Meet the Real-Life Inspiration for Ferris Bueller

Meet the Real-Life Inspiration for Ferris Bueller

Nov 21, 2012

Back in 2009 a guy named Edward McNally wrote an essay for the Washington Post about his life growing up on the same block as filmmaker John Hughes in Chicago, and how over the years he's been unfairly accused of being one of the inspirations for Ferris Bueller. Except he very much is one of the main inspirations for the character, and one look at that essay recalls several scenes from Ferris Bueller's Day Off that happened to McNally in real life. 

Many of Hughes' characters and movies were inspired by his own real-life experiences. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, for example, was inspired by a very real trip Hughes took from Chicago to New York, except he got stuck in Witchita and didn't make it home for another five days. With Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Hughes wrote the screenplay in less than a week, perhaps fueled by those wild stories he grew up around. Rumor has it Ferris' best friend Cameron is based on Hughes himself, an introvert who kept to himself and was afraid of taking risks. And so he created Ferris Bueller, the exact opposite of both Cameron and Hughes -- a kid who wasn't afraid of breaking all the rules if it meant he got to experience the life he wanted to live.

Since Ferris was nothing like Hughes, the writer-director turned to McNally (and possibly other kids from Glenbrook North High School, which served as the inspiration for so many of his movies) in crafting the character, borrowing stories from McNally's own life in order to create one for his fictional bad boy. Here are some quotes from the McNally essay that may seem a bit familiar to fans of Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

-- I was relentlessly pursued by a remarkably humorless Glenbrook dean about attendance, pranks and off-campus excursions -- and... my best friend was in fact named Buehler."

-- Ferris clocked in at nine absences his final high school semester. My own was a breathtaking 27. That might explain the dean's pursuit. The key was, from the time I entered high school, all sick notes from our mom were actually penned by our sister Sheila. Even the real ones.

-- For one of those Chicago adventures, we secretly borrowed a car almost as ridiculously conspicuous as the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT in the movie: my dad's purple Cadillac El Dorado (yes, purple). Put an extra 113 miles on the odometer. Hoping to erase that telltale mileage, we raised the back on a pair of jacks and ran the car in reverse. The Caddy did not fly backward into a ravine, as in the film. What it did do is quickly take off a clean 10,000 miles. Oops. (Yes, you bet he noticed.)

-- In high school we gained admission to a sold-out improv performance at Chicago's Second City by claiming status as an advance crew for Kirk Douglas, then a major star who the papers said was in town filming. 

We'll never know exactly how much Hughes borrowed from McNally and others while creating Ferris Bueller, but if the character's life ended up even remotely close to the one McNally lived, then Ferris may have gone on to become a presidential speechwriter and then a trial lawyer. It would be fitting for a guy who talked a great game.

You can read McNally's entire essay here.

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