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.
It Pretty Much Killed the Station Wagon
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.
Chase Really Needed a Hit. (And so did the Lampoon.)
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.”
Anthony Michael Hall Tried Peeping On Beverly D’Angelo
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.”
20. Chevy Chase Improvised The Scene Where He Gets Pulled Over After Accidentally Killing Aunt Edna’s Dog
Chase improvised the scene where Clark is talking to the officer after forgetting to untie Aunt Edna’s dog from the back bumper. Both actors are visibly trying not to laugh during the dialogue.
19. The Film Crew And Cast Actually Went On A Road Trip
The movie was shot in over 15 different locations in four states.
18. There Were Five Wagon Queen Family Trucksters Used In The Movie
They rotated the cars out in order to alter each one to show the wear and tear from the trip.
17. One Of Chevy Chase’s Favorite Scenes Is When Clark Helps Ellen Do The Dishes
Clark helps Ellen with the dishes, but he never actually washes them or puts them in the dishwasher. Instead, he wipes them off and puts them back in the cabinets.
16. Director Harold Ramis Was Worried The Movie Was Too Edgy For His Style
In particular, Ramis said the St. Louis scene was “the most politically incorrect sequence I’ve ever shot.”
15. The Actor Who Played Rusty Was Going Through Puberty During Filming And Grew Three Inches
Anthony Michael Hall, the actor who played Rusty, grew three inches during production and appears at different heights throughout the movie.
14. Chevy Chase Accidentally Nearly Hit An Extra When He Threw The License Plate During A Gas Station Scene
While searing for the gas cap for the family car during a scene, Chevy Chase accidentally threw the license plate of the Truckster after pulling it off. It almost hit another actress at the pump behind him, and the look of concern on his face is real.
13. Model Christie Brinkley Traveled With The Crew For Most Of The Shooting Despite Only Appearing In A Few Scenes
Model Christie Brinkley made her movie debut in Vacation as the blonde in the red sports cars who distracts Clark. She traveled with the crew for much of the filming even though she only had a small role in the movie.
12. The Original Ending Had The Family Not Enter Walley World At All
Upon arriving at Walley World, the Griswolds are saddened to find the park closed. In the original script, Clark leaves the amusement park to go to the CEO’s home, where he holds him hostage. However, test audiences didn’t like this ending, so the writers changed it. In the edited version, the family enters the closed park instead.
11. The Shots Of Walley World Were Actually Matte Paintings
You can tell the park is actually a painting in this parking lot scene.
10. The Roller Coaster Scenes Were Shot At Six Flags Magic Mountain
The cast even rode the roller coasters for the scenes, and their expressions of fear and nausea were real.
9. The Crew Actually Saved A Dog That Was Tied To A Car Bumper
The crew saw a car start to drive off with a dog still tied to the bumper at one of the hotels they stayed at during filming. They managed to alert the driver and save the dog’s life, unlike the scene featuring Aunt Edna’s poor pooch.
8. The Cast Had To Run From The Car To Walley World Park In 100 Degree Heat
Chevy Chase and Anthony Michael Hall raced from the car to Walley World in the 100 degree heat at the Santa Anita race track in California.
7. The Actress Who Played Aunt Edna Had To Be Talked Into Taking The Role
Actress Imogene Coca was worried she wouldn’t be mean enough to play the part, but the producer talked her into the role.
6. Actress Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen) Was Actually A Great Singer During The Sing-along Parts According To Chevy Chase
Beverly D’Angelo starred in the 1979 musical “Hair,” which explains her vocals during the movie.
5. The Movie Was Based On A 1979 Story By John Hughes Published In The National Lampoon Magazine
The original story was called Vacation ’58.
4. Randy Quaid Added Cousin Eddie’s Tongue Click To The Script
The actor based the sound on someone he knew in high school, and went through the scripts to mark where he wanted to add the tongue click.
3. The Beer Can Clark And Rusty Drink From In The Desert Scene Is Empty
The actors had to pretend to drink from the empty can.
2. The Stunt Coordinator Jumped The Family Truckster Over 50 Feet During The Desert Scene
Stunt coordinator Dick Ziker made a bet against other crew members that he would be able to jump the car over 50 feet, and he did.
1. Cousin Vicki Was Played By 14-Year-Old Jane Krakowski
The movie was Jane’s first big movie, and it’s safe to say the teen rocked the part.
Lindsey Buckingham’s Theme Song, “Holiday Road,” Was A Big Hit
Even though the soundtrack album never made it on the charts, the catchy theme song was ranked 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.
The Movie Originally Had A Not So Pleasant Ending
The original ending had the Griswolds invade Roy Walley’s house, hold him and his associates hostage, and force them to entertain their family by dancing and singing Marty Moose songs. Apparently, the test audiences really didn’t like this ending, so Hughes had to write a new one with a more peaceful ending. In order to shoot the new finale, the cast had to be reunited four months after filming had wrapped. By then they’d all lost their tans, and Hall had grown three inches, so that he was now taller than D’Angelo, as some viewers have noticed.