Actress Molly Ringwald turns 49-years-old today. Molly, who became a 1980s icon thanks to director John Hughes and his penchant for teen-themed movies, was the “it” girl every teenage girl wanted to be and every teenage boy wanted to date. To celebrate the last year of Molly’s forties, let’s take a look back at some of our favorite roles.
The Facts of Life
Ringwald’s acting career began with the hit series The Facts of Life in 1979 as the red-headed, ukulele playing character Molly. The series was a spin-off of Diff’rent Strokes and featured Charlotte Rae as the wise house mother at the fictional boarding school, Eastland School for Girls, where teenage girls addressed real life problems from dating to dieting. Sadly for Ringwald, after the first season, the show was re-vamped and the cast was whittled down to four main girls and our favorite red-head didn’t make the cut. Though Molly had a few guest appearances after the re-vamp, they were brief. Still, it was an integral part in getting Ringwald’s career off the ground.
In 1983, Molly Ringwald’s life would forever be altered when she starred in her first John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. Playing the role of Samantha Baker, this Ringwald-centered flick became an instant classic. Sixteen Candles captured all of the teenage angst that could come from the high school experience. From the foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong who has instant popularity with the ladies to the kid pounding on the gymnasium doors begging his parents to let him out of the school dance, we were all Sixteen Candles.
Molly’s portrayal of the girl who spent her sixteenth birthday being forgotten by family, amorously chased by an overzealous freshman geek, all while secretly pining away for the hottest guy in school over-exaggeratedly mimicked the reality of being a teenage girl in the 1980s. But isn’t that what teenagers do? Over-exaggerate?
The ending scene in which Ringwald got the rich, good looking, senior Jake Ryan as her boyfriend gave every girl hope that they too could someday utter the line, “Thanks for getting my undies back.”
The Breakfast Club
Once again, Molly teamed up with director John Hughes and Sixteen Candles co-star Anthony Michael Hall to round out an ensemble cast of high schoolers from different cliques who are forced to come together at school on a Saturday for detention. Ringwald played the role of the rich, popular girl Claire Standish whose good girl persona played out just the right amount of high school sexual tension to Judd Nelson’s bad boy John Bender.
During a Q&A at the Los Angeles Grammy Museum that was featured on Oprah’s Where are They Now? segment, when asked which John Hughes role was her favorite, Molly Ringwald said it was difficult to choose but if she had to pick one it would probably be The Breakfast Club.
“I think probably if I had to choose, I would say Breakfast Club just because I think it was the strongest script,” Ringwald admitted. “But, I really liked all three of them for different reasons.”
Pretty in Pink
In 1986, Molly Ringwald told MTV that John Hughes had written the script of this film with her in mind for the lead. The studio, however, had Flashdance actress Jennifer Beals in mind for the role. Ringwald knew she was the only one who could play it.
“As far as the character goes, she’s so much like I am,” Molly said. “I had to do it because John wrote the script for me right after we did Sixteen Candles. If anyone else played that part it would be like somebody wearing my clothes, you know? I had to do it.”
Pretty in Pink was Ringwald’s final installment of her John Hughes trilogy, and it gave her the opportunity to play someone from the other side of the tracks. Molly showed her versatility as Andie, the poor girl who falls for the rich guy, Blane, while secretly being crushed on by her childhood friend, Duckie. We all felt the rush of excitement when Ringwald realized Andrew McCarthy’s character liked her back, the pain Molly’s character felt when she had to choose between the boy she liked and her best guy friend, and the frustration of putting up with demoralizing behavior from the rich kids.
Though the original ending had Molly Ringwald’s character ending up with Jon Cryer’s Duckie Dale, early screen testing showed that audiences wanted the poor girl to get the rich guy and the ending was re-shot for the final cut, according to Huffington Post.
In a teenage love story for the ages, Molly Ringwald plays a high school senior who gets pregnant and marries her boyfriend. As the couple struggles with still being teenagers while trying to navigate adult waters, Ringwald’s portrayal of Darcy Elliot Bobrucz tugs at your heartstrings. Molly aptly showed the insecurities of any woman as their body changes through pregnancy, the reality of postpartum depression, and attempting to raise a child and have a relationship while finishing high school and hoping to attend college.
Something to Live For: The Alison Gertz Story
Molly Ringwald tackled the stigma of AIDS, portraying the real-life AIDS activist Alison Gertz, an only child from an affluent New York family who dedicated the remaining years of her life to educating others about AIDS. Ringwald’s portrayal prompted more than 180,000 calls to the Federal AIDS information hotline within 24 hours of airing.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager
While it may not have been Molly Ringwald’s meatiest role, playing Anne Juergens, mom to Shailene Woodley’s character Amy, introduced Molly to an entirely new generation. This time, Ringwald walked the 1980s generation through parenting teens, marital problems, dating after divorce, and dealing with sick parents. Though Molly’s role was whittled down in the last few seasons, Ringwald’s appearance made it a show that mothers could watch with their daughters in an effort to better understand today’s teens.
What’s Molly up to now?
While Molly Ringwald continues to act, she’s devoted more time to her jazz singing career. For information on what she’s up to, check out her website here. And while you’re at it, wish Molly a “Happy birthday!”
Do you have a Molly Ringwald role we didn’t cover that was your favorite? Let us know!
[Featured Image by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for The Lucille Lortel Awards.]