Fat, Drunk, and Stupid: The Inside Story Behind the Making of Animal House

( 2 )


A wild, uncensored, behind-the-scenes account of America's favorite film comedy.

In 1976, National Lampoon, the nation’s most popular humor magazine, decided to create a movie under the Lampoon banner. It would be set on a college campus in the 60s, very loosely based on the fraternity experiences of Lampoon contributor Chris Miller, and it would be called “Animal House.”

A cast of mostly unknowns was hired, and for four weeks in late 1977, the...

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Fat, Drunk, and Stupid: The Inside Story Behind the Making of Animal House

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A wild, uncensored, behind-the-scenes account of America's favorite film comedy.

In 1976, National Lampoon, the nation’s most popular humor magazine, decided to create a movie under the Lampoon banner. It would be set on a college campus in the 60s, very loosely based on the fraternity experiences of Lampoon contributor Chris Miller, and it would be called “Animal House.”

A cast of mostly unknowns was hired, and for four weeks in late 1977, the actors and crew invaded the town of Eugene, Oregon. Reluctantly produced by Universal Studios on a budget of less than $3 million, the film wound up with revenues of over $600 million.


Drawing from exclusive new interviews with director John Landis, fellow producer Ivan Reitman, Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon and other key players, as well as never-before-seen photos, this book traces the film’s outrageous history, from its birth in the offices of the National Lampoon, to scripting, casting, filming, and, ultimately, the film’s mega success. This is a hilarious romp through one of the biggest grossing, most memorable, most frequently quoted, and most celebrated comedies of all time.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Animal House producer Simmons takes a fond look back on the “little movie” that turned into a blockbuster, made John Belushi a star, and spawned dozens of badly made imitations. As the moneyman behind the success of the legendary National Lampoon magazine, Simmons helped put together the team that conceived of the tale of two warring fraternities in the early 1960s—the wacky Deltas and the evil Omegas. Simmons provides interesting but all-too-brief looks at the “volatile, mad creator” and Lampoon editor, Doug Kenney; National Lampoon Show actor and future director, Harold Ramis; and Lampoon writer Chris Miller, who used many of his experiences at Dartmouth College in the final script (and who actually lived in a frat called “Delta House”). Simmons had a front-row seat at the film’s creation, and he provides a detailed look at how the movie was made, as well as its unanticipated success. He offers some interesting anecdotes (especially a deleted scene in which the Deltas give a car ride to a young, then unknown Bob Dylan only to throw him out after he starts singing), but overall, Simmons covers much of the same territory as various other books about the film, its actors, and the National Lampoon, and his writing is surprisingly flat (“It seemed it had taken forever to get the movie green-lighted—and then just the briefest blink of time to get it shot”). (Apr.)
Library Journal
As both the producer of Animal House and founder of the humor magazine National Lampoon (from which the film emerged), Simmons brings a singular perspective to this behind-the-scenes book. He contends that the comedic sensibility of Animal House—black, taboo-breaking, and aimed toward young people—not only made it a smash hit but also convinced college students that they were free to do what they wanted. Descriptions of audience reactions are most striking, including the first test screening in Denver, where everyone "literally stood on their seats and screamed." Simmons's tone is breezy, and he offers amusing anecdotes about cast members as well as nuggets of information about the financial aspects of the film. Pacing is a problem, though, with a bloated "where are they now" chapter contrasting skimpier but more appealing and relevant context about National Lampoon. VERDICT Animal House enthusiasts will find elements to enjoy here, but for those interested in learning more about National Lampoon's style of humor, Josh Karp's A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a better option.—Christopher Martin, Univ. of Dayton Zimmerman Law Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Animal House fans will find some anecdotes of interest, but there is barely enough here for a comprehensive magazine article on the making of the classic movie. As the publisher of National Lampoon and co-producer of its first movie smash, Simmons (The Credit Card Catastrophe: The 20th Century Phenomenon That Changed the World, 1995, etc.) worked with a wide variety of funny people and writers. Unfortunately, in these pages there are too few of them and too much of Simmons, who frames his account with his early years "as a very young press agent in the 1950s" through his launching of magazines for Diner's Club and Weight Watchers, and culminates in an afterword that begins: "So, Animal House made me a film producer and for three decades people have been asking me what a producer does. I will tell you." The author mainly shows himself to be a master of hyperbole, bathing every aspect of the production in superlatives: "It became more than a movie. Animal House changed comedy"; "casting, particularly of the young Deltas and Omegas, was superior to any comedy movie before or after Animal House"; its screenplay was "the tightest 110 pages of writing I had seen before or I have seen since." Throughout the book, Simmons provides too little revelation about the shooting itself or insight into the talent involved. Instead, the text is padded with excerpts from dozens of reviews, summaries of outtakes and accounts of what those who participated did before the movie and where their careers have gone since. The title and cover promise the sort of hilarious irreverence that the book rarely delivers.
David Kirby
The march backward from staid adulthood to giddy youth began when Little Richard and Elvis invented the teenager, and it's a commonplace that George Lucas made us all want to be kids again with the Star Wars series. What's been missing up to this point is a close look at the years between, and while Simmons's book isn't a coast-to-coast survey of popular culture in the '70s, it does offer a unique look at the one movie that, more than any other, told Americans it's okay to access your inner frat boy. In fact, it's recommended.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
“[A] one-of-a-kind book… A unique look at the one movie that, more than any other, told Americans it’s okay to access your inner frat boy. In fact, it’s recommended.” —Washington Post

“Loyal fans of ‘Animal House’ will find much to like in this engaging read.” —Booklist

“A fond look back on the ‘little movie’ that turned into a blockbuster, made John Belushi a star, and spawned dozens of badly made imitations… Simmons had a front-row seat at the film’s creation, and he provides a detailed look at how the movie was made, as well as its unanticipated success.”  —Publishers Weekly


“Simmons brings a singular perspective to this behind-the-scenes look… Simmons’s tone is breezy, and he offers amusing anecdotes about cast members.” —Library Journal

Washington Post

[A] one-of-a-kind book… A unique look at the one movie that, more than any other, told Americans it's okay to access your inner frat boy. In fact, it's recommended.

Loyal fans of 'Animal House' will find much to like in this engaging read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312552268
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,528,689
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

MATTY SIMMONS was the publisher of the National Lampoon and Producer with Ivan Reitman of "Animal House."  He has produced nine other films including the enormously popular Vacation series. He has been a newspaper reporter, press agent, and the author of eight books including several bestsellers.  He lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

Fat, Drunk, and Stupid

The Inside Story Behind the Making of Animal House
By Matty Simmons

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Matty Simmons
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312552268

It was July 26, 1978, a hot and humid Friday night. I drove down Park Avenue slowly—everyone and everything moved slowly. The car in front of me seemed not to move at all. The people in the streets didn’t walk with the usual New York overdrive but with the tired tread of a weary and almost defeated populace. It was summer in Manhattan and one of those nights that you think of only as an excuse to go to the mountains or the beach, or anywhere where you can breathe.
It seemed I was the only one on Park Avenue whose adrenaline was pumping. I was a nervous wreck and the crawl of everything surrounding me aggravated me even more. I turned left on 57th Street and drove slowly to the Sutton Theatre, just east of Third Avenue. Now, the street was crowded and people were moving briskly. I crossed over Third and stared at the crowd in front of the theatre. The ticket line stretched all the way to Second Avenue and beyond. It was not unlike that at a rock concert, with hundreds of people—primarily young, screaming, running, laughing, calling to each other, and waiting on line. It was the line for the 6 P.M. showing on opening day of National Lampoon’s Animal House.
A kid in his late teens ran by me and yelled to a friend, “They’re sold out until the midnight show and we have to get on line.” I looked at my watch. It was 5:50.
I remembered what Charlie Powell had told me. A week earlier we had screened the movie at the American Book Association convention in Atlanta. The place was jammed with 10,000 people for the book fair and to see an advance showing of this new film. I was upset. The sound of the movie was not recorded for an arena. Fifteen minutes into the film I got up and strode out into the lobby. I just stood there alone, smoking, and trying to listen to the reactions from the audience. Charlie then marketing head of Universal Studios, saw me and came over. I told him I was disturbed because the sound was so bad. He smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, Matty,” he said. “I swear on my son’s life that you have a major hit.” I’d never heard anyone take such an oath, then I turned and saw that behind him was Buddy Young, Universal’s public relations director. He’d heard what Charlie said, laughed, and said, “You’re in good shape, Matty. Charlie loves his son very much.”
“A major hit,” he had said. And now I could see from the lines at the Sutton theater that Charlie might be right.
At eight o’clock I drove to the Loews theater on 86th Street. It was the same scene, lines around the block. Then I moved across to Broadway to the Astor, where a few days before we’d held the world premiere of the film. There were at least 2,000 people on lines around the block. Not stopping on Broadway, I drove back to the Sutton and sat in my car until the ten o’clock show. The lines were again snaking around 57th Street to Third Avenue. As I looked around the crowd, I noticed a familiar figure standing quietly watching. It was Walter Garibaldi, the assistant to the treasurer of the National Lampoon, and in his hand was a small calculator, which he kept tapping. I called out his name and he walked over to my car. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked. He smiled and told me, “I’m just figuring out how much money we make every time somebody buys a ticket.” Later that evening, when I returned, Walter was still there, three crushed coffee cups at his feet, still tapping numbers into his little calculator.
In Chicago that night, Lampoon editor John Hughes sat alone in a jammed movie theater watching the film. He’d stood in line for a half hour or so to get in. When the picture ended, he later told me, “I said to myself, I’m going to make movies.”
Universal executive Sean Daniel and the distribution people were calling studio head Ned Tanen to give him numbers and tell him about the opening-day reaction to Animal House.
At one point, Tanen called Universal chairman Lew Wasserman and told him what was going on. Wasserman thought about it for a moment and mused, “Funny how such a little movie can turn out to be such a big movie.” A few years earlier, the same thing had happened at Universal with the low-budget American Graffiti, but it appeared that this was going to be even bigger. And it was.
Tanen, Sid Sheinberg, president of MCA, Universal’s parent company, and Wasserman phoned each other constantly over the weekend, getting day-by-day box office reports and congratulating each other.
Universal had agreed to have the world premiere in New York City and asked me to run it. My staff and I were to handle the invitations and to set up the premiere party. I gathered everybody who worked on the business end of the Lampoon in my office. We would invite, of course, key members of the cast and crew, Universal officials, celebrities, the magazine’s advertisers, and the staff of 21st Century Communications, the parent company of the Lampoon. My assistant, Barbara Atti, would coordinate the event. From the start, I knew I wanted to have the party at the Village Gate. Its two floors could house 2,000 guests and it had been the place where we kicked off our first live show, National Lampoon’s Lemmings, in 1973. It was this play that featured John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, and others.
Guests were asked to wear college garb: anything that they might have worn, or thought about wearing, during their days at college. Some came in togas, others in T-shirts or letter sweaters, carrying pennants from their alma maters. Belushi wore the famous “COLLEGE” sweatshirt. There were girls in cheerleader costumes and a couple of guys came in football uniforms. Some came as Bluto look-alikes.
I wanted servers everywhere with trays of food, and I wanted college-kid food: hot dogs, hamburgers, and snacks of every kind. There would be no hard liquor, just kegs of beer. Sixties rock bands would play wall-to-wall music. It was spectacular, and I remember it all so well, even though it was one of the few times in my life when I spent an evening in what seemed to be a total daze.
The screening of the film that night started with a problem. The movie was supposed to begin at 7 P.M. By that time, the Astor theater was jammed with 3,000 people. We had to rent another theater some blocks north to screen the film for the overflow crowd. The audience was getting restless at the Astor. We were waiting because John Landis, the film’s director, was late. At 7:25 he still hadn’t arrived and I told my assistant to tell the projectionist to start. I was too restless to sit and watch the movie, so, again, I stood out in the lobby. At 7:30 Landis and costume designer Deborah Nadoolman, whom he later married, came dashing in. He was furious that the movie was already screening and began arguing with me in the lobby. Both of us threatened to start throwing punches. We were face to face when Universal execs Thom Mount and Sean Daniel moved between us and separated us. Landis then went into the theater and watched the rest of the film while sitting on the steps of the balcony. His reserved seats had been taken.
Down at the Village Gate on Bleecker Street, Barbara Atti and her crew were set. Every entrance to the Gate was guarded, not only by uniform police but by the senior class of Columbia Prep, headed by my son Andy, a senior there at the time. I had first done something like that at the after-party for the opening of Lemmings when my older son Michael’s Horace Mann senior class guarded the entrance, so that only those with invitations would be allowed into Minetta Tavern on MacDougal Street. Now it was the Village Gate and we expected ten times the crowd that had been invited to the Lemmings party. We invited 2,000 people; more than 5,000 showed up, some with, more without, invitations. So there was a 3,000-seat world premiere, a 1,000-seat theater in addition, and then a 2,000-plus party. Thousands of people contacted us to get an invitation to the premiere and the party. Crashers were stopped by the guards, who looked like a small army surrounding the Pentagon. Warner Bros.’ chief Steve Ross came by. Ross put a hand on my shoulder. “I guess,” he said, “we should have made the movie at Warner.” (Steve, in the course of his career, had gone from Riverside Funeral Home in New York, to Kinney Parking, merged it with Independent News Company, and then acquired Warner Bros. His company would eventually merge with Time, Inc., creating Time Warner.)
The music at the party was nonstop. Groups like Joey Dee and the Starliters played sixties classics. At one point, the Michael Simmons Band played Stephen Bishop’s theme song from Animal House and members of the cast jumped on stage and led the singing. As they sang, John Belushi leaped off the stage, raced to the back of the club, grabbed me, and partly pulled, partly carried me, onto the stage and I joined them.
*   *   *
Sean Daniel remembers the studio’s response to the reaction to Animal House at the premiere screening and party. “I phoned Ned and he said to me—you know Ned had that dark, gloomy humor about him—‘I know it’s about to open, I know you’ve had good previews, but I still think you gotta choose which building you should jump off, the Chrysler or the Empire State Building, you still got time to make that choice.’ I said, ‘Ned, we’ve been through so much, it’s working! It’s gonna work.’ There was a part of Ned that was a rebel. Much of this movie appealed to him as a way of sticking it to the rest of the people because he always wanted to remind them how straight and uptight they were.”
National Lampoon’s Animal House became the number-one picture in America for eight weeks. It slid to second for two weeks, because of the prebooked Christmas movies and, remarkably, was brought back in February and became number one again. No other movie in recent motion picture history has ever had such a run. It became more than a movie. Animal House changed comedy, and attitudes, particularly among college audiences, where the movie became a prototype among young people.
Perhaps Roger Ebert described best the reaction to the film on college campuses in his Chicago Sun-Times article.
In the days and weeks and months and years that followed, life on college campuses had changed. Tim Matheson, as Otter, had said, “We can do anything we want, we’re college students!” The words were taken literally, things changed. Whereas in the late ’60s and early ’70s college students stopped being “wild and crazy” and spent more time fighting against or for the war in Vietnam, they would now let loose and the trigger was National Lampoon’s Animal House.

Copyright © 2012 by Matty Simmons


Excerpted from Fat, Drunk, and Stupid by Matty Simmons Copyright © 2012 by Matty Simmons. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents



Chapter 1: The House is Open

Chapter 2: The Road to the "House"

Chapter 3: Harvard Arrives

Chapter 4: The National Lampoon

Chapter 5: A Business Like Show Business

Chapter 6: We're Gonna Make a Movie

Chapter 7: The Tough Sell

Chapter 8: They Love It! They Hate It!

Chapter 9: Does Anybody Want to Direct this Thing?

Chapter 10: Finding the Animals

Chapter 11: Finding More Animals

Chapter 12: Getting There

Chapter 13: Shooting the Animals

Chapter 14: What We Have Here is a Movie

Chapter 15: Where Were You that Night?

Chapter 16: Cuts, Outtakes, and Sequels

Chapter 17: Animal House, the Next Decade

Chapter 18: Where are They Now?

Chapter 19: Belushi: The Legend Lives

Chapter 20: Legacy

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2014

    Great book!  Very interesting story.

    Great book!  Very interesting story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2012

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