‘Fat, Drunk and Stupid Is No Way to Go Through Life’: 45 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Animal House’ on Its 45th Anniversary
“Toga! Toga! Toga!”
It’s what solidified John Belushi as a star. It’s the first degree of Kevin Bacon. It’s the 45th anniversary of National Lampoon’s Animal House, the greatest, funniest, wildest college comedy ever made. So down a few dozen beers and smash a guitar because while fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, it’s a perfect way to enjoy these 45 trivia tidbits about the Delta Tau Chis...
‘Animal House’ Was Born Out of Desperation to Keep a ‘National Lampoon’ Writer
Matty Simmons, co-founder of the National Lampoon, recalled in an interview that Animal House came about because writer Doug Kenney wanted to quit the Lampoon. Desperate not to lose Kenney, Simmons blurted out, “We’re gonna do a movie.” That enticed Kenney to stay, and the journey of Animal House had begun.
It Began as a High School Movie About Charles Manson
Kenney brought in Harold Ramis, with the film initially set in high school. “It was a picture called Laser Orgy Girls, which was about Charles Manson in high school,” Ramis one recalled.
It Soon Went Off to College, Though
Simmons was worried about filling a high school movie with sex and drinking, so they moved it to college. Chris Miller was brought on board as another writer, as he’d written several college stories inspired by his fraternity experiences for the National Lampoon.
Many Characters Were Named for Miller’s Fraternity Brothers
Miller recalled, “In my fraternity, in terms of mining it for characters, there was an ‘Otter,’ there was a ‘Flounder,’ there was a ‘Pinto.’ But I would have to say that where the characters come from in Animal House are archetypes — people that everybody knows.”
How the Script Developed
Ramis explained, “We divided the treatment up into thirds, each of us wrote a third, and then we switched thirds and rewrote each other and switched again.” To get the formatting right, Ivan Reitman gave them copies of the script of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and said, “This is how a screenplay looks, do that.”
John Landis Saw ‘Animal House’ as ‘A Very Traditional Movie’
Landis, who was hired due to his work on Kentucky Fried Movie, said of Animal House, “There’s dialogue humor, drawing room humor, bedroom humor and the level of sophistication of the gags rise and falls. It’s a very traditional movie (about) people being bullied and striking back.”
Everyone Had to Be an Unknown — Except Belushi
Simmons said, “They had to be unknowns because we had no budget. The highest-paid actor in the movie was Belushi, who got $40,000.”
It Was Filmed at the University of Oregon
Or as Reitman put it, “We tried every university we could in about 10 different states, and everyone turned us down.” Fortunately, University of Oregon President William Beaty Boyd was open to it.
Boyd’s One Condition
There was a catch, though: The filmmakers couldn’t specifically show that it was the University of Oregon. Ironically, the University of Oregon regularly celebrates Animal House now with tours, merchandise and toga parties.
It Really Was the Dean’s Office
Dean Wormer’s office in Animal House was actually Boyd’s office.
Belushi: The Animal of ‘Animal House’
During the writing process with Miller, Ramis and Kenney, Miller recalled, “I made the comment, ‘At the center of any great animal house is a great animal, then the three of us looked at each other and said ‘Belushi.’”
Belushi on Eugene, Oregon — and His Mortality
In an interview just a few months before his death, Belushi recalled shooting Animal House in Eugene. “It’s a beautiful country up there,” Belushi said. “Plenty of water, plenty of trees, and the people there should be left alone to live their lives. I’m staying away from there. I’m staying in New York. I’m going to die at a very young age here in New York City.”
‘Animal House’ Led to ‘The Blues Brothers’
In the same interview, Belushi said that Eugene was where he got into the blues. Prior to that, he said he was mostly interested in “very loud heavy metal music.”
Ramis Wanted to Be in the Movie
Ramis wrote the role of Boon for himself, but Landis thought Ramis was too old and cast Peter Riegert instead.
Kevin Bacon’s Audition
In an interview with Howard Stern, Bacon recalled that he was at acting school when the casting director for Animal House was looking for young actors. Bacon was then sent over to Landis. Bacon recalled, “John Landis said, ‘I want you to be smarmy.’ I literally had no idea what that word ‘smarmy’ meant.” Bacon guessed what it meant and made a face that Landis loved, and he got the job.
A Pizza with Flounder
Stephen Furst, who played Flounder, said, “I was delivering pizzas in Hollywood, and I thought it would be cool and a good way to get into the business if I put my picture and resume on each pizza. When they opened the lid to the pizza box, there was my picture staring them right in the face, and I was discovered by Matty Simmons.”
Donald Sutherland Saved the Movie
Landis recalled that, after most of the casting was complete, Universal was unhappy because there were no stars in the movie. They refused to make the film until they got Sutherland to play Professor Jennings.
Bruce McGill’s Room Was Party Central
McGill, who played D-Day, was at the center of the behind-the-scenes party scene on Animal House. They all stayed in a hotel, with McGill’s room being where all the drinking, drug use and partying went down.
Tim Matheson Stole a Piano
Matheson, who played Otter, along with Reigert, stole a piano from campus and brought it into McGill’s room, which is how it became the after-hours epicenter.
Belushi, However, Didn’t Go to the Parties
Belushi, despite his reputation for substance abuse, didn’t partake in these festivities. Belushi knew Animal House was a big opportunity for him, and to keep his sobriety intact, he stayed at a house in the suburbs instead of the hotel with everyone else.
And The Omegas Were Never Invited
The actors in the film specifically excluded James Daughton, Mark Metcalf and Bacon from their parties, as they were from the rival Omega house.
Metcalf Found Being the Villain ‘Frustrating’
Metcalf, who played the student antagonist Doug Neidermeyer, has said, “I was standing over here, and they were all standing over there, so I was watching them have all this fun, and it made me really angry and frustrated, which really helped grow the character.”
Landis Felt Like Dean Wormer
In a “making of” documentary for the film, Landis recollected, “You know the scene in Animal House where the dean walks into the Delta house, and everyone hides their beer? That was sort of like me,” as everyone would ditch their joints when Landis came into the room. “I was like the principal,” Landis said.
The Actors Got into a Fight with the Real Members of Omega House
During filming, the actors attended a party thrown at Omega house by the real fraternity brothers there. The actors came in and began drinking their beer and hitting on their girlfriends, eventually leading to a fight breaking out.
Very Little of the Film Was Improvised
“It was extraordinarily faithful,” Ramis said of Animal House, as almost none of the script was changed during filming. Miller joked, “It’s never happened to me again since. Every word I’ve ever written since has been changed.”
Belushi Smashed Two Guitars
The infamous guitar-smashing scene — which wasn’t in the script — was filmed twice. Singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop, who played the guitar player, had the second smashed guitar signed by the cast and framed.
The Only Damage to the House Was from Belushi
There wasn’t much of it either — only a hole in the wall from Belushi smashing the guitar. The fraternity who lived there chose not to repair it, just placing a frame around the hole to commemorate the occasion.
However, Kenney Did Deface Universal’s Fine Artwork
At the New York offices of Universal Studios, Kenney defaced multiple paintings by drawing rats on them with a ballpoint pen.
The Delta Tau Chi House Is No Longer There
Sadly, the house from Animal House was demolished in 1986.
Belushi’s Slip Wasn’t Scripted
According to James Widdoes, who plays Hoover, Belushi’s slip during the scene where the Deltas bring the horse into the Dean’s office wasn’t scripted. “He actually slipped for real on the wet grass and was furious that he had slipped,” said Widdoes. “Landis yelled, ‘Keep going! Keep going!’ and that’s when he got up and did three little hops.”
Belushi Kept Doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ During Filming
In order to do so, Belushi flew back and forth from Oregon to New York twice a week during production.
Belushi Chugged Iced Tea
In keeping with his good behavior during the shoot, Belushi chugged iced tea during the scene where Bluto is expelled, not whiskey.
‘Otis Day and the Knights’ Became a Real Band
Otis Day and the Knights were a fictional band in Animal House, but after the film, Otis’ actor, vocalist DeWayne Jessie, began touring as Otis Day and made an entire career out of Otis Day and the Knights.
The First Cut Was Nearly Three Hours
“The first real cut we had was about 175 minutes,” recalled editor George Folsey Jr. To cut it down, they took advice from director George Roy Hill, who screened the film and told Landis afterward, “John, you just have to take that movie and just grab it like you’re grabbing a tree and shake it. Just shake it, and all the stuff that’s not important is going to come right out.” The final cut of the film was one hour and 49 minutes.
It Has a ‘Serious’ Score
Landis felt that having a “straight” score would give a basic framework for the comedy in Animal House, so he insisted on hiring dramatic film composer Elmer Bernstein. He told Bernstein, “I want you to score this film as if it were a serious film.” Bernstein later said, “It became a seminal thing because it became a way to score comedies.”
Universal Didn’t ‘Get’ the Film
According to Karen Allen, who played Katy, “Universal Studios wasn’t very keen on the film. They handed it over to a young executive named Sean Daniel, who championed it and helped the film get made, and it surprised everybody at Universal Studios when it turned out to be a successful film.”
Okay, Universal Actually Hated It
Daniel has said, “I’ve got to admit, I did get the studio to put in the money. They hated the script; they didn’t know what the hell we were doing.”
The First Preview Proved Daniel Right
“We went to Denver, Colorado, and we had a sold-out theater, and the place went crazy,” Daniel has explained. “You couldn’t hear all of the great lines. It was thrilling.”No One Recognized Bacon at the Premiere
Animal House was Bacon’s first film, and when attending the premiere in Times Square, he struggled to get onto the red carpet because no one recognized him. During the film, he sat with the audience because he didn’t have a ticket to sit with the rest of the cast. At the afterparty, no one recognized him either. “It was one of the most depressing nights of my life,” Bacon has lamented.
It Was a Box-Office Smash
Animal House made over $120 million at the box office, making it the second biggest film of 1978 after Grease.
’Animal House’ Revived the Toga Party
While toga parties had fallen out of fashion by the 1970s, Animal House led to a national resurgence.
There Was a TV Show Spin-off
In January 1979, ABC debuted Delta House, which had several stars from the film, including John Vernon as Dean Wormer, Furst as Flounder, McGill as D-Day and Widdoes as Hoover. Some other roles were recast as the same characters. As for Belushi’s Bluto, they cast Josh Mostel as Bluto’s brother, “Blotto.” The show lasted just 13 episodes.
A Sequel Was Planned
An Animal House sequel centered around 1967’s Summer of Love was planned but abandoned after Belushi died.
On the 40th anniversary of Animal House, Landis recalled, “At the 25th anniversary of Animal House, Martha Smith said, ‘If we ever have another reunion, we have to change the title to Animal Home.”
Still, the Party Hasn’t Stopped
Allen jokingly refers to Animal House as “the film that won’t stop celebrating itself. Of all the films I’ve ever been in, it’s probably the one I’ve seen the most because there’s a lot of gatherings of all the people in that film. We’ll do special screenings, we’ll get invited to come to comedy festivals to show the film. I see it once every couple of years.”