When I think of Christmas, many traditions come to mind, including several viewings of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. This year is no different. On last viewing, I started to think about the dynamic and constantly floating cast that has filled the shoes of Audrey and Rusty, the beloved Griswold children. What better time than now to learn a little about the actors.
Let’s start at the beginning. Released in 1983, National Lampoon’s Vacation introduces the world to the Griswold family and features their misadventures in the quest for the perfect vacation/holiday. Starring Chevy Chase (Clark Wilhelm Griswold) and Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold) as the parents, the series has four official full-length films. In each, the kids, Rusty and Audrey, have been played by different actors and actresses at varying ages, making each role unique every time. Without that aspect, the films may have gotten old, fast. In my opinion, the movies go in this order (best to worst): European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, the original Vacation…and then Vegas Vacation. I’ve had many debates on this list and it has remained unchanged. 🙂
Some smaller offshoots of the series, including a made-for-TV movie and a promotional short that ran during the CBS network broadcast of Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, were created. I am, personally, a big fan of the Vacation movies, all except for the fourth installment in which the family goes to Vegas. Because I don’t dig it, I’m just going to skip over that one in this blog. The only really funny part of it is when Clark looks at the kids and says, “I hardly recognize you anymore!” obviously mocking the complete lack of continuity of the two characters of Rusty and Audrey.
The original Vacation is based on a story written by director/writer John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Home Alone, etc.) called “Vacation ’58” previously written for National Lampoon magazine. Audrey was played by Dana Barron who still acts today. She appeared in many TV shows over the years, including a recurring role on Beverly Hills, 90210 as Nikki Witt. In 2003, Barron reprised her role as Audrey in Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure for NBC. If you’ve missed that one…no problem. It stinks.
Rusty was played by the one-and-only Anthony Michael Hall. At age 13, Hall had already done some TV and commercial work, but Vacation was his first big movie. Of course, a year later in 1984, Sixteen Candles was released and he became one of the founding members of the Brat Pack. To avoid being typecast as a quirky teen-John Hughes character, Hall turned down other roles that the director wrote specifically for him, including: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Cameron Frye and Pretty in Pink as Phil “Duckie” Dale. In the late ’80s, he took a two-year hiatus from the business to deal with a little drinking problem, and returned in 1990 with Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Apparently, rehab really agreed with him as he returned to the screen looking bigger and more muscular. In 1993, he played Will Smith’s love interest in Six Degrees of Separation. His last notable role was as the lead in the USA Network show, The Dead Zone (2002 to 2007).
Originally, Disneyland was in the script as the Griswold’s destination, but the Disney Corporation would not give permission as they objected to the idea that the amusement park was not open 365 days a year. Thus, Walley World was created.
In the Walley World scenes near the end of the movie, Rusty, is taller than his mom, Ellen, than from previous scenes where he was her height. During shooting, he grew three inches after principal photography. The ending had to be re-shot four months later, after the first one failed to excite test audiences.
For the second film in the series, European Vacation (1985), the Griswold family take a whirlwind trip around Europe after winning the grand prize on the TV show, Pig in A Poke, hosted by Kent Winkdale (played by John Astin as a parody of game show host Wink Martindale). Anthony Michael Hall was asked to reprise his role, but he passed so that he could co-star in Weird Science. Producers then decided to recast the roles of both kids. Audrey was played by Dana Hill—not an obvious choice for the role of the teenager dating Jack—played by ’80s hot guy/bully William Zabka.
Diagnosed at an early age with Type I diabetes, Hill maintained a very young appearance throughout her career because the disease stunted her growth. At age 17, she was pulled over by police whilst driving to her job on a CBS TV show because she looked too young to drive. A breakthrough role for her was the 1981 made-for-TV movie of a 12-year old molestation victim in Fallen Angel—pretty much the creepiest movie ever made. She was actually 17 at the time of filming. Another stand out role (to me, at least) was when she played Geraldine “Jellybean” Oxley, a 12-year-old developmentally disabled girl in the 1984 CBS Schoolbreak Special, Welcome Home Jellybean (“Jellybean! Jellybean!”). She was 19 at the time of that filming. Her child-like looks, I think, are a big reason as to why the casting of her as Audrey is so odd. Other than looking younger (she was 21 when she filmed European Vacation and was 5’0” tall and 82 pounds), she just doesn’t seem like the girl who got the hot guy. But, I cannot imagine anyone else delivering the line: “Who do I have to be thin for, huh???”—among many others. Just ask me some time…I am happy to recite the entire film. Just add alcohol. 🙂 Shooting Audrey’s “nightmare” scene where she is confronted by a never-ending stream of all her favorite foods until she ultimately pops, proved to be somewhat difficult with Hill’s diabetes. She had to be very careful to avoid actually swallowing any of the food she was supposed to be eating. Hill went on to do some more film roles, but in 1987 got into cartoon voiceover work, doing everything from The Jetsons to Pound Puppies to Rugrats. Unfortunately, in May of 1996 at age 32, Hill suffered a massive paralytic stroke. Two months later, she died. Again…strokes suck!
Rusty was played by Jason Lively, an actor that started his career at age 10 in the pilot episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. He has not done too much, other than the 1983 film Brainstorm. He does, however, come from a somewhat famous family of model/actors. His brother Eric and sisters Lori, Robyn and Blake all have careers of their own—the most widely known of the family are Robyn and Blake.
In Christmas Vacation, the Griswolds prepare for the holidays with a house full of family members visiting and a disappointing Christmas bonus. Audrey was played by a young and very blonde Juliette Lewis, of Kalifornia-, Natural Born Killers- and Cape Fear-fame.
Outside of acting, Lewis is a scientologist that has done her time in rehab. At age 14, she left her parents home to live with family friend and horror film queen, Karen Black. Lewis eventually dropped out of high school. In 1999, she married professional skateboarder Steve Berra, and then divorced in 2003. In October of 2010, she was involved in a hit-and-run accident when the car she was a passenger in was hit. She’s OK and performs as lead singer in a rock band.
Johnny Galecki played Rusty (an obviously younger looking version than previous films) in Christmas Vacation. Today, he’s a very accomplished actor having appeared in TV, film and on stage. His most notable characters are the lovable sensitive guy on Roseanne and the nerdy genius on The Big Bang Theory.
The role of elderly and out-of-it Aunt Bethany was played by Mae Questel, who began her career in 1930 as the voice of cartoon character, Betty Boop. Christmas Vacation was her final role.
The theme song for Christmas Vacation is sung by Mavis Staples.
Merry Christmas! 🙂