Imaginary Places: John Hughes's Shermer

John Hughes, who suddenly passed

away last year of a massive heart attack, is best known for writing and also often directing films about teen angst. Anyone who grew up in the 80s or even early 90s in North America probably came across The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and, even though some of it is cringe-worthy now, most probably felt some kinship with at least one or two of the characters. Whether you were the princess or the dork, Hughes’s characters are archetypes that resonate with the angsty misunderstood invisibility that many teenagers, even the most well-adjusted and privileged, feel from time to time.

To the less obsessive Hughes fan, these films very much stand on their own as independent productions, but there was a thread that connected most of his characters – they all lived in the imaginary town of Shermer, Illinois, which was based on Hughes’ own hometown of Northbrook. Films set in Shermer include The Breakfast Club, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Uncle Buck, the Home Alone films, and the National Lampoon’s Vacation films.

Hughes’s Shermer was partly Northbrook and partly a composite of all the North Shore’s towns and neighborhoods – and, by externsion, all the different milieus that existed in American suburbia. In Hughes’s mind, the would later say, Molly Ringwald’s upper-middle class character in Sixteen Candles, Samantha, was a passing acquaintance of Mathew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller, while Judd Nelson’s troubled Breakfast Club punk, Bender, came from the same forlorn section of ton as Del Griffith, the hard-knock but relentlessly upbeat shower-curtain-ring salesman played by John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. (Vanity Fair, March 2010)

When Hughes died, his family found hundreds of notebooks filled with stories and notes – many of them a continuation of the story of Shermer. I would love to know what happened to Samantha Baker.

Amy Thibodeau

View posts by Amy Thibodeau
Amy Thibodeau is originally from the Canadian Prairies, spent the last few years in one of the world's greatest cities, London, UK and is spending the next year traveling around the world. She is interested in everything, but lately is mostly fixated on art, politics, creative writing, cuddly animals and experimenting with different kinds of photography. You can find her on her personal blog Making Strange, posting to her photography project Lost and Looking, on Twitter @amythibodeau, or working as a freelance content strategist via Contentini.

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