“People always assume that everyone who was in the ‘Brat Pack’ still gets together and has picnics every Sunday — like there’s still this club with a secret handshake,” says Molly Ringwald, star of John Hughes teen classics The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. “But these are people I worked with so long ago, and we have totally separate lives.” Ringwald’s own charmed life as a fashion icon, erudite world traveler, and happily married mother of three has now inspired her candid new lifestyle guide, Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick. The flame-haired 42-year-old star of ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which returns June 7 for a third season, shares the facts of life she’s learned from gay men like Harvey Milk, Stephin Merritt, and the godfathers of her children.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: You dedicate Getting the Pretty Back to your husband, Panio Gianopoulos, and to “all women.” Will gay men also be able to appreciate the book?
Molly Ringwald: I think so. It was definitely written more for women because I was writing a lot about myself and my own personal experience. I am not a gay man, so I don’t know what that experience is like. You read it, so what do you think?
Well, I got some good party-throwing tips, some fun song suggestions for my iPod, and I’ll definitely use your recipes for fondue and bouillabaisse in the future. Your parenting and relationship advice is also fairly universal.
Good! My best friend, who’s also the godfather of my daughter, is a gay man that I’ve been friends with since I was 10 years old, and his husband is my son’s godfather. Other than my husband, they were two of the first people to read the book, and they totally related to it. I think you’re right that a lot of it is universal, so I hope the gay community enjoys it.
Why should people take your advice on anything?
No good reason. [Laughs] No good reason at all. I don’t consider myself an expert in any way, other than the fact that I’m a woman and these are my own experiences. I tried to write with a tone of just sitting down with a girlfriend. Anytime that I wrote about something that did require an expert’s knowledge or opinion, I enlisted a friend to help.
Did you enlist any gay friends?
Definitely. Mike Albo was actually the first person I contacted to do a sidebar for me about undermining friends. He wrote The Underminer, which is a hilarious book, and he’s one of the funniest people alive. And the sidebar about fashion faux pas was written by Todd Thomas, who designed my Oscar dress, which I loved.
When encouraging a woman to enlist friends to help weed through her wardrobe, you write, “If you have a stylish gay friend, skip the girl and go for him.”
Actually, when I first wrote that I said, “If you have a stylish gay friend, skip the girl and go for the gay.” [Laughs] My husband said, “You might want to change that to ‘go for him.’ People who don’t know you might take that a pejorative term.” My gay friends would know the spirit in which it was meant, but I didn’t want anyone to take that out of context and think I was writing something negative about gay people. But I think it’s a great slogan, and my gay friends said it would’ve been fine, but you never know.
In your acknowledgments section, you thank trans performer Justin Bond for “the funniest sidebar that I could not include.” What was it?
I asked Justin to write a sidebar for the style section on how to be the perfect lady. Every time I went to a Kiki & Herb show, I was always astounded by how he moves and how glamorous he can be. Justin just has a certain style — a way of moving the wrist, crossing the ankle — that women have almost forgotten how to do, like a lost art. He wrote something so funny and so irreverent, but I just felt like it was one of those things that wouldn’t be understood by a lot of readers.
You also thank performer Julian Fleisher and Kiki & Herb’s Kenny Mellman. How do you know all these gay men, Molly?
Justin Bond I’ve known for years because he went to Adelphi with one of my best friends, Victoria Leacock. So that’s also how I know Kenny, and Julian Fleisher produced the first Kiki & Herb album, which I sang on with Isaac Mizrahi. It’s pretty safe to say that most of the men thanked in the Acknowledgments section are gay.
According to your book, gay singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt from Magnetic Fields is partially to thank for bringing you and your husband together.
Yes, he is. I was part of this online literary group that a friend of mine had started called “Quip Pro Quo.” I wrote and thanked Panio for contributing a piece by John Cheever, and he responded to some lyrics I had posted from a Magnetic Fields song from 69 Love Songs, so we sort of bonded on that. I actually wrote a profile on Stephin Merritt some years ago, because I’ve always been a huge fan of his, and I told him that story when I interviewed him. He sort of looked mildly startled, like, Oh, my God, I’m responsible for something?
Did you catch Stephin’s off-Broadway musical adaptation of Coraline, which starred Julian Fleisher as the cat and David Greenspan as Other Mother?
No, I was so upset I didn’t get to see it. When I interviewed Stephin, he was just thinking about doing it, so we talked about that. He actually said, “Maybe you’d be good for the Mother.” But he definitely went in a different direction. [Laughs] I just love his lyrics because he’s so smart and clever.
Tell me about the humorous “Vote No on Prop. 8” video that you and your husband filmed in 2008.
My friend Matt knew somebody that was doing it and wanted me to be a part of it, so of course I said I would. It was important to me to do because it seems absolutely crazy that people who love each other can’t marry. It’s unfair the way the whole Prop. 8 thing went down — the act of voting no on something instead of yes was confusing, and it felt like a train wreck from the very beginning. Right now it’s frustrating, but years from now it’s going to seem crazy, like, “Oh, my God, we had slavery? We thought it was OK to enslave people?” Matt and Greg, the godparents of my children, have a relationship and a marriage that most people could only aspire to have.
Have you always been conscious of your gay fan base?
Since most my friends are gay, it would be hard not to be aware of it now, but I don’t think I realized it early on in my career because I don’t know that I definitely had that fan base until later. I became pretty aware of it in the ’90s, after some time had passed, and especially when I was living in New York and doing a lot of theater.
Like when you starred on Broadway as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in 2002 opposite Raúl Esparza, John Stamos, and Neil Patrick Harris as the Masters of Ceremonies. Two of the three came out after that show, so your track record’s pretty good.
[Laughs] That’s true!
The gay community might’ve identified with the general outcast characters in your John Hughes films, but why do you think there was no gay representation?
Maybe it was just too soon and too controversial at the time, but from what I understand, John was a big Republican. I really didn’t know this back then, and maybe he wasn’t when I was working with him, but I guess he became one. Not to say that all Republicans are antigay, but historically, you know, that has to rub off a little bit, right?
Though there were no gay characters, homosexuality was addressed in those early films through the frequent use of the word “fag.” Your character, Samantha, called Anthony Michael Hall’s Geek a “fag” in Sixteen Candles. “You die, fag” is scrawled on Bender’s locker in The Breakfast Club. And though it’s never spelled out, some of those outcast characters I mentioned — Duckie in Pretty in Pink, Brian in The Breakfast Club — almost seem like gay characters, in a way.
Yeah, completely! I totally know what you mean, and if those films were done today, those characters probably would’ve been gay. But sometimes I wonder if John was even aware of that. I don’t know that he was. What made those movies so interesting and so hard for people to replicate is that for some reason John was still somehow emotionally in the mind-set of those teenagers. Usually you can hear when an adult clearly wrote something for a kid character, but John’s movies don’t sound like that because he was still emotionally in that place. So you know how some kids can be gay and not know it? Or maybe they kind of know it but aren’t facing it? I feel like maybe John was writing those characters like that.
High school ensembles today are obviously much more likely to include an openly gay character, like The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Griffin, a gay student, was introduced last season, and a gay male couple was even considered as adoptive parents for Amy’s baby. That’s not bad for an ABC Family show.
The show’s creator, Brenda Hampton, is an interesting individual because some parts of herself are so conservative and some are liberal, so our show ends up representing all these different points of view. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but obviously I’m happier when things are more liberal because I’m very liberal. Originally, the gay couple was actually going to adopt the baby — it was a consideration that Amy wasn’t going to keep the baby and that it was going to be adopted by this gay couple. I was very excited about it and kind of upset when that didn’t happen, but I understand the reasons why she made the choice that she made. I still thought it was great that that was even a viable option and that it was the couple who decided not to do it rather than them being turned down.
Have you ever played a lesbian character?
No, I never have! I would be totally open to it. People have sent me scripts with lesbian parts, but I’ve turned them down — not because I didn’t want to play a lesbian but because it wasn’t well written. I’m totally into it.
You were a regular on the first season of The Facts of Life. What do you remember about that infamous 1979 pilot episode, in which Blair insinuates that her tomboy classmate, Cindy, is a lesbian?
I remember nothing about that. Wow. Now that you say that, it sort of rings a bell, but I did not remember that at all.
Were you too young to understand the gay implications?
I knew what being gay was before I did Facts of Life because I did the West Coast production of Annie, which opened in San Francisco, and all the dressers were gay. I remember my mom talking to me about it. I was actually in San Francisco right when all that stuff was going on with Harvey Milk. I remember my mom talking to me about the Twinkie defense, and she told me the whole story of the murders, how it was a travesty, and how it never should’ve happened. We had conversations about what it meant to be gay, so I knew about that when I did Facts of Life, but for some reason I don’t remember that episode.
Your character was phased out at the very beginning of season 2, but surely you remember the sexual tension between Blair and Jo when Nancy McKeon joined the cast.
[Laughs] You know, Nancy McKeon sort of replaced me in a way. They were trimming down the cast to just four girls, and originally I was going to be one of those girls. But then they changed their mind, decided to go with Nancy McKeon, and booted me out.
See, now that’s the kind of stuff your gay fans need to read about in great detail. I know your new book is part of a two-book deal, so could there be a full-on memoir in your future?
Not as a part of this two-book deal. I feel I’m too young to write my autobiography, so that won’t come for quite a while. To be honest, I really want to write about something else other than me — maybe fiction. I am interested in other things besides myself.
Advocate.com, April 2010.