The Stars Of ‘National Lampoon’ Movies Tell Heartwarming And Wholesome Stories From Behind The Scenes Of Comedy Classics

Although National Lampoon first began as a humor magazine, it quickly grew into a franchise that expanded across mediums into radio, television, and film. Today, the National Lampoon movies are widely regarded as comedy classics, with Vacation and Christmas Vacation both in the top three on Ranker’s fan-voted list of the All-Time Greatest Comedy Movies. And Animal House is on top of our Best College Movies list.

While many stories from behind the scenes of National Lampoon movies focus on partying or Chevy Chase, the casts of all these comedies also have some lovely and amusing tales from their time making these films. Seemingly every actor who played Rusty and Audrey Griswold (eight different actors played these two characters over four films) has a nice story to tell, for example.

So let’s shine a spotlight on their stories, along with tales from the likes of Bruce McGill, Karen Allen, and other legendary actors who contributed to the National Lampoon legacy.

1. Chevy Chase And Beverly D’Angelo Had An Immediate Connection

Beverly D'Angelo Became The 'Chevy Whisperer'

Photo: National Lampoon’s European Vacation / Warner Bros.

When cast as Ellen and Clark Griswold, Beverly D’Angelo and Chevy Chase began what both performers consider a lifelong relationship. According to D’Angelo, she nearly turned down the role, but once she met Chase, it became clear that they had “great chemistry… it was like meeting my brother.”

To play Ellen, D’Angelo said she channeled her parents’ marriage, which she characterized as “a great love affair”:

And my mother always said, and I use this always for Ellen Griswold, that as long as it adds up to 100, it doesn’t matter who gives what. Sometimes you have to give one, and sometimes you might even have to give 100, but sometimes you only have to give 99 as long as it all adds up to a whole thing.  

As the bond between D’Angelo and Chase grew, her unique chemistry with the actor led to her taking on “the role of Chevy whisperer”:

Like nobody would want to say, “Chevy, move over there,” or “Chevy, do this or do that,” because it’s Chevy. You know what I mean? And you don’t know what he’s going to say to you.

As a result, those conversations fell to her, which might have been especially important on the set of European Vacation, a movie Chase was unhappy making. According to D’Angelo, Chase missed his family and didn’t find the material to be funny, although the comedian’s difficult nature has been part of his reputation for years.

Regardless, here were high points making European VacationD’Angelo said:

My husband had a birthday party for me, and Keith Richards was there, got everyone singing all night, and Eric Idle ended up so hoarse he had to loop most of the scenes in the movie. 

2. The ‘Vacation’ Cars Smelled “Dusty”

Dana Barron Remembered A Distinct 'Vacation' Smell (And Sound)

Photo: National Lampoon’s Vacation / Warner Bros.

Dana Barron played Audrey in the original Vacation movie, a role that has prevented her from seeing any of the sequels. She said in 2014

To this day I never seen any of the other Vacation movies… Because it just breaks my heart that I wasn’t part of my family, so I kinda rebelled and said I wasn’t going to watch them.

The Griswold family was, in many ways, a real family for Barron. She grew close to Anthony Michael Hall, who played her brother Rusty, and they remain friends. Barron said Hall educated her on the number of great comedians who were in the cast of Vacation.

She also recalled a smell – one lodged in her memory from filming so many scenes in a car:

There’s a certain smell… we traveled a lot and there’s different cars that we had depending on the shot, but it all had this kind of interesting desert dusty smell…

The smell was present in the Griswold family Truckster along with a squeak she’ll never forget. “The Truckster was its own character… kind of like our Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, she said. “It was kind of our star vehicle.”

3. One Rusty Actor Felt Very Much Part Of The Family

Photo: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation / Warner Bros.

Scenes from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation were filmed in Colorado, “cold even for a Chicago kid,” according to Johnny Galecki. Aside from frigid temperatures and high altitude, however, Galecki also felt the quick-forming bonds among the cast and the crew while playing Randy Griswold.

Galecki found himself surrounded by performers he admired, especially Juliette Lewis, who played his sister, Audrey. The actor said in 2020:

Juliette was older than me by a year, but she might as well [have] been on another planet. I worshipped her. She was rock-and-roll even at 15 years old. She had different stories about what she had done the night before and with whom. At that time I was, and still am, in awe of her.

Galecki said Griswold family patriarch Chevy Chase took Galecki to visit the sets of Ghostbusters 2 and Harlem Nights:

Here I am at 13 being introduced to Redd Foxx and Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray and Richard Pryor and all these incredible, incredible comedic icons. He didn’t have to do that, and it’s still very touching to me.

Although Galecki benefited from the large talent pool around him, he also got some help from another Rusty. With the help of Beverly D’Angelo, he talked to Anthony Michael Hall. It was “weird” for Galecki, but demonstrated how maternal D’Angelo was toward her on-screen son. 

4. Donald Sutherland Was Especially Willing To Bare It All

In 'Animal House,' Donald Sutherland Showed His 'Bare Bum' As A Joke

Photo: Universal Pictures

As Faber College professor Dave Jennings, Donald Sutherland played a pot-smoking love interest for Katy (Karen Allen) in Animal House. Sutherland was able to film his scenes in one day because he knew director John Landis from previous work they’d done together.

In one scene, Sutherland bared his back end, which he explained happened on a bit of a lark:

I said, “Just as a joke, let’s do one take with my bare bum.” My wife said to John, “If you use this, I will never speak to you again.” He used it, and she didn’t speak to him again. It got a laugh, but I would rather my wife be happy.

Allen, for her part, thought Sutherland did it to assuage her nerves on set. Landis offered this perspective, however:

Karen was uneasy about showing her tush. Donald had been naked in, like, 30 movies, so I asked him to show his a**, and when I explained the gag, he said, “Yes, absolutely.”

Sutherland was offered 2% of the movie’s profits for payment, but he declined. The actor got $35,000 instead, turning down what later amounted to millions. 

5. Juliette Lewis “Knew It Was A Big Deal” At The Time

Juliette Lewis Knew Playing Audrey Griswold Was 'A Big Deal'

Photo: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation / Warner Bros.

When Juliette Lewis visited The Kelly Clarkson Show in 2023, she told the titular host it was really “touching” how much love there continues to be for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Lewis was 15 years old when she appeared in the movie, the third “Audrey” to be part of the Griswold family. She said: 

The fact that the Griswolds have a new set of kids each time became the thing. Your agents couldn’t explain why it was acceptable; it just is. Of course, I grew up with the Vacation movie with the legendary Anthony Michael Hall. This was this huge exciting opportunity, and even at 15, I knew it was a big deal.

6. Karen Allen Really Related To Her ‘Animal House’ Character

Karen Allen Really Related To Her Character In 'Animal House'

Photo: Universal Pictures

When Karen Allen sent in her resume to audition for Animal House, it was a first for the theater actress. She landed the role of Katy Schoenstein, a college student in an up-and-down relationship with Boon, played by Peter Reigert. 

According to Allen:

The very first script for a film I ever read was for Animal House. I read through it and I loved Katy. One of the first things you see her do is storm out of the frat house and give her boyfriend the finger. I just thought, “You go girl!” Katy was that character in Animal House who was like the voice of reason; she was going to find her own voice amidst all this crazy fraternity brother madness.

Because Allen had no experience with the Greek system, she could identify with her character’s perspective on the antics of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity. It was also a strong female protagonist, comparable to Allen’s character Marion in the Indiana Jones franchise.

Allen remained close with her Animal House co-stars, especially Reigert. When Allen was at a screening of the movie in Florida in 2019, Reigert put it this way:

I’m always going to be connected to Karen… That’s one of the perks of doing that movie.

7. Kevin Bacon Felt Left Out Among The ‘Animal House’ Cast

Kevin Bacon 'Was Never Invited' To The Cool Parties While Making 'Animal House'

Photo: Universal Pictures

Kevin Bacon was at the very beginning of his acting career when he was cast in Animal House or, as he put it, he “had no career.” Still in acting school at the time, Bacon viewed the part of Chip Diller as “just a gig.”

As an acting novice, Bacon was in awe of his co-stars but remained outside of the bond growing among members of the Delta fraternity:

We’re all staying in the same motel. But these guys would have parties with music and they were all super cool and the parties were great and there were girls around and I was never invited… I was never part of that thing.

Still, Bacon tried. He told Jimmy Kimmel he tried to warn his partying counterparts about the FBI monitoring their behavior. Unfortunately for Bacon, the whole thing had been a ruse and he’d been pranked by those same raucous co-stars. 

8. Anthony Michael Hall Went Through Puberty During ‘Vacation’

Anthony Michael Hall Said Chevy Chase Mocked Him When He Reached Puberty

Photo: National Lampoon’s Vacation / Warner Bros.

Rusty Griswold was an awkward teenage boy on a road trip with his parents. Anthony Michael Hall was, as he put it, “Rusty.” Only 14 years old when National Lampoon’s Vacation was filmed, Hall “looked up to everybody” while simultaneously being “nervous.” He told the Chicago Sun-Times:

Even as a kid, it wasn’t lost on me that I was standing on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes. In the 1970s, I had to get permission to stay up late to watch SNL. Now I’m in a movie with Chevy Chase, Eugene Levy… the talent pool [in the film] was amazing.

Hall said Chevy Chase was “funny and snarky,” or “his usual self.” Hall got a taste of this when the original ending to Vacation had to be reshot months after the initial filming. By the time Hall returned to film his scenes:

Puberty kicked in hard for me. They called everybody back together again, but I was in the throes of puberty, right? So I had sprouted up… Chevy, of course, was the first person to point out to me that puberty had kicked in. I had pimples and I had shot up about a foot. So if you look carefully at Rusty, I actually look like a different kid. Chevy made me feel goofy about it and I was kind of embarrassed by that.

9. A Major ‘Animal House’ Role Was Originally Written For Chevy Chase

Tim Matheson Didn't Want To Be An Omega, And Ended Up With A Role Written For Chevy Chase

Photo: Animal House / Universal Pictures

When Tim Matheson auditioned for Animal House, he was offered the part of Greg Marmalard, the president of Omega Theta Pi. Matheson didn’t want that part because, in his words, “I want to be a Delta.” Matheson later auditioned for and got the role of Eric “Otter” Stratton – a part that had actually been written for Chevy Chase. 

Matheson and fellow Delta actor Peter Reigert, who played Boon, have remained close, but when it came to filming the actual movie, the former reflected on how director John Landis helped the on-screen fraternity brothers get to know each other:

Animal House was a five-week shoot, but he had the Deltas come in a week early to just hang out. For a week, we ate together, toured the set, watched the Deathmobile being built, and just hung out. We had a bond before everyone else showed up.

In 2021, Matheson was asked about his favorite parts of Animal House. He quickly identified what he thought was “one of the most perfect scenes” he’d ever read, and included his favorite line:

The scene at Emily Dickinson College for Fawn Liebowitz… It was so well written. I had so much fun with it, but didn’t want to overact it. I knew I had to ride the wave and let it happen naturally. The entire scene: “Sophomore Dies in Kiln Explosion”; “She was going to make a pot for me”… So great, so wrong, and needed to be executed perfectly.

In a separate interview from 2018, Matheson offered insight into why Chase never played Otter. He said Landis didn’t want to have too many Saturday Night Live performers in the cast, so when he met with Chase, Landis “kept saying all the wrong things”: 

[Landis said]: “Oh Chevy, it will be just like SNL. You’ll be one of 10 people in the movie and it’s an ensemble. Now, if you do [Foul Play] with Goldie [Hawn], it’s just you and her and it won’t be as fun.” Chevy walked out of there going, “I’m not doing that movie.”

Chase has denied it was anything other than his desire to work with Goldie Hawn that prevented him from taking the part. 

10. “D-Day” Carried The ‘Animal House’ Mindset Off The Set

Bruce McGill Said The 'Animal House' Sitcom Spinoff 'Delta House' Was Too Tame

Photo: Animal House / Universal Pictures

When Bruce McGill got the script for Animal House, he was at an unemployment office in New York City. Somewhat surprised Universal Studios planned to make the movie (the studio had been hesitant), he was later cast as D-Day.

For McGill, the camaraderie he built with his fellow Deltas carried over into off-set hours. After the cast commandeered a piano from their hotel’s lobby, it was moved to McGill’s room, where the actor would “howl on that piano” as parties took place around him every night. McGill admitted, “There were nights I wanted to sleep and I couldn’t get people to leave.”

Because McGill felt so close to the character he’d “invented… visually and physically,” he went on to play D-Day in the sitcom Delta House.

As a spinoff of Animal HouseDelta House seemed like “a no-brainer,” he said, but it was “too expensive to shoot” and was “on too early to be as raunchy as the people that liked Animal House enjoyed.”

11. Harold Ramis Defined Clark Griswold’s Dopiness

Harold Ramis 'Gave' Chevy Chase His Character Clark Griswold With Just A Few Lines

Photo: National Lampoon’s Vacation / Warner Bros.

When Chevy Chase worked on 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, he asked director Harold Ramis (who viewers probably know better as an actor thanks to his role as Egon in the Ghostbusters movies) how he should play Clark Griswold. According to Chase:

And he [Ramis] just did it. He did one or two lines and gave me this guy in a couple of moments. It immediately resonated with me and I knew just what he meant: “Go over the top – be Clark Griswold.”

Chase also incorporated optimism, mediocrity, a loving nature, fun quips, and physical comedy. 

Chase didn’t enjoy all his experiences bringing Clark Griswold to the screen. National Lampoon’s European Vacation wasn’t “funny enough,” in Chase’s opinion. He also clashed with director Amy Heckerling. Although Chase called Heckerling a “very lovely person,” he “didn’t think her direction smacked of energy and humor.”

12. The Second Rusty Absolutely Loved Making ‘European Vacation’

Jason Lively Got 'Spoiled' Making 'European Vacation'

Photo: National Lampoon’s European Vacation / Warner Bros.

As the second Rusty Griswold, Jason Lively (brother of fellow actor Blake Lively) went abroad with the family in National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985). Despite the conflicts between Chevy Chase and director Amy Heckerling and a less-than-funny script, Lively loved being a 16-year-old actor opposite “the funniest man on the planet.”

Chase’s status helped with travel arrangements, which Lively similarly enjoyed. He said in 2022:

It’s real easy to get spoiled. If I could travel like that all of the time, I certainly would. It’s not bad rolling with the big Warner Bros. high-dollar film and being a kid. It was a magnificent experience. I got to do things that hardly anyone gets to do, no matter how old.

All in all, Lively had no complaints about the “perks” of being Rusty.