Photograph by Pamela Littky
Molly Ringwald was the most famous face of a trifecta of teen films that defined a decade and a generation, turning out leads in three '80s Brat Pack classics -- Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink -- in as many years. "Ain't She Sweet," Time magazine crooned on its inevitable cover -- and she was, she totally was.
She's still recognizably That Girl at 44, with fair skin and freckles blooming beneath big sunglasses on a warm afternoon in Venice, Calif., her auburn hair worn straight and tied neatly back. And she's still sweet -- quick to compliment her costars, too kind to name names during less flattering anecdotes -- but there's no trace of awkwardness, no shy naivete.
Although ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager has managed in its four seasons to both annoy the left (with its pro-teen parenthood, seemingly anti-abortion storylines) and anger the right (a threatened boycott over a gay high school character), Ringwald expects that it's going to be her character, a teen's mother, that will elicit outraged headlines: Molly Ringwald comes out, destroys family show beloved by conservatives with a shocking mid-life lesbian crisis!
"I would love it," she says, laughing at the idea of being in Bill O'Reilly's bullseye. "It would give me an opportunity to explain why I don't think I am ruining America's youth." ABC Family's no stranger to gay storylines -- the cable network was named most inclusive by GLAAD in 2011 -- but even after too many high school hookups to count, Ringwald says this plot twist still required executive approval.
"They've dealt with gay characters, and they've dealt with gay characters kissing -- they just haven't dealt with 'Molly Ringwald being a lesbian,' " she says. "Seeing someone that they've grown up with, that they've identified with for so long -- it's a great way to break down that us-versus-them barrier a little more." The echo chamber over at Fox News certainly isn't helping anyone make up their own mind about equal rights, she says. "It's so insidious. It's like Nazi propaganda."
Ringwald had a hand in Secret Life creator Brenda Hampton's development for her character's late-in-life coming out, but she's also slowly been staking out her own territory as a storyteller. "I've always been something of a closet writer," she says. She penned a breezy mommy-advice book, Getting the Pretty Back, and a widely reblogged tribute to director John Hughes in The New York Times.
When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories (HarperCollins) will be released this fall and links tales of betrayal, including one about a mother and six-year-old transgender son that was inspired by two families at her older daughter's Los Angeles school.
The most overlooked archetype in Hughes's high school oeuvre was "the gay kid" -- or at least an out one. "John wrote a lot of gay characters," Ringwald says easily. "But it was something that we never talked about. I would say in just about every movie he did, he had a character that easily could have been gay."
Even the iconic final Pretty in Pink shot -- the prom sequence ends with Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy kissing in the street -- was one of two possible happy endings that Hughes shot. In the other version, Andie ends up with flamboyant, heart-on-his-sleeve Duckie, played by Jon Cryer.
There was just one problem, Ringwald says: "Duckie doesn't know he's gay. I think he loves Andie in the way that [my gay best friend] always loved me. That ending fell so flat -- it bombed at all the screenings. I didn't realize it then -- I just knew that my character shouldn't end up with him, because we didn't have that sort of chemistry. If John was here now, and I could talk to him, I think that he would completely acknowledge that."
The Secret Life of the American Teenager season finale airs August 13.