‘Home Alone’ actor remains grateful for a part in Hollywood history

Tracy J. Connor reports that she improvised much of her scene in "Home Alone" (1990), when she quizzes young Kevin about why he's shopping unsupervised.

For actor Tracy J. 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, directed by Chris Columbus 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. Thanks to its lead performance by Macaulay Culkin as the impish Kevin McCallister, it’s also the popular subject of gifs and internet memes.

As a result, Connor is often recognized by multiple generations of fans — some of whom will be on hand Dec. 8-10 when conductor Richard Kaufman leads members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in composer John Williams’ Oscar-nominated soundtrack as the movie is projected on a large screen overhead.

Before the Dec. 8 performance, Connor will join Kaufman for a Q&A session. In past seasons when the CSO has programmed “Home Alone,” Connor has been joined by Ann Whitney, who plays a drugstore clerk in the movie. This time Connor, a Joliet native and improv coach, will appear solo.

“John [Williams] is one of those great craftsmen when it comes to writing music for film,” Kaufman has said in the past. “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 was 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 many 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.

“Once, 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. “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, has had supporting roles in films (“Our Father” and “What They Had”) and on television (“Shameless”).

Connor, currently an improv coach, with roles in the upcoming movies “The Choices We Make” and “The Sixth Floor,” is similarly recognized by fans. In “Home Alone,” she’s the supermarket clerk 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 film’s 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,” Connor says, “it’s paid huge dividends.”

A version of this story previously appeared on Sounds and Stories, the predecessor site of Experience CSO.