"Ain't She Sweet?"
Everyone who survived the Reagan era has a theory as to why Molly Ringwald didn't, that is, didn't survive the decade with her stardom level intact, why she was on the cover of Time magazine in 1986, and doing a one-shot on Medium in 2006. Here's mine:
A few months after the Time issue, in April 1987, Ringwald was featured on the cover of Life -- her second appearance there in about a year. This time, she was part of an A-list clique -- Robert De Niro! Harrison Ford! Tom Cruise! -- assembled for the magazine's "Stars Celebrate Hollywood" issue. Super, right?
While Ringwald made it to the cover photo shoot, she didn't make it to the shoot for an inside feature that was to have paired her, moviedom's young actress of the moment, with Lillian Gish, moviedom's young actress of 1913. Instead of letting her absence pass without mention, Life mentioned. And, for bad measure, it ran a solo shot of Gish looking about as lonely as a lonely convalescent-home grandma on Christmas Eve. Suddenly, Ringwald wasn't Time's "Ain't She Sweet" girl; she was the ungrateful brat of the Brat Pack.
Nearly 20 years on, Ringwald hadn't forgotten the Life incident, as this 2000 interview with eFilmCritic attested. In it, Ringwald insisted that Life hadn't told the whole story, hadn't mentioned the wrong-way taxi that made her miss her date, hadn't noted the flowers and sorry note she sent Gish.
"They got a much better article out of me that way than if I'd showed up," she said, "and it started this feeling that I was a bratty actress who didn't care and left people waiting."
The box-office flops that followed the Life piece -- The Pick-Up Artist, For Keeps and Fresh Horses -- didn't help. But Ringwald was right -- right about the "feeling." It was there, and it was a killer. But maybe not for the reason Ringwald thinks.
It says here that Ringwald's downfall actually dates back to the 1986 Time magazine profile. The one with the innocuous cover line, "Ain't She Sweet."
Actually, no, Time magazine. She wasn't sweet. Ringwald's three best performances, in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, were exercises in hostility -- and rightly so. John Hughes High, clean, well-lighted hallways or no, was no place for ninnies. Accordingly, Ringwald's Samantha Baker was bitter and hostile. Claire Standish was angry and hostile. Andie Walsh was dismissive, although, no, not-so hostile.
For whatever reason -- and, for argument's sake, let's say it was because Ringwald was young, female and possessed of cotton-candy-spun hair -- Time magazine didn't take her or her films seriously, didn't get that John Hughes movies were, for the pre-Columbine era, dark, and didn't get that Ringwald's characters weren't terribly sweet.
Imagine if Time and others had gotten it. Imagine a cover story on "Hollywood's New Bad Girl," or "The Teen Queen of Mean." Imagine the subsequent Lillian Gish story fueling the Ringwald reputation -- watch out, fellas, she's trouble! Imagine Ringwald becoming the red-headed Drew Barrymore, instead of fading into the background.
And now back to reality: Ringwald's 40, and on her second or third comeback, if you count either Townies and/or The Stand as prior comebacks that didn't take. Her new series, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, debuted to decent ratings the other night. So, yea. She's the doyenne of ABC Family Channel.
Happy now, Lillian Gish?
(Originally published by Joal Ryan on July 3, 2008.)
c. Joal Ryan