Xmas or Bust: The Untold Story of ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’
It started as a continuation of the misadventures of the Griswold family; it ended up becoming one of the most surprisingly popular and oft-quoted holiday movies of all time.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the story of beleaguered patriarch Clark Griswold – played by the inimitable Chevy Chase – who tries to engineer the picture-perfect seasonal festivities: the best naturally procured tree, the biggest and brightest (literally) Christmas-light display on the block, the end-of-the-year bonus from his Scrooge-like boss. It’s the only comedy to appeal to those who live for that deck-the-halls spirit, viewers who are dyed-in-the-wool Grinches (“Well, I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery”) and folks who appreciate the genius of Randy Quaid in his underwear, exclaiming: “Shitter’s full!”
We’ve asked the cast and creators to weigh in on the seasonal classic, which was released over 30 years ago in December 1989. From the intricate planning behind the film’s zany antics to freak snowstorms and cast freak-outs, this is the untold, no-holds-barred story of Christmas Vacation.
A Child Is Born…
Matty Simmons (Executive Producer): The first Vacation movie was based on a short story in National Lampoon; the magazine was so hot at the time thanks to Animal House. There was also a Christmas story in the magazine by John [Hughes], and after reading it, I’d always wanted to make a movie of it. We made [the 1985 sequel] European Vacation and, after several years of pitching Warner Brothers, they finally said they wanted to do the Christmas one. They said, “John wants to produce and he wants first billing, will you take second billing?” So, I said “Okay, I’ll take executive producer.” That’s my title on the picture.
Tom Jacobson (Producer): I was a partner with John at the time, producing movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Uncle Buck with him. When the idea of a third Vacation came up, we went to Warners.
Simmons: Everything John wrote was just great. He was a genius, there’s no question about that.
Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold): I never knew John that well. If you see his films, he had a great vision of teenagers growing up; in a way he was a teenager, still battling those awkward growing years. Maybe he was a genius, and God bless him if he was. There’s so few of us.
Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold): I was living in Ireland and my agent Rick Nicita said, “John’s got a script.”
Jeremiah Chechik (Director): This was my first feature film …up until then, I had done a lot of sexy, very moody, atmospheric commercials. Long story short, thanks to the commercial work I was going to make a movie about the Apollo Theater at Warner Brothers and had gotten to know them. They started to send me scripts — and one of them sent me was Christmas Vacation. I laughed out loud when I read it. Never mind that I didn’t have any comic chops, as far as I knew. I said I would do it, and met with John, Chevy, and Tom.
Jacobson: John was shooting Uncle Buck at the time [in 1989]. We overlapped prep, but Warner Brothers wanted Christmas Vacation in time for Christmas, so we started shooting it three days after we wrapped Buck.
Chechik: I thought, should I really be doing this?