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Smart and a little snarky, a smug guy who knows how to put other smug guys in their places, Chevy Chase had been knocking around the edges of American comedy for years when, in 1975, "Saturday Night Live" made him an overnight star and one of the biggest names on television.
The 1978 comedic thriller "Foul Play" proved Chase had the makings of a movie star, and after racking up hits like "Caddyshack," "Fletch" and "National Lampoon's Vacation," he became was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Less known: Chase has passed up on just as many, if not more, iconic roles, including "Ghostbusters," "Forrest Gump," and "American Beauty."
As Chase celebrates his 70th birthday today, we’re commemorating it with 70 things you probably don’t know about the legendary comedian. Try not to trip along the way.
1. Birthday Boy. Chevy Chase was born on October 8, 1943. He might want to go out for a free ice cream cone today with Sigourney Weaver, Matt Damon, Paul Hogan, and/or half-man of “Two and Half Men” fame, Angus T. Jones, who were all also born on the 8th.
2. I'm Cornelius Chase and You're Not. Chevy's real name is Cornelius Crane Chase. His grandmother gave him the nickname Chevy, which came from a medieval narrative folk song, "The Ballad of Chevy Chase." So nope, neither the city in Maryland nor the bank chain have anything to do with it.
3. It Runs in the Family. Chase comes from a creative family. His father was a writer and literary editor, his mother was a musician and composer, his paternal grandfather and great uncle were both artists, and his grandmother was a classical vocalist.
4. Old Money. Chase's family also had some serious wealth. His mother was an heir to the Crane Plumbing fortune. When he was 4, Chevy's parents split up, and his dad later married a woman who was part of the Folgers Coffee family.
5. Blue Collar. While Chase's family had a hefty bankroll, he worked hard to support himself as he pursued his career as a writer and performer. His day jobs included driving a cab, managing the produce department at a supermarket, selling wine, waiting tables, working in construction, and driving a truck.
6. A Boy and His Cow. From 1962 to 1963, Chase was a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where he developed a reputation for his offbeat sense of humor. Chevy has claimed that he was kicked out of the school for keeping a cow in his dorm room, but in 2009 his roommate at Haverford, David Felson, confirmed that was a joke, and Chase had in fact left because of bad grades.
Speaking of cows, check out Chase on "Saturday Night Live" discussing the virtues of milk:
7. Playing Doctor. After leaving Haverford College, Chase enrolled at Bard College in Upstate New York. Chevy was originally on a pre-med curriculum, but he ended up with an English degree, which is why a Dr. Chevy Chase has never checked your tonsils.
8. Gwyneth Chase? Chase had a steady girlfriend during most of his time at Bard – Blythe Danner, who would go on to become a well-respected actress and have a daughter named Gwyneth Paltrow. Now imagine Chevy as Gwyneth's dad …
9. Feeling a Draft. After leaving Bard, Chase abandoned the idea of going on to medical school. With the military draft still on, Chase claims he managed to stay out of the army by convincing the draft board he was a "deranged homosexual." This may have been Chevy's first effort at improv.
10. A Royal Scam. Chase is a talented musician as well as an actor and writer. While at Bard College, he played drums and keyboards in what he's described as "a bad jazz band" called the Leather Canary. Two of the group's members, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, would have better luck when they formed Steely Dan in 1972.
11. Chevy the Pop Star. Chase was also a member of the Boston-based pop group the Chamaeleon Church, who scored a record deal with MGM Records in 1969. Chase sings one tune, "Here's A Song," on their self-titled album, but they broke up not long after the record was released.
12. Stark Raving Mad. While struggling to a name for himself as a comedy writer, Chase sold a piece to Mad Magazine in 1970. The story was a short take-off on the then-popular TV series "Mission: Impossible."
13. Living the Dream. In 1971, four years before "Saturday Night Live," Chevy Chase made his TV debut on the PBS Series "The Great American Dream Machine." One of the bits he did on the show was "Singing Faces," in which Chevy and comic Ken Shapiro would "lip synch" to instrumental recordings.
14. Heading for the Cliff. In 1973, Chase became part of the cast of an off-Broadway show sponsored by National Lampoon Magazine called "Lemmings," described as "a satirical joke-rock mock-concert musical comedy semi-revue theatrical presentation." His castmates included John Belushi and Christopher Guest; Chase sang a witty and mean-spirited John Denver parody called "Colorado."
15. Third Time Is the Charm. Chevy Chase has been married three times. He wed Susan Hewitt in 1973 and divorced her three years later. Chase and Jacqueline Carlin tied the knot in late 1976, just as Chevy was leaving “SNL,” and the couple split up nearly four years later. Chase met Jayni Luke in 1981; she was a production coordinator on the film "Under The Rainbow," which starred Chevy. They married a year later and are still together, having raised three daughters.
16. Radio, Radio. Chase would cross paths with Belushi and Guest again in 1974, when National Lampoon launched a weekly syndicated radio show, "The National Lampoon Radio Hour." They weren't the only future comedy stars on board: Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Richard Belzer, and Joe Flaherty were also part of the recurring cast.
17. Chevy and Ken, Together Again. Chase would also team up with Ken Shapiro again: Chase appears in several sketches in Shapiro's 1974 movie "The Groove Tube," and Shapiro directed Chase's 1981 comedy "Modern Problems."
18. The Start of Something Big. In 1975, Chase debuted on "NBC Saturday Night," which of course you know today as "Saturday Night Live." Chase not only performed in the first sketch on the very first episode, he was the first person on the show to exclaim, "Live from New York! It's Saturday Night!"
19. If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em. One of Chase's first recurring characters on “SNL” was then-president Gerald Ford, who as played by Chase was a clueless dunderhead who tripped over everything. Hoping to defuse Chase's characterization, Ford's press secretary Ron Nessen was a guest host on the show in April 1976, with Ford himself making a cameo via film clips.
20. No Friend to Ford. While Chase would become friendly with Ford and took part in a symposium on presidential humor at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in 1986, Chase didn't always have a fond view of the former leader. In a 1976 interview, he called Ford "a totally compassionless man" and said meeting him "was like looking into the eyes of 50 milligrams of Valium."
21. Chevy vs. Johnny. When Chase became an early favorite on "Saturday Night" after it debuted in 1975, critics (and a few NBC executives) were suggesting Chevy might he a perfect replacement for "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson. However Carson was no fan of “SNL,” saying Chase and his castmates "couldn't ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner." Chevy fired back by saying, "I'd never be tied down for five years interviewing TV personalities," words that would come back to haunt him nearly two decades later.
22. Why Chevy Should Have Worn a Cup. Chase's on-screen pratfalls became one of his trademarks at “SNL,” and while playing Ford in a presidential debate sketch on September 18, 1976, one of his falls went wrong, when he landed on an unpadded podium and suffered a painful groin injury. Chase was off the show for two weeks, though he made voice appearances by phone; on his first show back, Chase took the stage in a wheelchair, which John Belushi promptly pushed over.
23. Playing in Pain. Chase took his pratfalls seriously during his days on “SNL” – enough so that he's suffered chronic back problems over the years as a result, which in the 1980s led to an addiction to painkillers.
24. Trophy Case. Chevy Chase has won three Emmy Awards, but only one for his acting. In 1976, he won a Best Supporting Actor trophy for the first season of "Saturday Night," and shared honors with the rest of the show's writing staff. Chase also helped write a 1978 special starring Paul Simon, and the team took home the prize for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special.
25. Nose for News. Chase was the co-creator of the "Weekend Update" segment, and was the anchor during his two years on the show. When he returned as host in 1978, he insisted on doing "Weekend Update," even though Jane Curtin was now hosting the segment, leading to tension between the two comics.
26. Greener Pastures. Chase was "SNL"'s first breakout star, and was also the first cast member to leave the show, after the second season had wrapped. Tom Davis, a writer on the show, asked him why he was leaving, and Chase replied, "Money. Lots of money."
27. Word Man. Even though Chevy Chase became the first "Saturday Night" cast member to click in a big way with audiences and the press, originally he wasn't going to be a member of the cast. Lorne Michaels had hired Chase only as a writer, and it was later during the auditioning process that the possibility of using him as an actor came up.
28. No Food Fight for Chevy. The role of Otter, ladies' man and pre-med or pre-law student, in 1978's "National Lampoon's Animal House," was written for Chase, and the project was originally intended to star Chase, Bill Murray as nice guy Boone, and Dan Aykroyd as proto-biker D-Day. However, Chase opted to co-star in "Foul Play" with Goldie Hawn instead, and John Belushi headlined "Animal House" as Bluto, making him a major screen star overnight.
29. Get in the Ring. Chevy Chase and Bill Murray were both top comic stars when they appeared in "Caddyshack" in 1980, but some people on the production wondered how the two would get along. In 1978, when Chase came back to host "SNL" in season three after leaving the cast a year earlier, things were tense between Chevy and Murray, and a shouting match between them turned into a fistfight a few minutes before air time. Fortunately, both were on professional behavior for the "Caddyshack" shoot.
30. As We Go Along. In "Caddyshack," one of Chase's best scenes comes as golf pro Ty Webb tries to give Lacy Underall, played by Cindy Morgan, a massage. However, Chase insisted on ad-libbing material throughout the scene, while Morgan was struggling to stick to the script. When she shouts "You're crazy!" at Chase, it was a moment where Morgan was actually breaking character as she grew frustrated with her co-star.
31. One Man's Opinion. "Caddyshack" may be one of Chevy Chase's most popular movies, but he sure doesn't enjoy watching it. In an interview with Playboy Magazine, Chase said, "When I saw 'Caddyshack,' I realized I couldn't act."
32. Chevy Chase, Sex Symbol? Chevy was offered the leading role in Paul Schrader's sexy 1980 thriller "American Gigolo," but the actor was wary of the erotic content of the film and turned it down. John Travolta was then poised to headline the project until he dropped out at the last minute, and the role made Richard Gere a star.
33. Solo Mistake. In 1980, after hitting it big on TV and in the movies, Chase returned to the recording studio, releasing a self-titled album for Arista Records. Unfortunately, the album, which featured the early hip-hop parody "Rapper's Plight," was a flop with both fans and critics; Jason Ankeny of All Music Guide called it "a spectacularly unfunny comedy album."
34. Indiana Chase? Chevy Chase as America's greatest action hero? Chase was supposedly in the running to play Indiana Jones in 1981’s "Raiders of the Lost Ark," as was Tom Selleck. It's probably for the best that Harrison Ford won the role in the end.
35. On Dry Land. Chase was the first choice to play the male lead in Ron Howard's 1984 comedy "Splash," about a man who falls in love with a mermaid. Chase turned down the script, as did Bill Murray, John Travolta, Michael Keaton and Dudley Moore, among others. Their loss was Tom Hanks' gain; it was Hanks’ breakout screen role, and turned him from a sitcom star to a Hollywood A-lister. Did Tom send Chevy a thank you card?
36. Ghost of a Chance. Chevy Chase turned down the chance to play Dr. Venkman in "Ghostbusters," the role that later went to Bill Murray. Chase has said that the original script was very different from the final film, with less humor and more scary supernatural material.
37. Not a Good Houseguest? Despite his contribution to "SNL," producer Lorne Michaels has reportedly banned Chase from hosting the show after several incidents of bad behavior toward the cast and writing staff. In 1985, Chase proposed that gay cast member Terry Sweeney do an ongoing sketch in which he contracted AIDS and charted his weight loss each week, while in 1997 he suggested a female staff member perform an sexual act upon him.
38. The Buddy System. Chase has said that of all the movies he's been in, the one he enjoyed making the most was 1986’s "Three Amigos." It probably helped that the film co-starred two of his closest friends, Steve Martin and Martin Short, and that another trusted pal, “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels, co-wrote the screenplay.
39. Such Good Friends. In 1986, to promote the release of "Three Amigos," Chase returned to "Saturday Night Live" as host, along with his co-stars Martin and Short. It was the first (and so far only) time three people shared hosting duty on a single "SNL" episode. The musical guest was Randy Newman, who scored "Three Amigos" and helped write the screenplay.
40. I Can Be Your Long Lost Pal. Chevy Chase mimed with his good friend Paul Simon in the video for Simon's 1986 hit "You Can Call Me Al." But while Chase fakes playing the sax in the video, in 1991 he surprised fans by stepping out on stage to play with Simon and his band during a special concert in New York's Central Park.
41. Takes One to Know One? Chevy Chase has hosted the Academy Awards twice, in 1987 and 1988. Chase kicked off the 1987 broadcast by greeting the audience with the cheerful words, "Good evening, Hollywood phonies!"
42. Low Batting Average? Surprisingly, Chase doesn’t have a high opinion of his film work in general. In a 2004 interview, Chase discussed the low point of his movie career, the late 1980s: "I'd say I've done only five movies in my life that were any good, but that was a particularly bad time. There was a whole slew of 'Cops and Robbersons,' just films that didn't measure up, that didn't stand for anything comedically. They were purely for a paycheck."
43. Brother Act. Imagine Chevy Chase and Bill Murray as a pair of combative sibling pianists. That's what studio executives originally had in mind for the 1989's "The Fabulous Baker Boys." However, the director Steve Kloves nixed Chevy and Bill in favor of real life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges, and the filmmaker's instincts proved correct. That same year, Chase starred in "Christmas Vacation."
44. Ho Ho Ho! While one of the roles Chase would also pass up on would be the 1994 hit “The Santa Claus,” one of his movies has become a holiday tradition all its own. While 1989's "Christmas Vacation" was successful on initial release, the film has developed a growing audience over the years, thanks to annual network TV screenings of the movie each December.
45. Friendly Advice. In 1990, Chase returned to Bard College as a distinguished alumnus to deliver the graduating class's commencement address. His advice to the students included: "Avoid fatty foods, Bensonhurst, and hair care products. Never, ever tell the truth. Also, never call me."
46. Wolfe's Choice. When Tom Wolfe's satirical novel "The Bonfire of the Vanities" was made into a movie by Brian DePalma, Wolfe lobbied hard for Chevy Chase to play arrogant Wall Street trader Sherman McCoy. Instead, Chase lost the role in Tom Hanks, though given that the film was a critical and financial flop, Chevy was probably happy to let Hanks take the hit.
47. Don't Hate the Player … Chevy's father Edward Chase was an editor who helped novelist Michael Tolkin publish his dark Hollywood comedy "The Player." When the film rights were snapped up, Chevy was eager to play the lead, unethical studio exec Griffin Mill. However, the studio didn’t think Chase was the right fit for the role, and when Robert Altman's film version came out in 1992, Mill was played by Tim Robbins.
48. Takes the Cake. Late-night’s "The Chevy Chase Show" debuted in August 1993, and his first guest was Goldie Hawn. Hawn's son Oliver Hudson was celebrating his birthday that day, and for the occasion, Chase presented him with a cake – which he dropped at Oliver's feet. The show was cancelled after 25 episodes.
49. Better Than His Interviewing … Chase's skills as a musician would pop up on his short-lived talk show in 1993; he had a keyboard next to his desk, and would occasionally jam with his studio band during commercial breaks.
50. Once Bitten. While the failure of "The Chevy Chase Show" hurt his reputation, Chase has said he was most frustrated because he never had the chance to do the show he really wanted – a showcase for surreal humor in the manner of Ernie Kovacs. One of Chase's rejected ideas for his show's first episode: Chevy would be bitten by a snake in the first five minutes, and die as the program came to a close.
51. Chevy's Sideman. Chase's bandleader on "The Chevy Chase Show" was noted saxophone player Tom Scott. Scott also produced Chase's 1980 solo album, led the horn section for the Blues Brothers' band, and played the sax solo on Carole King's 1974 hit "Jazzman."
52. Paperback Writer. Following in his father's footsteps, Chase has been slowly writing a novel over the years, but chances are good we'll never get to read it. "I've been working on a novel for 12 years," Chase told a reporter in 1993. "I've got more than 1,000 pages. It's awful! Prose is not my strength."
53. Friendly Advice. In August 1993, Chase told a journalist that he'd been giving Bill Clinton, then running for president, advice on public speaking. "After the [Democratic] nomination, we had dinner in New York," Chase said. "I gave him some of my views on how he could behave. One of the pieces of advice I gave him about TV – the guy's younger than me, I've been around a while – I said, 'Bill, you're coming off like a kid' … I suggested that he take a deep breath, that he look like he's THINKING before he answers questions. The whole trick is to BEHAVE presidentially."
54. Run, Chevy, Run! What is it with Chevy Chase and Tom Hanks? Chase was offered the title role in 1994’s Oscar winner "Forrest Gump" and turned it down, which for the third time paved the way for Tom Hanks to land a male lead, and in this case play one of his best-loved roles.
55. You Better Watch Out. The producers of the 1994 Yuletide comedy "The Santa Claus" initially offered the leading role to Chevy Chase, but scheduling commitments forced him to pass on the project. After Bill Murray also passed, the film was offered to Tim Allen, and it made the "Home Improvement" star a viable big-screen draw, at least for a while.
56. Not Feeling the Buzz. Chase lost out on an even bigger gig to Tim Allen the following year: Chevy was initially in the running to provide the voice of Buzz Lightyear in "Toy Story," but when Allen was being considered for the project, he took its prospects more seriously, and the "Toy Story" franchise has been the biggest screen success of Allen's career. Too bad Chase didn't get the part – Tom Hanks could have thanked him for "Splash" and "Forrest Gump" in person.
57. ALVIN! In the mid-1990s, Chevy Chase was offered the (human) lead role in a big screen adaptation of "Alvin and the Chipmunks." However, the project went into turnaround, and it was close to 10 years later that Alvin finally became a movie star, with Jason Lee playing their pal David Seville.
58. No Bed of Roses. Of all the projects Chevy Chase turned down, few seem like a bigger stretch than "American Beauty." Chase was offered the role of Lester Burnham, but he thought playing a middle-aged man lusting after a teenage girl would be a bad career move. With Kevin Spacey in the lead, "American Beauty" became an Oscar-winning box office hit, and Spacey became a bankable leading man.
59. Family Guy. Despite Chase's fondness for rude material early in his career, he's leaned to family-friendly roles later in life. As Chase told a reporter, "Once I got married and had kids, I moved away from romantic roles, because it seemed wrong to have my three-year-old wondering why Daddy was kissing someone else."
60. Big Money. One of Chevy's top grossing films is a movie you've probably never heard of. Chase was part of the voice cast for the animated movie "Doogal" (2006), based on the classic British children's series "The Magic Roundabout.” While the film didn't scare up much business in the United States – where it grossed a modest $7,500,000 – it was a massive hit in the UK and Europe, racking up a worldwide gross of over $205 million, more than 10 times its production cost.
61. All Around the World. Chevy Chase is a truly international comedy star. He played an eight-episode arc on the Swedish comedy series "Hjalp" (playing an American businessman), co-stars in the Italian comedy "Martit in Affitto" (aka "Our Italian Husbands"), and plays a supporting role in the French comedy-drama "Vacuums."
62. Biting the Hand. While Chase's role as Piece Hawthorne on the cult-favorite sitcom "Community" has helped revitalize his career in 2009, Chase isn't much of a fan of the show. He's said taking the role was "a big mistake," and told a reporter, "The hours are hideous, and it's still a sitcom on television, which is probably the lowest form of television."
63. Immovable Object, Meet Irresistible Force. Almost from the minute Chase was cast as Pierce Hawthorne on “Community,” the actor was butting heads with creator/showrunner Dan Harmon over the show's comedic style. The long-simmering feud came to a boil in the spring of 2012 when, after one of their many arguments, Chase left a very angry, foul-mouthed voicemail on Harmon's phone, and Harmon played it for the cast and crew at the show's season three wrap party. To placate Chase, Harmon was pink-slipped from his own show, but Chase and the show's producers came to a parting of the ways before season four completed shooting, and with Chase off the show, Harmon was brought back for season five.
64. A Younger Fletch? Chase has expressed interest in making another movie as shape-shifting investigative reporter Irwin Fletcher, following "Fletch" (1986) and "Fletch Lives" (1989). However, while studios have expressed interest in a story in which a younger protagonist is mentored by Chase's Fletch (Jason Lee was suggested for the role), Chevy would rather stay on as the main character.
65. Fletch and Silent Bob. Kevin Smith, a big fan of the "Fletch" movies, publically expressed his interest in writing and directing another "Fletch" film, with Chase back in the title role. However, the two didn't hit it off; when Smith was sidelined by personal and professional commitments, Chase accused Smith of lying to him about timeline for delivering a script, while Smith made it clear he was put off by Chase's ego.
66. Adventure With the Griswolds. Chevy Chase has never completely given up on the "Vacation" franchise, either. Chase and Eric Idle (of Monty Python) wrote a screenplay for a sequel that would take Clark Griswold and his family to Australia, and Chase has pitched the idea of "Swiss Family Griswold," in which the hapless "Vacation" family becomes stranded on a desert island.
67. The Torch Is Passed? There is another "Vacation" movie in the works, but this time Chase won't be in the lead. The projected "Vacation" reboot is expected to star Ed Helms as a grown-up Rusty Griswold, who hits the road with his wife and kids, paying a visit to his dad Clark (played by Chase) along the way.
68. Shut Up and Deal. Chevy Chase loves to play poker, and has a long-standing weekly game with friends who get together to have dinner and play cards. His poker buddies include Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, and Martin Short.
69. See Baby Chevy! Unlike many stars who farm out their social media presence to others, Chase looks after his own Facebook page. Along with photos and memories from his career in show business, Chase uses Facebook to share old snapshots of himself and his family.
70. More Chevy on the Way. And what's in the future for Chevy Chase? Well, he'll be in the middle of more time travel in "Hot Tub Time Machine II," co-stars with Ali Larter and Matt LeBlanc in the comedy/drama "Lovesick," and appears in the indie drama "Before I Sleep." "Lovesick" and "Before I Sleep" should see release by the end of the year, while "Hot Tub Time Machine" is scheduled to hit theaters sometime in 2014.
See Chevy's recent "SNL" appearance when Justin Timberlake entered the "5 Times Club":