travolta Kathleen Turner Robin Williams Debra Winger Sean Young Renee Zellweger
Posted on January 20, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened? and tagged brat pack, entertainment, john hughes, molly ringwad, movies, pretty in pink, sixteen candles, the breakfast club. Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.