In a March 24 LA Times article (linked through GreenCine Daily), Patrick Goldstein speculates on one of the great questions of our time: What ever happened to John Hughes?

“Hollywood is full of older masters who’ve been mentors to younger acolytes,” Goldstein (over)generously concedes. “But Hughes, 58, is the only one who’s disappeared without a trace; he quit directing in 1991, moved back to Chicago in 1995 and has basically stayed out of sight ever since.”

Something I’ve wondered off and on about myself—assuming Hughes hasn’t simply mutated into Judd Apatow Incorporated while none of us was looking. But Apatow himself apparently feels the loss, which presumably explains why he’d exhume an old Hughes story idea as plotline for Drillbit Taylor (starring Owen Wilson, pretty in pink as always), the Judd factory’s current teen-market outing.

“John Hughes wrote some of the great outsider characters of all time,” Apatow insists. “It’s pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we’ve been doing, with outrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes’s films. Whether it’s Freaks and Geeks or Superbad, the whole idea of having outsiders as the lead characters, that all started with Hughes.”

Taking the notion another step toward absurdity, Dogma‘s Kevin Smith hyperbolically argues that Goldstein’s hermit of the North Shore is actually “our generation’s J.D. Salinger.”

“He touched a generation and then the dude checked out,” Smith mourns his departed hero. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. Basically my stuff is just John Hughes films with four-letter words.” 

Which is probably why Dogma schmoes Jay and Silent Bob considered a slackers’ tour of Shermer, Illinois, mythical burb cum high school of Breakfast Club/Ferris Bueller fame—also, not coincidentally, pseudonym of choice for Hughes’s hometown, Shermerville being what suburban Northbrook originally was called. It’s rumored Hughes still hides out there—though maybe it’s churlish of me to bring it up, since he’s taken so many pains to cover his professional tracks. Better no mentors at all than this kind of Hollywood schmoozing and dealing—a realization too late, for Hughes anyway, if not for the aspiring auteurs in his commercial wake.

But at least we’ll always have Planes, Trains & Automobiles—so what kind of wonderful is that?