12 fun facts about ‘Christmas Vacation’ 25 years after its release

ABOVE: National Lampoon’s ‘Christmas Vacation’ wasn’t a huge hit when it was released 25 years ago, but there’s something about it that still strikes a chord today. Mike Drolet reports.

TORONTO — The Griswold family returned to the big screen 25 years ago Monday in the now-classic holiday comedy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The third Vacation film opened on Dec. 1, 1989 and had Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprising their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold and Randy Quaid back as Cousin Eddie.

It received lukewarm reviews at the time — famed movie critic Roger Ebert gave it two stars out of five — and opened in second place with $11 million. It went on to earn more than $71 million.

Christmas Vacation made millions more from home video releases in 1990, 2003 and 2009 and from countless television broadcasts.

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Watch the trailer for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

To mark the 25th anniversary of Christmas Vacation, here are some fun facts about the film:

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was directed by Montreal’s Jeremiah S. Chechik. It was his directing debut but he went on to make 1993’s Benny & Joon, 1998’s The Avengers and episodes of dozens of TV series including the made-in-Canada shows Warehouse 13, Motive, Reign, Helix and Bitten. Chechik also directed the Canadian romantic comedy The Right King of Wrong, which was screened at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

– Four actors who appeared in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation have passed away since the film’s release. John Randolph (Clark Wilhelm Griswold, Sr.) died in 2004 at 88; E.G. Marshall (Art Smith) died in 1998 at 84; Mae Questel (Aunt Bethany) died in 1998 at 89; and William Hickey (Uncle Lewis) died in 1997 at 69. Christmas Vacation was the last film for Questel, who provided the voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in the 1930s.

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William Hickey and Mae Questel, pictured in ‘Christmas Vacation,’ died in 1997 and 1998 respectively.

– The Griswold children looked decidedly different in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation than they did in the first two Vacation films. Johnny Galecki — currently starring on The Big Bang Theory — took over the role of Russell “Rusty” Griswold from Jason Lively (National Lampoon’s European Vacation) and Anthony Michael Hall (National Lampoon’s Vacation). Juliette Lewis took over as Audrey Griswold from Dana Hill (National Lampoon’s European Vacation) and Dana Barron (National Lampoon’s Vacation). Barron returned to play Audrey in the made-for-TV sequel Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.

– Frank Capra III, the grandson of famed filmmaker Frank Capra, worked as assistant director on Christmas Vacation. In the scene where the Griswolds are putting up their tree, Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life is on the TV.

– The title song for Christmas Vacation was written by husband-wife duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and performed by Mavis Staples. Mann co-wrote the hit song “Sometimes When We Touch,” with Toronto singer Dan Hill, and Weil co-wrote Celine Dion’s “Love Doesn’t Ask Why.”

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BELOW: Listen to “Christmas Vacation” performed by Mavis Staples.

– In 2012, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Juliette Lewis appeared as their Christmas Vacation characters in an Old Navy commercial.

– John Hughes wrote and co-produced Christmas Vacation. The characters were based on his short story Vacation ’58, which was published in National Lampoon. Hughes wrote the first Vacation movie and co-wrote European Vacation. He went on to direct films like Home Alone, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Uncle Buck. He died in 2009 at 59.

– If the Griswold’s neighbours’ house looks familiar, it’s because it was where the Murtaugh family lived in the Lethal Weapon movies. (The same street on the Warner Bros. Studios backlot is used on the TV series The Middle.) And the old Dodge pick-up truck that tailgates the Griswolds in the opening scenes of Christmas Vacation? It was Kurt Russell’s truck in Overboard two years earlier.

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– Four former Saturday Night Live cast members appear in Christmas Vacation: Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brian Doyle-Murray.

– Cody Burger (Cousin Rocky) had no lines in Christmas Vacation. He later had a few small parts on TV and in movies — and then quit acting. On Twitter, the 31-year-old describes himself as a “networking nerd and an overall Cisco geek. College football fanatic and a huge Florida State Seminole fan.”

Cody Burger in a scene from ‘Christmas Vacation.’.

– While most of the movie was shot in Los Angeles (using fake snow), some exterior scenes were filmed in Colorado and in Chicago.

– Ironically, no part of Christmas Vacation takes place on Christmas Day.

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