“It’s chilling to see people crazed with the minutiae of their pasts.”
– From the novelization of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by Todd Strasser.
I usually refer to movie novelizations as the red-headed step children of literature because of their inherent disposability. They were originally created with the intent of allowing audiences to relive a movie in an era when once a film left a theater, it was largely gone for good. Their endurance over the decades makes them something of an anarchronistic oddity, with logic dictating that they would have vanished entirely by the time home video became mainstream in the 1980s. Their numbers have drastically dropped off, but to this day movie novelizations continue to hang around — with Charles Ardai’s fantastic take on The Nice Guys being the most recent example of this weirdo artform.
There are three simple reasons why movie novelizations are beloved amongst some. First, these things are often based on early drafts of screenplays, so readers are treated to alternate/deleted scenes (see Craig Shaw Gardner’s 1989 Batman novel) or other strange asides (i.e. Gremlins take over writing duties for a portion of Gremlins 2: The New Batch that corresponds with the scene in the flick where the film breaks and Hulk Hogan or John Wayne appears).
Secondly, these things are for the most part incredibly cheap to track down online, often for a buck or less. Which is perfect if you want to see how well Grease, Pretty in Pink, or Howard the Duck translate to prose.
Most importantly, these novels can give you insights into the background of characters that lets you view them in a different light and/or answers any nagging unanswered questions about a movie. Seeing how Todd Strasser’s novelization for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off more than matches all of the criteria listed above, it is perhaps the greatest example of this underrated artform.
Why was Jeanie so pissed at her brother? What shocking connection to Ferris Bueller does Charlie Sheen’s character have? What did Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron eat at the French restaurant? All of these questions and more are answered in this novelization by Todd Strasser — the young adult author and sometimes hired gun who also gave us adaptations of Home Alone and Street Fighter II —and here’s the most noteworthy information we gleaned from it.
The John Hughes Cinematic Universe
Like most characters in John Hughes films, Ferris, Jeanie, Sloane, and Cameron attended Shermer High School in the (sadly fictional, see Dogma) Chicago suburb of Shermer, Illinos — which means that Assistant Principal Vernon of The Breakfast Club was Ed Rooney’s number one, and plenty of other mindblowing connections already made by this Fast Company video we ran last week.
The Forgotten Bueller Children
Ferris and Jeanie have a younger brother, Ricky, and sister, Kimberly. They pick on each other a la their older siblings and only appear in the opening and closing of the novel. It is unclear whether or not scenes featuring these characters were ever filmed, but it is easy to see why these tots were removed from the movie as they add nothing to the narrative and actually dilute the rivalry of Ferris and Jeanie a bit. (The IMDB’s trivia page for the film claims that evidence of the other Bueller kids remains in the finished film).
What’s Jeanie’s Problem?
We know that Jeanie resents Ferris because she thinks he is their parents favorite, but might something more be adding to her frustration on her brother’s day off? Strasser says a hearty yes. After Ferris’ pisses all over the bathroom seat, Jeanie fantasizes about killing him, revealing a quite real ailment afflicting her in the process. From the book:
“Her brother had notoriously bad aim. The jury would understand. Considering the fact she was suffering from premenstrual syndrome, Jeanie couldn’t possibly be found guilty for murdering someone who pissed all over toilet seats.”
The PMS angle was likely shelved as it often was a go-to dismissal of female behavior that sexist male jerks would use during the 1980s.
Rooney Isn’t The Only Adult Who Doesn’t Like Ferris
Page 19 of the book provides some insight of how adults felt about Ferris:
“He could never understand why all his friends’ parents hated him. After all, his own parents adored him.”
Sounds like Ferris is having his first taste of life outside of the entitlement bubble he was raised in. Critics of this movie have long pointed out how Ferris’ superficial charm makes him the perfect sociopath — check out this video from Cracked — and this telling portion of the book also indicated that Shermer’s adult population view him as little more than an modern-day Eddie Haskell from Leave It To Beaver, a kiss up who is to be dismissed, not embraced. Hmm.
The name of Ben Stein’s droning, “voodoo economics”-discussing teacher is Mr. Clark.
Cameron Frye, Handyman?
Cameron is something of an electronics whiz who helped Ferris set up all the resources (his synthesizer, computer, etc) that he uses to trick anyone who approaches the Bueller household during his day off.
Ferris’ Financials Revealed!
So where did Ferris get the cash he spends on his day off? It’s not the biggest mystery, as the average viewer probably assumes that since he clearly comes from a wealthy background that he has plenty of pocket money lying about. It turns out that this is not the case. Ferris digs in the couch for change, steals money from Jeanie, and, worst of all, convinces his dad to tell him where his saving bonds are when his father calls him to see how he is feeling.
This directly leads to a scene later where Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane go to the bank to cash a bond and have to deal with a hard-of-hearing teller (who turns out to be the elderly woman who drives slow in front of Mr. Bueller later in the film), and also contend with the fact that real estate agent Mrs. Bueller is at the same bank with some prospective clients. Although presented as quite humorous, it echoes the near misses with Ferris’ parents later in the film and was likely cut so as to not make those subsequent moments seem repetitve.
John Hughes was known for shooting extra footage, and somewhere in the Paramount vaults there is a three-hour cut of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. The original cut of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was two and a half hours, and it is likely that some of this excised footage remains in that version of the film.
The book provides more information on Cameron, pointing out that his home life is definitely emotionally abusive and most likely physically. Perhaps due to this, Cameron is very pragmatic and wants to be a scientist. In fact his home life is so bad that he has considered suicide. He discusses why he opted not to in a downright existential extended version of the French restaurant scene:
“Essentially, between the moment time began and the moment you were born you were dead. I mean, you weren’t born yet so you weren’t alive and if you’re not alive you’re dead, right? Okay, so that means that for about the first billion years of time, you were dead. Now you’re gonna die sooner or later and once you die you’re gonna stay dead for the rest of time. So that means that for the next billion years you’re gonna be dead. Now, if you figure that you were already dead for a billion years before you were born and you’re gonna be dead for another billion years after you die, that means that you’re gonna spend almosr all of time dead. I mean, compared to that the amount of time you’re alive is nothing.”
“So what does that have to do with suicide?” Ferris asked.
“Well, it’s simple,” Cameron said. “From a statistical point of view, you spend so much more time dead than alive that you might as well enjoy being alive while you’re alive.”
This fairly deep, almost Ford Prefect-ian worldview is way too heavy of a talk to place in an otherwise breezy teen comedy, so it is clear why this sequence isn’t in the finished film. Even moreso, it is very out of character for a character such as Cameron to take on a carpe diem attitude when seemingly everything terrorizes him. To suddenly have him spouting an ’embrace life’ ideology seems extraordinarily inconsistent with the Cameron viewers have known up to that point.
Food Fit For A (Sausage) King
As for what they ordered at the French restaurant? Pancreas. When they waiter told the trio what they were eating, they became revolted, asked for the check and left, leading them into the scene where they almost run into Ferris’ father — a sequence that has him unknowingly trailing them through the streets of Chicago until they take refuge on a bus full of tourists.
Games People Play
Meanwhile, that girl at the Arcade whom Rooney thinks is Ferris? She is actually a former student who now repairs video games and makes a salary rivaling that of her former principal. She affectionally refers to Rooney as “Turdface.”
Hey Batter, Batter! Suh-wing, Batter!
The biggest divergence between the film and the novel occurs when Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane take in a Cubs game. Sloane asks Ferris to get the ball he caught signed by her favorite player. Since none of them wants to actually watch the entire game and then hang around to try to get an autograph, Ferris improvises by having two strangers dangle him over the bullpen — much to the adoration of the crowd and the amusement of the players. His souvenir in hand, he returns to his friends triumphant. But when stadium security agents try to escort him out of the ballpark, a local reporter who was seated next to the trio intervenes — landing Ferris a spot on a popular sports radio show in the process. The trio are headed to the interview in the book when they stumble across the parade.
After Ferris wows the crowd, he, Sloane, and Cameron reach the radio station. At this point, Ferris takes over the show with his musings on life. One of the listeners is a mohawked troublemaker whose parents are buying the house Mrs. Bueller is attempting to broker. While the adults are handling home-related business, he remains in Mrs. Bueller’s car, entranced by Ferris’ worldview. After the grownups return, he begins questioning the elder Bueller about what her son just discussed (including his desire to be the first teen to climb Everest) but he is promptly ignored by all.
A Dog’s Life For Rooney
While the above sequence is playing out, the Bueller’s vicious dog has a terrified Mr. Rooney climbing up a tree for safety. When a flower deliveryman arrives, Rooney asks for help, only to discover that the stranger is a former student he had expelled for smoking. “If he comes down, bite him right on the ass for me” the deliveryman instructs the dog.
Who is Garth Volbeck?
Charlie Sheen’s unnamed character is actually an old friend of Ferris’ named Garth Volbeck who got into serious trouble. It is subtly implied that Ferris didn’t want Cameron to turn out the same way, so he instigated the day off to help him break free of his rut and defend himself.
This Reddit thread and Cracked article have much more on Ferris’ intentions and what Garth Volbeck’s existence could mean for Ferris and his day off. That’s mostly speculation here, but is still fun to think about. Sloane’s line to Ferris about him knowing what he was doing all along also explicitly tackles this issue in the flick, thus Garth’s history remains off screen.
The Day Ends
Ultimately, the novelization of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a curiosity more than anything else. Strasser does an excellent job keeping the plot moving, but his writing is more workmanship than anything else. He has a story to tell here, and that he does well, but it isn’t his story. Because he is adapting Hughes’ writing for a visual medium to the printed page, much of the humor falls flat, something that is especially true in the Rooney sequences (even worse, the film’s joyous climax of the parade is flatly described in a dismissive fashion).
Not that you can blame him, as writers of novelizations are usually dealing with the script as a guide. Without seeing the finished film it is difficult for writers of these books to get a sense of what scenes will truly connect with audiences and convey that appropriately in what is essentially a throwaway tie in that was never designed to be scrutinized three decades later.
Insert “life moves pretty fast” quote here.
Chris Cummins thinks the novelization of Gremlins is the 20th century’s greatest work of fiction. Follow him on Twitter @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.