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14 Road-Worthy Facts About National Lampoon's Vacation

Released exactly 32 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 the current Vacation, featuring Griswold’s son, Rusty, who appears determined to equal or surpass his father’s mistakes. While you weigh your interest in the sort-of-sequel, have a look at some facts about the family's original trip.

1. It Pretty Much Killed the Station Wagon.

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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. Chase Really Needed a Hit. (And so did the Lampoon.) 

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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. 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.

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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.

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 Actually 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.

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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 Really Is a 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.

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23 Things David Letterman Invented for Our Amusement
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This week, nearly three years after bidding farewell to Late Night, David Letterman is making his triumphant return to the small screen via Netflix with My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman (where he'll interview two people who need no introduction: Barack Obama and George Clooney). If the series is anything like Letterman's career thus far, you can expect plenty of innovation.

Here are 23 recurring bits, features, and moments that the former Indiana weatherman (and his writers) invented for our amusement.

1. THE SHORT, NON-TOPICAL MONOLOGUE

Carson Productions, as in Johnny Carson’s production company, co-produced Late Night with David Letterman, and as the upcoming lead-out programming for The Tonight Show, it was important to Carson’s people that Letterman not copy Carson. Letterman’s people were told that among other things, they couldn’t have a sidekick sitting next to the host like Ed McMahon, a band with horns like Doc Severinsen’s, or a monologue. So instead, Letterman opened his show by standing in front of the audience and viewers at home with “opening remarks,” a monologue consisting of just one or two jokes with weird imagery, like tattoos melting in warm weather.

2. POST-INTERVIEW INTERVIEWS

On February 3, 1982—his third-ever broadcast—Late Night conducted two interviews with baseball hall-of-famer Hank Aaron: One was a standard talk show back-and-forth between host and guest. The other occurred after that conversation ended, where NBC Sports reporter Al Albert (son of Marv Albert) asked Aaron how he felt his last few minutes with Letterman went, with the idea that it was the equivalent of a post-game interview.

3. STUPID PET TRICKS

“Stupid Pet Tricks” began on Letterman’s short-lived but Emmy-winning morning show, and was a consistently popular segment on both Late Night and The Late Show. The idea came from original head writer Merrill Markoe, who "remembered how in college my friends and I would be hanging around in the evenings, talking, and drinking. One form of constant entertainment was to put socks on this one dog. Everyone I knew did some version of a silly thing like that with their pets, so we ran an ad to see if we could pull a segment together like that."

4. WORLD’S LARGEST VASE CONTESTS

After questioning people who claimed to have the “world’s largest vase” over the phone in what New York Magazine described as a “longish” segment, the vase was brought into the studio and displayed on Late Night from May 30 through June 2, 1983. On its third night, a 35-inch radio transmitting tower was added to the case when it was discovered that it was shorter than one in Canada. On its final night of national exhibition, Letterman read alleged letters from children addressed to the Vase, and the vase “spoke” to wish for peace for mankind.

5. CATCHPHRASE CONTESTS

Two on-air catchphrase contests, which aired a little over a month apart in the summer of 1984, gave lucky studio audiences the power to make “They pelted us with rocks and garbage” the first rallying cry, before it was displaced by "I do and do and do for you kids, and this is the thanks I get!"

6. A CAMERA FROM THE HOST'S P.O.V.

The February 15, 1982 installment of Late Night began with one continuous five minute and 17 second take through Letterman’s P.O.V. called “Dave Cam.” Cameos included that night’s guest Andy Rooney, Merrill Markoe, and Calvert DeForest, who played Larry “Bud” Melman on Late Night, as “Bert the Human Caboose.”

7. A CAMERA FROM THE GUEST’S P.O.V.

Letterman favorite Tom Hanks was the first wearer of the “Late Night Guest-Cam.” Hanks was on the show the night of December 12, 1985 to promote The Money Pit, which was initially supposed to debut the next day, but would be delayed until the following March. “The Late Night Sky-Cam” makes a cameo.

8. A CAMERA FROM A MONKEY’S P.O.V.

After a false start with a 30-year-old chimp named Bo, who was too small to handle the camera, “Monkey Cam” got its start on March 19, 1986. Zippy, who was on the cover of The Ramones' Animal Boy album, would return on roller skates with the “Late Night Monkey Cam Mobile Unit.”

9. PURPOSELY FUNNY TOP 10 LISTS

The very first Top Ten—“The Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas"—aired on September 18, 1985, as a satire of the random lists publications like Good Housekeeping were starting to produce at the time. Credit for who thought up the idea for Late Night is disputed; over the years, head writer Steve O’Donnell, former head writer and longtime SNL scribe Jim Downey, Late Night writer Randy Cohen, and producer Robert Morton have all gotten some or all of the credit. Top Ten made it to the end of Late Show’s run, even though the writers were already tiring of it by the February 6, 1986 show, which had the Top Ten list “Top Ten Reasons to Continue the Top Ten Lists Just a Little Longer.”

10. WEARING SUITS OF VELCRO, ALKA-SELTZER, MAGNETS, SPONGES, SUET, AND FOODS

On February 28, 1984, Letterman slipped into a “Suit of Velcro” and ushered in an era of strange outfits including a magnet get-up, which Letterman wore to attach himself to a huge GE fridge. Lowering himself into a 1000-gallon tank of water, Letterman’s suit of Alka-Seltzer fizzed and vaporized. There were also suits of suet, marshmallows, chips, and Rice Krispies, the latter of which made David “snap, crackle, and pop” in a large tub of milk. An influence was Steve Allen, the original host of The Tonight Show, who threw himself into Jell-O vats on television. Allen’s “Man on the Street” interviews were also something Letterman took to new levels of absurdity.

11. HOSTING A SHOW ABOARD AN AIRPLANE

Late Night’s fourth anniversary was celebrated onboard a flight from New York City to Miami.

12. AN EPISODE THAT ROTATES 360 DEGREES

Writers Randy Cohen and Kevin Curran came up with the unique way to celebrate the 800th episode of Late Night. NBC received “several hundred” phone calls about the December 9, 1986 show from viewers complaining that it was giving them headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Carson Productions executives were apparently not informed of the stunt beforehand and were reportedly “furious.”

13. FEUDING WITH BRYANT GUMBEL

After Letterman interrupted an August 19, 1985 broadcast of Today co-hosted by Bryant Gumbel, Gumbel called out the Late Night host for being “unprofessional” and didn’t publicly forgive him for four years. (Letterman claimed it was a Today producer who invited him to pull the stunt.)

14. FEUDING WITH OPRAH WINFREY

In the 16 years between Oprah's 1989 appearance on Late Night and her December 1, 2005 Late Show interview, rumors swirled about a feud between Winfrey and Letterman. The reasons why—and even if—there was a “feud” at all remain unclear.

15. CO-HOSTING AN EPISODE WITH A CORNY MORNING SHOW THEME

On February 27, 1985, Letterman shared hosting duties with “Tawny Harper Reynolds,” with guests Michael Palin, a Pet Psychic, and an exercise segment with Carol Channing.

16. AN HOUR-LONG PARODY OF 1970s PRIMETIME VARIETY SHOWS

“Dave Letterman's Summertime Sunshine Happy Hour” graced the NBC airwaves on the night of August 29, 1985. Early in his TV career, Letterman wrote and was a part of the cast of The Starland Vocal Band Show.

17. AN HOUR-LONG PARODY OF CHRISTMAS SPECIALS

December 19, 1984’s "Christmas With the Lettermans," featuring Pat Boone, won Late Night a 1985 Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Music or Comedy Program.

18. "CUSTOM-MADE" SHOWS

On November 15, 1983, Late Night relinquished control of the show to the audience, giving them a choice on everything from the furniture to the theme song. On March 27, 1984’s version, the show opened with the theme to Bonanza, the announcer was the New York Lieutenant Governor, and Jane Pauley was interviewed in a dentist's chair.

19. DUBBING A RERUN FROM ENGLISH TO ENGLISH

When the February 17, 1986 episode re-aired on September 25th of that year, 250 confused viewers called the network. After 60 hours and four professional dubbers, everyone on the episode (Raquel Welch was the main guest) magically had different voices. Even Letterman's voice was dubbed (by Speed Racer's Peter Fernandez).

20. 4 A.M. SHOWS

May 14, 2004’s Late Show was taped at four in the morning, on purpose. Amy Sedaris, rat expert Robert Sullivan, and Modest Mouse were the guests. Letterman rode a horse, Sedaris gave an unsafe late night tour of her neighborhood, and Modest Mouse played in their pajamas.

21. DEDICATING MOST OF AN EPISODE TO A DECEASED COMEDIAN AND HIS FAMILY

Letterman invited Bill Hicks’s mother, Mary, to appear on the January 30, 2009 episode to apologize face-to-face for not airing Hicks’s controversial October 1, 1993, stand-up performance. In February of 1994, Hicks passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 32. After talking to Mary, Letterman finally presented Bill’s set.

22. DEDICATING AN ENTIRE EPISODE TO A COMEDY HERO

On the first new Late Show after Johnny Carson's passing, Letterman's monologue was filled with jokes that the retired Carson had anonymously submitted to David over the years. Long-time The Tonight Show executive producer Peter Lassally and bandleader Doc Severinsen were that night's only guests.

23. THE ‘WILL IT FLOAT?’ GAME

The first installment of “Will It Float?” was on February 6, 2002. A brick of Velveeta cheese sank. Dave got it right, whereas Paul got it wrong.

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15 Fun Facts About When Harry Met Sally
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Nora Ephron's most beloved romantic comedy opened in theaters more than 25 years ago. We'll (still) have what she's having.

1. HARRY AND SALLY WERE MODELED AFTER DIRECTOR ROB REINER AND SCREENWRITER NORA EPHRON—EXCEPT FOR THE FALLING IN LOVE PART.

Rob Reiner divorced fellow director Penny Marshall in 1981 after 10 years of marriage. When he met with Nora Ephron in the mid-1980s, he pitched a number of ideas for movies, including a comedy based on his dating experiences. Ephron agreed to write it after extensively interviewing Reiner. The two had many discussions about how men and women view sex, love, and relationships differently.

2. THOSE SWEET "HOW WE MET" INTERLUDES THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE ARE REAL LOVE STORIES.

Reiner interviewed elderly couples about how they fell in love in preparation for the movie. He hired actors to re-tell their stories on the big screen.

3. NORA EPHRON HATED THE TITLE.


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It was extremely difficult for Ephron to settle on a title for her screenplay. She tried several, including Boy Meets Girl, How They Met, and Harry, This Is Sally. Reiner eventually turned the naming process into a contest among the crew members. Whoever picked the title would win a case of champagne. We don't know who came up with When Harry Met Sally, but let's hope he or she shared all that bubbly.

4. IN THE SCRIPT'S FIRST DRAFT, HARRY AND SALLY DIDN'T END UP TOGETHER.

Ephron felt that was the most realistic ending, but hey, this is the movies!

5. REINER ALSO FELL IN LOVE BY THE END OF THE MOVIE.


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During filming, Reiner was introduced to photographer Michelle Singer by the film's director of photography. The two married in 1989, the same year When Harry Met Sally came out. Reiner has said that finding his own happy ending helped make one for Harry and Sally more believable.

6. BILLY CRYSTAL AND MEG RYAN WEREN'T THE FIRST CHOICES FOR HARRY AND SALLY.


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Albert Brooks turned down the role of Harry, because he thought the movie was too reminiscent of Woody Allen. (Brooks also turned down the lead role in Big and Pretty Woman. D'oh!) Rob Reiner initially wanted Susan Dey of the TV show L.A. Law to play Sally. He also considered Elizabeth Perkins from Big and Elizabeth McGovern from Ordinary People. John Hughes movie queen Molly Ringwald was nearly cast, but declined due to a scheduling conflict.

7. MOLLY RINGWALD DID EVENTUALLY PLAY SALLY ALBRIGHT, THOUGH.

In 2004, the popular film was adapted into an unpopular stage play on London's West End. Luke Perry (yes, really) and Alyson Hannigan from How I Met Your Mother played Harry and Sally in its first run and were later replaced by Michael Landes from Final Destination 2 and Molly Ringwald.

8. MEG RYAN SORT OF PAVED THE WAY FOR JULIA ROBERTS.


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Ryan's first leading role would've been as Shelby in Steel Magnolias, but she turned down the part to play Sally instead. Another up-and-coming actress named Julia Roberts took her place and later starred in Pretty Woman—another part Meg Ryan turned down.

9. BILLY CRYSTAL AND ROB REINER HAVE BEEN GOOD FRIENDS SINCE 1975.


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Reiner and Crystal met when they played best friends on All in the Family. Many conversations between Harry and his best male friend Jess, played by Bruno Kirby, were inspired by the friendship between Crystal and Reiner. So were the scenes in which Harry and Sally watch the same movie from different apartments. Bromance, anyone?

Meanwhile, Carrie Fisher, who plays Sally's best female friend Marie, was BFFs with Reiner's ex-wife Penny Marshall. Hmmm, wonder if that ever got awkward...

10. THE SPLIT-SCREEN SCENES ARE AN IRONIC HOMAGE TO 1959'S PILLOW TALK.

At the time Pillow Talk was made, the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, set moral guidelines for all the films released by major studios. Movies weren't allowed to show a couple in bed (or bath or beyond) together, or any sort of sexual relationship between unmarried partners. (The code was abandoned in 1968.) Harry and Sally were kept apart to show how close they were as "just friends.

11. REINER'S MOTHER, ESTELLE, HAD ONE LINE—AND IT WAS PROBABLY THE MOVIE'S MOST MEMORABLE.

She's the older woman who says, "I'll have what she's having" at Katz's Delicatessen. The American Film Institute ranked it #33 in its list of the top 100 movie quotations. The famous line wasn't in the original script. Crystal suggested it after he and Ryan improvised the entire scene. The two were originally supposed to discuss "faking it" without an actual demonstration.

12. KATZ'S IS PROUD OF ITS FAMOUS SCENE.

This sign appears above the table where it was shot:

13. CRYSTAL IMPROVISED THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE.

Watch closely at 0:29; Ryan laughs out of character and looks at Reiner off-camera. The director decided to keep the scene.

Crystal also improvised much of the scene when he admits he loves Sally, including the line, "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible." Swoon.

14. THE REAL-LIFE BOOKSTORE WHERE HARRY AND SALLY MEET FOR THE THIRD TIME INSPIRED ANOTHER EPHRON MOVIE.

Harry and Sally finally become friends when they spot each other at Shakespeare and Co. on Broadway and 79th. When the store closed after a Barnes & Noble opened on the Upper West Side, Ephron was inspired to write a romantic comedy around the David and Goliath struggle between local stores and large national chains. You've Got Mail came out in 1998, nearly a decade after when Harry Met Sally.

15. NO ONE EXPECTED WHEN HARRY MET SALLY TO BE A HIT.

The film was up against the summer blockbusters Batman, Ghostbusters II, Licence to Kill, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. When Harry Met Sally opened in just 41 theaters on July 12, grossing $1 million. It opened nationwide July 21. And the rest is romantic comedy history.

Additional Source: DVD Commentary by Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner

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