Chasebook (part 2)

Continued from part 1

A bevy of Chevy

An unusual prospect for a cult movie, Caddyshack is a movie whose lines have become very familiar, often quoted by Tiger Woods. Presumably either the line “You’re a lot of woman. You wanna earn $14 the hard way?” or “Wait up girls, I got a salami I gotta hide” are his personal favourites. Ironically he spoofed it in an American Express advert with the tagline “The official card of happy endings.” I’ll bet it is.

With Chevy there was always something funny happening on set, if not on camera. Executive producer Jon Peters demanded “We’ve gotta have a scene with Chevy and Billy together.” It was a scene which was very much the forerunner of De Niro and Pacino in Heat.

1980 was a busy year for Chevy. In Oh Heavenly Dog he showed his versatility by playing a private eye who is killed while on a job and is sent back to earth to solve his own murder. In the body of a dog! It’s a lost classic in the Chase canon, unlike Seems Like Old Times which even Chase concedes “wasn’t one of my favourite movies.” Although it did give him the chance to ‘team up’ with Goldie Hawn again. What a hawndog.

By 1980 Chevy’s marriage to Jackie was long since over, but it wasn’t long before the incorrigible Chevy was Chasing skirt again. He had his eye on a production assistant named Jayni and soon ensnared her with his silver tongue: “Tonight is the premiere of my movie. Goldie is in Paris and Jaqueline Bissett has the flu. I’m wondering if you’d go with me.” The seduction assured, the couple were soon married.

Chevy weather

Already suffering severe back pain due to years of highbrow pratfalls, Chevy was to endure further medical woes on the set of Modern Problems, a film whose high concept plot involves an air traffic controller who develops telekinetic powers after being exposed the radioactive soap suds. During a dream sequence Chase had stage lights strapped to his arms. When the lights were turned on Chevy juddered violently and screamed for them to be turned off. Of course the crew thought renowned prankster Chase was joking and thus left them on – a story they’ve stuck to in subsequent years. This near death experience left Chase weak and depressed for two years, much like those who viewed the finished film.

1982 saw an upturn in fortunes. Not only did he welcome the birth of his first daughter, but filming was completed on the first of the now seminal Vacation franchise, which in Chase’s estimation is “the funniest film of the franchise.” Bold claim. The script (!) had undergone a hasty rewrite by Chase and Harold Ramis because, as they put it, “John Hughes was obsessed with adolescent sex.” Of Chevy’s acting talents, Beverly D’Angelo reported, “Chevy worked in a way unlike any other actor. No-one ever gives Chevy credit for having anything to do with acting.” According to Chase the film is a misunderstood classic. “It was satire. The public saw itself in these characters instead of seeing a satire.”

Chasing the dragon

The pressure of fame was taking an increasing toll on Chase. “First I was the observer, then I was the observed.” Not only was he now battling an addiction to cocaine and painkillers, but he had a near debilitating obsession with the career trajectory of Martin Short. “I’m thinking, the funniest guy in the room is Martin Short, but where is he? He’s not a movie star. How many actors go through that struggle?” He needn’t of worried as Short would go on to star in Innerspace, Father of the Bride and The Santa Clause 3, amongst others.

In 1986 he finally took the step of secretly checking into the Betty Ford clinic, but he was soon exposed after a telephone call from a journalist posing as Timothy Hutton. Journalists. Despite this betrayal Chevy stayed for three weeks, finally leaving after an argument over the centre’s interpretation of the term “leisure time.”

Chasing box office

Despite these personal problems Chase was still surfing a wave of commercial and critical success. Fletch gave him the opportunity to showcase his talent for assuming many identities. Including a black basketball player. Warners took advantage of the ever-affable Chase though, as he would often do movies for them as a ‘favour’. One such favour was Fletch Lives, which Chevy wasn’t happy with. “Universal assumed that me in different costumes made Fletch work. In this one they put me in ridiculous looking costumes.” As opposed to the blacked-up basketball player in Fletch, clearly.

Chevy’s creative growth was now being restricted by the demands of the studios. Whilst he was keen to do more political hot dog material, Warners continued to put him in lowbrow, slapstick fare. Funny Farm is, according to Chase, his best film and one “with many quite good reviews.” But even here he had to bow to the demands of his fan base. “In one scene, I’m rushing and my wife is rushing. They each grab one part of the door and he gets hit in the groin. It was a big slapstick Chevy Chase moment and the audience laughed out of relief: ‘Okay, so this will be a slapstick Vacation type film.’ It became clear that the public didn’t want to see me do more conceptual stuff.” Of European Vacation he said, “It’s rather astonishing and kind of sad, isn’t it?” Yes, but continuing, “I thought it was pretty lame but it grossed $100m worldwide.”

Feelings about sequels aside, his Vacation co-star Beverly D’Angelo said, “Christmas Vacation was one I know Chevy loved and a lot of people think it’s the best one. It is outstanding in general, beautifully shot. The director kept telling everyone he was going to elevate the franchise, like the Vacation movies were dog turds that he was going to polish into pure gold.” In the end no amount of buffing could save it. It did however, mark the high point of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ career, before she had to slum it for nine years in Seinfeld.

Another highlight of Chevy’s career was filming Three Amigos, not so much for the quality of the work but for the friendships he forged. Starring Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short, it was very much the Ocean’s 11 of its day. Roger Ebert, however, wasn’t so keen, writing “The ideas to make Three Amigos into a good comedy are here, but the madness is missing. The movie is too confident, too relaxed, too clever to be really funny.” Foiled by his own pesky intellectual humour again; humour which was much in evidence at the premiere when he placed a pair of glasses on the back of ‘super agent’ Swifty Lazar’s head, causing “an explosion of laughter” in the auditorium.

Chasing rainbows

Despite hosting The Oscars in 1987 as part of the non-more 80s triumvirate of Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan, Chase himself has never won one. There were rumours that Chevy was being considered for an Oscar for his uncredited guest appearance in Hero, but Oscar rules dictate that an uncredited actor cannot be nominated. Conversely, another rule dictates a film with Chevy Chase in the credits can’t be nominated either. He did finally receive the recognition he deserved in 1991, when he won a Razzie for Dan Aykroyd’s directorial debut, Nothing But Trouble. Chase’s acting style apparently ‘clashed’ with that of Striptease star Demi Moore and The Washington Post described it as “toxically unfunny” and “nothing but miserable.”

Although apparently no longer doing coke, Chevy was still inexplicably positive about the state of his career, and felt sure Memoirs Of An Invisible Man would give it the shot in the arm required. The film languished in development hell for five years and arguments about the comedic tone of the film (zero, apparently) meant its early promise was unfulfilled. The strain on his relationship with Warners was beginning to show and its termination was cemented after an argument with Warners head Terry Semel over the place settings at the Christmas party.

A change of Chase

The stagnation of Chevy’s film career was to mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter in his life: his own Fox chat show. However, he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to do the show and often went on air depressed; feelings which transmitted to the viewers. Despite the innovation of introducing a basketball hoop to proceedings, the show was not a success and was canned after five weeks.

Chevy’s increased free time has allowed him to become more politically active and has also given him time to enjoy the finer things in life. While guesting at Clinton’s inauguration he was able to observe Warren Beatty constructing a bagel. “So there he was, carefully, fastidiously preparing his bagel… a layer of cream cheese, the smoked salmon, next the capers and a little egg yolk. Now carefully placing a slice of tomato, a slice of onion, and closing up the toasted bagel. It looked beautiful.” And when not answering the oft asked question, “Where were you when Warren Beatty was constructing his bagel?” Chevy would retire to Clinton’s private quarters to discuss Bosnia or other pressing issues of the day, like Clinton’s joke about a threesome between “a black guy, an Arab and a Jew.” With those two guys at the helm, it’s a wonder the Republicans ever got back in.

With film roles now drying up Chevy moved the family back to New York in 1995. After moving there he began seeing a therapist to get to the root of why his chat show, which should have been a big success, did so poorly. How long have you got? His family are also much happier there, although daughter Caley confides, “I don’t tell anybody who my father is. Sometimes it’s appropriate to share it, but if people don’t ask, I don’t share.”

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3 Responses to “Chasebook (part 2)”

  1. SolidChris Says:

    What a career. I have to admit to getting awfully high a lot in my late teens and watching Fletch and Caddyshack repeatedly. I almost had a heart attack from laughter whilst I watched the first Vacation movie whilst blasted off my tits on fine Moroccan skunk.

    In hindsight the weed may have had something to do with that.

    • There was so much I had to leave out; Cops And Robbersons, Spies Like Us, and the fact that Budapest has the largest stray dog population in the world.

      Caddyshack still stands up today. Lacy Underall, that’s all I’m saying.

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