Xmas or Bust: The Untold Story of ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’
D’Angelo: I remember on one of the first days Jeremiah saying, “We’re going to figure out how your characters walk,” and I was like, “What? This is Christmas Vacation.” That’d be great if we were doing La Strada or something.
Chechik: John was at the height of his fame, popularity, and power, so for me it was so great to develop a strong relationship with him. He came to the set exactly one day on the first day of shooting. He was very much like, “It’s your movie, man. You do it.”
Simmons: Casting was pretty simple because the whole thing is built around Chevy and Beverly. The rest of the cast was just about getting the top character actors for the older people.
Chase: I think we had the best actors of our time: E.G. Marshall, John Randolph, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd. That’s quite a group.
Diane Ladd (Norah Griswold): So you’re writing about the picture that gives me more money than anything I’ve ever done? Every year around this time, I get my own bonus thanks to Christmas Vacation. Isn’t that funny?
Juliette Lewis (Audrey Griswold): My first memory of the movie is being in one of those really generic office spaces with Chevy reading lines from the movie and him seeming excited. The fact that the Griswolds have a new set of kids each time became the thing. Your agents couldn’t explain why it was acceptable; it just is. Of course, I grew up with the Vacation movie with the legendary Anthony Michael Hall. This was this huge exciting opportunity and even at 15, I knew it was a big deal.
Johnny Galecki (Rusty Griswold): At the time, I was in Chicago auditioning for industrial films and regional theater, and I was happy doing that. I didn’t dare to dream to be in a big studio film. But I put myself on tape and sent it in. They flew me out to Los Angeles; it was one of the first times I was ever here. I read with Chevy and Jeremiah — and that alone would have been enough for me. I could have been given my walking papers and sent home on the next flight and it still would have been a dream come true. Chevy told me right there in the room that I had gotten the role.
Lewis: I don’t know the politics at the time, but maybe they had to rush to find the kids, or something.
Chechik: Galecki was just an odd kid. He was very young and so dry. He made me laugh because he has this wack of a sense of humor and that’s what made me really want him. He wasn’t a Hollywood kid who was going for laughs, but he had a nervousness to him that in many ways shows beautifully now as an adult. His comic gifts are absolutely incredible.
Ladd: This movie is kind of a turning point in my life. I went there with a British Academy Award and an Oscar nomination under my belt, but Hollywood was very hard on women. When I did Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, I thought it’d change everything for women – a lot of us did. But it didn’t, and I was spending a lot of time in Florida. People would yell at me, “What are you doing running away from Hollywood?” I came back to Hollywood and the first thing I got was for Christmas Vacation. Meanwhile, here I am going to audition to play Chevy’s momma, and I’m one year older than him! That’s if he was born in 1943, because IMDb lies about everything. They never get it right!
Miriam Flynn (Catherine): I remember getting together to read the script. Randy (Quaid) and I, our characters almost had their own little world, so I knew it was going to be fun.
Ladd: Shelly Winters loaned me her dead mother’s dress to wear, I got some Oxfords and an pair of glasses at the Salvation Army, and I put baby powder in my hair. Here I am looking like an old dog and I thought that if I’m ever up for a sexy part again, I’d be dead. But I marched right over to Chevy and I grabbed his face, pulled open his mouth and played a game: “Knock-knock, who’s there?” That was improvised and something like it wound up in the movie. When I got the call that I had the part, I started to cry. I said, “Oh my god, my career is over!” But I laughed myself for the bank for 16 weeks. That part paid money.
Chechik: Everyone in the cast had different qualities, but they shared soulful natures and a strong sense of quirkiness. At the end of the day, my focus was to try to get these great dramatic actors to trust John’s script and allow the humor to come out of circumstances.