January 30, 2013

Pop Culture Reunion: National Lampoon's Vacation

It's hard to believe nearly 30 years have passed since the first "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie premiered.  I watched that film over and over as a kid, and I think it struck a chord with many kids of that era, with the family road trip being a common occurrence for many American families (at least those who weren't separated due to divorce).  That, combined with endless reruns on cable made the original film an enduring piece of American pop culture.

I think of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" song whenever I get in the car to go on vacation myself.  You can listen to that classic song below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/KsYqIJqlPNc:

I first saw Beverly D'Angelo in the 1979 movie "Hair" (I watched it as one of the perpetual movie reruns on cable), but was the place I first saw her so when she appeared as Ellen Griswold on "Vacation", I already knew her.  Indeed, she had a major role in "Hair".  But as I already noted, Beverly D'Angelo is perhaps best known for her role as Ellen Griswold in the National Lampoon's "Vacation" franchise and has been acting (steadily) for decades.  She began on stage, appearing on Broadway in 1976 in "Rockabye Hamlet", which was a musical rendition of Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Needless to say, it wasn't a Tony Award-winner, but it was a good place to start working as an actress.

She used that experience to move into film acting.  Technically, she was featured in a minor role in "Annie Hall" in 1977 (which I never saw), but she appeared in a string of hits in the late 1970's, including "Every Which Way But Loose", "Hair", as well as "Coal Miner's Daughter", which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Patsy Cline, as well as a Country Music Association award for Album of the Year.  Without a doubt, her best-known role was as wife to Clark W. Griswold in 1983's "National Lampoon's Vacation", a role she would reprise in several sequels.
Her "Vacation" co-star, Chevy Chase, began on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" during it's formative years (along with John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin and others).  Like other SNL castmembers of the era, many moved into Hollywood films and/or TV shows, with 1980's "Caddyshack" seen as his breakout film.  Like Beverly D'Angelo, Mr. Chase has kept working steadily even as many of his SNL cast members have slowed down.

To be sure, the Beverly D'Angelo and Chevy Chase are perhaps the only castmembers which have remained consistent for the films' entire run, although Randy Quaid played Cousin Eddie in most (excluding "European Vacation") of the others.  However, the children have been different in each film.

For example, the original Rusty Griswold was played by John Hughes' film alumni Anthony Michael Hall, who would later move away from acting to film producing instead (although he did return to the screen portraying Bill Gates in the 1999 television film "Pirates of Silicon Valley".  He was age 13 when "Vacation" filmed.  Other notable actors to play that same role include Johnny Galecki (who played Rusty in "Christmas Vacation"), perhaps best known for his role on "Roseanne" and more recently, on "Big Bang Theory".  Other notable guests from the original film include "30 Rock" star Jane Krakowski, who played Cousin Vicki (the slutty girl who admitted that her father said she French-kissed the best).

There have also been a few cast members that have died, most notably was the actress who played Audrey Griswold in "European Vacation", played by a well-known child actress during the 1970s-1980s named Dana Hill.  She passed away from a stroke at age 32 in 1996.  The other was legendary comedic actress from screen and TV Imogene Coca who played Aunt Edna in the original movie.  She died in 2001.  Many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may recall Imogene Coca from her memorable guest appearances on TV sitcoms including two appearances on "Bewitched" as Mary the Tooth Fairy, as well as on "The Brady Bunch" playing Aunt Jenny, whom Jan worried she would grow up to look like based on a childhood photo of Aunt Jenny.

Regardless, reuniting the original cast of "Vacation" was something that seemed destined to happen at some point.  Although the "Vacation" movies air quite frequently, getting the original cast together was never really a priority for the film series' producers, but during the holidays of 2012, D'Angelo and Chase appeared in some TV commercials for Old Navy.  The spots were cute, and seemed to target Gen Xers sense of nostalgia.  Those clips can be viewed on YouTube at http://youtu.be/CBmvluvhNG8, http://youtu.be/IJszrRIBbpQ and http://youtu.be/nEBGC62pjwA.

However, we can thank Entertainment Weekly ("EW"), for actually reuniting the very original cast in 2012 (except for Imogene Coca).  The link to EW's reunion page can be seen at:

The video, however, can be viewed below, or by visiting ABC's Good Morning America at http://abcn.ws/SzDFX2 or YouTube at http://youtu.be/oo-KVrdrp80:

I'm glad EW organized this cast reunion, but I have to admit that seeing the full cast together again doesn't stir the same kind of memories that some of the reunions I've featured have for me.  I think it's because "Vacation" has been on the air perpetually and Beverly and Chevy remain like a virtual husband and wife.  However, seeing everyone 30 years later is interesting.  Chevy Chase's hair (what's left of it) is decidedly greyer.  Beverly D'Angelo, thanks to the Hollywood youth-perpetuation machine, has aged pretty well.  The kids look kind of like many Gen Xers do ... middle-aged.

I have to wonder how family vacations have changed since then ... are road trips as big as they once were, or has flying the family down to Orlando for a week during winter become standard operating procedure for Americans outside the sunbelt?

Author P.S., September 16, 2014:  While Americans have seen a number of National Lampoon's "Vacation" movies, including sequels including "European Vacation", "Christmas Vacation" and "Vegas Vacation" among others, and more recently some of the cast have done TV advertisements for retailer Old Navy, but there was news recently that a reboot of the original "Vacation" movie from New Line Cinemas is in the works (see http://bit.ly/XcmP5M and http://bit.ly/XQIwcQ).  It will be focused on son Rusty taking his own children on a family vaction, and reportedly the reboot has already been cast including Ed Helms as Rusty, and Christina Applegate has signed up to play Rusty's wife.  Parents Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) are slated to reprise their roles in brief cameos in the movie.

There will also be sister Audrey in the film and her husband.  Its unclear what kind of audience the reboot will attract, or how successful it will be.  While they've already managed to recruit a pretty good cast, and the story provides enough to work with, its unclear whether the appeal of the original will be usurped.  But its an interesting idea for a reboot!

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