Edie McClurg in John Hughes Movies from the ’80s

John Hughes worked with several actors in multiple movies during the ’80s. Some are pretty well-recognized like Molly Ringwald who was his muse for three films (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink). Chevy Chase starred in all three Vacation movies that Hughes wrote from the decade. John Candy was in four films (Vacation, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, The Great Outdoors, and Uncle Buck) as was Anthony Michael Hall (Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science). There are a couple of other lesser-known actors that are also on that list. To find out more about one, please revisit my interview with John Kapelos who was in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science (plus he was also supposed to be in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but his scene was cut out in the final edit). And then there is also Edie McClurg.

Some of you might be asking, “Who is Edie McClurg?” Hopefully I can refresh your memory because, of the 60+ movies and 100+ television episodes she has appeared in during her career as a character actress, she appeared in four films connected to John Hughes in the ’80s (plus two more in the ’90s). You would probably recognize her voice if you heard her perky Midwest accent. She has done voice over work and has had lots of different roles, but I will always remember her best especially for two of her roles in John Hughes movies.

Her first role that is connected to John Hughes was actually in 1983’s Mr. Mom, though Hughes was only the writer of this film. McClurg plays the “Check Out Lady” who we meet at about the 1:50 mark in this hilarious scene…

The team of Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson began working with John Hughes as Casting Directors in the mid-80s. They wrote a book published in 2007 titled A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies. There is a passage in that book about Edie McClurg that Janet Hirshenson writes:

Like most casting directors, Jane and I have our favorites among the Working Actors – people whom we think have interesting faces, big talents, and a gift for making the most of the small but juicy parts. Edie McClurg, for example, is the plump, purse-lipped lady with the strong Midwestern accent who I first cast as Grace the Secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Although she’s unlikely ever to star in a film, she’s a terrific comedienne who worked for a decade with the famous comedy troupe known as the Groundlings, and she used to perform her own trademark characters on David Letterman’s daytime show. If you’ve watched TV or gone to the movies during the past three decades, you’ve almost certainly seen her, probably several times.

I picked her out immediately for Ferris Bueller because I knew that director John Hughes liked to populate his film with offbeat, distinctive characters. John never considered a small part a throwaway – no good director does – and he was always looking for someone who could contribute an unusual flavor or quirky line delivery. In fact, I think one of the reasons he came to us was because he felt that our company did an unusually good job with smaller parts, granting them the same meticulous attention that we’d give the major roles.

I’d realized right away that with John, I’d need plenty of backups for every role – he likes to see a lot of people – but in Edie’s case, I knew it wasn’t necessary. Sure enough, as soon as she walked into the audition room, he began to smile. “Oh yeah,” I thought. “This was meant to be.: Edie made even the tiniest role sing, and from then on, whenever we were casting a movie, John would say, “Okay, here’s the Edie part!” or “Wait a minute, how are we going to use Edie?”

That sure tells you a lot about the respect they all had for McClurg and gives you an idea why she would be cast in three of Hughes’ next films. First is as Mr. Rooney’s secretary “Grace” in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. She is perfect in this role and gets to say the very memorable quote describing the title character to her boss, “Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.” You can watch that entire scene right here…

Then she has another short scene interacting with Ferris’ sister Jeannie that shows off a little more of her character…

And I think it’s pretty funny when she finds a pencil in her hair…

Next she has a small role where she appears for less than 2 minutes in 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles as the counter person for a car rental company. Edie McClurg’s short scene in this movie is one of my very favorites of all time.

WARNING: It does contain vulgarity. In fact, the scene is exactly one minute long from the time Steve Martin starts his tirade, to the time the car rental associate ends the scene. In that 60 seconds, the word “f***ing” is used (impressively) 18 times! This scene is the main reason why this film received an R rating, but in my opinion it was well worth it (plus they shot an alternate version of the scene without the f-word to be used for television). Edie takes it like a champ and then her line at the end makes the whole scene…

Next up, in a very minor role, Edie McClurg played “Lynn”, one of the neighbors, in 1988’s She’s Having a Baby. Here she is with Elizabeth McGovern and another neighbor, Nancy Lenehan, during a block party…

I was very surprised to not see her turn up in 1989’s Uncle Buck since it was both written and directed by John Hughes. But she would return again in a small role in 1991’s Curly Sue which was written and directed by Hughes as well as 1997’s Flubber which was written and produced by Hughes.

As I said, you probably recognize her voice because McClurg has done a lot of voice work on animated shows over the years. Back in the ’80s, you might remember her as neighbor “Mrs. Poole” on Valerie/The Hogan Family, as the neighbor “Bonnie Brindle” on Small Wonder, Thornton Melon’s private secretary “Marge Sweetwater” in 1986’s Back to School, or even Herb’s wife on WKRP in Cincinnati. She has been the consummate character and voice actor for nearly 50 years.

As far as John Hughes films of the ’80s, it is easy to remember stars like Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and John Candy. But it is also cool to remember Edie McClurg and her multiple contributions as well.

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Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.