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This story first appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, films associated with the National Lampoon magazine did the equivalent of box-office roller-coaster loops. With a domestic take of $141 million ($514 million today), 1978’s Animal House was one of the highest-grossing R-rated comedies of all time. But the brand’s next two films, Movie Madness and Class Reunion, were mega-duds. Things got back on track when Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo were paired as the Griswold family parents in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, which THR described as a “delightfully witty excursion.”
The Harold Ramis-directed/John Hughes-scripted film centered on a family’s cross-country quest to visit a fictional L.A. amusement park grossed $61 million domestic and spawned five sequels. Mark Canton, who shepherded Vacation as a Warner Bros. vp, says the late director and writer were aiming for humor that appealed to the widest audience. “The Griswolds represented the dysfunctional family at its finest,” he adds.
But there was a problem with the ending. Test audiences loved the film but hated that the Griswolds didn’t make it to Walley World, which was closed in the original ending. On Late Night With David Letterman, Ramis in 1983 said they couldn’t call the park Disneyland “because the Disney company likes to sue.” Hughes came up with an alternate ending shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain, and the Griswolds finally got to go on rides.
“The chemistry that created Clark and Ellen Griswold is unkillable, like showbiz zombies,” D’Angelo, now 62, tells THR. For his part, Chase, 70, says D’Angelo “is like my second wife.” The two are reuniting to star as grandparents unexpectedly forced to raise their grandkids in a series being developed for ABC, and they’ll also have roles in the New Line sequel to Vacation starring Ed Helms as Griswold son Rusty, which is now shooting in Atlanta. “There are certain ways Clark Griswold behaves, and I’d like to include that,” says Chase. “He has a way of stepping on his own feet.”
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