In the summer of 1978, a group of overeducated smart-a–es unleashed a beer-drenched, toga-wrapped college comedy on the youth of America. The movie, the most successful comedy of its time, went on to make $141.6 million. Why? A louse named Bluto and a timeless theme: snobs versus slobs. To celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary, we caught up with the Faber College alums for a look back at the making of National Lampoon’s Animal House.
I. LASER ORGY GIRLS
Chris Miller (National Lampoon writer; Animal House cowriter): Some people thought National Lampoon was a counterculture magazine. God knows, we went after Nixon tooth and claw. But we were just anti-a–hole. And in the early ’70s the world was full of them.
Ivan Reitman (Animal House coproducer): I was a big fan of the Lampoon. I had just finished producing David Cronenberg’s first movie (Shivers), and I also had a show running on Broadway. One day I called up [Lampoon publisher] Matty Simmons and said, ”Let’s make movies.”
Miller: Ivan was making weird movies in Canada. But he felt that if a movie were made with National Lampoon in the title, it could be big. The first thing they did was put together The National Lampoon Show. It opened in New York City, and the cast was Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Brian Doyle-Murray. Reitman: When Saturday Night Live started, Lorne Michaels picked up most of the cast. But Harold Ramis was sort of left off. I told Harold we should put a movie together using some of the skits from the Lampoon Show.
Harold Ramis (Animal House cowriter): There was always a tremendous arrogance around the Lampoon. They believed that they were — and maybe they were — the smartest people writing comedy at the time. So I wrote a treatment called Freshman Year. When I turned it in, I could tell they weren’t really excited. So I asked if I could work with one of the Lampoon editors, Doug Kenney. Doug’s and my premise was Charles Manson in high school — we called it Laser Orgy Girls.
Matty Simmons (National Lampoon publisher; Animal House coproducer): Every time they had an idea it had sex, drugs…I thought, These guys are gonna get me shot. So I said, we’re gonna have to move this to college. That’s when we got the idea to use some of Chris Miller’s Lampoon stories about his fraternity days at Dartmouth.
Miller: The real animal house was my fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi. My name in college was Pinto, and I had written a story called ”Pinto’s First Lay.” Doug was a fan of those stories and suggested them as the basis of a movie.
II. THE VOMITING CULT
Miller: The first thing we did was meet for brunch one Sunday. And I remember saying that at the center of any great animal house is a great animal. And we all looked at each other and said ”Belushi!”
Simmons: Naturally, we did everything wrong. They came up with a treatment that was 110 pages — a treatment should be 15 pages. I didn’t know what the hell to do with it. Ivan and I met with Ned Tanen [then head of Universal]. And Tanen thought it was just awful. But he said, ”Can you do it for $2.5 million?”