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She's Princess Molly now. Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club were potent warm-ups. But Pretty in Pink, which has grossed a smash $12.4 million in just 10 days, cinches the title. "She's a real star," proclaimed the Washington Post. If you have doubts, check out the audience. Many of the girls (one critic calls them "the Ringlets"), mimic her looks and dress. In school lunchrooms, boys drool into their chocolate milk at the sight of her pouty bee-stung lips. She just turned 18, but Molly Ringwald has a new contract with United Artists that allows her to develop and virtually control her own projects.

Watching Ringwald in action shows why she's way ahead of the Brat Pack. Molly filmed Pretty in Pink in L.A. last summer. What follows is a field report:

The location is a Hancock Park high school, and the halls are crammed and sticky hot. Fans are placed throughout the building to cool the young bodies assembled to tell the age-old tale of a poor girl (Ringwald) who likes an equally poor nerd (Jon Cryer) but loves a rich preppie (Andrew McCarthy) she hopes will ask her to the prom. While her older co-stars (Cryer is 20, McCarthy, 23) kibbitz with the crew, Molly hides out in the air-conditioned trailer she shares with mother Adele and tutor Irene Brafstein. Grown fresh on a steady diet of media attention, Ringwald knows how to sass a visitor expecting the usual gush of teen pap. "Do you want to know my dream man, my favorite colors or what I read on the John?" she asks. Molly, a senior at L.A.'s Lycée Française, laughs, but being taken so often for the airhead she's not has left her wary. "I really have a temper," she warns. "I'm a big door slammer, and I hang up the phone a lot."

Called to the set, Ringwald huddles with debuting director Howard Deutch, 35. She's not shy about giving opinions. Molly hated the ending that had her going off with the nerd, so they reshot it her way. "Molly is taking a much greater hand," admits her mentor, John Hughes, who wrote and directed Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Hughes, 36, speaks of the "snotty attitude" of some of the Brat Packers he's directed. "But Molly—never," Hughes claims. "She's not one of a clump. Good work is what matters to her."

Set etiquette with Princess Molly is strictly observed. "Sometimes I catch her wrong and we don't hit it off," says Cryer. "Molly keeps her distance and sort of lets you come to her. She's very no-nonsense." McCarthy, whom Ringwald admired above all others in the teen hit St. Elmo's Fire, likes it that way. "She doesn't lie on the screen or off," he says. "It's her biggest asset."

Right now, though, Ringwald is losing her cool. Preparation for a clinch scene with Andrew has her fretting. "The kissing's okay," she allows, "but I can't believe the script. The notes say, 'She doesn't kiss for sport. Her kiss is sex. The kiss drains all the boy out of him.' Now how can anybody do that?"

She can practice on her real boyfriend, Dweezil Zappa, 16, who has a bit part in the film. Dweezil has been dating Molly since last April, when his sister, Moon Unit, 18, made the intros. The two write songs Molly calls "the worst," yet one suspects the son of Frank Zappa comes up with some inventive chords. And Molly, daughter of blind jazz musician Bob Ringwald, has been singing professionally with her dad's band since she was 4. Molly says she's wild about Dweezil because "I respect him and he's really gorgeous." But even Dweezil knows her temper. "It really gets him," she admits. "He doesn't like to go to sleep unless everything is, like, fine. The really worst thing I ever did, the coldest, was to hang up on him and unplug the phone."

Caught momentarily acting her age, Ringwald retreats to her more adult pose as a budding movie magnate. More mature and challenging roles are beckoning. With Ringwald specifically in mind, her pal Warren Beatty bought the rights to the tragic story of Edie Sedgwick, the Andy Warhol groupie who OD'd in 1971, at 28. "I used to be too young for the role but I'm getting closer," she says. With mother and tutor in tow, Ringwald leaves the Pretty in Pink set like a teen princess heading for the job of queen. Competing for grown-up roles is a challenge she's eager to face. After all, Molly says proudly, "I'm older now."