It was bracing a few years back, at least for those of us of a certain age, to see Molly Ringwald cast as a grandmother on TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Wasn’t it been just yesterday that she was the archetypal American teenager herself in Sixteen Candles? How can it have been 30 years since that iconic film opened in May 1984?
It would be impossible to overstate how large Sixteen Candles looms in the imaginations of three decades’ worth of moviegoers. Not only did the film make stars of Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and others, not only did it mark the directing debut of John Hughes, but it also became one of the signature movies of the 1980s and the template for most high school comedies of the last 30 years. Hughes’ genius was to see teens as they saw themselves, to appreciate that their seemingly trivial moments of high drama really were high drama, and to let them know that, no matter how freakish they felt, they were not alone.
It’s tempting, then, to see the kids of Sixteen Candles as icons frozen in time. But they’ve moved on, as we all do, some to greener pastures, some not so green. If Ringwald and her schoolmates held a 30th class reunion, these are the stories they might tell of their lives.
Molly Ringwald (Samantha Baker)
At 15, Ringwald became Hughes’ muse on the strength of her headshot alone; he wrote the lead role in Sixteen Candles with the Tempest actress in mind. She famously followed the film up with starring roles in Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. She graduated to more mature roles in The Pick-Up Artist, Fresh Horses, and Betsy’s Wedding, but her movie career never returned to its Hughes-era heights. She fared better on TV, in projects from the Stephen King mini-series The Stand to her mom/grandma role on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Now 45, Ringwald has yet to announce any new projects since the five-year run of Secret Life ended in 2013.
Michael Schoeffling (Jake Ryan)
Playing nice-guy dreamboat Jake Ryan was Michael Schoffling’s big break at age 23; he won the part over fellow unknown Viggo Mortensen. Still, after playing similarly soft-spoken hunks in Vision Quest, Slaves of New York, Longtime Companion, Mermaids, and finally 1991’s Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, he quit showbiz. He moved to Newfoundland, Pa., married, raised a family, and worked as a carpenter building custom furniture. Now 53, he’s been absent from the screen for 23 years, so we never had to watch Jake Ryan get old.
Anthony Michael Hall (Farmer Ted)
Hall, 15, had so impressed Hughes when he played Rusty Griswold in the Hughes-scripted National Lampoon’s Vacation that Hughes wrote for him the part of Farmer Ted, simply known as The Geek, in Sixteen Candles. After his immortal performance in that film, followed by his similar roles in Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Weird Science, Hall was typecast forever more in geeky parts. Even a late-teen growth spurt that had him playing jocks in Johnny Be Good and Edward Scissorhands couldn’t erase his geek cred. He played Bill Gates in the 1999 TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, the Christopher Walken role on USA’s The Dead Zone for five seasons, and villain Walter Sykes on SyFy series Warehouse 13 (2011-12). The 45-year-old will be back on the big screen in November, alongside Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell, in the indie drama Foxcatcher.
Haviland Morris (Caroline Mulford)
Morris was 24 when she made her film debut in 1984’s Reckless, the same year she played Jake’s beautiful, bored girlfriend in Sixteen Candles. Her later films included Who’s That Girl?, Gremlins 2: The New Batch (alongside Gedde Watanabe), Home Alone 3, and The Baxter. On TV, she did numerous guest spots on Law & Order and its spinoffs, as well as One Tree Hill and (most recently, in 2012) The Good Wife. Now 54, Morris has a day job as a Manhattan realtor, but she continues to act; her next film, naval drama Burning Blue, is due in theaters next month.
Blanche Baker (Ginny Baker)
The daughter of Oscar-nominated Baby Doll star Carroll Baker, Blanche Baker was already an Emmy-winning TV actress (Holocaust) when she landed at 27 the Sixteen Candles role of Ginny, Samantha’s soon-to-be-married sister. She went on to appear in the movies Raw Deal and The Handmaid’s Tale and on TV in Law & Order and the 2009 HBO movie Taking Chance. Now 57, she stars as a vengeful housewife in the thriller Jersey Justice, debuting on DVD this month.
Paul Dooley (Jim Baker)
Dooley has made a career of playing put-upon dads, from Robert Altman’s A Wedding and Breaking Away to Sixteen Candles, in which he co-starred at age 55. He’s continued to play such roles on film and TV, including Dream On, Waiting for Guffman, The Practice, ER, Desperate Housewives, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cars (and Cars 2), and Super Fun Night. Now 85, Dooley made his most recent appearance earlier this year on an episode of Parenthood.
Carlin Glynn (Brenda Baker)
Glynn was 39 when she made her Tony-winning Broadway debut in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a musical co-written by her husband, playwright/director Peter Masterson. Five years later, the 44-year-old played Ringwald’s mother in Sixteen Candles. The following year, she co-starred in The Trip to Bountiful, directed by her husband. Her other films included Gardens of Stone, Judy Berlin, and Whiskey School (her final feature, from 2005). She retired from acting in 2006. Glynn (now 74) and Masterson are the parents of Mary Stuart Masterson, who starred in Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful.
Justin Henry (Mike Baker)
For his first performance, as Dustin Hoffman’s son in Kramer vs. Kramer, seven-year-old Henry became the youngest actor ever nominated for an Oscar. He was 12 when he played Ringwald’s bratty brother in Sixteen Candles. He continued to act sporadically during the 1980s in such films as Martin’s Day and Sweet Heart’s Dance. After college, he seldom acted but remained in showbiz, as the founder of the short-life Slamdunk film festival (1998-2003) and as an executive at streaming video site Veoh. Now 42, he appears on screen in the sci-fi/horror feature Reaper, due in theaters later this year.
Edward Andrews (Howard Baker)
By the time 69-year-old Andrews appeared as Samantha’s paternal grandfather, Howard, in Sixteen Candles, he’d had a long and distinguished career as a film and TV character actor, with roles in such films as Tea and Sympathy, Elmer Gantry, The Absent-Minded Professor, Send Me No Flowers, and Tora! Tora! Tora! After Candles, he appeared in one more film, Gremlins, before his death in 1985 at age 70.
Billie Bird (Dorothy Baker)
Bird had a long career in vaudeville and theater before enjoying her film breakthrough as a comic actress in her sixties in The Odd Couple. She was 75 when she played Samantha’s paternal grandmother, Dorothy, in Sixteen Candles. Afterwards, she was a series regular on Benson, appeared in two Police Academy sequels, and acted in the Hughes-scripted comedies Home Alone and Dennis the Menace. Her last film was Pauly Shore’s Jury Duty in 1995. She died in 2002 at age 94.
Gedde Watanabe (Long Duk Dong)
Born Gary Watanabe, the 28-year-old actor was so convincing in his audition (and later, on screen) in the role of hard-partying Chinese exchange student Long Duk Dong that few observers realized he was born and raised in Utah. Watanabe went on to play memorable comic roles in Volunteers, Gung Ho, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He showed off a more dramatic side during his six-year stint as a nurse on ER. Now 58, he’s continued to make an impression in such recent films as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Parental Guidance, and his most recent work, last year’s 47 Ronin.
Carole Cook (Grandma Helen)
A protégée of Lucille Ball’s, comic actress Cook had appeared in such films as The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Gauntlet, and American Gigolo when, at 59, she got to co-star in Sixteen Candles as the grandma who feels up pubescent granddaughter Samantha. Her movie roles since have included Grandview U.S.A., Lost & Found, and Home on the Range. The 90-year-old’s last acting appearance was a 2006 guest spot on Grey’s Anatomy.
Max Showalter (Grandpa Fred)
Before his turn at 66 as Samantha’s wisecracking maternal grandfather in Sixteen Candles, Showalter had been a movie character actor for four decades in such films as Niagara and Bus Stop (both with Marilyn Monroe) and Elmer Gantry (with future fellow Sixteen Candles grandpa Edward Andrews). In fact, Sixteen Candles was his last appearance. His retirement lasted 16 years until his death at 83 in 2000.
Debbie Pollack (Marlene Lumberjack)
Pollack made her screen debut in Sixteen Candles as Marlene Lumberjack, an Amazon who takes an instant liking to Long Duk Dong. She went on to a recurring role on the soap Santa Barbara and other TV guest roles on such shows as St. Elsewhere, Newhart, and ER. She took a 14-year absence to raise a family and get a stockbroker’s license, but she returned to TV in recent years with guest spots on Criminal Minds (2011) and American Horror Story (also 2011). Her most recent appearance was as a mystery woman during the 2012 series finale of Desperate Housewives.
Liane Curtis (Randy)
Having made her film debut in John Sayles’ Baby, It’s You (1983), Curtis was 18 when she played Ringwald’s pal in Sixteen Candles. It remains her highest profile to date, though she also appeared in such films as Critters 2: The Main Course, Girlfriend From Hell, Queens Logic, and Benny & Joon, as well as TV guest spots on such shows as ER and Sons of Anarchy. Now a music producer, the 48-year-old Curtis will be seen on screen in Body High, a comedy due for release this spring.
John Kapelos (Rudy)
The Sixteen Candles role of bridegroom Rudy was one of 27-year-old Kapelos’ first film roles. He reunited with Hughes (and Anthony Michael Hall) in Weird Science and The Breakfast Club (where he played all-knowing janitor Carl, perhaps his best-known role). Since then, he’s appeared in countless TV shows and movies, including Roxanne, Internal Affairs, Forever Knight, Seinfeld, The West Wing, Legally Blonde, The Dead Zone (which reteamed him with Hall), Queer as Folk, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family, and Justified. Watch for the 57-year-old in August’s action film Underdogs.
John Cusack (Bryce)
His Sixteen Candles role as geek sidekick Bryce was only 17-year-old Cusack’s second film role, but by the following year, he’d graduated to lead in such films as The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead. By the end of the decade, with Say Anything, he became one of his generation’s favorite leading men. He followed that up with such indelible films as The Grifters, Bullets Over Broadway, Grosse Pointe Blank, Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, and 2012. He spoofed his own ’80s teen stardom in 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine. Watch for the 47-year-old in several 2014 films, including thriller The Bag Man, David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, and Beach Boy Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy.
Joan Cusack (Geek Girl #1)
Sixteen Candles wasn’t the first film that 21-year-old Joan Cusack appeared in alongside her brother John (that would be 1983’s Class), and it was far from the last. As an unnamed geek, Cusack enjoyed a memorable sight gag involving a drinking fountain. She went on to star on the ill-fated 1985-86 season of Saturday Night Live (along with Anthony Michael Hall) before moving on to acclaimed comic roles in such films as Broadcast News, Working Girl (which earned her an Oscar nomination), Addams Family Values, Grosse Pointe Blank (a collaboration with John), In & Out (another Oscar-nominated role), Runaway Bride, Toy Story 2 (and 3), School of Rock, and Chicken Little. The 51-year-old is due later this year in the comedy-drama Welcome to Me.
Jami Gertz (Robin)
Like Ringwald, Gertz was an alumna of the prep-school sitcom The Facts of Life when she landed a role in Sixteen Candles; at 18, she got to play Caroline’s scissor-wielding friend Robin. Gertz went on to star in such iconic ’80s movies as The Lost Boys and Less Than Zero. Despite such prominent films as Twister, Gertz has focused in recent years on TV roles, including long sitcom stints on Still Standing and Entourage. Now 48, she’s a star of the current ABC comedy The Neighbors.