LET'S CALL IT A REUNION SHOW (AKA, YES, I'M GONNA GO FOR IT)
(Do I hear a "hope springs eternal"?)
But that's not what this is all about.
No. You see, it's also a Friday. Yes, Friday. And think of what Fridays have meant. In fact, think of younger days when Friday might have meant going to see your favorite band play at the local haunt. A college band.
And I don't mean "college music" in the sense we used back in the 80s. Not REM or Camper Van Beethoven or Echo & the Bunnymen. No, I mean one of those real small-time, very local college bands that no one outside your clique (pronounced "click," not "cleek," goddamn it) knew about. A band that wasn't that good and you knew it. And the guys in the band knew they weren't that good either. That's why they stopped thinking about "making it," and slowly began to focus on school, on getting jobs, on settling down, whatever. Life went on.
But that doesn't change the fact that they were your band. You knew the songs. The riffs, the rhythms, the moves. The schtick. Knew them like your own thoughts. Friday night, baby. Get loaded, meet up with the gang, head to the club. Art? No. Talent? Doubtful. But fun? Yeah. Sure. Especially if you were loaded enough.
So imagine yourself back in your old college town on a winter vacation, say. Strolling around the old haunts years later and discovering that the old band was playing a gig that Friday night. For old times sake. Because . . . well, because they too were on vacation and wanted to give it a whirl, just for fun.
Well, that day (that one day) is here. In a way.
Because once upon a time, as the four of you still reading this rambling post know, I used to blog on a regular basis. I was about as talented in my writing and pontificating as those half-drunk goons from the college bar band, but you, for whatever reason, came by to read me blather on. If so, then you also know that the
And then it all stopped. You knew it would, and it did. In fact, this post was the last of its kind to appear on the pages of this-here blog. On April 13, 2007. Three days before I started my current job.
And why am I telling you this? Why have I long-windedly reduced you to a quivering lump of jelly as I wallowed in the turgid passages of my own sepia-toned blogging glory? Why am I reliving those days as if anyone but me gave them more than two seconds' thought? As usual, I have no fucking idea. Enough with the questions, ok?
Instead, sit back, relax, enjoy the long weekend before you (and I) head back for another work year on Monday, and allow me take you down the holiday road to the recent past with an unexpected, unsolicited (as always), and uncensored revisitation of a venerable tradition that ended well before its time. Ladies and gentleman, may I present for your coffee-supping enjoyment,
(And since I'm on vacation, might as well make it . . .)
1983. Chevy Chase still in his comedy movie headliner moment, but barely. A few years past Caddyshack; not quite ready for Fletch. In other words, in full transition from the "I know he's not funny, but he is a top-line star" phase of his career to the "Holy shit, how was this guy ever a comedy movie A-lister???" stage . . . which lasts to this day.
In fact, when I woke this morning my first three thoughts were: (i) "No work today, woo-hoo"; (ii) "41 years-old I still arise ready . . . for action; weird thing being a guy, huh?"; and (iii) "how the fuck was Chevy Chase ever a Hollywood star???"
Like so many other phenomena of the 70's and early 80's, including disco pants, "Welcome Back Kotter," and the AMC Gremlin, Chevy's success remains difficult to understand and impossible to explain. I mean, in most decades we expected our top-line comedy stars to be . . . you know, funny. Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers. Hell, in the 50's people thought Jerry Lewis was funny. But even as the 70's were in full swing, no one thought Chevy Chase was funny. He was goofy. He was an idiot. He did that sorta' Chevy Chase thing in every performance, but it wasn't funny.
(Some day your kids will ask a question that'll cause more discomfort than "where do babies come from?" They'll ask you explain what the hell you were wearing in that camp photo from 1979. And then they'll ask about your hair style. Strange decade. But let's get back to the flick.)
I'm pretty sure I didn't see Vacation until 1984. On cable, of course. 1984 was late night cable heaven for me. The seminal comedies of my youth, as well as the "seminal" Skin-a-max vehicles that got me though the dark & lonely nights of un-cool high schooldom. This one, at least in theory, fit into both categories. As I sat down to watch it, I was as ready as when I woke up this morning.
Because I knew that Christie Brinkley, for fuck's sake, was in this one. Christie Brinkley! Mrs. Billy Joel, the Uptown Girl. Scroll back up and look at the movie poster. Chevy Chase's body did not look like that.
But Christie Brinkley's did! Not to mention, since I was a Sports Illustrated subscriber, Christie and I were already on very intimate terms. And I knew from previews and word-of-mouth that there was some sort of skinny-dipping scene.
Christie Brinkley. Skinny-dipping scene. Oh my.
But since you've all seen this one you know where that led: not oh my, but oh no.
Which reminds me. When -- oh when! -- will movie critics learn not to say things like, " . . . and then Clark and the girl in the Ferrari jump fully nude into the hotel swimming pool"?! I mean, I guess that description is technically correct, as far as the film crew and the actors are concerned, but in terms of meeting the slobbering expectations of the teenage boy (or fully-grown man) viewing the movie, that's false-advertising of the very worst kind. Let's just say that Clark's leap into a freezing-cold pool had symbolic resonance for many guys watching that scene for the first time.
But enough of the tragedy and complaining, shall we. Let's get to the core of it. I loved this movie. I thought it was hilarious. For seasons that remain unclear I thought it was real smart and clever too. I even made my parents watch it with me after I'd seen it about three or four times, and to my enormous chagrin they saw every joke coming miles ahead. And these were not film sophisticates by any means. Oh well.
Anyhow, I've rambled long enough, and you all know all about the movie anyway. So we might as well get to it. Let's look at the Cast:
Beverly D'Angelo, who I remember mostly for two extremely gratuitous topless scenes (the shower and the pool). Beverly was ah'ight, I'm sure we can all agree. She played Sheila in Milos Forman's odd-and-misguided-but-strangely-entertaining 1979 reworking of Hair. She had a gratuitous topless scene in that one too; at least in the Broadway version of that famous tribal love-rock musical, gratuitous nudity was part of the point.
D'Angelo's third ever movie role was in Annie Hall as an actress in the scene where Tony Roberts adds laugh tracks to the laughless sit-com he's producing. She was also in Paternity, from Burt Reynold's hideous post-Smokey & the Bandit career. We already touched on that nearly two years ago.
Imogene Coca was moderately funny as Aunt Edna. She was, of course, a legitimate comic legend in her earlier days on Your Show of Shows. While Sid Caesar receives the credit for starring in, and writing much of the show, it was nonetheless a veritable breeding ground for much of America's top post-war comedy. In addition to Caesar and Coca, among the writers and actors were: Mel Brooks (I think we can agree we don't need a hyperlink for Mel. If you don't know who he is, you have no business reading this post), Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon, and Carl Reiner (comic gold in his own right and father of The Meathead, making him the grandfather of This Is Spinal Tap, I suppose).
Randy Quaid was funny in Vacation, playing a cliched version of a hick for all it was worth. I love the scene where he gives Clark the white shoes. Randy's first film was The Last Picture Show. Nice. He also made his way into such other fine fare as Midnight Express -- Warning: do not view if you're squeamish about sodomy at the hands of fat Turkish prison wardens, easily offended by half-crazed guys biting off ears (Mike Tyson was in Midnight Express?), or disappointed at how thoroughly un-erotic it is to view a guy jerking off in a public place while his pretty girlfriend rubs her naked tits (teenage boy "naked," not film critic "naked") on a the glass of a prisoner-guest window. But otherwise, by all means please watch this joyous, uplifting film.
Quaid, however, also appeared in Independence Day, in which he saved humanity by flying his jet fighter into the guts of an alien space ship, or something like that. Oh well.
Anthony Michael Hall is definitely this entry's winner of the "Can I Have This Career Over Again?" sweepstakes. He may have been the best thing going in Vacation: impeccable comic timing, very funny facial expressions, a good rapport with Chevy Chase, he was great. And at the time, it was but one move from what looked to be an untouched, high-stepping dash to the end zone. He followed up Vacation with quality work in Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, and then Weird Science!
And then he joined the cast of SNL (uhhh, Anthony, usually folks go from SNL to the movies). And then it was Out Of Bounds, Johnny Be Good (aka, Anthony Be Bad), and other weird shit not even worth mentioning.
Except a few that I will mention because, hell, that's the kind of career-skewering scoundrel I am: Whatever Happened To Mason Reese?, A Gnome Named Gnorm, and Into The Sun. After that trio, not even character roles in Edward Scissorhands or the criminally-underrated Six Degrees of Separation could save him. Too late. When you play Mason Reese's voice, you've basically ended your chances of succeeding in Hollywood. (Although playing Mason Reese's face would clearly be even worse.)
Dana Barron played the Griswold's daughter, Audrey. I'm not really sure why, but I had a huge crush on her when I first saw Vacation in 1984. By the time she appeared on Beverly Hills 90120 in the early 90's she was looking pretty good, but in Vacation? I dunno. And you know what? Life being that weird thing that it is, I actually received a real life opportunity to "take care" of my crush nearly a decade after first viewing Vacation and taking care of things in my own very 1984 way.
You see, one day in the spring of 1993, while visiting family in LA, an old girlfriend and I were rollerblading at Venice Beach (cliche'd activity alert!). And who rollerbladed by, looking sweet in some sunny ensemble of shorts, halter top, and hair cascading in the ocean breeze? Well, since I'm writing about her right now, you wouldn't be too surprised if I said Dana Barron, now would you? Yes, she rollerbladed by. So I distracted her with my swarthy good looks, bulging muscles, wily lady-killer moves, and astounding rollerblading technique, and it wasn't long thereafter that she, my girlfriend, and I engaged in a wild threesome, the golden memory of which keeps me going through dark times.
(One of the five sentences in that paragraph is a complete lie, but the other four are true. I know you're thinking the "girlfriend" part is a lie, since there's no way any normal woman would be seen with me on Venice Beach, but amazingly, that part is true. I'll leave it to you to guess what's false.)
Anyhow, I notice that ten years after I rocked her world, in 2003 Barron was reduced to starring in Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island. Somehow Anthony Michael Hall managed to find his way clear of that. Meanwhile, others beside Barron did find their way into that unfortunately-titled straight-to-video spectacle. Some of whom have no excuse: Quaid, Eric Idle, Ed Asner (!), and Fred Willard.
And also Stephen Furst, the original "What happened to him?" guy. Stephen Furst? Stephen Furst, you're asking? Furst was Flounder.
Eddie Bracken played Roy Wally, owner of WallyWorld, the fella who was way too indulgent of Clark's craziness, letting those damned Griswolds play at his amusement park even though Clark treated poor John Candy so roughly. Anyhow, Bracken got his start in the 40's in a bunch of movies that sound more appropriate for 1984 Skin-o-max than anything else: Too Many Girls ("It's knee-deep in gorgeous gals and gaiety!"), Sweater Girl, Young And Willing (starring a young (25 year-old) William Holden, who, based on his reputation, was also always willing), Bring On The Girls ("Paramount's Merriest Musical in Technicolor!"), Hold That Blonde, Ladies' Man, and The Girl From Jones Beach, starring none other than Ronald Reagan.
Frank McRae played Grover, who I assume was one of the guards at WallyWorld, along with John Candy. And didn't Chase also humiliate Grover in some groveling, crawling on the ground sort of way? Far more importantly, McRae is a two-time FSMOMYOTD alum, appearing in both 1941 (along with 98.7% of all actors in the history of moving pictures) and Used Cars. I believe he played standard-issue late-70s/early-80s black comic foil characters in both efforts. As discussed here nearly two years ago, after "hot chicks who can't act" and "dwarfs," no group has had more humiliation foisted upon them by Hollywood than male African-American actors.
McRae, for what it's worth, also played in the NFL, as a defensive tackle for the 1967 Chicago Bears, who went 7-6-1, with a pretty decent defense. (Although that may have more to do with another football player-turned-actor that lined up behind him, no?) And between that gridiron stint and his humiliating turn in Vacation, McRae found himself in Rocky II, as "Meat Foreman," and an episode of Wonder Woman as "Foreman." At least they didn't call him "Black Foreman."
Jane Krakowski, best known, I suppose, from Ally McBeal, had her first screen role as Randy Quaid's weed-smoking daughter, Vicki ("Oh yeah, well how cool is this?").
And playing her joint-jerking brother, Dale, was none other than John P. Navin, Jr. Navin had a truly wonderful early 80's sitcom run, appearing in not only "Gimme A Break" and "The Facts Of Life," but also "Silver Spoons." Unlike Anthony Michael Hall, however, Navin knew that a few years after Vacation and Losin' It (starring Tom Cruise & honorary, permanent FSMOMYOTD all-star, Jackie Earl Haley) he'd be a nobody. I mean it, look at his resume! His last movie was in 1985, with one TV show in 1993.
Playing the scary looking mechanic who shook down Clark was Mickey Jones. Jones was in the New Christy Minstrels & the First Edition, meaning he just dropped in to check what condition his condition was in. (Or something like that.) He was also in just about every bad television show ever: "Dukes Of Hazzard," "Charlie's Angels," "Chips," "The Incredible Hulk," and even "Gimme A Break," linking him forever with John P. Navin, Jr. John Diehl was "Cruiser" in yet another FSMOMYOTD, Stripes. And Tessa Richarde ("Motel Guest") deserves mention if only because she appeared in one of the essential Skin-o-max flicks, The Beach Girls. Oh my. Debra Blee, baby.
Finally (never thought you'd read that beautiful word, did you?), it seems that Ralph Burns composed Vacation's "Original Music." I'm not sure what the hell this means, exactly, since the only original music I remember was the goddamn "Holiday Road" song every scene (holiday rohhhhhhhhhhhhh-ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-ohhhhhh-ohhhhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhh-oaaaaaaaaad . . .). Nevertheless, Burns received composing credit.
(As a additional note, it's worth pointing out that "Holiday Road," was composed & performed by Lindsay Buckingham, leader of Fleetwood Mac. "Holiday Road" came out as a single, in fact, but climbed no higher than No. 82 on the pop charts due, undoubtedly, to its association with the careers of Chevy Chase, Anthony Michael Hall, and mostly John P. Navin, Jr.)
Burns is also crediting as the composer of the scores to Lenny and Urban Cowboy, among others. He scored a number of Bob Fosse movies, in fact, and even won a the "Best Orchestration" Tony Award in 1999 for "Fosse." This orchestration was apparently a collaborative effort since he shared the award with "Doug Besterman."
And who went to the same summer camp with me back in the early 80's? Doug Besterman. You see, not only threesomes with non-entity Hollywood starlets, but lazy summer days with Tony Award winners. I tell you, it's all connected.