14 Road-Worthy Facts About National Lampoon's Vacation

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Released 35 years ago today, 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation features Chevy Chase in an idiot-defining role as the alarmingly optimistic Clark Griswold, a well-meaning husband and father who is determined to give his family the time of their lives—no matter the cost to life, vehicle, or animal.

The film was an immediate hit, spawning four sequels of increasingly diminishing returns as well as a 2015 Vacation sort-of-sequel, featuring Griswold’s son, Rusty, who appears determined to equal or surpass his father’s mistakes. In celebration of its 35th anniversary, let's have a look at some facts about the family's original trip.

1. THE MOVIE PRETTY MUCH KILLED THE STATION WAGON.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
Warner Home Video

Griswold’s plan to cart his family from Chicago to California to visit Disneyland stand-in Walley World required a durable vehicle. Obviously, he didn’t get one. The unheralded star of the film is the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, a station wagon with eight headlights and a pea-green finish. The car was actually a Ford LTD Country Squire heavily modified to be as unattractive as possible, and it did the job a little too well: Following the release of Vacation, station wagon sales plummeted. Also known as “estate” vehicles, the models were shortly replaced in popularity by minivans and, later, SUVs.

2. IT WAS BASED ON A RAND MCNALLY ROAD ATLAS.

John Hughes was working at a Chicago advertising agency when he began pestering the editors of the National Lampoon for writing assignments. During a catastrophic blizzard in 1979, a snowbound Hughes wrote a short story, "Vacation ’58," about a Detroit family taking an unfortunate trip to Disneyland. Hughes laid out a Rand McNally road atlas from the trunk of his car and figured out where the family could stop along the way. Warner Bros. purchased the rights to the story as soon as it was published, and Hughes was invited to write the script. (Knowing Disneyland was unlikely to consent to the R-rated material, Disneyland became Walley World.)

3. CHEVY CHASE REALLY NEEDED A HIT.


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Though Chase had made a strong impression in his single year as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, his film career wasn’t the runaway success most had anticipated. Of the six films he made between leaving SNL in 1976 and 1982, only two—Foul Play and Caddyshack—had been hits. Likewise, the publicly-traded Lampoon brand in film had seen just one major home run (Animal House) followed by two bombs, Class Reunion and Movie Madness. Of Class Reunion, Roger Ebert observed that it “has its funny moments, but they’re rare enough that we’re acutely aware of them.”

4. JOHN HUGHES'S SCRIPT HAD TO BE REWRITTEN.

"Vacation ’58" was written by Hughes from the point of view of Griswold’s son, Rusty, which he felt tempered some of the more outlandish moments. (Originally, Clark shoots Walt Disney in the leg.) But casting Chase meant switching the focus to the head of the family; while Hughes shifted the perspective, director Harold Ramis and Chase retooled the script after they felt Hughes had taken the premise as far as he could. Ramis would later say that Hughes was probably a little upset over having his material reworked. “I saw John quoted in an interview saying he was going to start directing his own movies,” Ramis said, “because he was tired of seeing his scripts ruined by other directors.” (Hughes wrote and directed Sixteen Candles in 1984.)

5. THE PRODUCTION SAVED A DOG TIED TO A BUMPER.

One of the particularly morbid gags in the film is when the Griswolds forget that their Aunt Edna’s dog is still tied to the bumper of the Truckster as they drive away. Appearing on Late Night with David Letterman in 1983, Ramis told the host that the crew was staying at a hotel in Durango, Colorado and saw a car begin to drive off with a dog still attached. They were able to stop the driver before the pooch got towed.

6. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL TRIED PEEPING ON BEVERLY D'ANGELO.


Warner Home Video

Hall, 14 at the time he was cast as Rusty, was flirting with puberty during filming, growing three inches before the cast reassembled to shoot scenes after principal photography had wrapped. Prior to that, the actor tried to make himself an on-set presence for a scene in which his onscreen mother, played by Beverly D'Angelo, is naked for a shower sequence. In 2009, Hall told Maxim he was yanked away by a producer but was “totally trying to sneak a peek.”

7. THE "EAST ST. LOUIS" SCENE WAS ACTUALLY ST. LOUIS.

Ramis expressed regret over a scene in which the Griswolds take a wrong turn into East St. Louis, Illinois, having their hubcaps stolen and the Truckster stripped while Clark asks for directions from a local. The area subsequently developed a reputation for criminal activity that wasn’t warranted. Though it doesn’t exactly soften the blow, the scene is actually supposed to take place in St. Louis: The family crosses the Poplar Bridge, and Ramis said a shot that features an East St. Louis sign was placed in the film in error.

8. BORIS VALLEJO PAID HOMAGE TO HIS OWN WORK FOR THE POSTER. 


Warner Home Video

Fantasy artist Boris Vallejo was hired to illustrate the theatrical release poster for Vacation. The “king of the hill” style template, with Clark standing triumphantly and raising his tennis racket, was used by both Frank Frazetta and Vallejo for their respective Conan illustrations. Vallejo later stated that the Vacation poster brought him more assignment work than anything he’s done.

9. CHRISTIE BRINKLEY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE RUSTY'S (NUDE) DREAM GIRL.

The Hughes story and script originally had Brinkley’s mystery woman cruising by in a Ferrari and flirting with Rusty. When the focus shifted to Chase, so did her attention. Brinkley was also supposed to strip naked for the movie, but refused; she wound up in a nylon bodysuit that gave off the impression of being topless while in a pool.

10. THEY ENDED UP AT SIX FLAGS.

The film’s climactic trek through Walley World was actually shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California; Ramis had Chase, John Candy, and other cast members board a roller coaster with a camera mounted to it in order to capture shots on the rides. Dana Barron, who played Audrey Griswold, became so distressed with motion sickness she had to be given repeated doses of Dramamine.

11. THE ORIGINAL ENDING WAS DESPISED BY AUDIENCES.


Warner Home Video

Hughes concluded the tortuous Griswold vacation by depicting Clark driving to Roy Walley’s home, bursting in, shooting him in the leg, and then forcing Walley and his cohorts to sing and dance at gunpoint; Griswold was then taken to jail. Ramis shot it as written, but test audiences on the Warner lot proved what Hughes suspected: that a home invasion wasn’t going to play on film. He rewrote the ending—the Griswolds enjoy their own private, bloodless Walley World experience—and Ramis hired Candy to play a security guard for reshoots.

12. IT BEAT RETURN OF THE JEDI AND JAWS 3-D AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Released in a competitive summer movie season, Vacation debuted at number one, muscling out sequels to Jaws and Star Wars—both of which had been out for some time—from the top spot. It was the year’s third highest-grossing comedy, earning $61.4 million: Only Trading Places and Mr. Mom (also written by Hughes) performed better.

13. THE GRISWOLDS REUNITED FOR A SHORT FILM.

Of the various sequels that followed up on the Griswolds over the years, one of the least-known is a 14-minute short film, Hotel Hell Vacation, that was released in 2010 as part of a promotional campaign for a travel rental site. In it, Clark and Ellen get away for a second honeymoon while planning to drop in on their son, Rusty. It will not be confused for a John Hughes film.

14. THERE IS A REAL WALLY WORLD.

They dropped the “e” in “Walley,” but East Park in London, Ontario once had the water ride segment of their property labeled Wally World. In the U.S, Water World in Federal Heights, Colorado has a mini-water attraction meant for children also named Wally World; Marker’s Wally World in Liberty, Indiana offers go-karts and also sells power tools, which sounds like the setup to a punch line only Clark Griswold could deliver.

10 Facts About Ken Miles, the Race Car Driver at the Center of Ford v Ferrari

Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a car enthusiast who doesn't know the name Carroll Shelby, it wasn't until recently—with the release of Ford v Ferrari—that Shelby's teammate, Ken Miles, has been allowed to share the spotlight. The movie, which centers around the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mansa race that’s been the center of more than a few heated debates—has finally given Miles his due.

Director James Mangold said that the first cut of Ford v Ferrari was close to four hours long, but that he eventually had to cut it down to its final two-and-a-half-hour running time. Naturally, a lot of great material didn’t make it into the final cut, including some of the most interesting facts about Miles's life. Here are 10 fascinating facts that you won’t find in Ford v Ferrari.

1. Ken Miles started racing when he was just 11 years old.

Ken Miles was born on November 1, 1918 in Sutton Coldfield, England, a town located less than 10 miles north of Birmingham. At the ripe old age of 11, Miles started motorcycle racing on a 350 cc Triumph bike. A crash broke his nose and cost him three teeth—which led to him purchasing a larger motorcycle.

2. Ken Miles met his wife when he was a teenager.

When he was just 15 years old, Miles met a young woman named Mollie, then turned to a friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” And he eventually did. The courtship was so all-consuming that at one point the headmaster of Miles's school called his parents and asked if there was something they could do about “this whole Mollie business.”

3. Ken Miles built his first car when he was 15 years old.

Miles was a busy teenager. When he was 15, he built an Austin 7 Special that he named “Nellie,” and some of the mechanical modifications he made on the car became signatures of his later vehicles. Mollie, who seemed to be a fan of the wooing, painted Nellie a British Racing Green. Miles sold Nellie during World War II, but continued to design cars after the war was over.

4. Ken Miles was a military man.

For seven years, Miles served in the British Territorial Army. His primary job was tank recovery, a job that required him to reclaim tanks and get them operational again. In 1944, he took part in the D-Day landings as part of a tank unit. Miles was also one of the first British soldiers at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, an experience he rarely talked about even though he was frequently photographed wearing his military coat.

5. Ken Miles loved American engines.

Christian Bale as Ken Miles in 'Ford v Ferrari' (2019)
Christian Bale as Ken Miles in James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari (2019).
Merrick Morton © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

During his military service, Miles found time to study and keep up with developments in engine technology. Separated from his racing friends, Miles had to work a little harder to share this love. In a letter to Motorsport Magazine, Miles went into the specifics about exactly what he loved about a new engine and how much potential he saw in it. He looked forward to designing his own supercharged version of the engine and installing it into a four-wheel drive vehicle.

6. Ken Miles understood how important physical fitness was for a driver before everyone else did.

Though physical fitness wasn’t as emphasized for drivers back then, Miles thought it was crucial, something we now know to be true. At five-foot-11-inches, Miles was a remarkably lean 147 pounds. Miles was an avid jogger who would carry two-pound weights in each hand.

7. Ken Miles once toilet-trained a cat—then was said to have done the same with a bobcat.

Miles once trained a cat to use the toilet. In addition to being a fun story he shared at parties, it was a fact that emphasized his stubbornness and his willingness to stick with a challenging assignment.

When Miles’s toilet-trained cat died, his friends sent him a wire telling him to go to the airport, where a new cat would be waiting for him. When he went to pick up the crate, Miles discovered that they’d sent him a bobcat. Carroll Shelby said in his biography that Miles was able to toilet train the bobcat as well (though Shelby was known for not letting the truth get in the way of a good story).

8. Ken Miles had a knack for sarcasm.

James T. Crow wrote an obituary for Ken Miles for Road & Track in which he wrote that Miles had "wit and charm like almost no one I’ve ever known. But if he could be elaborately polite, he also had a command of sarcasm that could make your teeth shrink." Crow’s obituary stands as one of the more complete reflections on who Miles was, and also observed that "It was said about [Miles] that he was his own worst enemy and this was undoubtedly true as he could have had almost anything he wanted if he could have been more tactful." Shelby at least was delighted by Miles’s total lack of tact.

9. Ken Miles saw himself as a mechanic first and a driver second.

Though he’s most remembered as a driver, Miles saw himself first and foremost as a mechanic. In A.J Baime’s book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, Miles is quoted as saying “I am a mechanic. That has been the direction of my entire vocational life. Driving is a hobby, a relaxation for me, like golfing is to others.” Miles was hired on as the test driver and competition director for Shelby-American, a position that allowed him to use his mechanical expertise as well as his uncanny driving capability.

10. Ken Miles’s death changed the racing world.

On August 17, 1966, Ken Miles died when the Ford J-car he had been testing for almost an entire day at California's Riverside International Raceway flipped, crashed, and caught on fire, then broke into pieces and ejected Miles, who was killed instantly. But the J-car had been specifically designed to avoid this type of accident, and the damage done to the vehicle made it impossible to determine an exact cause for the crash.

"We really don't know what caused it," Carroll Shelby said. "The car just disintegrated. We have nobody to take his place. Nobody. He was our baseline, our guiding point. He was the backbone of our program. There will never be another Ken Miles."

Though it wasn’t uncommon for race car drivers to die in the 1960s, what was uncommon was the reaction Miles’s friends and family had to his death. Shelby said that it broke his heart when they lost Ken, and Shelby-American withdrew from Le Mans racing after 1967.

If there was a silver lining to Miles's death, it was that additional safety precautions—including a steel tube rollover cage—were implemented into the J-car's design that saved the lives of multiple other drivers, including a young Mario Andretti when he was involved in a similar crash a year later.

Ken Miles's death was a tragedy, for his young son and wife, for his team, and for the entirety of racing. Thanks to Ford v Ferrari though, Ken Miles is finally receiving the attention and recognition that should have been his all along.

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


Getty Images

Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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