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14 Road-Worthy Facts About National Lampoon's Vacation

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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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20 Things You Might Not Know About Mr. Show
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HBO

You never need an excuse to look back at Mr. Show with Bob and David, but given that today is co-creator Bob Odenkirk's 55th birthday, now seems to be as good a time as any.

1. BOB ODENKIRK AND DAVID CROSS’S FIRST MEETING DID NOT GO VERY WELL.

Following four years of writing on Saturday Night Live, Odenkirk was in Los Angeles in 1992 as a writer for the Chris Elliott Fox cult classic Get a Life. David Cross was a comedian in L.A. after performing for years in Boston. One boring afternoon, Cross asked friend and fellow stand-up Janeane Garofalo if she knew anybody that played basketball. The two went to Odenkirk’s house, and Garofalo introduced David to Bob and then asked if he wanted to play basketball. He said no.

2. ODENKIRK AND CROSS FIRST WORKED TOGETHER ON THE BEN STILLER SHOW.

Despite their inauspicious beginning, the two ended up having numerous fruitful collaborations, starting with their work on The Ben Stiller Show. Odenkirk was a writer/performer on the short-lived but Emmy award-winning sketch show with Garofalo, Stiller, and Andy Dick. Cross was brought in in the middle of the show’s 13-episode run as a writer.

3. THE CO-STARS FIRST PERFORMED ON STAGE TOGETHER AS "THE THREE GOOFBALLZ."

Odenkirk and Cross performed sketch comedy together at the Diamond Club in Los Angeles, with a third improviser that, the joke went, would either be deceased or out elsewhere getting high.

4. "THE THREE GOOFBALLZ' WAS ALMOST THE TITLE OF MR. SHOW

Odenkirk also pitched the title Grand National Championships, but David Cross was never a fan of it.

5. JACK BLACK, SARAH SILVERMAN, AND OTHER FUTURE STARS APPEARED ON THE SHOW BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS.

Black was in four episodes of Mr. Show, starring in the classic Jesus Christ Superstar parody “Jeepers Creepers.” Silverman was a performer in 10 episodes. Mary Lynn Rajskub, best known as Chloe on 24, was a featured actress in the first two years. Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, was a series regular for a majority of the run. Scott Adsit, a.k.a. 30 Rock’s Pete Hornberger, was in six episodes.

6. PATTON OSWALT WARMED UP THE MR. SHOW CROWD.

In addition to performing stand-up before tapings and keeping the studio audience interested in between scenes, Oswalt played Famous Mortimer in the episode “Operation: Hell on Earth” (but was credited as “Patton Oswald.”)

7. HOMELESS PEOPLE WERE NOT KIND TO THE ORIGINAL SETS.

Because the pilot episode was shot at a “down and dirty,” small Central Hollywood club, the sets had to be placed outside, where homeless people defecated on them.

8. YOU MIGHT ALSO RECOGNIZE SOME OF THE WRITING STAFF.

Dino Stamatopoulos was already on the original writing staff of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and had written for David Letterman before writing for Cross and Odenkirk. He would later create three shows and play Starburns on Community. Writer/performer Scott Aukerman co-created and executive produces Between Two Ferns, and created and stars on Comedy Bang! Bang!. Writer/performer Paul F. Tompkins hosted VH-1’s Best Week Ever! and currently hosts the satirical debate show No, You Shut Up!, where he moderates discussions by a panel full of puppets. Bob Odenkirk’s brother Bill has written ten episodes of The Simpsons.

9. THE DIRECTORS OF LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE LEARNED HOW TO DIRECT COMEDY FROM MR. SHOW.

Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton were known for directing music videos like The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” and Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing,” and decided to direct two Mr. Show episodes to expand their filming vocabulary. The husband and wife team were behind the camera for the classic sketch “Monk Academy.”

10. ONE SKETCH WAS INFLUENCED BY LOUIS C.K.

One of the first sketches in the show’s history involved Odenkirk playing a priest forced to do rather unpleasant and un-priestly things. The idea sprang from a conversation David Cross had with fellow young Boston comic Louis C.K., where Louis talked about annoying people that try to claim a prize on a bet that their friends never agreed to in the first place.

11. HBO ONLY CENSORED THE SHOW ONCE.

Throughout four years and 30 episodes, the lone note Odenkirk and Cross got from HBO was to get rid of a line where one character tells another to have sex with a baby. Odenkirk admitted that being told to edit it out “wasn’t too much to ask.”

12. THEY ONLY RECEIVED ONE VIEWER COMPLAINT.

The only angry letter that Odenkirk and Cross were ever made aware of was from a military veteran who was offended by the sketch in “Who Let You In?” where Cross’s performance artist character attempts to defecate on the American flag. The two stars actually called the viewer and discovered that he didn’t watch the entire sketch, and therefore never realized that Cross’ character was never able to actually go through with it.

13. ONE SKETCH WAS CUT FROM THE SHOW SIX TIMES AND NEVER MADE IT TO AIR.

A sketch called “Party Car,” a joke on old, low-quality shows filled with '70s celebrities was cut from half a dozen scripts and never filmed. It would have featured Nipsey Russell, Zsa Zsa Gabor, (or reasonable facsimiles), and a baby in a balloon-filled car.

14. BOB ODENKIRK GOT IN TROUBLE FOR USING A PICTURE OF HIS DEAD GRANDFATHER.

Because the sketch “Old Man In House” needed a photo of an old man, and the elderly gentleman was not the butt of the joke, Odenkirk thought it would be fine. Instead, some Odenkirks were “very upset.”

15. CROSS WAS PAYING OFF HIS STUDENT LOAN DEBTS THROUGHOUT MOST OF THE SERIES.

David Cross and Amber Tamblyn
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Despite executive producing and co-creating a series on television, Cross had trouble paying off his student loan debts from his time at Emerson College. Figuring that the person calling from the bill collection agency wouldn’t believe that he couldn’t pay if he knew his job status, Cross pretended that he worked at Mr. Show as a messenger.

16. ONE PERSON WAS GIVEN A "SPECIAL THANKS" IN THE CLOSING CREDITS OF EVERY EPISODE AS A JOKE.

As Cross once explained, Rick Dees was thanked in the credits of the pilot episode, even though he was “certainly nobody we would ever thank, or be in a position to thank.” Some personalities that were thanked for no discernable reason were Greg Maddux, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, Gabe Kaplan, and Howard Zinn.

17. HBO CHANGED THE TIME SLOT FOR ITS FINAL SEASON, AND IT WAS "DEMORALIZING."

After airing Fridays at midnight for the first three seasons, HBO moved the show to Mondays at the same time, confusing some loyal viewers, and the ratings decreased as a result. Bob Odenkirk told a reporter that, after 30 episodes, HBO was still treating the cast and crew as “second-class citizens,” and that they were “demoralized” by the slot shift.

18. BOB AND DAVID TOLD A STUDIO AUDIENCE THAT THEY HAD JUST WITNESSED THE FINAL EPISODE, AND THEY WEREN'T JOKING.

“Patriotism, Pepper, and Professionalism,” the 40th and final episode of Mr. Show, was taped on November 21, 1998. After the final sketch was filmed, Odenkirk and Cross made their announcement, although the show’s cancellation wasn’t made official for another few months.

19. THERE WAS A MR. SHOW MOVIE THAT WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO.

Run Ronnie Run focused on David Cross’s redneck criminal character Ronnie Dobbs. It was filmed in 2001, but never made it to theaters. Bob Odenkirk admitted that the movie wasn’t perfect, but he blamed the poor quality on director Troy Miller, for not allowing himself and Cross to edit the movie.

20. THE TWO HAVE REUNITED A FEW OTHER TIMES.

David Cross and Bob Odenkirk star in 'W/ Bob and David'
Saeed Adyani/Netflix

In 2002, Bob, David, and Mr. Show writer/performers Brian Posehn, John Ennis, and Stephanie Courtney (Flo in the Progressive commercials) toured the country to perform some of the show’s sketches and material from their unproduced screenplay Mr. Show: Hooray For America! The next year, Odenkirk guest starred as Dr. Phil Gunty on a season one episode of Arrested Development, alongside Cross’ character Tobias Fünke.

In 2012, Odenkirk, Cross, and Posehn went on a six-city tour to promote their book filled with more unproduced material. Bob and David appeared briefly together the next year on an episode of Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! In 2015, 20 years after Mr. Show's debut, Netflix premiered W/ Bob and David, a five-episode sketch comedy show created by and starring the duo.

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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