Chevy Chase reflects on his best work
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (1975-76)
Chase's influence was astonishing -- not only did he open almost every show with a pratfall and the now-famous ''Live from New York'' line, he pioneered the groundbreaking ''Weekend Update'' segment.
''I became famous. John [Belushi] was pissed, I mean, extremely pissed, because I turned out to be the Eddie Murphy of that year and John and Danny [Aykroyd] were the resident geniuses.''
Chase left shortly after the beginning of the second season, infuriating colleagues and friends. ''I left to chase a girl who refused to leave L.A. Everyone knew she was wrong for me, and Lorne [Michaels] was too much of a brother to me to stop me. But I've always thought that if he had said, 'I need you, Chev. I love you. Please stay,' I would have stayed. I was that close to coming back. I sort of abandoned them. I certainly abandoned Lorne.''
The shoot was fraught with tension for Chase, largely because he had gotten into a fistfight with Murray -- who had replaced him on ''SNL'' and felt that he was sticking up for the remaining ''abandoned'' cast members -- while he was guest-hosting the show in 1978.
''With Billy, I felt nervous, because they say what makes him a great comedian is the danger in his comedy. You're never sure what he'll do. [Now] when I think of ''Caddyshack,'' I think of Billy. Incredible performance. Ty is just me with a tux on, being arrogant the way I was.''
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION (1983)
Chase is probably best known now for the character from this film (and the three forgettable sequels): perpetual hornball dufus Clark Griswold.
''Harold Ramis gave me that character. It's not often that directors give actual line readings with the actors, but he would do a perfect Clark Griswold. He gave me that and it lasted for four movies.''
The ne plus ultra of the Chase persona, investigative journalist Irwin ''Fletch'' Fletcher, is an arrogant, witty, preppy jerk. The loosey-goosey plot of the movie -- involving paid hits, drug running, and, inexplicably, Provo, Utah -- was basically an excuse for Chase to improv, which he did to glorious effect.
''It's my favorite, because if anything represented my comic ability and was closest to what I'm really like, that movie is it. I was able to make up anything. 'Dr. Jellyfinger.' 'I'll have a steak sandwich and...a steak sandwich.' 'John! John Cocktoaste...' I did most of it on the fly.''
THREE AMIGOS (1986)
Steve Martin. Martin Short. Chevy Chase. John Landis. What more could you want?
''There was a time when the three of us were on a cliffside, 50 feet straight down, and there was nobody behind us with ropes tied to our belts or anything. Just kidding around, I made some hideous comment about John not taking precautions [after the accidental deaths on the set of ''Twilight Zone: The Movie,'' which Landis directed]. Unfortunately we were wearing mikes and John could hear us talking. Boy, was he mad! We almost came to blows. But otherwise it was just the most fun I've ever had.''