14 Road-Worthy Facts About National Lampoon's Vacation

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Released 35 years ago today, 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation features Chevy Chase in an idiot-defining role as the alarmingly optimistic Clark Griswold, a well-meaning husband and father who is determined to give his family the time of their lives—no matter the cost to life, vehicle, or animal.

The film was an immediate hit, spawning four sequels of increasingly diminishing returns as well as a 2015 Vacation sort-of-sequel, featuring Griswold’s son, Rusty, who appears determined to equal or surpass his father’s mistakes. In celebration of its 35th anniversary, let's have a look at some facts about the family's original trip.

1. THE MOVIE PRETTY MUCH KILLED THE STATION WAGON.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
Warner Home Video

Griswold’s plan to cart his family from Chicago to California to visit Disneyland stand-in Walley World required a durable vehicle. Obviously, he didn’t get one. The unheralded star of the film is the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, a station wagon with eight headlights and a pea-green finish. The car was actually a Ford LTD Country Squire heavily modified to be as unattractive as possible, and it did the job a little too well: Following the release of Vacation, station wagon sales plummeted. Also known as “estate” vehicles, the models were shortly replaced in popularity by minivans and, later, SUVs.

2. IT WAS BASED ON A RAND MCNALLY ROAD ATLAS.

John Hughes was working at a Chicago advertising agency when he began pestering the editors of the National Lampoon for writing assignments. During a catastrophic blizzard in 1979, a snowbound Hughes wrote a short story, "Vacation ’58," about a Detroit family taking an unfortunate trip to Disneyland. Hughes laid out a Rand McNally road atlas from the trunk of his car and figured out where the family could stop along the way. Warner Bros. purchased the rights to the story as soon as it was published, and Hughes was invited to write the script. (Knowing Disneyland was unlikely to consent to the R-rated material, Disneyland became Walley World.)

3. CHEVY CHASE REALLY NEEDED A HIT.


Warner Home Video

Though Chase had made a strong impression in his single year as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, his film career wasn’t the runaway success most had anticipated. Of the six films he made between leaving SNL in 1976 and 1982, only two—Foul Play and Caddyshack—had been hits. Likewise, the publicly-traded Lampoon brand in film had seen just one major home run (Animal House) followed by two bombs, Class Reunion and Movie Madness. Of Class Reunion, Roger Ebert observed that it “has its funny moments, but they’re rare enough that we’re acutely aware of them.”

4. JOHN HUGHES'S SCRIPT HAD TO BE REWRITTEN.

"Vacation ’58" was written by Hughes from the point of view of Griswold’s son, Rusty, which he felt tempered some of the more outlandish moments. (Originally, Clark shoots Walt Disney in the leg.) But casting Chase meant switching the focus to the head of the family; while Hughes shifted the perspective, director Harold Ramis and Chase retooled the script after they felt Hughes had taken the premise as far as he could. Ramis would later say that Hughes was probably a little upset over having his material reworked. “I saw John quoted in an interview saying he was going to start directing his own movies,” Ramis said, “because he was tired of seeing his scripts ruined by other directors.” (Hughes wrote and directed Sixteen Candles in 1984.)

5. THE PRODUCTION SAVED A DOG TIED TO A BUMPER.

One of the particularly morbid gags in the film is when the Griswolds forget that their Aunt Edna’s dog is still tied to the bumper of the Truckster as they drive away. Appearing on Late Night with David Letterman in 1983, Ramis told the host that the crew was staying at a hotel in Durango, Colorado and saw a car begin to drive off with a dog still attached. They were able to stop the driver before the pooch got towed.

6. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL TRIED PEEPING ON BEVERLY D'ANGELO.


Warner Home Video

Hall, 14 at the time he was cast as Rusty, was flirting with puberty during filming, growing three inches before the cast reassembled to shoot scenes after principal photography had wrapped. Prior to that, the actor tried to make himself an on-set presence for a scene in which his onscreen mother, played by Beverly D'Angelo, is naked for a shower sequence. In 2009, Hall told Maxim he was yanked away by a producer but was “totally trying to sneak a peek.”

7. THE "EAST ST. LOUIS" SCENE WAS ACTUALLY ST. LOUIS.

Ramis expressed regret over a scene in which the Griswolds take a wrong turn into East St. Louis, Illinois, having their hubcaps stolen and the Truckster stripped while Clark asks for directions from a local. The area subsequently developed a reputation for criminal activity that wasn’t warranted. Though it doesn’t exactly soften the blow, the scene is actually supposed to take place in St. Louis: The family crosses the Poplar Bridge, and Ramis said a shot that features an East St. Louis sign was placed in the film in error.

8. BORIS VALLEJO PAID HOMAGE TO HIS OWN WORK FOR THE POSTER. 


Warner Home Video

Fantasy artist Boris Vallejo was hired to illustrate the theatrical release poster for Vacation. The “king of the hill” style template, with Clark standing triumphantly and raising his tennis racket, was used by both Frank Frazetta and Vallejo for their respective Conan illustrations. Vallejo later stated that the Vacation poster brought him more assignment work than anything he’s done.

9. CHRISTIE BRINKLEY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE RUSTY'S (NUDE) DREAM GIRL.

The Hughes story and script originally had Brinkley’s mystery woman cruising by in a Ferrari and flirting with Rusty. When the focus shifted to Chase, so did her attention. Brinkley was also supposed to strip naked for the movie, but refused; she wound up in a nylon bodysuit that gave off the impression of being topless while in a pool.

10. THEY ENDED UP AT SIX FLAGS.

The film’s climactic trek through Walley World was actually shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California; Ramis had Chase, John Candy, and other cast members board a roller coaster with a camera mounted to it in order to capture shots on the rides. Dana Barron, who played Audrey Griswold, became so distressed with motion sickness she had to be given repeated doses of Dramamine.

11. THE ORIGINAL ENDING WAS DESPISED BY AUDIENCES.


Warner Home Video

Hughes concluded the tortuous Griswold vacation by depicting Clark driving to Roy Walley’s home, bursting in, shooting him in the leg, and then forcing Walley and his cohorts to sing and dance at gunpoint; Griswold was then taken to jail. Ramis shot it as written, but test audiences on the Warner lot proved what Hughes suspected: that a home invasion wasn’t going to play on film. He rewrote the ending—the Griswolds enjoy their own private, bloodless Walley World experience—and Ramis hired Candy to play a security guard for reshoots.

12. IT BEAT RETURN OF THE JEDI AND JAWS 3-D AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Released in a competitive summer movie season, Vacation debuted at number one, muscling out sequels to Jaws and Star Wars—both of which had been out for some time—from the top spot. It was the year’s third highest-grossing comedy, earning $61.4 million: Only Trading Places and Mr. Mom (also written by Hughes) performed better.

13. THE GRISWOLDS REUNITED FOR A SHORT FILM.

Of the various sequels that followed up on the Griswolds over the years, one of the least-known is a 14-minute short film, Hotel Hell Vacation, that was released in 2010 as part of a promotional campaign for a travel rental site. In it, Clark and Ellen get away for a second honeymoon while planning to drop in on their son, Rusty. It will not be confused for a John Hughes film.

14. THERE IS A REAL WALLY WORLD.

They dropped the “e” in “Walley,” but East Park in London, Ontario once had the water ride segment of their property labeled Wally World. In the U.S, Water World in Federal Heights, Colorado has a mini-water attraction meant for children also named Wally World; Marker’s Wally World in Liberty, Indiana offers go-karts and also sells power tools, which sounds like the setup to a punch line only Clark Griswold could deliver.

Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

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