The Cast of 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,' Then and Now

3:37 PM 12/22/2019

by Jordan Wilson

The modern Christmas classic celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.

Courtesy of Photofest

It has been 30 years since the Griswold family invited audiences to celebrate the holidays in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The threequel opened in the No. 2 slot behind the second installment of the Back to the Future franchise, but held the box office lead for the Christmas weekend of 1989 to eventually gross $71.3 million (not adjusted for inflation), according to Box Office Mojo, and has become an annual TV staple during the holidays.

Christmas Vacation’s cast is chock-full of seasoned comedy performers, including leads Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, but also featured early roles for younger actors who would eventually become stars in their own right.

Based on filmmaker John Hughes’ National Lampoon short story Christmas ’59, Christmas Vacation tells the story of family patriarch Clark Griswold hatching grand plans to celebrate Christmas, but as the previous Vacation movies proved, Clark’s best laid schemes rarely pan out well. As the movie celebrates its 30th anniversary (it first opened Dec. 1, 1989) The Hollywood Reporter looks at what the cast has been up to since blinding neighbors with Christmas lights and sailing across Chicago freeways on grease-lined sleds.

  • Chevy Chase

    Clark Griswold

    Warner Bros./Photofest; JB Lacroix/WireImage

    Already a comedy stalwart, Christmas Vacation saw Saturday Night Live alum Chevy Chase starring in the lead role as Clark Griswold for the third time. Clark, an office worker at a Chicago-based food preservative manufacturer, tries to involve his family in various holiday traditions, but unwelcome relatives and dumb luck sabotage nearly every attempt at holiday cheer. In addition to his work on SNL, Chase starred in a number of other comedies including Caddyshack and Three Amigos!. After Christmas Vacation he ventured into some edgier roles in Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Cops and Robbersons, as well as starring in the next sequel, Vegas Vacation. He also reprised his role in the 2015 reboot Vacation starring Ed Helms. His TV credits continued on the fan favorite show Community, but lately he can be seen in this year’s Netflix film The Last Laugh opposite Richard Dreyfuss.

  • Beverly D'Angelo

    Ellen Griswold

    Warner Bros./Photofest; Amanda Edwards/WireImage

    Rising up in the industry in the late 1970s, D’Angelo performed alongside Clint Eastwood in Every Which Way but Loose and as singer Patsy Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Christmas Vacation was her third time playing Ellen, the ever-supportive wife of Clark who is the bridge between her zealous husband and voice-of-reason children. D’Angelo starred in a host of TV movie roles in the '90s before taking up the helm of Ellen again in 1997’s Vegas Vacation and the 2015 Vacation reboot. D’Angelo is no stranger to drama either, playing the mother to Edward Norton’s lead character in American History X. She’s had recurring roles on Law & Order: SVU and Entourage. She recently had an extended guest role on the Netflix dark comedy series Insatiable.  

  • Juliette Lewis

    Audrey Griswold

    Warner Bros./Photofest; Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

    Having only had a few roles — including in The Facts of Life and the one-season sitcom I Married Dora — Juliette Lewis was still a freshman performer when she was cast as the elder Griswold daughter, Audrey, in Christmas Vacation. Audrey and younger brother Rusty played the more reasonable counterparts to their father’s idealistic vision of Christmas celebration. Lewis made a smooth transition to film in the years after, including in Natural Born Killers, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and the 1991 remake of Cape Fear, for which she received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination. She has had numerous film and TV roles since, including recurring roles on Wayward Pines, Secrets and Lies and The Conners. She was in this year’s Blumhouse psychological thriller Ma as Erica, the mother of protagonist Maggie.

  • Johnny Galecki

    Rusty Griswold

    Warner Bros./Photofest; Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    There were only two Christmas-themed movies released on the big screen in 1989: Christmas Vacation and Prancer, both of which featured then 14-year-old Johnny Galecki. In Christmas, Vacation Galecki played Rusty Griswold, the young son unwilling to go along with all of his father’s shenanigans. Galecki has gone on to have an extremely successful TV career, starring in Roseanne before being cast as a co-lead in the long-running CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which just ended this year. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actor in a television series, comedy or musical, for Big Bang Theory, and can currently be seen in the Roseanne follow-up series The Conners.

  • Randy Quaid

    Cousin Eddie

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    Before playing Cousin Eddie in almost every Vacation film, Randy Quaid earned a best supporting actor nomination for his role as a wayward sailor in The Last Detail opposite Jack Nicholson. After proving his comedy chops in the first Vacation movie he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1985, staying on until the 1991 season. Quaid played Cousin Eddie as the quintessentially unsophisticated member of the extended Griswold family — out of work, living with his family in their RV and never without a drink in his hand. Quaid went on to star in bigger dramas, including the Roland Emmerich disaster sci-fi Independence Day. Quaid and his wife, Evi, fled to Canada in 2010 after repeatedly failing to appear in court over a vandalism charge. Quaid returned to the U.S. in 2015 and was arrested at the Vermont border, but eventually released. Despite his legal trouble, he appeared on the variety comedy show Tosh.0 and had a small part in the 2018 feature film Weight.

  • Miriam Flynn

    Cousin Catherine

    Warner Bros./Photofest; Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    Eddie’s wife, Catherine, is always doting on her husband and trying to be as supportive as she can despite her family’s hardships, but Miriam Flynn has never lacked for work since she began her acting career. She first played Cousin Catherine in the first Vacation film after playing a small part in the Michael Keaton comedy Mr. Mom. She’s had a number of guest appearances on TV ranging from Cheers and Family Ties to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She has an extensive history of voice work, including parts on The Simpsons, Ducktales and as Grandma Longneck in The Land Before Time movies. Her latest work can be heard as a band leader in the TV series short If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

  • Doris Roberts

    Ellen's Mother, Francis

    Warner Bros./Photofest; Steve Granitz/WireImage

    A tremendous career in television began for Doris Roberts when she played an operator in an episode of Starlight Theatre in 1951. She played several TV roles over the next two decades before breaking into major motion pictures, starring as Charles Grodin’s mother in Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid and as the mayor’s wife in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. She played a former IRS agent opposite a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan in four seasons of Remington Steele before playing Clark Griswold’s chiding mother-in-law. Despite her myriad credits, her most notable role is probably as Ray Romano’s outspoken mother, Marie, in Everybody Loves Raymond, which ran from 1996-2005. She died in 2016 at the age of 90, but her last role in the short film Zizi and Honeyboy was released in 2018. 

  • Brian Doyle-Murray

    Clark's Boss, Frank Shirley

    Warner Bros./Photofest; Paul Redmond/WireImage

    This veteran comedy actor played opposite his Christmas Vacation employee Chevy Chase not only on the stages of Saturday Night Live, but in other National Lampoon productions Caddyshack and the first Vacation, where he played the onerous Kamp Kompfort clerk. He played numerous bit parts in '80s comedies, from a reverend in Sixteen Candles to a psychiatrist in Ghostbusters II. In Christmas Vacation, Doyle-Murray portrayed Clark Griswold’s thrifty boss whose penny-pinching nature eventually leads to his own kidnapping at the hands of Cousin Eddie. Doyle-Murray expanded his repertoire to playing Lee Harvey Oswald assassin Jack Ruby in Oliver Stone’s JFK, and he lent his voice to the Flying Dutchman in SpongeBob SquarePants. He can be seen as of late in AMC’s Long Beach-set dramedy Lodge 49.