Archive for Rena Fruchter

Chasebook (part 2)

Posted in Books, Comedy with tags , , on February 7, 2010 by Tim Lee

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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Chasebook (part 1)

Posted in Books, Comedy with tags , , on February 5, 2010 by Tim Lee

[Book] I’m Chevy Chase… And You’re Not by Rena Fruchter

It’s that time again; yet another abridged version of an execrable celebrity biography. This one is in two parts because reading the whole thing has proved more challenging than watching the National Lampoon’s boxset in one sitting. As even the author noted, “One might assume that interviewing one of the world’s top comedians might be a barrel of laughs. But it was only half a barrel.”

 He ain’t Chevy

Born October 8 1943, Cornelius Crane Chase was the son of wealthy New York couple, Cathalene Vanderbilt Crane and Edward Cornelius Chase. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother then married Dr John Cederquist. Growing up in a wealthy neighbourhood, he often saw Marlene Dietrich walking with her grandchildren. “She wore a white nurse’s uniform and white hoes.” So far, so Gossip Girl, but Chevy and his brother Ned were often beaten by their parents. On one occasion Chevy was locked in the basement for a week, where his only contact with the outside world was the occasional glimpse of Marlene Dietrich’s shins on the street above.

Chevy was also often in trouble at school, in one instance biting a bully who pulled his hair while he stood at a urinal. “Apparently I had bit him so hard that when I saw him 20 years later at a cocktail party he showed me the scar… I don’t remember knowing any biters, I never hung out with the biters, and I’m against it!” In short, he’s a lover not a biter.

Rumour has it that Chevy’s Haverford College career ended abruptly when college officials had to deal with a cow on the second floor of a dormitory building. Whether they ever got it downstairs again has been lost in the annals of history. His early education had been spotty, and the discrepancy between the brilliance of his mind and the quality of his work continued for many years (about 50). It was at school, however, that his keen comic sensibility developed; he was endlessly amused by the fact that his French teacher Mr Shultz – get this! – wasn’t very French!

Chevy Chaste

Chevy‘s early romantic encounters were somewhat bumbling. Of one early date he recalls, “She had all this experience and the only thing I could think of was to pull her collar forward and peer down her dress. I saw her bra and she was quite developed.” After that she broke up with him. On another occasion he was found hiding in the closet by his then girlfriend‘s mother. “Finally she came to the closet and opened the door. I didn’t move – I was frozen in place, eyes staring straight ahead. The woman let out a bloodcurdling scream and raced out of the room shouting in French.” Nobody knows if she even was French but it was an incident that would go on to inspire his good friend R Kelly. Possibly.

A keen jazz musician, Chevy picked up his first drum kit in unorthodox fashion. There was a pool party at the home of an older married woman who invited Chevy to use her shower. She was wealthy and beautiful and Chevy had no second thoughts when he realised this might lead to some Chevy petting. “I just did my job. At that age I had learned nothing about the beauty and intricacy of the female body, and what gives her pleasure. It couldn’t have been that great for her, but it sure sounded like it was.” Chevy met with her numerous times at her apartment in Manhattan. She always offered money, which Chevy always refused. So instead she bought him a $600 drum kit. Even to this day Chevy associates sex with jazz drumming and can only climax to the sound of a 3/4 beat.

Chevy metal

Chevy’s love of music has been a constant throughout his life. One of his early jobs was at Tanglewood Music Centre where he was in charge of the morning coffee and remembers “spilling hot coffee on Pete Seger’s left hand.” Unfortunately this was a mishap not repeated when he met Paul Simon years later for the recording of You Can Call Me Al.

A short time later Chevy played drums in a group with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who went on to form Steely Dan, but they pretty much sank without trace after Chevy left the group. His other musical projects, including Chameleon Church, Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach were equally unsuccessful, owing mostly to Chevy’s frustration at always being drowned out by violins – ironically a sound that would be key to the success of contemporary bands such as Arcade Fire.

In later years he has used his celebrity status for good, becoming an active member The Jazz Foundation (AKA the centre for jazz musicians who can’t read good and want to learn to do other stuff good too), a charity which helps elderly jazz musicians pay their rent and get hospital treatment. Won’t somebody please think of the jazz musicians?!

Chasing fame

It was 1967 and Chevy had graduated from Bard College. It was a turbulent time politically and socially – good fodder for someone with Chevy’s astute political mind and satirical sense of humour. One of his earliest jobs was on Channel One, “A combination of forms: parodies of programs and commercials recorded on videotape, shown on TVs suspended above the audience. The audience on a hot Sunday night included a number of hip types, many girls in pants and a cat.” Pants. Only in New York, eh?

Stints writing for Mad magazine and National Lampoon eventually led to Chevy working with Christopher Guest and John Belushi in the stage show Lemmings. The second half of the show was a Woodstock parody in which Chevy played a Hell’s Angel with Tourette’s. Showcasing the intelligent, satirical comedy for which he would become known, Chevy would pretend an audience member had hit him and, falling hard, would shout “Ifuckyoushitpissprickpussycockfart.” This was the start of Chevy’s ‘falling career’. Later he would start every Saturday Night Live show with a fall.

Chevy recalls standing in line for a midnight showing of The Holy Grail. He ran into several friends and was “funny while waiting.” “One of the people near me was Rob Reiner and he was stood with (SNL producer) Lorne Michaels. Lorne asked Rob, ‘Who is that guy?’ and Rob told him I was a writer.” Chevy soon got a call asking him to meet with Lorne. Conversely, whilst most comedians make a career of pointing out the inherent hilarity of queuing etiquette, it was Chevy’s ability to be funny whilst in a queue that got him his big break.

The SNL team clicked, and everyone was shocked by Chevy’s success. Nothing is sacred in parody and satire. Chevy’s sketches hit every target, from Watergate to the Middle East, to hot dogs. His presence increased with each show and his “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not” line during Weekend Update became legendary.

Chased out of New York

Chevy left SNL on October 30 1976 after just one year to be with wife Jackie in LA. Chevy was very upset that when he returned to the set later, his photo had been removed from the large cast pictures of the first year and replaced by Bill Murray’s. This caused a wound which has still not healed, most believing Chevy bailed out to Chase the big bucks in Hollywood.

On one infamous return to the set Bill Murray made rude and provocative comments to Chevy about his wife. Chevy retorted with equally mean comments about Bill’s pockmarked face. “I said ‘I’m gonna land Neil Armstrong on your face if you don’t shut up.’” Bill, angered by this, fired back “Why don’t you go fuck your wife?” A scuffle broke out, but was defused by that renowned voice of reason, John Belushi. “Bill had assumed I was a rich kid and he was from the other side of the tracks and could just blow me away. I said to him after the show ‘I’ll eat you.’” Murray retorted by calling Chase a ‘medium talent.’ *Cat sound*

The once frosty relationship has since thawed. At a party Chevy walked over to Bill and fell to his knees. “I began to unzip his pants, like I was going to give him a blow job, and Bill laughed. He laughed and I laughed. I didn’t want to fight. But that didn’t mean I shouldn’t be careful – on Caddyshack, I never turned my back.”

Chevy’s management were marketing him as ‘the new Cary Grant’ so a role opposite Goldie Hawn (with whom he started a tawdry affair) in the romantic comedy Foul Play was ideal. Goldie was equally enthusiastic, “I knew I had to meet the guy. I had seen SNL a bit and loved the show. But I didn’t know which guy Chevy was.” The first of many memorable Chase performances.

The commercial success of the film made Chevy slightly uneasy. “To go from current events, politics affecting the votes in this country (ergo, the hot dog material) to a B-level light romantic comedy to me felt like a scud. One of the problems with making movies out there – what could I do that would have an impact on the audience, that would affect things now?” Of course Chevy would go on to produce life-changing work, although his ‘next Cary Grant’ status was imperilled when he was sued by Grant for referring to him as a homo on Tomorrow. But as Chase reasoned, “The word ‘homo’ is funny to me… an anachronism.” More biting political satire there.

This first toe dipped in the Hollywood waters was to be just the beginning of a stellar Hollywood career.

Continue to part 2