''Animal House'' opens
Nineteen years ago, John Landis, John Belushi, and the ''National Lampoon'' fraternity made a the classic college comedy
The food fight was a good sign. It happened after National Lampoon’s Animal House director John Landis brought a bunch of mostly novice film actors (Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Peter Riegert, Tim Matheson) — the future members of Delta House — up to the Rodeway Inn in Eugene, Ore., for a week of preliminary bonding. When their rivals, the Omegas (Kevin Bacon, Mark Metcalf, and James Daughton), showed up six days later, the Deltas immediately flung their lunches at the newcomers. It was a perfect beginning for the $2.7 million, 34-day shoot of the movie that, with its premiere on July 28, 1978, would set a subversive new standard for collegiate comedy.
Set at fictional Faber College, House was a study of two freshmen, the wimp (Hulce) and the blimp (Furst), pledging the only fraternity willing to take them in. Its politically incorrect mayhem — togas, beers, breasts, not to mention John Belushi’s gleeful imitation of a zit — helped prolong the movie’s first run through Christmas and make it the year’s No. 2 hit.
But the script, based on cowriter Chris Miller’s experience at Dartmouth in the ’60s, hadn’t made anybody particularly want to shout. Warner Bros. passed on it. Universal chief Ned Tanen hated the idea — but eventually greenlighted the film because the Lampoon magazine was hot. ”I was like the last choice to direct…. Everybody else had turned it down,” says Landis, then 27. And the filming wasn’t easy either. Recalls the director, ”Universal took a crane from our set to use it on the Incredible Hulk TV show.”
One of the film’s few established actors was Donald Sutherland (a friend of Landis’), playing a pot-smoking professor — but Saturday Night Live player Belushi became the real star. His grunts, belches, and waggling eyebrows made his ”Bluto” Blutarsky an enduring mascot of undergraduate anarchy and ignited the comedian’s big-screen career.
Though Animal House was so popular it uncorked a national toga-party craze, the Belushi-less 1979 ABC series Delta House lasted a mere three months. Everyone, it seems, has to graduate sometime.
JULY 28, 1978
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National Lampoon's Animal House