20 Things You Never Knew About Chevy Chase
Star of Fletch, Saturday Night Live and five National Lampoon’s Vacation films, Chevy Chase has an impressive list of TV and film roles to his name. He has won three Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe nominations and has twice hosted the Academy Awards.
Among his more bizarre exploits on and off-screen, here are 20 things you may not know about this comedy legend.
20. SNL creator Lorne Michaels discovered Chase while they were both queuing for Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Saturday Night Live was only taking form in Lorne Michaels’ mind in the mid-1970s when he met Chevy Chase by chance.
Lorne was standing in line to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail at its 1975 LA premiere.
Surrounded by fellow comedians, he overheard raucous laughter as Chevy Chase was passing the time with friends.
Michaels struck up a conversation with Chase, and later offered him a writing job on his new show.
Other stars who worked on SNL’s first series included Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner.
In Chase’s opinion, his performances on SNL stood out precisely because he was ordinary-looking: “I guess I look so straight and normal nobody expects me to pick my nose and fall,” he said.
19. He had to have serious surgery because of all the comedy falls he did on SNL
A star of slapstick comedy in his younger years, Chase was once famous for his pratfalls.
He performed so many, with such gusto, that a different ‘fall of the week’ became an integral part of his SNL routines in the 1970s.
Chevy tended to fall not immediately, but in an impressive series of slips and tumbles, he would entangle himself in the scenery.
Chase fractured his groin in a fall gone wrong in 1976, while he was performing as then-President Ford.
For two weeks, Chase could only produce voice work for the show. Ever since, he’s struggled with chronic back problems from his pratfall days.
However, Chevy returned to his classic move during his time on Community, performing trips over such things as a dormitory door and an orchestra.
18. An airplane sketch for 1980’s Modern Problems electrocuted and almost killed him
While filming Modern Problems in 1980, Chase starred in a dream sequence that resulted in a serious on-set injury.
While wearing an airplane costume complete with landing lights, Chase got a severe electric shock when the wiring malfunctioned.
When he yelled out, the crew thought Chase was just was joking around, until he fainted.
Paramedics attended to him, and Chase later recalled, “I was almost killed… I was weak for a long time [afterwards].”
Coinciding with his divorce from Jacqueline Carlin, this accident sent Chase into a state of deep depression.
In the following five years, however, Chase’s work was prolific – he starred in 11 movies, including his famous neo-noir comedy Fletch.
17. His name comes from a medieval English ballad
Chase, born Cornelius Crane Chase, cannot remember why his grandmother nicknamed him Chevy.
One theory is that Chase’s grandma took his catchy name from a suburb in Maryland.
The area itself is named after an English battle site from 1388. The Ballad of Chevy Chase, a medieval song, tells of landowners fighting over the border between England and Scotland.
Throughout school and college, Chase made a name for himself with comedy stunts and practical jokes.
He was constantly perfecting his pratfalls to make his classmates laugh – and was often disciplined for them.
College classmate David Felson recalled that Chevy used to put forks in his “orifices” and set his farts on fire, while people “would crowd around to watch.”
16. He was stabbed three times in a childhood fight
While growing up in Harlem, Chase often faced violence and intimidation in the streets.
Writing for the New York Magazine in 2013, he noted: “In the fifties, you couldn’t walk by another guy without staring at him and him staring at you the whole time.”
He said that he would get into fights “all the time” with other local teenagers, divided along territorial lines.
During the 50s, a grocery trip down NYC’s Second Avenue saw Chase caught up in a fistfight with children from East Harlem.
Outnumbered, he tried to flee but was stabbed in the back three times. His wounds are still visible.
Chase attributes his comedic spirit to conflict in his early life. “A sense of humour is a sense of perspective – it’s a way of gauging what’s important and what’s not,” he said.
15. He was in the running to play Indiana Jones
Among the roles Chase has turned down over the years are Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters and the starring role in Forrest Gump.
Oddly, many of these roles were snapped up by the same man. As Chase was rejected by or chose to reject Toy Story, Forrest Gump, Splash and Turner & Hooch, Tom Hanks stepped in to take Chase’s spot.
Likewise, his SNL co-star Bill Murray took three roles for which Chase was seriously considered or which he rejected: in Groundhog Day, Where the Buffalo Roam and Ghostbusters.
Perhaps most notably of all, Chase was also in the running to play Indiana Jones before Harrison Ford was cast.
On his lost roles, Chase told the Huffington Post, “All those, I regret only because they made huge amounts of money and I would be very wealthy.”
“But I don’t regret working with Goldie [on Foul Play, the 1978 romantic comedy]; I don’t regret the projects that I did do.”
14. To dodge the Vietnam draft, he pretended to be gay
As the first ever guest on the Pat Sajak Show in 1989, Chevy Chase made an uneasy confession to dodging the military draft in his youth.
Among other claims, Chase said he lied the draft board that he had “homosexual tendencies.”
As a result of this, Chase ensured that he was classed as unfit for service. The star later reflected that he was “not very proud of that.”
In 1980, Chase was accused of slander after he stated that a certain Hollywood actor was gay.
On the talk show Tomorrow, Tom Snyder asked Chase about his salary, noting that the comedian was earning almost as much as Hollywood star Cary Grant. In his reply, Chase suggested that Grant was homosexual.
Grant filed a lawsuit against Chase, suing him for $10 million – and Chase eventually chose to settle out of court.
13. Chase said his role in award-winning sitcom Community was “a huge mistake”
Despite its cult following, the Emmy-winning sitcom Community left Chase unimpressed.
He stuck with the role of Pierce Hawthorne only for the money, saying to the Huffington Post in 2012, “the hours are hideous, and it’s still a sitcom on television, which is probably the lowest form of television.”
He quit playing the moist towelette magnate after his fourth season on the show.
Speaking to the New Yorker in 2018, Chase’s co-star Donald Glover said that Chase made racist remarks to him behind the scenes of Community.
Glover recalled Chase telling him, “‘People think you’re funnier because you’re black.’”
“I just saw Chevy as fighting time – a true artist has to be OK with his reign being over,” the younger star commented. “I can’t help him if he’s thrashing in the water. But I know there’s a human in there somewhere – he’s almost too human.”
12. Talk show host Johnny Carson said Chase “couldn’t ad lib a fart after a baked bean dinner”
When NBC named Chevy Chase as a potential successor to Johnny Carson in 1975, the Tonight Show host was not pleased.
By this point, Chase had already developed a reputation for being a confrontational and difficult co-star.
“I said I didn’t think Chevy Chase could ad-lib a fart after a baked bean dinner,” Carlson recalled. “I think he took umbrage at that a little.”
Chase also poured scorn on the idea, claiming that he would never want to be “tied down for five years interviewing TV personalities.”
Nevertheless, he did have a shot with his very own Chevy Chase Show in 1993 – after Dolly Parton turned down the opportunity to host a talk show and recommended Chase instead.
The Chevy Chase Show was cancelled after five weeks due to low audience numbers.
11. His college bandmates later founded Steely Dan
With musical talent far from unique in his family – his mother was a composer and musician, and his grandmother was a singer – it’s little surprise that Chase is a keen musician with perfect pitch, meaning that he can name any note by ear.
Chase plays the saxophone, drums and piano, and once won an amateur conducting competition.
In college, he formed a jazz band called The Leather Canary with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. These bandmates went on to create Steely Dan, the world-famous rock band.
The star was also recruited to the Boston pop group Chamaeleon Church, who disbanded shortly after he sung Here’s A Song.
Following his TV fame, Chase chose to record his own, self-titled album in 1980, which included his parody piece Rapper’s Plight.
Unfortunately, it disappointed fans and critics alike, with Jason Ankeny of All Music Guide describing it as a “spectacularly unfunny comedy album.”
10. He and Bill Murray once got into a physical fight backstage at SNL
Chase’s rivalry with co-star Bill Murray once erupted into a full-blown backstage fist fight.
After Chase left SNL, Bill Murray naturally fell into his place as the main star. When Chase returned to host the show in 1978, however, it appeared the pair remained bitter rivals.
Murray intended to confront the star for leaving the show for, as Chase himself said, “money – lots of it.”
Reportedly the fight began after Murray made a joke about Chase’s mother and called him a “medium talent”, to which Chase retorted that Murray’s face looked like something Neil Armstrong might land on.
The shouting match turned to punches only minutes before airtime, while Murray’s brother Brian tried to tear Murray and Chase apart.
“It was an Oedipal thing, a rupture,” Murray told Empire decades later. “Because we all felt mad he had left us, and somehow I was the anointed avenging angel, who had to speak for everyone.”
“But Chevy and I are friends now,” Murray added. “It’s all fine.” The pair co-starred in Caddyshack two years after the incident.
9. He kept writing himself into SNL sketches to bag a spot on stage
Lorne Michaels, SNL’s creator, did not audition Chase as a cast member – instead, he hired him as a writer for the show.
Along with the SNL team, Chevy won two Emmy Awards for writing in 1976 and 1978.
But Chase’s success with composing jokes and devising comedy routines drove him to seek out the limelight.
He co-created Weekend Update, a spoof news section, and performed as its first anchor to critical acclaim.
It was in this skit that he created his famous catchphrase, “I’m Chevy Chase… and you’re not!”
Chase also introduced the vast majority of episodes, and was the first person ever to introduce the show with its now unmissable line: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
8. He dated Blythe Danner, mother of Gwyneth Paltrow
While studying English at Bard College, New York, Chase was in a relationship with fellow student Blythe Danner.
Their shared love of jazz brought Danner and Chase closer together, and they often performed as a duo.
This Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress later starred in the drama Huff and the Broadway show Butterflies Are Free.
Danner later married the director Bruce Paltrow, and in 1972 she gave birth to Gwyneth Paltrow, future star of Shakespeare in Love.
Meanwhile Chase has been married three times, with the first two marriages – to Susan Hewitt and Jacqueline Carlin – ending in divorce.
Currently Chase lives in Bedford, New York with his wife Jayni Luke, whom he wedded in 1982.
7. Despite his family’s wealth, Chase earned his way to stardom through truck-driving and a supermarket job
Chase came from a wealthy family, with his mother the stepdaughter of Crane Company heir Cornelius Vanderbilt Crane.
After his parents divorced, Chase’s father married a daughter of the Folgers Coffee family.
Chase spent his summer holidays at Castle Hill, a country estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts owned by the Cranes.
Still, as a child Chase suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his mother and stepfather, and he was determined to gain financial independence once he left home.
To support his dream of becoming an actor and writer, Chase waited tables and worked in a supermarket.
He also became a cabbie, worked in construction, sold wines and drove a truck while he was seeking out roles and writing positions.
6. Crane’s unflattering President Ford impression pushed the White House Press Secretary to appear on SNL
One of Chase’s best-known characters on SNL was President Gerald Ford, whom he portrayed as extravagantly clumsy and idiotic.
Concerned about how popular this buffoonish Ford impression was, Ford and his press secretary Ron Nessen agreed that Nessen should be a guest host on SNL in 1976.
This attempt to brush up Ford’s image on the show was a huge challenge. Ford paired Nessen’s performance with personal video clips. But Chase remained openly opposed to the president after meeting him.
In an interview the same year, Chase said that Ford was a “totally compassionless man,” and noted that looking at him was “like looking into the eye of 50 milligrams of Valium.”
Chase and the SNL team believed that they helped to turn public opinion against Ford, as he was voted out of office in 1976.
However, years later Ford and Chase actually became friends. Ford wrote in the New York Times after Ford’s death, “Luckily for me, Mr Ford had a sense of humour.”
5. When Chase first saw Caddyshack, he realised that he “couldn’t act”
Though it’s seen as a classic today, Chase ranks Caddyshack among the very worst of his films and felt humiliated at the premiere in 1980.
This sports comedy sees Chase play Ty Webb, a roguish member of an exclusive golf club.
Chase cannot bear to watch the film nowadays, saying that his acting in it is absolutely terrible.
“I went in thinking I was the funniest man in the world and could do anything. When I saw Caddyshack, I realised I couldn’t act,” he said to Playboy Magazine in 1988.
He admitted to Entertainment Weekly in 2004 that he only took such films for the paycheck: “I’d say I’ve done only five movies in my life that were any good, but that was a particularly bad time,” he said.
“There was a whole slew of Cops and Robbersons, just films that didn’t measure up, that didn’t stand for anything comedically.”
4. He was apparently banned from hosting SNL for his bad behaviour backstage
Lorne Michaels had reportedly lost patience with Chase’s antisocial behaviour by the late 1990s.
In 1985, Chase told Terry Sweeney, a cast member who was gay, that he should do a sketch about a man with AIDs charting his weight loss.
Returning to host again in 1997, Chase made an unprompted sexual joke to a female member of staff.
It is rumoured that Michaels banned Chase from hosting again after these incidents.
Chase has been less than flattering about recent series of SNL. Speaking to the Washington Post in 2018, he said, “I’m amazed that Lorne has gone so low.”
“I had to watch a little of it, and I just couldn’t f****** believe it… That means a whole generation of s***heads laughs at the worst f****** humour in the world.”
3. He has worked in comedy all over the world
Chase has worked widely in foreign television and is an internationally recognisable star.
He appeared in eight episodes of Hjalp, a Swedish sitcom about a psychologist and her patients.
For Chase’s recurring role, he played a correspondent from the States.
In Mariti in Affitto (or Our Italian Husband), an Italian romantic comedy film, Chase performs with Brooke Shields and Sopranos star Maria Grazia Cucinotta.
He also appears in the comedy-drama Vacuums, about twins running rival vacuum cleaner companies.
With the female lead played by Rose McGowan, this film was made by the creators of Stomp, and was variously renamed Stealing Bess on its worldwide releases.
2. He was the US voice actor for Train in Doogal
Based on a popular children’s TV series, the British-French animated film The Magic Roundabout came out in 2005.
Producers in the States decided the film could perform well there too – but they chose to redub the voice parts in American accents, with the exception of Ian McKellen as Zebedee.
Chase was hired as the voice for Train, originally performed by British comedian Lee Evans.
He was joined by Jimmy Fallon, Whoopi Goldberg, William H Macy and Kevin Smith for the redub.
Rebranded as Doogal, named after the hero, the animation was poorly received in the States. In particular, it was criticised for having a plot that made no sense. It earned Chase a Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Supporting Actor.
In a review for Entertainment Weekly, Scott Brown described the film as “an animated movie designed with very young children in mind. And very young children should be very angry about that.”
1. He says making Three Amigos was the “most fun” he’d ever had
Three Amigos, the western comedy starring Chase, Steven Martin and Martin Short, had songs by Randy Newman and a score by Elmer Bernstein.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Chase reflected that this film was his absolute favourite to make.
“It was just the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said. But he also recalled how a sly comment about director John Landis almost started a fight.
“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,” Chase recalled.
“Just kidding around, I made some hideous comment about John not taking precautions [after the accidental deaths on the set of Landis’ Twilight Zone: The Movie].”
“Unfortunately we were wearing mikes and John could hear us talking,” Chase said. “Boy, was he mad! We almost came to blows.”