On December 1, 1989, Warner Brothers Pictures released their third installment in the National Lampoon Vacation franchise — Christmas Vacation. The film did not disappoint and was equally as outrageous as its two predecessors. Today, it's regarded as a modern Christmas classic. The movie debuted at No. 2 at the box office grossing $11,750,203 during its opening weekend, although it received mixed reviews from the public and critics. Now, take a look into some of the lesser-known facts about the Christmas film that has been the essence of holiday cheer since it was first released.
The Film Is Based On a Short Story
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is actually based on the short story "Christmas 59," written by John Hughes for National Lampoon Magazine in December 1980. "Christmas 59" was a follow up to the short story "Vacation 58," which was made into the original Vacation movie in 1983.
The film pays tribute to Hughes' original short story when Clark is in the attic pulling out old family Christmas films to watch. During the process, he reveals one that is titled "X-Mas '59." This definitely wasn't a coincidence either.
Hughes Didn't Like The Idea of Vacation Sequels
Although many of Hughes' films have had sequels, he was never excited about any of them. In an interview with William Ham, he said, "The only sequels I was involved in were under duress." Even though he was a writer on European Vacation, he claims that it was only because he had created the characters.
When the studio was begging him about another Vacation movie, he said that he went along with it because he had written a short story that would work for it already. As the Vacation films started to deteriorate in quality, he tried to distance himself from them as much as possible.
Clark's Childhood Home May Look Familiar
If Clark's childhood home in the old movies he found in the attic look familiar, it's because you've most likely seen them before! The house in the old tapes was the same house featured on Bewitched and also New Gidget. That house is part of what is known as the Warner Bros. backlot, also known as Blondie Street.
The rest of the Griswolds' neighborhood was filmed on a backlot as well. The house owned by the family's uptight neighbors, Todd and Margo, was also used by the character Roger Murtaugh and his family in Lethal Weapon.
Roger Ebert Didn't Enjoy The Film
Although the film has been considered a Christmas classic since its first release, not everyone fell in love with Christmas Vacation. Well-respected film reviewer Roger Ebert even gave the film a two-star review.
He described the film as "curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work." It doesn't appear that Ebert's opinion had much influence on the public's opinion of the movie.
Sequels on Sequels
While many people might not realize it even exists, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure was released for television in 2003. It features Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn as Eddie and Catherine who are a couple that is stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays.
It currently holds a low 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation may have been Randy Quaid's most recognizable role, it didn't pan out the same way for Christmas Vacation 2.
Stanley Kubrick Can Be Attributed To The Film's Success
Christmas Vacation was the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue. He then went into commercial directing where his dark, sexy, and progressive style turned some heads — including that of director Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick who claimed his commercials were his favorite in American filmmaking. It didn't take long for studios to began sending Chechik scripts and he was very interested when Family Vacation came across his desk.
Cousin Eddie Was Based On a Real Person
While the character of Cousin Eddie might seem like something right out of someone's twisted mind, that's not entirely the case. Apparently, Randy Quaid based the character off of somebody that he grew up with in Texas, even down to the tongue-clicking.
However, Quaid's wife lent a hand as well an encouraged him to wear Eddie's sweater and Dickie's combo for the character's outfits. While dealing with the person Eddie was based on may have been difficult, we're glad him and Quaid crossed paths to give us such an unbelievable character.
Ellen Griswold Lied To The Police About Kidnapping
After the police raid the Griswold home, Ellen Griswold apologies to Mrs. Shirley, the wife of Clark's boss whom Eddie had kidnapped. She claims that "This is our family’s first kidnapping," when in fact, it is actually their second.
In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, a security guard at Wally World, to open the park for them. At least we're led to believe that that was their first family kidnapping. You can never be too sure with the Griswold clan.
Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany Literally Made the Set Shake
The arrival of Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany wasn't just a stressful time for Clark Griswold, but apparently the Earth's crust as well. While filming the scene where Lewis and Bethany arrive at the Griswold home, you may notice a small shaking of the camera as they walk through the front door.
This was the result of a minor earthquake during production that wasn't even really noticed until after the scene had already been filmed. It would be hard to notice without prior knowledge there was a small earthquake during that time.
The Opening Credits Were a Rarity
During an age when films were trying to use the latest technology around, animation seemed like it was on its way out, especially animated intros. This is what made the intro to Christmas Vacation such a rarity — especially considering that the film was live-action.
Christmas Vacation was only one of three movies in 1989 to use animated opening credits with the others being Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Troop Beverly Hills. While back then it may have seemed underwhelming, today, it's part of what makes the film unique.
The Film Has Connections to It's A Wonderful Life
Believe it or not, there are lots of ties between Christmas Vacation and the 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life. To begin, Frank Capra III was the assistant director for Christmas Vacation. Coincidentally, he is the grandson of Frank Capra who directed It's A Wonderful Life.
Secondly, the scene where Clark takes a chainsaw to the wobbly newel post is a reference to the broken newel post at the Bailey house in It's A Wonderful Life. Finally, Russ can be seen watching the movie on the couch when his grandparents first arrive.
The Cast of the Movie Was Top-Notch
Christmas Vacation had a pretty impressive cast, especially considering that it was a goofy comedy film. One of its stars, Juliette Lewis, would score an Oscar nomination in a few years.
However, according to Beverly D'Angelo, it was the older cast that was equally if not more impressive. She claimed that "I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd [...] That was really a special cast.”
No "Holiday Road" For This Movie
Christmas Vacation is the only film in the Vacation franchise that doesn't feature the song "Holiday Road" by Lindsey Buckingham. Considering that the film was Christmas-themed, for the film, they created a new song titled "Christmas Vacation."
The song was written for the film by couple Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The song was considered to be very appropriate compared the other original Vacation soundtrack. The hit was later covered and can be found on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.
Director Jeremiah Chechik Had Never Seen a Vacation Movie
When Jeremiah Chechik signed on to direct Christmas Vacation — the third film in the Vacation series — he hadn't even seen the other two. "I hadn't seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn't really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy," he told Den of Geek.
After successfully directing Christmas Vacation, Chechik went on to direct Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers, as well as episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.
The Film Had a Massive Budget
Surprisingly, Christmas Vacation had a giant budget, especially for a comedy film. The budget was $27 million, although there weren't nearly as many special effects as a movie like Ghostbusters, which was made similarly for around $30 million.
The size of the budget proved to not be an issue, as it made the budget (and then some) back after the film's final domestic gross was $71,319,526. This was extremely impressive for a Christmas film.
The Griswold's Reuinted for an Old Navy Commercial
During the holiday season of 2012, Old Navy released a series of commercials to promote their holiday sweaters that featured various members from the original Griswold family. One of the commercials included the original Rusty, Euro Rusty, Audrey, Juliet Lewis, Chevy Chase, and Beverly D'Angelo.
However, actor Johnny Galecki was noticeably missing along with Euro Audrey actress, Dana, Hill who had passed away in 1996. Another one of the commercials that aired had only Beverly D'Angelo and Chevy Chase along with Johnny Mathis.
Rusty Paid Homage to One of Chevy Chase's SNL Gags
During the scene when Chevy's lights on the house fail to work for the first time, Clark asks Rusty to double check the lights for him. At that moment, Rusty looks at a non-existent watch on his bare wrist. He pretends to check the time and then excuses himself to go inside.
This was a classic move done by Chevy Chase frequently when performing on Saturday Night Live, so it's no surprise that they added it into the movie for a similar effect. It was also a nice Easter egg for SNL fans.
The Cat Electrocution Almost Didn't Make the Cut
While trying to plug the lights into the Christmas tree, Clark accidentally ends up electrocuting the cat and killing it. Although no cats were harmed in the making of the film, the scene was almost cut before its release. Warner Bros. executives wanted the scene cut for fear of offending some viewers, especially animal rights activists.
Producer Matty Simmons then convinced the Warner Bros. executives to leave the scene although they hesitantly obliged. As it turns out, after the first test screening, the audience claimed that the cat electrocution was one of the funniest scenes of the film.
A Connection to the Rocky Franchise
Cousin Eddie, played by Quaid, has a son named Rocky in the film. This is a direct nod to the character Rocky from the boxing films of the same name starring Sylvester Stallone. As it turns out, Sylvester Stallone picked up on this reference who then included footage from Christmas Vacation in his film the next year, Rocky V.
Furthermore, Rocky's Las Vegas shirt in Christmas Vacation hinted at where the next Vacation film would take place, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Film Doesn't Have an Official Soundtrack, But Someone Did Release a Fake One
Although the film included many classic holiday tracks such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Here Comes Santa Clause," no official soundtrack for the film was ever released. In 1999, however, a bootleg version appeared that claimed to be the "10th Anniversary Limited Edition."
These were being sold in online auctions claiming that Warner Bros. had pressed 20,000 of the copies that had supposedly been given out specifically at Six Flags amusement parks. They were deemed as fan-made with the biggest clue being that the soundtrack had the wrong version of the film's title track.
Rusty Morphed Into A Younger Brother
In the original 1983 Vacation movie, Rusty was the older brother in the Griswold family. But in Christmas Vacation, Rusty became the younger brother. It is unclear why the writers decided to make this change. Many fans might not have noticed this change.
In the original short story "Christmas 59," Hughes does not distinguish which child is older. It seems to be left up to interpretation whether Audrey or Rusty is the eldest. Perhaps the writers made Rusty younger to shape the dynamic between him and his sister.
It Was One Of Two Christmas Movies Released In 1989
When Christmas Vacation came out, it was not a popular year for Christmas movies. In 1989, only two Christmas movies were released. The other film was John Hancock's Prancer, about a woman who found Prancer the reindeer in a forest. Even stranger is that Johnny Galecki (who played Rusty) starred in both movies.
Usually, dozens of Christmas movies come out in November and December each year. For example, in 2017, Hallmark alone made 28 movies. Perhaps part of the popularity of Christmas Vacation was a lack of holiday films during that year.
Audrey Was The Only Griswold To Appear In The Sequel
When most people think of sequels, they assume that the main characters will reappear. But Christmas Vacation 2 focused on Cousin Eddie. Dana Barron, who played Audrey, was the only Griswold family member to make an appearance. The third movie, Vegas Vacation, does not feature any Griswolds.
However, an actor from one of the original movies appeared in Christmas Vacation 2. Eric Idle, who acted in the 1985 film European Vacation, makes a cameo in the sequel. He played a minor role called "English Victim" as a nod to the fans.
Cousin Eddie Is The Most Recognizable Character
Cousin Eddie is by far one of the most recognizable in the Christmas Vacation series. Even today, people seem to identify him with the film series. In a 1980 interview with the Los Angeles Times, actor Randy Quaid said that people often approached him about the role.
"People still come up to me and quote lines from that part," he said. "I get a lot of recognition from that role—probably as much, if not more, than any other." That explains why the sequel, Christmas Vacation 2, is entirely based around the Cousin Eddie character.
You Can Buy Cousin Eddie's Dickie
Did you know that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation has a website that is still active today? On this website, you can shop for merchandize related to the movies. If you want the dickie that Cousin Eddie wears underneath his sweater, you can buy it there.
The store has many other merchandise pieces that are still for sale, including ornaments, Funko Pops, home decor, and action figures. Even today, Christmas Vacation remains so popular that these products get refreshed every Christmas for fans. How exciting is that?
Aunt Bethany Was Once Betty Boop
Aunt Bethany was played by actress Mae Questel. You might recognize her as the voice of Betty Boop in the 1930s. Before that, she was a singer and actress. In fact, Christmas Story was the last ever film role she took.
Questel appeared in many movies, TV shows, and Broadway plays throughout the 20th century. She worked in Hollywood for over 60 years until she passed away in 1998. She stopped acting about 30 years before that, with Christmas Story being her final movie role (although she did take TV roles afterward).
Cousin Catherine Usually Appeared In Animated Movies
Fans might have a hard time recognizing Miriam Flyn, who played Eddie's wife, Cousin Catherine in the Vacation series. But you might recognize her voice. Flyn is best-known for her voice acting roles, such as Taz's mother in the Looney Tunes movie Taz-Mania and Grandma Longneck in The Land Before Time.
Flyn has also written and produced stories. She was a writer for the Tim Conway Show and a co-producer of Black Cadillac. That said, she still acted in front of the camera plenty of times.
In England, Christmas Vacation Went Straight To Video
In the United States, Christmas Vacation received a theatrical release on December 1st, 1989. It debuted at No. 2 in the box office and grossed over $11,750,000 in its opening weekend. However, the movie was not as popular overseas.
In England, Christmas Vacation went straight to video. A bare-bones DVD came out in 1990, and in 2003, it came out on Blu-Ray. While the critical response was fairly positive in the U.S., international audiences were not as thrilled. It is amazing how much change a theatrical release can make.
Chevy Chase Gave Johnny Galecki A Peoples' Choice Award
In 2012, The Sydney Morning Herald asked Johnny Galecki (who played Rusty) if he had ever reconnected with Chevy Chase. Galecki admitted that he had not reconnected with Chase for 21 years. The last time was during the Peoples' Choice Awards.
During the 16th Peoples' Choice Awards in 1990, Christmas Vacation won an award for the favorite comedy movie. Chase presented the award onstage to the rest of the actors. "If you're going to run into Chevy again it may as well be as he’s giving you an award," Galecki joked.
In 2015, Another Vacation Movie Was Made
In 2015, the newest film in the series--simply titled Vacation--hit the theaters. At that point, a Vacation film had not been made since 1997. In the movie, a grown-up Rusty Griswold plans a vacation with his family. This shows how popular the film has remained throughout the decades.
In Vacation, Rusty is no longer played by Johnny Galecki. Ed Helms takes the role instead. For fans, this was like the Griswold family growing up with them. The film had low critical reviews but a high gross, earning over $100 million against a $31 million budget.
The Actors Wanted Another Vacation Movie
When Vacation came out in 2015, a few of the original actors advocated for more movies in the series. Both Chevy Chase and Beverley D'Angelo expressed their support for new films in the series.
In 2011, Chase said that Warner Bros. considered making another movie about the Griswold grandchildren. He and Beverley both said that they would be interested to help with the writing. However, Chase claimed that "it's very hard to get the time." Fortunately, Vacation came out just as the two actors had planned!
Clark's Boss Was Bill Murray's Brother
Mr. Shirley, Clark Griswold's boss, might look familiar to some audiences. He is played by Brian Doyle-Murray, better known as Bill Murray's older brother. He is also an actor and comedian who appeared in several films besides Christmas Vacation.
The Murray family is filled with actors. The two younger brothers, Joel and John, are actors as well. Doyle-Murray was no stranger to the Vacation series, having appeared in two of the films. He also frequently participated in The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a comedy show than ran for the The National Lampoon magazine.
Chevy Chase As Clark Griswold
Chevy Chase was a well-known comedian by the time he emerged as the hilarious Clark Griswold in the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation. He reprised the role in National Lampoon’s European Vacation before the Christmas rendition came out.
Like so many comedy actors, Chevy’s rise to fame was on Saturday Night Live, which was still relatively new when he became a cast member. Some of his other noteworthy films of the time were Foul Play, Caddyshack, and ¡Three Amigos!
Chevy Chase Now
Clark Griswold is still one of Chevy Chase’s most well-known characters, and he even reprised the role a few times decades later. Chevy appeared in the 1997 film Vegas Vacation and the 2015 movie Vacation.
He also voiced his beloved character in a 2007 episode of Family Guy. Outside of his National Lampoon’s fame, Chevy was a familiar face in the films Snow Day, Orange County, and Hot Tub Time Machine. He was also a lead in the popular sitcom Community.
Beverly D’Angelo As Ellen Griswold
As with Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was Beverly D’Angelo’s second time reprising the role of Ellen Griswold. Prior to getting the role, Beverly had appeared in hits like Annie Hall and Finders Keepers.
The actress even earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of country singer Patsy Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Beverly also won an Emmy for her lead role as Stella in the television film version of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Beverly D’ Angelou Now
Beverly D'Angelo also reprised her role as Ellen Griswold in the 1997 movie Vegas Vacation and the 2007 episode of Family Guy. In the ‘90s, she starred in Man in Trouble, Eye for an Eye, American History X, and Rude Awakening.
Beverly later appeared in The House Bunny and Mom. She additionally appeared in the television series Entourage and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Fun fact, Beverly was an illustrator and a singer before she pursued a career as an actress.
Randy Quaid As Eddie Johnson
Randy Quaid is the older brother of Dennis Quaid and was already a well established actor before performing as Eddie Johnson in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. He had performed on Saturday Night Live with Chevy Chase and was in A Streetcar Named Desire with Beverly D’Angelo.
Randy earned Academy Award, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations for his role in the 1973 film The Last Detail. He was also in Midnight Express and Long Riders. In 1987, Randy landed an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in LBJ: The Early Years.
Randy Quaid Now
Randy’s role as Eddie Johnson made such a splash that it inspired a television movie spinoff called Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. Before starring in that, Randy was also in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.
Randy tried his hand at voice acting in the animated movie Home on the Range. In 2005, he appeared in Brokeback Mountain and Elvis, the latter of which earned him an Emmy nomination. Clearly, his acting career is still going strong far beyond Christmas Vacation.
Juliette Lewis As Audrey Griswold
Juliette Lewis appeared in Home Fires, I Married Dora, and My Stepmother Is An Alien throughout her teen years before starring as Audrey Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The same year, she also appeared in Meet the Hollowheads and The Runnin’ Kind.
Shortly thereafter, the child actress guest-starred on The Wonder Years and co-starred with Brad Pitt in Too Young To Die? She achieved critical acclaim for her role in the 1991 film Cape Fear.
Juliette Lewis Now
After earning an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for her role in Cape Fear, Juliette continued her blastoff career with films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Natural Born Killers, and The Other Sister. She earned an Emmy nomination for her role in Hysterical Blindness.
Juliette also performed in Old School, Starsky and Hutch, Whip It, Conviction, The Firm, and The Act, among other titles. If her acting career weren’t successful enough, she also stepped into the world of music, forming the rock band Juliette and the Licks in 2003.
Johnny Galecki As Rusty Griswold
Johnny Galecki was a relatively unknown actor when he told the role of the younger Griswold sibling, Rusty. Even when he got the role in Christmas Vacation, he had zero speaking lines! Seriously. No lines.
However, Christmas Vacation was not Galecki's first gig. His first acting role was the 1980s CBS show Murder Ordained. His other movie roles include A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988), and Prancer (1989). He also appeared in a string of short films and had a promising career ahead of him.
John Galecki Now
Today, most audiences recognize John Galecki as Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory. By 2014, he earned around $1 million per every episode. But he also appeared in several other films, such as Hancock (2008) and In Time (2011).
But Galecki's acting first skyrocketed in the '90s. He appeared in I Know What You Did Last Summer, Roseanne, and Suicide Kings. In the 2000s, Galecki seemed to focus more on sitcoms and comedies, which eventually led him to working on The Big Bang Theory.
John Randolph As Clark Griswold
By the time John Randolph appeared in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, he was already a Hollywood veteran. He first acted on Broadway, appearing in the original New York production of The Sound of Music. His first TV appearance was on the 1979 show Angie.
Some of Randolph's other titles include Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Serpico (1973), King Kong (1976), and Prizzi's Honor (1985). He remained a prolific actor throughout the late-20th century. Even in the 1990s, Randolph showed no signs of stopping.
John Randolph Now
John Randolph's acting career tapered off in the early 2000s. In 2003, he acted in his final movie, Numb. By that time, his career had spanned for a whopping 65 years. A year after his final role, Randolph passed away at age 88.
Some of his later films included Sibling Rivalry (1990), A Price Above Rubies (1998), and You've Got Mail (1998). He also guest starred in several TV shows. Randolph survives through his two children and the memory of his wife, who passed away in 1986.
Doris Roberts As Frances Smith
Doris Roberts played Francis Smith, the maternal grandmother of the Griswold children, aka Ellen’s mom. Her award-winning acting career had already spanned almost 40 years by the time she appeared in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
The actress appeared in numerous television shows throughout the ‘60s, including The Naked City, Way Out, and The Defenders. She also starred in films such as The Honeymoon Killers, Ruby and Oswald, and The Rose. In 1976, Doris joined the cast of All in the Family.
Doris Roberts Now
Doris became famous among younger generations for her role as Marie Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond. Her performance garnered her four Emmy awards and another three nominations. She also starred in Our House and Grandma’s Boy.
Doris stayed busy with guest appearances, as well. She had a spot on Step by Step, The King of Queens, Lizzy McGuire, Melissa & Joey, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, among others. The actress was also in Used People, The Grass Harp, and Madea’s Witness Protection.
Ellen Hamilton Latzen As Ruby Sue
Actress Ellen Hamilton Latzen was only nine years old when she appeared in Christmas Vacation. She played Ruby Sue, the daughter of Cousin Catherine and Cousin Eddie. Believe it or not, Latzen's career began when she was six years old!
In 1986, Latzen's mother found a role for Adrian Lyne's new film, Fatal Attraction. She had never imagined her daughter in the film industry, but Latzen auditioned and earned the part. Thus began her childhood acting career. By the time she came to Christmas Vacation, she already had acting experience.
Ellen Hamilton Latzen Now
Today, Ellen Hamilton Latzen no longer acts. She ended her acting career at age 15, when she left her New York hometown for a boarding school in Vermont. Christmas Vacation remains one of her best-known roles.
Latzen now runs a podcast about her experiences as a child star. Her show is called "Watched," and it reveals the ups and downs of the young Hollywood industry. She has worked for various careers, including travel, advertising, and publishing. It seems that her passion for entertainment never faded.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus As Margo Chester
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is so well-known for her role on Seinfeld that some may be surprised to hear that she first rose to prominence on Saturday Night Live. She reunited with some of her SNL cast members on the set of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, in which she played the snobby neighbor Margo Chester.
Earlier in the decade, Julia had also starred in Troll, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Soul Man. The actress was also in a Family Ties spinoff that didn’t make it to air, and played another hilarious neighbor in the series Day by Day.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Now
Julia Louis-Dreyfus went on to win an astounding eleven Emmy awards, three of which were for producing. She was also inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2018.
After the conclusion of Seinfeld in the late ‘90s, Julia went on to appear in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, and Watching Ellie. She was the lead in the series Veep and The New Adventures of Old Christine.