On the day I snapped a photo of the Winnetka house where the movie “Home Alone” was filmed, director John Hughes died. I had wanted to visit Hughes movie locations for years. But it was only this month that motivation and unused vacation time intersected, propelling me north for a long weekend in and around Chicago, the city so beautifully showcased in many of Hughes’ films.
On the day I snapped a photo of the Winnetka house where the movie “Home Alone” was filmed, director John Hughes died.
I had wanted to visit Hughes movie locations for years. But it was only this month that motivation and unused vacation time intersected, propelling me north for a long weekend in and around Chicago, the city so beautifully showcased in many of Hughes’ films.
As a writer and director, he brought to 1980s screens the kinds of movies that are easy to watch over and over again: “Mr. Mom,” “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Weird Science,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Home Alone” and — my favorites — “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Uncle Buck,” “Vacation” and “Christmas Vacation.”
My first visit to a Hughes movie set, in 1989, was accidental.
It was a hot and humid weekday morning in July when I got off a plane at Chicago’s now-bulldozed lakefront airport, Meigs Field. The terminal — decorated with tinsel and Christmas trees — was filled with men and women wearing winter coats, some carrying wrapped holiday gifts.
An airport staffer told me they were filming a movie starring John Candy and Catherine O’Hara. I was invited to stay and watch if I remained in the background and was quiet.
Are you kidding? I skipped a meeting so I could gawk. I didn’t see Candy or O’Hara, although I did notice they each had trailers outside with their names on them.
I later came to find out that the movie was “Home Alone,” and the scene shot that day was O’Hara trying desperately to return home to Chicago by way of Scranton, Pa. It’s where O’Hara meets Candy, who plays Gus Polinski, Polka King of the Midwest. Meigs was a stand-in for the Scranton airport.
When I flew out of Meigs to Springfield around 5 p.m. that day, the crew was still filming and the extras were still standing around in their winter coats. In the final cut, the airport scene is 3 minutes long.
My fortuitous adventure at Meigs bolstered my awe of filmmakers. Watching “Home Alone” with my children about 30 times heightened my admiration for Hughes.
And so, this month I made a pilgrimage to Chicago — my hometown — figuratively chasing John Hughes. During my quest, I returned to locations I know well and hunted up new ones.
There was the Art Institute, where Ferris and company spent part of their day off and sidekick Cameron Frye stared down a character in Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” And I visited the reddish sculpture known as “The Flamingo” at Adams and Dearborn streets, where the righteous dude lip-syncs “Twist and Shout” in the German-American parade.
I followed the path of the hooky-playing Ferris trio to Wrigley Field, the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), Marina Towers, Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building and the green, curved highrise at 333 Wacker Drive, where Ferris’ dad had his office. And there was the downtown Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) where Clark Griswold shops in “Christmas Vacation.”
Near the “Home Alone” house in Winnetka is the church where Kevin McCallister talks to the scary Mr. Marley. The ice-skating rink is in the city’s Hubbard Woods section, as is the building used as a pharmacy. Also in that city, I found a bank on Green Bay Road that was featured in “Uncle Buck.”
In Highland Park is the home of Ferris’ buddy, Cameron; the property is where the red Ferrari slides down into a ravine. The “Save Ferris” water tower is near the Northbrook Public Library.
In “Sixteen Candles,” a school bus scene is shot across from the village hall in Northbrook. Anthony Michael Hall drives a Rolls Royce on Central Street in Evanston. Also in Evanston is the big, white “Uncle Buck” house.
There were a few other movie locations I saw, and many more that I didn’t. A sequel may be forthcoming. It makes me feel like a part of the movies I love; there’s also a buzz in the search.
It was freaky timing that my Hughes movie tour started on Aug. 6, the day the filmmaker died of a heart attack at the age of 59.
Hughes left us with a remarkable string of family-friendly hits that helped define a generation’s popular culture. His body of work captured both the frustrations and rewards of family life and the angst of disaffected youth — all with a big dose of humor. Is it possible for anyone else to do that?
Kathryn Rem can be reached at (217) 788-1520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.