Nancy Hughes, inspiration, trusted adviser and wife of filmmaker John Hughes, has died at 68

When they met at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, she crossed chasms of cliques to be with him. As newlyweds with little money, she supported his screenwriting dreams.

SHARE Nancy Hughes, inspiration, trusted adviser and wife of filmmaker John Hughes, has died at 68
Nancy Hughes at one of the many beneficiaries of her philanthropy: the John & Nancy Hughes Theater at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest.

Nancy Hughes at one of the many beneficiaries of her philanthropy: the John & Nancy Hughes Theater at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest.

Robin Subar Photography for JWC Media

If it hadn’t been for Nancy Hughes, it’s likely that her husband, filmmaker John Hughes, never would have produced the string of movies that critic Roger Ebert said made him “the creator of the modern American teenager.”

When they met at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, she crossed chasms of teen cliques to be with him. And when they were newlyweds with little money or connections, she supported his screenwriting dreams.

She was his cheerleader and most trusted adviser in the 1980s as he churned out films like “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Home Alone,” “Mr. Mom,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “She’s Having a Baby.’’

And whether they were living on the North Shore or in the movie colonies of California, Mrs. Hughes made their homes a refuge, a place immune to shifting Hollywood loyalties and box-office receipts, filling them with good food, lively music and fun card games.

When asked, she had down-to-earth advice for guests including her children’s buddies, up-and-coming actors or actor John Candy and his family, who were close friends.

Mrs. Hughes died Sept. 15 at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital of complications of a blood infection from a perforated ulcer, according to her son John. She was 68.

“She helped my dad be the best he could be,” he said.

Nancy and John Hughes at a movie premiere. |

Nancy and John Hughes at a movie premiere.

Provided photo

She became ill two weeks ago, a day after she buried her mother Naomi Ludwig. Mrs. Hughes had taken her mom into her Lake Forest home and been a devoted caregiver, her son said, despite the grief that followed the deaths of her sister Janice in 2000, her father Hank in 2013, and her husband in 2009.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Hughes focused on family, friends and philanthropic causes. She contributed to the restoration of lakefront bluffs and the John & Nancy Hughes Theater at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest.

At the hospital where she died, she’d funded the John and Nancy Hughes Pavilion.

“So much of her life was helping to make my dad so great,” their son said. “Those movies wouldn’t have been made without her. She played defense for him and built this wall around him.”

He relied on her intuition regarding studio meetings and players and “always showed her early cuts” for feedback, the son said.

In the early days of their marriage, John Hughes worked for Leo Burnett advertising in Chicago. When he decided to write for the National Lampoon and pursue screenwriting,“She said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” their son said.

With early films like “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” “He was able to shoot in his own backyard” in the north suburbs, their son said. With success came pressure to move to California. They returned to the Midwest in the late 1980s.

Young Nancy grew up in Northbrook, where she met her future husband in 1967 at Glenbrook North.

“My dad was playing music and was painting and being sort of an artist, and my mom was willing to cross into his crowd, and that was it,” their son said.“They went from high school all the way through.”

She was 16 when she brought 17-year-old John home.

“I’ll never forget,” she once told the Chicago Sun-Times, “my dad said to John, ‘What are you going to do for the rest of your life?’ And John said, ‘I want to be a poet.’ ”

She was so worried about her father’s reaction she thought she might be sick. But she said he admired young John’s work ethic.

After he died, “My mom missed my dad so much,” their son said. “It was a hard 10 years for her.”

Mrs. Hughes is also survived by her son James and four grandchildren. Services have been held. “We laid her to rest next to my dad” in Lake Forest Cemetery, their son John said.

In the Hughes film canon, the movie most closely linked with her is “She’s Having a Baby,” which her husband dedicated to her. “A lot of their story is woven into that movie,” their son said.

During production, he said, “My dad had a long conversation with [singer-songwriter] Kate Bush about my mom.” He used her song “This Woman’s Work” in a sequence where an anxious Kevin Bacon waits for Elizabeth McGovern to emerge from a difficult childbirth, with the lyrics:

Give me these moments back

Give them back to me

Give me that little kiss

Give me your hand.

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