The 18 Hap-Hap-Happiest Secrets About Christmas Vacation Revealed

Did you know the original director of Christmas Vacation left the project after clashing with Chevy Chase? And that wasn't the only tension behind the scenes.

By Tierney Bricker Dec 17, 2023 11:00 AMTags
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It's hard to make a sequel as good as the first movie. And it's even harder to make the third installment the best in a franchise.

But National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation managed to do just that, with the movie becoming an instant holiday favorite and one of the highest grossing films in the franchise after its release in 1989.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo reprised their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold while then-unknown actors Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki made their film debuts as their kids. 

Made with $25 million, Christmas Vacation, which was penned by the legendary John Hughes and directed by Jeremiah Chechik, went on to gross over $72 million. While its box office performance wasn't going to win Clark a bonus, the movie has gone on to become a modern Christmas classic in the 34 years since its debut. 

Still, that doesn't mean everything was holly and jolly while making the movie. One director exited the project after clashing with Chase, and Chechik later revealed he fought on set with another star. Plus, the studio was this close to cutting one of the most iconic scenes.

What the Cast of Christmas Vacation Is Up to Now

Here are 18 secrets you might not know about Christmas Vacation...

1. John Hughes' script is based on a short story he wrote for Lampoon called "Christmas '59." It is the last screenplay the late filmmaker wrote for the franchise, which was based on his original "Vacation '58" article. There's a small nod to the movie's origin: The label on the home movie reel that Clark finds in the attic is labeled "Xmas '59."

2. The house used as the Griswolds' neighbors home on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank is the same one used for the Murdoch home in Lethal Weapon.  

3. Chris Columbus was originally set to direct, but he ultimately passed on the project after meeting with Chevy Chase.  "It was fraught with pain and tension with Chevy Chase, but I needed the job desperately," Columbus told Insider. "At the time I was living with my wife's parents. It took everything in my power to convince myself to resign from Christmas Vacation because I couldn't make the movie with Chevy Chase."

Fortunately for Columbus, he was sent the script for Home Alone two weeks later. As he said, "The rest is history." 

4. Jeremiah Chechik went on to land the job, making his feature directorial debut despite having never watched the first two films in the franchise. "I was nervous about accepting it, because I didn't know about Chevy and I wasn't sure if it was too commercial," he admitted. "But I agreed to do it and I had just a fantastic time doing it."

5. Chechik is actually the man featured on the cover of the People magazine issue that Clark is reading in bed.

6. Per tradition, two new actors were brought in to play Clark and Ellen's exasperated children. Juliette Lewis took over the role of Audrey, telling Rolling Stone, "The fact that the Griswolds have a new set of kids each time became the thing. Your agents couldn't explain why it was acceptable; it just is. Of course, I grew up with the Vacation movie with the legendary Anthony Michael Hall. This was this huge exciting opportunity and even at 15, I knew it was a big deal."

7. Just before production began, Lewis discovered her then-boyfriend was cheating on her. "That first trip to Colorado, I took my boyfriend and caught him in our hotel room talking to another girl on the phone," she revealed to Rolling Stone. "I didn't even tell him that I heard him, I just asked who he was talking to. He lied and I said, 'Oh, by the way. You're leaving tomorrow morning.' I booked his flight and then he left, and then I went to go film."

8. Future Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki became the franchise's new Rusty after putting himself on tape and sending it in. "They flew me out to Los Angeles; it was one of the first times I was ever here," he recalled. "I read with Chevy and Jeremiah—and that alone would have been enough for me. I could have been given my walking papers and sent home on the next flight and it still would have been a dream come true. Chevy told me right there in the room that I had gotten the role."

9. Galecki admitted that he nursed a crush on his on-screen big sister. "Juliette was older than me by a year, but she might as well been on another planet," he said. "I worshipped her. She was rock and roll even at 15 years old. She had different stories about what she had done the night before and with whom. At that time I was, and still am, in awe of her."

10. The infamous squirrel jumping out of the Christmas tree was even more chaotic behind the scenes when the animal they had been training to perform the stunts died on the day they were set to film. "I said, "Holy f--k, we're shooting that today!'" Chechik recalled. "And the animal trainer turned and said, 'Ya know, they don't live that long.' We still had to shoot the scene, so we used an untrained squirrel. It was just total chaos."

11. Chechik revealed that while he got along quite well with his leading man, the director and Beverly D'Angelo "really fought like hell" during filming. "But when we did the DVD commentary several years ago, we had the greatest time together ever. Who knows how this all works?

12. The famous crotch-grab Ellen makes when the police raid their home was improvised by D'Angelo during just one take, which ended up being the one used in the final cut. 

13. Chase actually broke his pinky finger while filming Clark's tantrum after his lights won't turn on. As he told WhoSay, "It hurt so much."

14. A minor earthquake occurred while filming the arrival scene of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany and eagle-eyed fans can spot the camera shaking slightly. (Fun fact: Mae Questel, who played Bethany, was the original voice for Betty Boop. Christmas Vacation was her final film role.)

15. How did Chase remember Clark's iconic tirade after learning he's not getting his Christmas bonus? All of his co-stars were wearing cue cards around their necks.

"The rant was divided into sections so that he could go all the way through from the beginning to end without a chance of forgetting his lines or flipping his lines. They were all right there," D'Angelo revealed to The Dinner Party Download. "So we didn't have the lines in order exactly, and if you watch it you can see him. His eyes go from character to character as he's going on in the speech because we've got the lines there."

16. Concerned the scene would offend audiences, the studio wanted the cat electrocution cut from the final version, with Chechik telling Rolling Stone, "They really didn't want to do it." After calling Hughes, Chechik said the screenwriter "protected" him and backed the decision to keep it in.

17. It's the only sequel in the National Lampoon's Vacation series to have spawned its own sequel: a direct-to-TV film, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure starring Randy Quaid, released in 2003.

18. That ill-advised sequel, which has a paltry 12 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, may have stemmed from a scene that was ultimately cut from Christmas Vacation.

"There's one scene that didn't make it to the film and I so wish it had," Miriam Flynn, who played Eddie's wife, told Rolling Stone. "It's a scene where Randy and I are in the infamous motor home and you get to see what our lives are like inside. That was a riot, but at the time it had to be cut."

This story was originally published on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020 at 1:55 p.m. PT.