Released on July 29, 1983, National Lampoon’s Vacation became a monster hit, spawning four sequels: European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation, and the TV movie Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. (The less said about that last one, the better.) It also gave birth to a reboot, 2015’s nowhere-near-as-funny Vacation. The story is as simple as it is inspired: Family man Clark Griswold drives his wife and kids cross-country to visit the Walley World amusement park, only to have one cataclysm after another threaten to derail the whole trip.
Thirty-three years later, the movie maintains its appeal. This is one of those comedies that is eminently quotable (“I don’t know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper. It does just fine by itself.”) It’s also got a hook we can all relate to. Who among us hasn’t seen a parent lose their cool because something on a family trip didn’t go as smoothly as it was supposed to?
To honor this classic comedy, we’re going to look at where the stars of National Lampoon’s Vacation are today, along with some fun movie-related trivia.
12. Jane Krakowski – Cousin Vicki
Cousin Vicki is a little minx. The teenage girl is good at French-kissing (“Daddy says I’m the best at it.”) and she keeps a shoebox of weed under her bed. She is everything you hope your adolescent daughter doesn’t turn out to be. Playing Vicki was a young actress named Jane Krakowski, making her motion picture debut. Krakowski not only ran with the character’s naughty side, she was also responsible for one of Vacation‘s biggest laughs, in which Vicki stirs a pitcher full of Kool-Aid with her arm.
After her time as a Griswold relative, the actress puttered around in various TV and film projects, including playing Betty Rubble in the live-action movie The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. Television is where she found significant success, thanks to roles as Elaine Vassal on Ally McBeal and Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock. Krakowski has a particular gift for playing clueless, uptight characters. You can currently find her doing another hilarious variation of this on the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, where she plays the rich-but-unhappy Jacqueline White.
11. Miriam Flynn – Cousin Catherine
Miriam Flynn is an accomplished actress with more than 130 screen credits to her name. In Vacation, she was cast as Cousin Catherine, the only semi-normal one in a family of what could politely be described as “white trash.” Her husband is a freeloading bum, her daughter is a burgeoning floosie, and her son is a little pervert. But that doesn’t stop Catherine from having an upbeat attitude, especially when her sister Ellen and brother-in-law Clark drop by for a visit.
Flynn reprised her role in 1989’s Christmas Vacation and 1997’s Vegas Vacation (an underrated installment in the series that’s deserving of a second look). She also appeared in the hit movies Mr. Mom and Waiting for Guffman. Her voice has been featured in a variety of animated shows and films, including the Land Before Time series, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Babe, where she provided the voice of Maa. Flynn continues to have a busy career, and was most recently seen playing Drake’s mother on iZombie.
10. Randy Quaid – Cousin Eddie
Randy Quaid is so good playing odd characters that it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s apparently pretty odd in real life, too. As the tactless Cousin Eddie — who got laid off “when they closed that asbestos factory” — Quaid brings surprising depth to a character that is intentionally designed to be a stereotype. Eddie is a mirror image of Clark Griswold. Both are family men with wives and children, but while Clark tries to live a Norman Rockwell-esque existence, Cousin Eddie is an uncouth slob who isn’t above begging for a handout.
Quaid reprised the role in Christmas Vacation and Vegas Vacation, as well as the dreadful TV movie spinoff Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. Generally, his acting career thrived, with dozens of roles in a variety of genres. Among his credits are Days of Thunder, Kingpin, Independence Day, and Brokeback Mountain. Then the bottom gave out. In 2009, Quaid and his wife Evi were arrested for burglary and conspiracy after they allegedly skipped out on a $10,000 hotel bill. Later, they were accused of living in someone’s guest house without the permission or knowledge of the owner. These and other legal troubles forced the Quaids to exile themselves to Canada. They later claimed that a ring of “star whackers” were attempting to frame and/or murder them, as had supposedly been done to other celebs.
Due to these rather bizarre personal issues, Quaid has not acted in seven years. That doesn’t mean he’s not in front of a camera, though. You can watch him rant semi-incoherently about politics and other things on Evi’s YouTube channel.
9. John Navin – Cousin Dale / James Keach – Motorcycle Cop
John Navin came to Vacation with a few small credits. He had a supporting role in 1981’s Taps, opposite George C. Scott, Sean Penn, and an up-and-coming actor named Tom Cruise. He’d also done episodes of Cheers and The Facts of Life. His role as Cousin Dale, the surly tween who mistakes the video game Asteroids with hemorrhoids and possesses a pile of nudie mags, is short but memorable. Navin was able to project a certain smug quality that made him perfect for Dale. A few inconsequential roles followed, but Navin seems to have left show business entirely. His last credited work is in the 1993 TV movie Class of ’61. He maintains no online presence (at least under his real name) and gives no interviews related to Vacation. An extensive search for information as to his current whereabouts yields no leads whatsoever, aside from a spurious anecdote about him being spotted in a Philadelphia bar a couple years back.
In various interviews over the years, Chevy Chase has talked about how hard it was to keep a straight face during a Vacation moment in which a no-nonsense motorcycle cop pulls over the Griswolds to chastise Clark for accidentally killing the dog he unintentionally left tied to the bumper of the Truckster. The actor playing that cop is James Keach, whose younger brother Stacy is also a famous actor. He and Chase improvised the scene, struggling not to crack up the entire time. Although he continued acting in films like Wildcats and The Razor’s Edge (with Bill Murray), Keach has spent more time behind the camera as a producer (Walk the Line) and director (the superb 2014 documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me). He was married married to actress Jane Seymour for 22 years; they divorced in 2015.
8. Eugene Levy – Car Salesman
One of the best and most memorable elements of Vacation is the station wagon Clark buys for the trip, which he dubs “the Griswold Family Truckster.” The vehicle is, quite frankly, a piece of garbage, sold to him by a sleazier-than-sleazy car salesman played by Eugene Levy. A veteran of the famed Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV as well as the legendary Second City, Levy is well-honed in portraying exaggerated characters. He brings just the right mix of smooth talking and psychology to the role, as the salesman plays on Clark’s vulnerabilities to sell him a lemon. It’s a minor character, but a crucial one that he completely nails.
Levy was already fairly well-known, at least among comedy fans, by the time of his Vacation appearance. He would go on to accumulate dozens of credits, from Splash to American Pie (where he memorably played Jim’s dad in the original and subsequent sequels) to Madea’s Witness Protection. He’s also a regular in Christopher Guest’s troupe, co-writing and co-starring in their comedies Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration. Levy can currently be seen on Schitt’s Creek, a TV comedy he created, and heard in the upcoming Finding Dory.
Incidentally, the Truckster was developed specifically for the film by George Barris, a noted car designer whose company also created the Batmobile for the 1960s Batman TV series and the Munster Koach from The Munsters. It was based on the Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon.
7. Brian Doyle-Murray – Kamp Komfort Clerk
Brian Doyle-Murray is not the household name that his brother Bill is, but he has his own impressive comedy credentials, starting with the fact that he co-wrote another ’80s classic, Caddyshack. For Vacation, he took on the role of the watermelon-chomping clerk at Kamp Komfort, a dump of a campground where the Griswolds spend a night. His character, who wears a Richard Nixon pin on his flannel shirt, assures Clark that the accommodations are suitable and come with “wildlife fun.”
Doyle-Murray always does supporting work, but his resume is loaded with familiar — and often adored -titles: Sixteen Candles, Scrooged, Ghostbusters II, Oliver Stone’s JFK (as Jack Ruby, no less), Wayne’s World, Groundhog Day. He does television work as well, appearing this year on both Veep and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The actor has an interesting bit of trivia pertaining to the Vacation series. He appeared in Christmas Vacation as a completely different character, Frank Shirley, the boss who stiffs Clark on his bonus and is later kidnapped by Cousin Eddie. It’s worth noting that the ending of Christmas Vacation was supposed to be the ending of the original Vacation, with Roy Walley as the kidnap victim. Test audiences didn’t like it, so a new ending was conceived in which the Griswolds take a security guard hostage, ride all the rides, and are then forgiven for their crimes by Walley. Writer John Hughes preferred the original ending, so he recycled it for the holiday sequel.
6. Christie Brinkley – The Girl in the Ferrari
Not many things can get a happily-married suburban family man to turn his head, but a hot girl in a hot car is one of them. While on the road, Clark flirts — and later has a poolside meet-up — with the Ferrari-driving Christie Brinkley. It’s one of the movie’s sharpest satiric ideas, mocking the fact that, even when in a loving marriage, many men still have a small egotistical part of their psyche that makes them think they can still be the cool guy who randomly picks up sexy single women. Of course, Clark would never actually cheat, but that’s why the gag works as well as it does.
Brinkley was a much lusted-after Sports Illustrated swimsuit model in the ’80s. Although not a trained actress, she certainly fit the Dream Girl bill on a physical level, and even displayed some surprising comedy chops. Acting was never really her thing, though. She continued to model, and was married at one point to Billy Joel, whose song “Uptown Girl” she inspired. There was a callback cameo in Vegas Vacation, and she later cameoed as herself in Adam Sandler’s oft-ridiculed Jack and Jill. Perhaps Brinkley’s most noteworthy post-Vacation role is as Gayle Gergich, the smokin’ hot wife of office loser Jerry on Parks and Recreation. In her spare time, she is heavily involved in animal rights and environmental causes.
5. Imogene Coca – Aunt Edna / John Candy – Lasky
Legendary comedienne Imogene Coca was cast as poor Aunt Edna, who endlessly harasses Clark and passes away somewhere near Flagstaff. Coca hit the big time back in the 1950s as a cast member on the influential Your Show of Shows — a program that was a precursor to SCTV and Saturday Night Live and an influencer of generations of comic actors. Coca did not have an entirely pleasant experience on the Vacation set, as she had a phobia of car travel that caused her to struggle with claustrophobic scenes set inside the Truckster, and reportedly suffered a mild stroke during production. Most of her working days were behind her by the time she played Aunt Edna; only a few small roles followed. The actress died in June 2001 at the age of 92.
John Candy, like Eugene Levy, was an SCTV veteran. He, too, was already a recognizable performer before accepting a small role as Lasky, the Walley World security guard held at gunpoint by a deranged, desperate Clark Griswold. The actor has an impressive filmography. After Vacation, his star rose, thanks to hit movies such as Splash, Spaceballs, Home Alone, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Sadly, the career of this deeply funny man was cut short. Candy died of a heart attack on the set of the comedy Wagons East! in 1994. He was only 43 years old.
4. Dana Barron – Audrey Griswold
Dana Barron was 16 when she played Audrey Griswold. The actress started doing TV commercials a few years prior and co-starred with the young Tom Hanks in the 1980 slasher flick He Knows You’re Alone. Barron gets one of Vacation‘s most memorable lines when, after the Truckster goes airborne and then violently crashes to the ground, Audrey blurts out, “I just got my period.”
The actress followed up Vacation with roles in Heaven Help Us and Death Wish 4. She also did some TV work, most notably playing Nikki on a handful of episodes of Beverly Hills 90210. She played Audrey once more in the aforementioned Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. Barron acts only intermittently these days, her last credit being the 2013 Hallmark Channel movie Snow Bride. Much of her time is spent being a mom it would appear; she and her longtime boyfriend have a son, Taylor.
3. Anthony Michael Hall – Rusty Griswold
You can literally see Anthony Michael Hall grow over the span of Vacation. Because the ending was reshot months after production wrapped, Rusty is suddenly several inches taller than his mother by the time the family finally makes it Walley World. If you never noticed that, don’t feel bad. Hall is so good playing the teen boy who looks up to his dad that you aren’t likely to catch his growth spurt.
Hall, of course, went on to become one of the top young actors of the ’80s, thanks to his roles in the John Hughes classics Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science. A few unsuccessful leading roles followed (Johnny Be Good, Out of Bounds), as did one season as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. He eventually rebranded himself as a character actor, although he did have a high-profile starring role on the USA Network’s The Dead Zone, which ran for six seasons. Hall reunited with Chevy Chase for several episodes of the series Community, and has had supporting roles in The Dark Knight and the Oscar-nominated Foxcatcher. The actor can currently be seen playing himself in an AT&T Mobile commercial.
2. Beverly D’Angelo – Ellen Griswold
Playing Clark’s loving and eternally patient wife Ellen is Beverly D’Angelo. The Ohio-born actress came to Vacation with a Golden Globe nomination for portraying Patsy Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter three years prior. Her casting was magic; the chemistry she shares with Chevy Chase gives the movie a heart that shines through all the outrageous humor and provides a necessary sense of grounding. She makes you understand how deeply Ellen must love Clark to put up with all his antics.
D’Angelo would return as Ellen for all the sequels, as well as the 2015 reboot. With over 100 credits to her name, the actress has done a little of everything. Some of her most recognizable projects are American History X, The House Bunny, and HBO’s Entourage, where she played agent Barbara Miller for several seasons. She also dated actor Al Pacino for about seven years, and the pair have two children together.
1. Chevy Chase – Clark Griswold
Vacation was not Chevy Chase’s first hit movie — Foul Play and Caddyshack came before — but it was definitely the one where he solidified himself as a comedy legend. Chase brings his physical comedic skills to the role of Clark W. Griswold, playing the hapless all-American dad to perfection. He provides the movie with its single most important joke: Clark is so desperate to give his family a “perfect” vacation that it drives him insane when things don’t work out as planned.
But Chase was not just the star. It’s a little-known fact that he was also a co-writer of Vacation. The screenplay is credited to John Hughes, who based it on a short story he penned for National Lampoon magazine. The script as Hughes wrote it was told from the viewpoint of the Griswold children. When Harold Ramis came on board to direct, he shifted the focus so that things were told from Clark’s POV. Ramis and Chase then worked together on a rewrite that followed though on that idea and played to the comedian’s strengths. What you see onscreen is, in fact, a combination of the contributions from all three men.
After Vacation‘s success, Chase continued his reign as one of the top comic actors of the 1980s, with movies like Fletch, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, and the vastly underrated Funny Farm. (Seriously, see that movie as soon as possible if you never have.) A career downslide followed in the ’90s (Nothing But Trouble, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Cops and Robbersons, etc.), and eventually Chase went from leading man to supporting player. He had a career revival playing Pierce Hawthorne on NBC’s cult hit Community, but left after four seasons because he didn’t like the increasingly racist direction his character was taking. A subsequent sitcom pilot with Beverly D’Angelo didn’t get picked up, but they did step into the shoes of Clark and Ellen Griswold again for a short film called Hotel Hell Vacation that was essentially one long commercial for the vacation rental website HomeAway, and the pair’s appearance in the 2015 Vacation reboot soon followed. Chase continues to be active with political and environmental causes and, like Clark, he’s a family man: he and his wife Jayni have three grown daughters. You can keep up-to-date with him on his official Facebook page.
Who’s your favorite actor from National Lampoon’s Vacation? Have a favorite scene? Does anyone know whatever happened to John Navin? Tell us all about it in the comments.
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