By Frank Barron
It’s the time of year when people start tuning in to old holiday movies and getting nostalgic. Some films are sickening sweet, and others are just crazy and good fun. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the latter of the two. It will be part of the mega-popular ABC Family Channel’s 25 Days of Christmas film series, which is packed with the sweet stuff and the silly. They have the silliest movie Ron Howard ever made, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Friday, Dec. 2; followed by a Harry Potter marathon scheduled for Dec. 3 and 4; the brilliant animated Polar Express on Dec. 5; Home Alone 2 on Dec. 6; and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on Dec. 7 (and Dec. 12). The fun doesn’t stop until Dec. 25, with every night leading up to Christmas Day featuring more great holiday films for everyone.
Chevy Chase stars in Christmas Vacation, which was the third in the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series following the wacky Griswold family. It was an instant modern classic and is often found on the top 10 list of everyone’s favorite Christmas films.
Chase himself is on many top 10 lists as one of the greatest physical comics of the past several decades. He skyrocketed to fame when NBC’s Saturday Night Live went on the air in 1975. It was a landmark program bringing fresh, live, outrageous comedy to late-night viewers, and Chase was a SNL writer as well as performer. He was famous for his opening pratfall and physical comedy. Chase became famous for playing a bumbling President Gerald Ford on the show, which the former President said even made him laugh. And he started the Weekend Update with his trademark line: “Good evening. I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.”
That was then, and now after many successful movies (Foul Play, Caddyshack, Three Amigos), hosting the Oscars, and doing television shows, Chase can be found playing Pierce Hawthorne, the senior member of the community college study group on NBC’s clever sitcom Community.
“I’ve never been in a sitcom before,” Chevy said at a gathering of television critics. “I like playing this character. He’s uneducated, biased, and bigoted, and it’s fun to play a guy who I would hate and is nothing like me.”
The 68-year-old Chase reported, “I like to laugh and I like to make people laugh. I’m very good at it. I tend to see humor as physical, but not necessarily pratfalls. Generally speaking, there aren’t too many people who make me laugh.”
One of them, he revealed, “was my father, who was funny, and he was also a writer and editor.” Chevy’s mother was a classical pianist, and even his grandparents had been in show business. It was his grandmom who nicknamed him Chevy, although his full name is Cornelius Crane Chase, born in Lower Manhattan in New York City.
Dubbed a “class clown” as a youngster, he attended several small colleges on the East Coast, majoring in pre-med, “but I never went to medical school.” Seeking to make a living, the young Chevy wound up as a New York City cab driver, waiter, construction worker, theater usher, and had many other jobs before turning to comedy writing in the ‘70s. He also appeared on various television shows. In the 1973 off-Broadway National Lampoon comedy Lemmings, is where he first met John Belushi “and the other guys who would all become members of Saturday Night Live.”
Among his numerous awards are the Harvard Lampoon’s Lifetime Achievement Award, two Emmys, and a Golden Globe Award for his comedy writing and acting. Plus he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Nowadays, Chase reported that the ensemble for Community reminds him of the old SNL gang. He is having fun playing the older, curmudgeonly Pierce Hawthorne (who doesn’t do pratfalls) on the show, surrounded by talented young performers who treat him like the comic master he is.
Off the set, Chase has become active as a charity fundraiser and is an avid environmentalist. This year when the Wildlife Foundation honored him for the work he has done for them, he modestly accepted the award, saying “I don’t think I deserve this.” But with perfect comedy timing he eagerly snatched it, saying “I’ll take it though.” It was an early Christmas present.