For actors Ann Whitney and Tracy Connor, “Home Alone” is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
Released in mid-November of 1990, the now-beloved holiday film — written by Chicago’s own John Hughes and shot on the city’s North Shore — went on to gross nearly half a billion dollars worldwide and continues to air on television in countries across the globe. It’s also the popular subject of gifs and internet memes.
As a result, Whitney and O’Connor are often recognized by multiple generations of fans — some of whom will be on hand Dec. 7 at Symphony Center when they and James Hughes, son of the film’s screenwriter (who died in 2009), will appear for a pre-screening discussion at 2:30 p.m. in Grainger Ballroom. Afterward, conductor Richard Kaufman will lead members of the CSO and choral singers in performing composer John Williams’ Oscar-nominated soundtrack as the movie is projected on a large screen overhead. (The CSO will present three concerts of “Home Alone,” with additional performances Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 3 p.m.)
“John is one of those great craftsmen when it comes to writing music for film,” Kaufman told Sounds & Stories in 2015. “He can look at a film, a scene and a character, and do exactly what is necessary to either accentuate a character or underscore it in a subtle way. He knows exactly what a film needs and what it doesn’t need. If you listen to a score, the music is always in the right place. The scenes that work without music are allowed to live that way.”
Williams is said to have been so enthusiastic about the film’s box office potential that he phoned friends upon seeing the finished product. His score, a mix of quirky and traditional, was no small factor in the film’s success. As with numerous other Williams works, it skillfully complements memorable visuals and snappy dialogue in a relatively low-budget production ($15 million) whose sustained popularity is a source of eternal surprise to those who were part of it.
“Not too long ago, I was taking my coat off in the cloakroom at my church, and I heard this little voice say, ‘Mom, mom, it’s the ‘Home Alone’ lady,’ ” says Whitney, who in the film plays the checkout clerk at a drugstore where resourceful tyke Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin) swipes a toothbrush. “She said they drove up to see her grandparents and had watched the film on an iPad.”
And for months, whenever Whitney visited her local IHOP, a waiter there would slap his cheeks and give her “the Macaulay Culkin look” from the movie’s most famous scene in which Kevin screams after razoring off his peach fuzz and splashing on skin-sizzling aftershave.
Whitney, who still has the sweater she wore in the movie, continues to act, with supporting roles in films (last year’s “What They Had”) and on television (“Shameless”).
Connor, currently an improv coach, is similarly recognized for her role as the supermarket cashier who quizzes Kevin when he shows up solo with a cart full of food and other supplies.
Cashier: Are you here all by yourself?
Kevin: Ma’am, I’m 8 years old. You think I’d be here alone? I don’t think so.
Cashier: Where’s your mom?
Kevin: In the car.
Cashier: Where’s your dad?
Kevin: He’s at work.
Cashier: What about brothers and sisters?
Kevin: I’m an only child.
Cashier: Where do you live?
Kevin: I can’t tell you.
Cashier: Why not?
Kevin: ‘Cause you’re a stranger.
The scene actually was improvised, Connor says. And then almost all of her lines were given to other actors. But when the film premiered, there was Connor’s unscripted back and forth with Culkin; it had made the cut. She was thrilled, tightly gripping the arms of friends who sat on either side of her at the premiere.
While her role required only a day of shooting and she’s onscreen for less than two minutes, Connor shares Whitney’s pride in having been part of something that grew far beyond anyone’s expectations — something she characterizes as “a sparkly thing” in her otherwise normal workaday existence.
“If that was the extent of my 15 minutes of fame,” she says, “it’s paid huge dividends.”
Mike Thomas, a Chicago-based writer, is the author of the books You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman and Second City Unscripted: Revolution and Revelation at the World-Famous Comedy Theater.
TOP: Tracy Connor (left) and Ann Whitney in their scenes from “Home Alone.” | ©1990 Twentieth Century Fox.