Still in Session: The Breakfast Club celebrates 30 years
In early 1985, a new music video channel – VH-1 – made its debut, Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term as President of the United States, and on February 15, The Breakfast Club, a movie about six high school students serving detention together on a very memorable Saturday morning, first appeared on the silver screen.
The students included pampered Claire Standish, “The Princess” (Molly Ringwald), state champion Wrestler Andrew Clarke, “The Athlete” (Emilio Estevez), social outcast Allison Reynolds, “The Basket Case” (Ally Sheedy), Brian Johnson, “The Brain” (Anthony Michael Hall) and, last but not least, the rebellious John Bender, “The Criminal,” (Judd Nelson).
Assistant school principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) assigns the students a 1,000 word essay answering the question “Who do you think you are?” Over the course of the eight hour detention, the students form an unlikely bond, reveal hard truths about themselves and become a club of sorts.
By the mid 80s, screen writer John Hughes star in Hollywood was on the ascent. He made his feature film directing debut with the highly successful Sixteen Candles, also starring Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.
After working with both actors in that film, Hughes knew he wanted to include them in his next project, The Breakfast Club. In a 2010 New York Times interview with Dave Itzkoff, Ringwald recalled how she came to join the Club.
“Originally, he talked to me about playing the role that Ally Sheedy played (Allison) and I was really upset because I wanted to play Claire who was called Cathy at the time,” said Ringwald.
“She (the Cathy, later named Claire, character) was so different from the way I saw myself, and more the way I saw my older sister, because my sister was very popular at school,” she said. Ringwald recalled how after she explained this to Hughes, he agreed to let her switch roles to her delight.
Ringwald also said in the same interview that Hughes almost fired Judd Nelson, the actor who played John Bender, perhaps one of the film’s most popular characters.
“He was doing this sort of method actor thing, being very provocative with me,” Ringwald recalled to Itzkoff. “I think he made a blind joke, and my dad was blind. He was just trying to get under my skin, just like Bender tries to get under Claire’s skin. It didn’t really bother me, but John (Hughes) was extremely protective of me and it just infuriated him. And he almost fired him.”
How was that situation prevented?
“We all banded together and talked John out of firing Judd,” said Ringwald, “It really made us all seem like a real group.”
Nelson almost wasn’t cast in the role at all. Originally, Emilio Estevez was slated for the part but he was recast in the role of Andrew. Hughes considered Nicholas Cage for the part before settling on actor John Cusack. He later decided Cusack didn’t come across in a threatening enough manner and the part of Bender went to Nelson.
In more casting trivia, the part of Carl the Janitor was originally intended for actor Rick Moranis, but ended up being played by actor John Kapelos. Director Hughes has a cameo role in the film as the father of Anthony Michael Hall’s character.
The library scenes in the movie were actually filmed in the gymnasium of a closed school in which a library set was constructed. The school, Maine North High School, was located in Des Planes, Illinois, northwest of Chicago in unincorporated Maine Township.
The school had originally first opened in 1970, but due to a declining student population throughout the later part of the 70s, it closed at the end of the 1980-81 school-year. Hughes also filmed in the interior of the school for another film of his, 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Hughes went on to write and direct a number of successful films, including Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, and Home Alone. He passed away six years ago at the age of 59.
On this the 30th anniversary of The Breakfast Club, the film still has a loyal fan base and occupies a special place in their hearts.
Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges