Animal House, it turns out, is so funny because it's so real. Miller has just authored The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie (Little, Brown and Company), which makes the characters he created in the movie seem almost wholesome. Almost.
Mr. Skin had to belly up to this knee-slapper and find out what it was like to work in the creative stew that was early National Lampoon, what he's working on now, and, of course, the ladies that work him up. Read on, but hold onto your gut--it's going to bust.
What made your write The Real Animal House now?
The Real Animal House is the completion of the book I started in 1973. I had been to Dartmouth. In the fraternity called Alpha Delta Phi, I'd seen guys doing things you never dreamed you would see all these future doctors, judges, and Goldman Sachs honchos doing. Dropping trou. Mooning. Wind tunnels and pressed hams. Behavior I just couldn't believe! Depraved, but marvelously refreshing in the stuffy, conformist '50s. Even then I was thinking about writing a tell-all about it.
Ten years passed. I was no longer a beer-swilling frat boy. I was now a pot smoking, long-haired weirdo in Greenwich Village, writing bizarre short stories for National Lampoon. The stories were called things like "Groin Larceny" and "Beat the Meatles." I liked doing them, but turning out one a month, which of course involved the ingestion of various writing aids, engendered a certain short-story fatigue. I wanted to try something new, not just write the same-ol' same-ol'. So I embarked on my fraternity novel, which I called Animal House.
But I ran out of gas after three chapters, and the chapters, re-imagined as short stories, wound up in the Lampoon. The ones called "The Night of the Seven Fires" and "Pinto's First Lay" came out in '74 and '75, respectively. There was a highly favorable reaction from the readership, and Doug Kenney, who was then laboring with Harold Ramis to come up with a Lampoon movie script, was charmed by the notion of an "outlaw fraternity." In short order, I became the third screenwriter and the movie became Animal House.
Naturally all thoughts of the book now left my head. Goddamn, I'd written a hit movie. I was going to write more! Obviously it was easy. Look what had happened with the first one we wrote, when we didn't even know what we were doing.
Twenty years later, thoroughly chastened, I crept away from the movie business in disarray. It wasn't easy at all. It was hard!
So what should I do? The fraternity book reoccurred to me. I still wanted to tell the world what those patrician kids (and some not so patrician) were doing, back there before Kennedy got shot and the world changed. I also felt that, with the passage of forty-plus years, the events had happened long enough ago to have passed into myth. It was time to finish the book. And that is what I did.
Do you recall the first time you saw a nude scene in a mainstream movie? Please go into detail.
I think my first nude movie experience was Brigitte Bardot (Picture: 1) in And God Created Woman. It was 1959, Brigitte's first movie opened with her lying on her tummy, sunbathing on a roof. One admiring film critic gushed that her ass resembled "a ripe peach." Indeed, it was a splendid ass.
Nudity crept along for several years in movies. Gunnel Lindblom revealed her full and ripe Scandinavian doo-dads in the Bergman movie The Silence. That was a good one. I Am Curious (Yellow) (Picture: 1 - 2). Actual fucking in a mainstream movie, with tits waving in the air! Extraordinary to those of us who grew up in the '50s. And of course now we have bush, ass, and even cock all over the place. Gotta love that guy in Deadwood who bursts into Swearengen's office holding his tumescent member. It's a whole new deal today. In the '50s, you couldn't say the word pregnant in a movie. How weird is that!?
How much input did you have in casting Animal House, specifically in regards to Karen Allen (Picture: 1), Lisa Baur (Picture: 1), Sarah Holcomb (Picture: 1), and Mary Louise Weller (Picture: 1), all of whom get naked in the film?
I had nothing to do with casting, except once. At that time Harold, Doug, and I were bearing down on finishing the script. We were working in a straight-looking suite of offices in a Manhattan office building that belonged to Universal. You had to be careful they didn't smell the pot. Well, around lunchtime, producers Matty [Simmons] and Ivan [Reitman] and director John Landis strode up. They had a tape from some unknown actress.
The role of Katy hadn't been cast yet. So we all sat down and looked at, in a darkened screening room, the reel of Karen Allen. What is the sound of six guys falling in love? She just leapt off the screen, as fresh and pretty a face as any of us had ever seen. Karen had the part before she ever came in and met anyone.
Sarah Holcomb was another matter. She was young, younger than the rest of us. We were a fast crowd. Drugs were everywhere. She fell into what, for lack of a better term, you would have to call bad company. And got fucked up on drugs. Coke, primarily, if memory serves. This was not unusual at the time.
Doug Kenney and [John] Belushi were having their own problems in this regard. I was not exempt from drug excesses myself and was often found passed out with my face in a bag of glue. I always had class. Anyway, Sarah wound up in some home for fucked-up young girls. Hey, that sounds like a dish at a Schezwan restaurant: an order of fuk-tup-yun-gurl. So Sarah wound up sort-of erased from life. I don't know what became of her. Sad story.
Mary Louise Weller was a piece of work. She had had some sort of '70s boob job. Have you noticed in the movie? They don't move when she moves! Don't mean to spoil things for anyone, but these were titties o' plastic! Anyway, Matty Simmons declared that, in deference to the young lady's nudity, no one but the absolute minimum crew would be allowed on the set. The rest of us, who'd gotten used to hanging around with Landis to watch the thing go down, were barred. Of course, Matty made an exception for himself and observed the entire thing. They needed a mature man on the set, in case anything went wrong, he felt.
To my regret, I never met Ms. Baur. She had great breasts, don't you think?
I do. So was there any hanky panky on the set?
Hanky panky on the set? There was no time for such things. Plus Martha Smith (Picture: 1), Babs, had a bodyguard--you couldn't get near her. You respected Karen too much to crudely hit on her. Belushi's wife was along. All I remember in the way of romantic liaisons was that D-Day had a thing with the script supervisor.
The Real Animal House is so entertaining. Will you write a follow-up about your days at National Lampoon?
The next memoir will be set in 1970-71, ten years after the first one. It will cover my life during that time we call "the Sixties." Pinto [the character based on Miller himself, who was played by Tom Hulce in the movie], no longer called Pinto, is now that long-haired, dope-smoking writer, trying to get his writing career started, selling a little pot to pay the rent.
Towards the end, Pinto meets Doug Kenney, editor of National Lampoon, and his first piece gets purchased for the magazine. I want to do for "the Sixties" what The Real Animal House and Animal House do for fraternity life, which is to say, bare its naked backside to the world.
What do you think of the other Lampoon bios and histories?
Of the books about the Lampoon, the one to read first would be Josh Karp's A Futile and Stupid Gesture. It is as complete an account of the life and times of the magazine as anyone is likely to write in the foreseeable future. If you care who was sleeping with who, that's in there too--well-written, good book.
If You Don't Buy This Book, We'll Kill This Dog is an amiable and entertaining account by Matty Simmons, Lampoon publisher, of his years at the magazine as he tried to play father figure and designated grown-up to this bunch of drug-crazed young funnymen--and a couple of women--who were playing with the magazine as if it were a toy.
Tony Hendra's Going Too Far is a wonderful book about the alternative line of humor that began in the '50s with Shelley Berman and Nichols & May and culminated, he believes, in National Lampoon and Animal House. As such, it is only partly concerned with the magazine, but the writing, emanating from the always interesting mind of Hendra, is top-notch, and his sixteen-page write-up of Animal House was terribly interesting to me, the only deep analysis of the film I've seen. He puts forth many provocative notions, for instance, that the movie is actually about the '60s, with the Deltas as the freaks and Wormer as Nixon.
As for Mr. Mike [by Dennis Perrin], I've not read that one.
Would it be possible for Animal House to be made today?
As for making Animal House, or publishing the Lampoon, today, I really have no idea if you could or not. Certainly when the magazine came along in 1970, the culture was more out-there than at any other time in my life, and that helped. You don't have that now. And I think you'd have a lot of trouble finding writers. Guys like Doug Kenney and Harold Ramis don't grow on trees.
Who's funny today?
Borat is awesome. Carl Hiaasen's books make me laugh. But I have no idea what's cutting edge. Not me. If you find out where it is, please let me know. If there's a Lenny Bruce or a Richard Pryor out there right now, I'd like to hear. Or a Doug Kenney, or an up-and-coming R. Crumb, or a Harvey Kurtzman, the guy who founded Mad comics, or an Ernie Kovacs--sound kind of stuck in the past, don't I? Please email me, readers! Go to chrismillerwriter.com, my website. There's a thing you can click on.
Does the original Animal House script exist anywhere? Can we see it?
The original Animal House script does exist right in my file drawer. I could put it on my website. Maybe I'll get around to that this winter. I think I'll put a couple of additional short stories up as well.
How about some word association? Please comment on the following: Howard Stern.
His hair is weird. It looks like animals live in it.
Mad comics was the great father of us all at the Lampoon--not one guy there hadn't been addicted to it as a kid. It taught my generation parody and satire.
I'm more of a Juggs man, myself.
Saturday Night Live.
Didn't miss an episode for a year or two, then lost interest. I don't know what it's like now. I see my old Lampoon friend Anne Beatts sometimes. She was one of the original writers. Today she's "giving back," I suppose you would say: teaching sketch comedy classes to a new generation of writers. Runs a little school of her own, here in L.A. Bravo, Anne.
Love 'em. What else would Harvard Lampoon guys do for a living after graduation?
He was my friend. I loved the guy. He was special. A comic genius, as they say. But he worried he wasn't cool. One day as I raved about someone or other who I thought was cool he interrupted to ask, "Am I cool?" I was floored. He didn't know he was cool? He had sluiced comedy in an entirely new direction, one that reflected--as he used to say--Catholic shame instead of Jewish guilt. The two seemed pretty interlinked to me, but since I am neither Jewish nor Catholic, what the fuck do I know? Read Josh Karp's book. Josh places him in his proper god-like elevation--comedy god, not religious one.
One funny man--always on--was in those days, anyway. A bunch of us Lampoon guys lived in the Village. Kenney, Belushi, O'Rourke, Miller, Sussman, Meyerowitz, probably others. We all did drugs and alcohol like they were going out of style. It was the early '70s, and you could do that then. We really lived it up. Lampoon writers felt that they were the rock stars of comedy, so they acted out rock-star lifestyles. P.J. used to get as loaded as the rest of us. He's a great guy. Politically weird, but that's like saying someone's taste in women is weird--people will do what people will do. The right-wing kids needed a rock star too.
He was difficult. We were all, to a greater or lesser degree, overgrown kids. When things broke up in '75, Henry Beard told me tiredly he was sick of being everyone's father--including mine--highly intelligent ones, very witty ones, but children, spoiled, annoying children. Maybe that's what it takes to be funny. Reference the fool in Lear.
So Michael O'Donoghue was like that. He was particularly out of control of his emotions. He'd throw tantrums at the drop of a hat. He was insecure, vengeful, and jealous. He was also something of a take-it-to-the-limit comic genius. My fraternity brothers would have totally dug him.
On the first of the National Lampoon Radio Hours, he did an impression of Ed Sullivan--with hatpins having been stuck in his eyes. To properly portray this, he hurled himself around the NatLamp radio studio like a speed freak with St. Vitus Dance, crashing off of whatever was there, screaming horribly. This, you see, is how Ed Sullivan would have acted if he had had hatpins stuck in his eyes. So recklessly did Michael slam himself into physical objects that he sustained multiple injuries, but he had done it for comedy!
Another story: One day Michael's mother called him. She was distraught. She said, "Oh, Michael, your father has lost his toe!" Without a pause no more than a beat, O'Donoghue replied, "Did you look behind the refrigerator?"
A good, longtime friend; she was our token girl. But she was a tough motherfucker and no shrinking violet, and very funny. I took Anne to see Smokey Robinson a couple of years ago. My old pal Robbie has been Smokey's agent and got me the tickets. Smokey was awesome. He's 179 years old and still sexy--the girls gave him many spine-tingling screams. There is no funny punch line to this--we just had a great time. Every Christmas she throws an open house for her many friends and cooks the "ham that am." I will be eating said ham this Christmas.
Never knew him. I was shy and he never put himself out. We managed to get through four great years at the Lampoon together without speaking a word.
Very funny, very smart, kinda weird. He had an eye that would look off to one side. You'd talk to him and he would regard you with one eye, the other checking out a spot on the ceiling. He is a Cornishman and has that milky skin and blond hair. He did hilarious pieces in the Lampoon about meat. Before him, no one saw how funny meat was. Unfortunately he slept with other guys' girlfriends and pissed people off. At the Lampoon, he was kind of the snake in Eden.
Hendra's masterwork was the production of National Lampoon's Lemmings, a brilliant show that parodied the Woodstock Festival and ran at the Village Gate month after month. It was a screamingly funny show. To place it in time, everyone was doing coke. One of the actresses' boyfriends was a dealer. You could see the cast's eyes pin-wheeling.
John Hughes and I met exactly once. It was a glancing contact and nothing I could enlarge upon. I really like Pretty in Pink, believe it or not, except I wanted Duckie to get the girl.
Met him, too, only glancingly. As he was coming in, I was heading out. Didn't he write some scripts for Deadwood? What an awesome show! He must be some writer.
I liked him. He always made me laugh. He always looked like he'd slept in his clothes.
Well, the standard thing you say about Henry is that he knew everything. And it's true. If you brought up something about gamma rays, he knew more than you did. The big bang theory, the pillow book of Madame Mitsuhana? Crabs? He knew everything. He was tall and skinny and wore the same rumpled sweater and sport coat for weeks at a time. I haven't seen him in a long time, not since Doug Kenney's funeral. He married a friend of mine, writer Gwyneth Cravens.
Do you have a favorite sex symbol?
My sex symbol is my girlfriend, who is hot as can be when in the nude, but whose name I shall not sully by mentioning on a nudity website. Of course, should she give me the go-ahead, I will even send you pictures of her. But don't hold your breath.