By H. Simmons
Molly Ringwald, the iconic teen of the eighties, is all grown up. Though still primarily known for her acting roles in the now classic coming of age films, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, Ringwald has successfully moved on from childhood stardom.
Today, Ringwald is forty-four years old, a wife and a mother of three. Besides a committed domestic life, she has a current television-acting gig on ABC Family; she is a singer with an upcoming album — a jazz collection, and a new novel — her second book!
You might be thinking, just because a celebrity sings, it doesn’t make her a “singer”. If she wrote a book, name recognition will sell a few copies. Even superstars must find a way to pay their property taxes, right? It’s true property taxes must get paid, but Ringwald’s trifecta of talent is genuine.
The first speaker of this season’s Arts and Letters Series, Ringwald brilliantly kicked-off the series at the UCR Palm Desert campus last week. Highlighting writers and artists, the Arts and Letters program offers the Coachella Valley an intimate look at the creative process. Hosted by MFA director Tod Goldberg, Ringwald charmed the full auditorium.
Goldberg said at the opening of the event, “One of the main goals of our Masters in Fine Arts program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts is to instill in our students the idea that writing is not, in fact, a singular experience, but one that allows you to learn to express your art in as many forms as possible.”
Certainly Molly Ringwald fills that criteria. Ringwald has been acting since the age of three. At age five, Ringwald sang with her father, Bob Ringwald, a blind jazz pianist and his group the Fulton Street Jazz Band. Growing up, Ringwald thought of herself as a singer first, then writer and an actor third. She believed she had to choose one, and acting had already taken the lead. Today, she makes time for all three.
Ringwald still exudes the smart, sweet innocence like that of her teenage movie characters, sans the awkwardness and anxiety. Now there is an honest maturity about her; an authentic acceptance and comfort with her middle-aged self. She is age appropriately beautiful and fit. Not Hollywood skinny or sculpted. She appeared relaxed and centered.
Her husband, Panio Gianopoulos, a writer and editor, and their nine-year-old daughter sat in the front row for the event. It is obvious their presence is more than supportive. They enjoy being together. It is a family affair to be shared. The three-year-old twins stayed home with a baby-sitter in Los Angeles, the long ride intolerable for the tots. When asked about her busy life she said, “It’s daily negotiations that make it work.”
And focused work is how she does it all so well. Her new book is fiction. When It Happens to You, a novel in stories, took two years to complete. She says, “It was a psychological hurdle for me to get over the idea that writing is work and that it demands the same level of concentration and dedication that my other work demands.” Her effort shows. It is a well-written, provocative story about love and betrayal.
Her first book, Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick is a nonfiction guide to maintaining style at middle age. Ringwald told the story of how the book got its title. Pregnant with her first child, a friend said to her, “the baby will suck the pretty out of you.” Ringwald found that was not true. She wanted to validate women her age with a book that celebrates and encourages woman to be and look their best.
A supporting character in the television show The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Ringwald plays a mother of teens. She talked about her real life role as a mother. “Of course I want to be a good mother. But there are always surprises — and children always surprise you.”
Ringwald herself is a pleasant surprise. Articulate, well-informed and interested, she did not go to college. Her education was mostly on a television or film set. She is an erudite autodidact of the best kind — humble and curious.
“When I turned forty, I realized you can’t be defined by others’ expectations.” She is proud of her work and appreciates her fans. Her acting is not a hindrance to her singing or writing careers. Clearly, it has informed and enhanced all genres of her work, making her better at all three.
Molly Ringwald’s When It Happens to You is available now. Her jazz album will be released next spring and she continues her role in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Ringwald’s full and busy life is not about having something to prove; rather she is simply driven by the pleasure of unleashing the creative spirit.
The Arts and Letters Series is free to the community. Go to palmdesert.ucr.edu/programs for information on up-coming speakers.