30 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third installment in the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series, written by 80s filmmaking legend John Hughes and starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Randy Quaid.
We’ve already laid out our reasoning for why the festive farce should be considered the greatest Christmas movie of all time, and now we’re taking a look under the bonnet to reveal some incredible facts about the Yuletide classic.
30. It’s based on a National Lampoon short story
Third in the National Lampoon Vacation series, this Christmas classic would never have graced our screens if it weren’t for a certain short story.
The 1989 film is based on the comedy tale Christmas ‘59, which was written by John Hughes nine years earlier. Written for the magazine National Lampoon, this was a sequel to another well-known piece: Vacation ‘58.
Vacation ‘58 was made into National Lampoon’s Vacation, whereas Christmas ‘59 lay forgotten for many years.
It was only when Hughes was asked to write a new movie that he returned once again to his early Christmas story.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was in fact the final movie in the franchise to be written by Hughes.
The film’s unsuccessful made-for-television sequel was written instead by Matty Simmons, the producer for the first two films.
29. It had a huge budget for a Christmas film
Christmas Vacation had a budget of $28 million, which may not seem much by today’s superhero-shellacking, CGI-flaunting standards.
But for its time, this was an incredibly high budget, especially when you consider that it was a comedy without any special effects.
To put this into perspective, Ghostbusters – a true pioneer in the field of special effects – was made for roughly the same amount in 1984.
The set did present some costly challenges. One electrician has calculated that it would cost about $16,000 to run the Griswolds’ Christmas lights for 30 days.
Ultimately the expense was clearly worth it, as the film grossed $71 million at the US box office.
In its opening weekend, this Christmas movie was #2 at the box office, pipped to the post by Back to the Future Part II.
28. Original director Chris Columbus quit because of Chevy Chase’s rudeness
Chris Columbus was originally set to direct Christmas Vacation, but a personality clash between the future Harry Potter director and Chevy Chase threw a spanner in the works.
Speaking to the Chicago Magazine in 2015, Columbus said he was initially delighted to be recruited for the movie.
But on his first meeting with Chase, Columbus recalled: “To be completely honest, Chevy treated me like dirt. But I stuck it out and even went as far as to shoot second unit… Then I had another meeting with Chevy, and it was worse.”
He remembered, “I called John [Hughes] and said, ‘There’s no way I can do this movie. I know I need to work, but I can’t do it with this guy.'”
Columbus was replaced by Jeremiah Chechik, who would go on to direct Benny & Joon, the 1998 spy movie The Avengers and The Right Kind of Wrong.
Columbus didn’t need to worry though, because Hughes ended up tapping him for another Christmas film: Home Alone.
27. The new director hadn’t seen either of the previous films
Director Jeremiah Chechik hadn’t seen either of the previous two films in the series before agreeing to take the reins on this one.
Chechik saw this as a positive, however, as he could enter the project with a clear mind and festive spirit.
In a 2011 interview with Den of Geek, Chechik explained, “I hadn’t seen the first two, and so I wasn’t really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big Christmas movie, and a comedy.”
“I was nervous about accepting it,” he admitted, “because I didn’t know about Chevy and I wasn’t sure if it was too commercial.”
“But I agreed to do it and I had just a fantastic time doing it,” he said of the blockbuster.
Chechik cited Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks as his comedy inspirations while making the movie.
26. Audrey and Rusty swap ages from the previous film
In both National Lampoon’s Vacation and National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Rusty is the older of the two Griswold children. But, rather bizarrely, in this film he somehow becomes Audrey’s younger brother.
Taking up the role of Audrey for this movie, the actress Juliette Lewis was following in the footsteps of Dana Barron and Dana Hill, who took the part in Vacation and European Vacation respectively.
It was Lewis’ first major film role, and she went on to star in Natural Born Killers and Cape Fear.
Swapping around the children and the actors playing them from film to film became something of a joke within the franchise. In his Time Magazine interview, Chevy Chase said it was his idea to replace and change the children so often.
“I always wanted to make the joke, “Geez, I hardly ever get the chance to see the kids anymore. I hardly know who they are. We should go on a vacation,'” he elaborated.
“That was funny to me: the idea that Clark was such a great family man, but still didn’t even recognise his own children,” he said.
25. Every 1989 Christmas film stars Johnny Galecki
Unusually, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was one of only two Christmas themed films to be released in 1989.
The other film was Prancer, an American-Canadian fantasy-drama about a girl who befriends one of Santa’s reindeer.
Funnily enough, these two Christmas treats have one actor in common: Johnny Galecki.
He’s best known as Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory, but Galecki also plays Rusty Griswold in Christmas Vacation.
In Prancer, meanwhile, he plays Billy Quinn, a child living in Three Oaks village, Michigan.
Rusty has also been played in National Lampoon movies by Anthony Michael Hall, Jason Lively, Ethan Embry and Ed Helms.
24. It became the highest-grossing film in the franchise
In keeping with the rest of the National Lampoon films, Christmas Vacation was never released in cinemas in the UK.
However, in the US it ended up becoming the best performing movie of the franchise up to that point.
Christmas Vacation was ultimately dethroned by 2015’s soft reboot, Vacation, which made $104 million from a $31 million budget despite its dire reputation among critics.
“At least the National Lampoon films were memorable, which is more than can be said for the misbegotten and instantly forgettable Vacation,” wrote Wendy Ire for The Times.
Along with Vegas Vacation in 1997, Vacation doesn’t bear the formal National Lampoon label.
The 2015 film follows the tale of a grown Rusty Griswold on holiday with his own wife and kids.
23. Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie got his own spin-off movie in 2003
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the only sequel in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series to have spawned its own sequel.
This was a direct-to-TV film released in 2003 and called National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.
This movie is about the adventures of Cousin Eddie and Catherine – once again played by Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn – along with their children on an island in the South Pacific.
Among the stars to feature in the movie were Eric Idle, Beverly Garland and Playboy model and actress Sung Hi Lee.
It bears the tagline, “Eddie’s ready for the holidays. But are the holidays ready for Eddie?”
Filmed in Los Angeles, this low-budget affair fared poorly with critics, and it has a 12% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
22. There’s an entire website dedicated to Christmas Vacation merch
The website National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Collectibles is dedicated to selling a bizarre array of related merchandise.
You can purchase their 8oz glass moose mugs to decorate the Christmas dinner table, not to mention National Lampoon advent calendars.
Their miniature items include models of the Griswolds’ house, their garage, Eddie’s RV and the local Jelly of the Month club.
The website’s best-selling item, however, is a model of Cousin Eddie’s Rottweiler named Snots, who is chasing after a squirrel in the snow.
Elsewhere on the internet, superfans can purchase themed cushions, leggings and portraits of Eddie attending his RV sewage tank.
You can even get your hands on Christmas Vacation-themed face masks this year, bearing classic quotes like “Can I refill your eggnog?”
21. Chevy Chase broke a finger while punching plastic Santa
In perhaps one of his most relatable moments, Clark Griswold loses patience with the faulty Christmas lights adorning his house.
But rather than restarting, Clark takes out his fury on the nearest decorations: the plastic Santa, sleigh and reindeer propped up in the dark on his front lawn.
While filming the scene, Chase punched the Santa ornament so violently that he ended up breaking his pinky finger.
Fighting through the pain, Chase didn’t stop filming, and he proceeded to drop-kick Father Christmas into the distance.
The producers decided to use this cut in the final movie, along with Chase’s real yells of pain and annoyance.
Despite his injury, Chevy Chase would later say that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was “certainly the most fun [he’d] had making a movie.”
20. An earthquake occurred during filming
A slight tremor shakes the scene just as the film’s climax, on Christmas Eve, starts to kick off.
The crew were busy filming the extended family’s arrival at the Griswold house when a minor earthquake struck.
There’s a slight shaking of the camera at the moment where Bethany steps across the threshold – which was reportedly caused by the earthquake itself.
The traditional clapboard house was filmed at Columbia Ranch in Burbank, California – which has since been renamed Warner Ranch.
The attic, however, isn’t even in California. It was filmed in a set built into the gymnasium of Summit High School, Colorado.
Meanwhile, the opening scenes of the film feature snowy slopes alongside the motorway in Colorado. The movie’s Walmart scenes were likewise shot at a branch in Colorado – even though the entire film is set in Chicago.
19. The cast reassembled in 2012 for a series of commercials
In 2012, the Christmas Vacation team met once again at the Warner Ranch to film a series of adverts for the US clothing company Old Navy.
Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Juliette Lewis all made an appearance, along with some of their co-stars from earlier films in the franchise.
Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron and Jason Lively (who played Rusty in National Lampoon’s European Holiday) also took part in these star-studded commercials.
Reprising his role of Clark Griswold, Chase fires up the family home’s Christmas lights once more.
As they glow, so too do the “pop pants” of his onlooking family, suddenly illuminated in bright colours.
In another skit, Clark lovingly chats to his children from the different films in the same living room, addressing Lively as “Euro Rusty.”
18. It was the final film of Mae Questel, best known as the voice of Betty Boop
The actress Mae Questel’s on-screen movie roles are few and far between, but she has an incredibly famous voice.
Not only was she the voice of Betty Boop for over 150 animated shorts – she voiced Olive Oyl in Popeye and Casper in the TV cartoon series Casper, the Friendly Ghost.
Having worked in show business since 1930, Questel’s final film performance was in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Questel brought a wealth of experience in vaudeville and impersonation to her comedic role of an unpredictable elderly relative.
She starred as Aunt Bethany, wife to Uncle Lewis, played by Prizzi’s Honor star William Hickey.
The two actors were actually 19 years apart in age when they played this comical couple.
17. The cast decorated themselves with adjectives to help Chase remember his Mr Shirley rant
Clark Griswold’s infamous tirade against his boss amid the Christmas festivities draws an audience of shocked family members.
But as the actors gathered to face Chase during this scene, the crew worked out a cunning trick to help the star complete his rant with ease.
Since the family’s backs are turned to the camera as Chase addresses them, the actors facing Chase each had cue cards strung around their necks.
These cards helped Chase to reel off the full 30 insults that he uses to describe his heartless superior.
In an interview with The Dinner Party in 2015, actress Beverly D’Angelo said, “If you watch it you can see him [reading]. His eyes go from character to character as he’s going on in the speech because we’ve got the lines there.”
“I want to make it clear that the fact that we were wearing cue cards was not about any actor’s incompetence,” she noted. “It had to do with our knowledge that the way to have Chevy sail was to have it there at his fingertips in case he needed it.”
16. The assistant director was the grandson of It’s a Wonderful Life’s Frank Capra
Christmas Vacation is scattered with references to It’s a Wonderful Life, probably the best-loved Christmas movie of all time.
Among the 1989 comedy’s crew, however, there was also a personal connection to the famous black-and-white fantasy.
It’s a Wonderful Life was directed by Frank Capra. Capra’s son, Frank Capra Jr, was a film producer – and his own sons, Frank Capra III and Jonathan Capra, both joined the filmmaking profession as assistant directors. Frank Capra III was recruited as the assistant director for Christmas Vacation.
When the Griswolds’ relatives arrive in this movie, It’s a Wonderful Life is playing on the family’s TV set in the background.
What’s more, Clark Griswold chops the home’s newel post down with a chainsaw, and he then brags that he has “fixed the newel post.”
This is an homage to George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, who is annoyed by a loose newel post in his own house.
15. National Lampoon’s Vacation’s Brian Doyle-Murray re-appears as a totally different character
Brian Doyle-Murray appears in two of the Vacation movies: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as well as the first film, National Lampoon’s Vacation.
In Christmas Vacation, he stars as Clark Griswold’s loathed boss, whose stinginess causes even a SWAT team to shake their heads in disapproval.
Previously, in National Lampoon’s Vacation, Doyle-Murray played a clerk working at Kamp Komfort. He refuses to give Clark cash when his credit card is declined.
Just like Chevy Chase, Doyle-Murray made his name in comedy through Saturday Night Live, although he joined the team a few years after Chase had left.
The Vacation films weren’t Doyle-Murray’s first opportunity to work with Chase. The pair had previously appeared together in Modern Problems, the 1981 comedy about an air traffic controller.
Doyle-Murray also worked on Chase’s short-lived late-night talk show, The Chevy Chase Show, in 1993.
14. No part of the film takes place on Christmas Day
Entitled National Lampoon’s Winter Holiday for British and Irish audiences, or Help, it’s Christmas! in Austria, Christmas Vacation doesn’t actually show Christmas Day at all.
The film only shows the Griswolds’ antics in the days leading up to 25th December – and it concludes on Christmas Eve.
The movie came out on 1st December 1989, but it has since become a popular choice for viewing on Christmas Day itself.
Ellen Latzen, the actress who played Cousin Eddie’s daughter Ruby Sue, has said strangers still recognise her from the timeless Christmas movie.
In a 2015 interview with Huffington Post, Latzen said, “I get such amazing compliments and words of thanks and appreciation from so many people that I meet across the board.”
“The thing I get the most is, ‘Oh my God! My family watches it every year, and thanks for being a part of that,’ and that’s so touching to me,” she said.
13. Randy Quaid based Cousin Eddie on someone he knew
Cousin Eddie and his family arrive for the holidays uninvited, parking their RV right at the Griswolds’ doorstep, much to Clark’s dismay.
The larger-than-life Eddie was actually based on a real man who Randy Quaid knew in high school.
Apparently, Quaid copied mannerisms and expressions from this acquaintance to develop the character of the Griswolds’ quirky relative.
He even returned to the script to write in the memorable tongue-clicks that punctuate Cousin Eddie’s lines.
At the time Quaid was at the height of his 80s fame, and he had already starred in 18 movies and shows before accepting the part of Cousin Eddie.
This role was a stark contrast to his previous film, Inside the Third Reich, where he played Ernst Hanfstaengl, the real-life German businessman.
12. Jeremiah Chechik directed the film after getting the approval of Stanley Kubrick
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was a massive success for director Jeremiah Chechik –and yet it was only his directorial debut.
He was originally a fashion photographer for Vogue, so his move to directing comedies may well seem surprising.
Through his work with Vogue, Chechik soon found his talent for filming and directing commercials.
Speaking to Den of Geek in 2011, he recalled that his early commercials were “were very dark and sexy and sort of a little bit ahead of their time in terms of style.”
“And what happened was they gained the notice of [Stanley] Kubrick, who had mentioned them as his favourite American filmmaking,” he explained.
This approval from Kubrick generated massive interest among production companies in hiring Chechik for a feature-length film. Soon afterwards, he was chosen to direct Christmas Vacation.
11. The girl who played Ruby Sue wore a wig to cover her mullet
Aged only nine, Ellen Latzen was thrilled to be cast in Christmas Vacation in the role of Ruby Sue, Cousin Eddie’s daughter.
She had previously starred as the Gallaghers’ daughter in Fatal Attraction, the thriller that launched her movie and TV career.
Unfortunately, the crew of Christmas Vacation were concerned about Latzen’s mullet haircut, which they felt wasn’t quite right for the character.
Latzen had to wear a long brunette wig for the duration of filming, which she recalled was “super itchy.”
Her more memorable moments in the film include when Ruby Sue mistakes Chase for Santa Claus, accompanied by a foul-mouthed exclamation.
In recent years, Latzen has created Watched, a podcast about what it’s really like to be a child star in Hollywood.
10. Ellen misstates how many kidnappings the Griswolds have been involved in
As a (misguided) loving gesture, Cousin Eddie takes Clark’s tirade against his boss Mr Shirley a little too literally, and decides to abduct the businessman.
With Mr Shirley in captivity, Ellen comically notes that this is the Griswolds’ first kidnapping.
But she’s not quite right. The first kidnapping that the Griswolds took part in was in National Lampoon’s Vacation.
In the first film of the franchise, the family kidnap an employee at Wally World theme park.
Played by John Candy, this worker is forced to go on a range of the rides with the overly-enthusiastic family.
What’s more, in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Clark and his kin once again become embroiled in a kidnapping plot, this time in Italy.
9. Producer Matty Simmons makes a cameo on a magazine cover
Following his strife with the family Christmas tree, Clark Griswold tries to relax in bed.
He tries to read a copy of People magazine, but finds that his hands are too sticky, since they’re still covered with pine tree sap.
If you look closely, you can spot that the cover of the magazine is actually a mock-up, created especially for the movie.
The man featured on the cover is in fact Matty Simmons, who produced National Lampoon’s Animal House as well as the first two Vacation movies.
In the following decades, Simmons wrote seven books, one of which was entitled Fat, Drunk, and Stupid: The Making of Animal House.
Copies of People magazine also make it into other 80s classics like Ghostbusters and the TV series Taxi.
8. A heart-to-heart chat between Clark and Rusty was cut on Johnny Galecki’s advice
According to Rusty actor Johnny Galecki, the film’s writer John Hughes once visited the set and considered putting a heartfelt father-and-son scene back into the script.
The first two films had featured such moments, and the original draft for Christmas Vacation did too – but apparently Hughes was in two minds about including it.
Chevy Chase encouraged Hughes to put the scene back in, at which point Hughes turned to the young Rusty actor and asked for his opinion.
Galecki replied that, since the scene had been cut from early script revisions, it would probably get cut from the final film too – and Hughes agreed.
Years later, Galecki recalled: “Chevy looked at me like, ‘You just talked yourself out of a scene that John Hughes was going to write for you.’ That was a big lesson.”
“Just from the look on Chevy’s face, I realised I messed up and that I had just ruined a pretty big opportunity for myself by being a little too honest,” he admitted.
7. Chase liked his pyjama costume so much, he kept it for decades afterwards
In the Christmas Vacation scene where Clark reads in bed, he’s wearing a set of white, red and green pyjamas printed with dinosaurs.
While re-watching the film for the first time in years with WhoSay, Chase said he still wears those pyjamas.
“You had those pyjamas forever,” his daughter noted. “I still have them,” Chase responded from his living room couch. “They’re right in the other room. I haven’t washed them.”
In the movie, Audrey asks Clark, “We’re not driving all the way out here so you can get one of those stupid ties with Santa Clauses on it, are we?”, to which Clark replies, “No, I have one of those at home.”
But on the night of the notorious kidnapping, Clark is instead seen wearing a more formal tie with a scattered green-and-white square pattern.
Meanwhile Cousin Eddie famously sports a loose-fitting bathrobe, and later he dons a shiny sky-blue suit for the family meal.
6. A family in the US decorates their house like the Griswolds’ each year, to raise money for charity
For the past seven years, one family in Ohio has decked out their house with Christmas lights to perfectly match the Griswolds’ each December.
It is a massive project, involving 25,000 lightbulbs, weeks of work and plenty of help from the family’s neighbours.
To complete the effect, the scene also includes a dummy of Clark Griswold, tentatively plugging together two cables while gazing up at the house from the lawn.
For father Greg Osterland, this festive display was something he’d dreamed of having since childhood.
“The display does not change much from year to year because we want to stay as true to the movie as possible,” the family summarised on their Facebook page.
With this impressive feat, the family raises money every year for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation by collecting optional donations from onlookers.
5. An untrained squirrel was used to film the dog chase scene
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2014, director Chechik spoke about an underappreciated last-minute star of Christmas Vacation: the squirrel.
Chechik hired a professional animal trainer and the team was all prepared to rehearse the scene where Snots the Rottweiler chases the squirrel away, when the trainer broke some unfortunate news to them.
The trained squirrel had recently died, most likely of old age. In a frenzy, the production team got hold of another squirrel as his replacement – one with no prior acting experience.
They spent a week filming with this chaotic creature. Diane Ladd, in the role of Norah Griswold, performed her own stunts in the scene where the squirrel leaps down from a tree.
In the same Rolling Stone interview, Ladd recalled: “The director said, ‘Diane, please get closer to the squirrel!’ Meanwhile, the squirrel wrangler was saying, ‘Diane, please don’t get closer to the squirrel.”’
“‘If someone screams or scares one, their claws are like razor blades,’” she remembered the trainer’s wise words.
4. It’s one of three major 1989 movies with an animated title sequence
Animated introductions were clearly all the rage in late 80s movies – and Christmas Vacation was no exception.
Its animated title sequence shows Father Christmas struggling to get into the Griswolds’ house, getting electrocuted by their festive lights in the process.
In the background, we hear the song Christmas Vacation, sung by The Staple Singers star Mavis Staples.
It’s the only Vacation film that doesn’t use the song Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham.
But Christmas Vacation was only one of three major 1989 films to use an animated musical sequence to introduce itself to the cinema.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Troop Beverly Hills also use animated sequences as the openings to their live-action tales.
3. It features the exact same truck as Overboard
Amid the star-studded cast, one vehicle in this movie is something of a celebrity in its own right.
The truck seen tailgating the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is in fact the very same vehicle used in another 80s classic: 1987’s Overboard.
In fact, if you look closely, you can see that Dean Profitt’s carpentry logo has been painted over.
In the year after Christmas Vacation, the car appeared in another iconic 80s film: the science fiction classic They Live.
Aside from Cousin Eddie’s notorious RV, few other vehicles feature in this particular Vacation movie.
In one scene, Ellen’s father mentions the Griswolds’ spare car, which isn’t shown on-screen – and in the first film the Griswolds did indeed have a second car, a Volvo station wagon.
2. The Griswolds’ neighbours’ house features in all four Lethal Weapon movies
Rather than renting a regular street for this movie, the producers decided that the homes of the Griswolds and their neighbours alike would be filmed at Columbia Ranch.
The property where the Griswolds hang their Christmas lights happens to be the same building that is used as Roger Murtaugh’s home in Lethal Weapon.
The Murtaugh family home actually appears in all four Lethal Weapon movies, as the cop travels home to his wife and three kids.
While the ranch is probably most famous for housing the fountain seen in the Friends title sequence, you can spot these same settings in the 2009 sitcom The Middle.
Funnily enough, Brian Doyle-Murray, who plays the villainous boss Mr Shirley in Christmas Vacation, returned to this set to film as the recurring boss character of Mr Ehlert in The Middle.
Unfortunately, the site is off-limits to fans, who would also be able to spot homes from Father Knows Best and Gidget in this fake neighbourhood.
1. Rusty borrows one of Chevy Chase’s best-loved gags
When Clark Griswold becomes resigned to the failure of his Christmas light display, he heads off to check each fairy light bulb individually.
He asks his son, Rusty, for some help with the laborious task, but Rusty glances at his bare wrist as if he was wearing a watch and rushes off.
This gag is a reference to Chevy Chase as a comedian, whose most famous gags include glancing at an invisible watch and making an excuse to leave.
When Clark clambers up the ladder to work on his light display, funnily enough we can see that Chase is actually wearing a watch, leaving the gag open for his on-screen son.
As Clark works precariously on the ladder, to the astonishment of his neighbours and family he never suffers a fall.
This fact may also amuse long-time Chase fans, who would know Chase is famous for his comedy pratfalls.