What the Hell Happened to Chevy Chase?

Chevy Chase 2013

In the late seventies and early eighties, Chevy Chase was the height of cool.  He was the original break-out star of Saturday Night Live which was the hip show to watch and not an institution like it is today.  When he went into movies, Chase was hailed as the next Cary Grant.  But despite appearing in a few durable comedies, Chase has failed to live up to the promise he showed early in his career.  These days, he is known for his tirades more than his comedy.

What the hell happened?

Chase got his start as a writer.  He was part of a comedy ensemble called, Channel One and wrote for the Smothers Brothers TV show in the early 70s. In 1973, he became a cast member on The National Lampoon Radio Hour which also featured John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray.  Chase also worked with Belushi in the Off Broadway revue, Lemmings, which was a send-up of musical counter-culture.

In 1974, Chase appeared in the sketch comedy film, The Groove TubeThe Groove Tube was written and directed by Ken Shapiro who was co-founder of Channel One.

The Groove Tube was made on a meager $200,000 budget which made it highly profitable.

chase - snl

Chase was discovered by Lorne Michaels one day while standing in line to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Chase was cutting up.  Michaels took notice and ended up hiring Chase as a writer – not a performer – for his new show, Saturday Night.

Chase convinced Michaels to allow him to appear on the show.  He did the opening segment in which he would take a prat fall before announcing “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night”.

Chase was also the first host of Weekend Update, a role which allowed him to say his name on television every week.  Chase started the segment by saying, “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not.”  It became a popular catch phrase while subtly pointing out that Chase was probably cooler than you.

chase - weekend update

The original cast of Saturday Night Live included comedy legends like Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.  But Chase quickly ascended as the break-out star.  Many in the cast (especially Belushi who was not used to being upstaged) resented Chase’s sudden stardom.  It didn’t help that Chase was a coked-up jerk with a gigantic ego.  He was known for being a “put-down artist”, ordering everyone around  and bragging about his rising fame.

“He likes to focus attention on himself,” said Dan Aykroyd, one of the few SNL cast members who remained friends with Chase over the years.

It was a friendship that was able to survive all the focus on him that first year as a huge star.  I’m pretty easy to get along with.  I’m from Canada.  We know how to bend backwards and forwards towards Americans.

Laraine Newman described meeting Chase:

My first impression of Chevy was that he was really good-looking, but kind of mean.  He teased in the way that a big brother would, [aiming for] exactly what would hurt your feelings the most. I say this as someone who loves him. And loves him a lot.

In 1975, Chase was so popular that there was talk of renaming Saturday Night Live the Chevy Chase ShowNew York magazine ran a cover story hailing Chase as “the funniest man in America”.  And an NBC exec referred to him as “the first real potential successor to Johnny Carson.”  There were rumors Chase would guest host for Carson on the Tonight Show.

Chase dismissed talk of taking over the Tonight Show saying “I’d never be tied down for five years interviewing TV personalities.”  Ironic considering Chase would eventually host a late night talk show of his own.  Carson responded to Chase’s claims by saying he “couldn’t ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner.”

chase - snl 2

Chase’s contract as a writer for SNL was only for one year.  After the first season, Chase decided not to return to Saturday Night Live.  He fired his manager, Bernie Brillstein, who also represented Lorne Michaels and signed with the powerful William Morris agency.  Michaels, who had been close with Chase, felt betrayed by the way Chase left the show without notice.

According to Chase, the show never recovered from his departure:

I felt that once I left it wasn’t as good. We had done what we had come to do that first year, which was to parody television and to satirize political events. And once you ran out of that either A) because you did all the jokes, or the novelty had ceased to exist, or B) because others were now doing what you had started off doing and were winning Emmys for, or C) because everybody won Emmys and they were all full of themselves and they were starting to write “in” jokes, then the show was not going to be as good and therefore was just going to go downhill. And it seemed to me that after I left that happened.

These days, Chase claims that he left Saturday Night Live for love.  He was dating model Jacqueline Carlin at the time.  According to Chase, she demanded that he move out to Hollywood if he wanted to continue seeing her.  But staff writer Tom Davis claims that at the time, Chase told him he was leaving the show for “money – lots of money”.

Chase moved out west and immediately married Carlin.  The couple divorced after 17 turbulent months.  Carlin filed for divorce citing threats of violence.  Meanwhile, Chase was appearing in his own prime time specials on NBC.

During Saturday Night Live’s second season, Chase returned as a host.  When he did, he insisted on taking the Weekend Update segment back from Jane Curtin who had been hosting the bit since he left the show.  Chase claimed this upset Curtin, but she insisted that “Chevy was expecting a reaction he wasn’t getting from me.”

Chase’s return did get a reaction from Bill Murray who had replaced Chase on the cast in the show’s second season.  Belushi, served as an instigator telling Murray that Chase was looking to get his old job back.  Murray confronted Chase and a fight ensued moments before the show was about to start.  Laraine Newman recalled:

“I don’t know if Chevy provoked it or not.  But it culminated with Billy saying to Chevy, ‘Why don’t you fuck your wife once in a while? She needs it.’ And I don’t even remember who threw the first punch, Billy or Chevy. But it was ugly.”

According to Chase, John Belushi instigated the brawl:

It was Belushi that started it, I found out later, by bad-mouthing me to Murray. But he got his, because while we were swinging at each other, he was in the middle and was the only one who got hit! I would have won the fight. Absolutely. I’m taller. I have a longer reach. And I had to fight a lot when I was a kid.

Next: Foul Play and Caddyshack

Posted on April 16, 2013, in Movies, Saturday Night Live, TV, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 175 Comments.

  1. I got bored and wrote an outline for Caddyshack 3:


    Twenty years ago, Al Czervik bought Bushwood Country Club, after he passed, it was left in the hands of his son, Phil Czervik (Darrell Hammond).

    The club is far less exclusionary than in the past, but the poor economy has hit the Czervik family hard and Phil may be forced to sell the club to an interested buyer, airline magnate Peter Forrester (Alec Baldwin) who wants to turn Bushwood into an elite property for the super rich.

    Meanwhile, fun loving cattle baron Bob Porter (Ron White) is playing 36 holes like he does every weekend when he hears of the club’s impending sale, he tells Czervik that his golf pro friend informed him that the PGA Tour is looking for an emergency venue for the PGA Championship after a sewer main busted and ruined the course they had planned to use, and the money they would get paid to host the event would be enough to keep Phil from having to sell Bushwood.

    Phil has two weeks to turn the golf course into a real challenge for the pros, so he turns to head greens keeper Dave Spackler (Chris Pratt), who eagerly accepts the challenge, happily sharing the news with his pet gopher.

    Forrester discovers that Czervik is in more financial trouble than he lets on and leans on Phil to sell the club to him immediately, knowing the tournament will make the club even more enticing to his wealthy friends, Czervik refuses and Forrester decides to sabotage the club’s chances with the PGA.

    Spackler enlists the help of the club’s golf pro, retired tour champion Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler), who left the tour after winning several majors and settled down so he could spend more time with his wife (Julie Bowen) and kids.

    Together they manage to turn the course into a sufficient challenge and the PGA agrees to move the tournament to Bushwood, despite Forrester’s scheming.

    Forrester and Porter get into a disagreement on the course as Forrester gets angry at Porter and his friends for taking forever, they argue, Porter wins the war of words and Forrester vows revenge.

    Just before the tournament begins, Phil’s financial issues are getting out of hand and he has no choice to sell the club, Forrester is pleased until Porter makes a better offer, Forrester matches the offer and Czervik decides to let the two men settle things during the Pro-Am before the tournament, winner gets to buy Bushwood.

    Forrester smugly makes a side wager with Porter before the match, which Bob agrees to before Forrester reveals that he’s a zero handicap and his partner is the hottest rookie on the tour.

    Then Porter’s golf pro friend arrives, ready to partner with him in the Pro Am, and Forrester’s smug expression vanishes when he sees Tiger Woods.

    Porter and Woods beat Forrester, who cries foul until Happy decks him, Porter agrees to buy 49% of Bushwood so Czervik can keep control, and Dave’s father Carl (Bill Murray) who is now bald and dressed in Tibetan monk robes, congratulates his son on his fine work, but gets upset at the sight of Dave’s pet gopher.

    Good guys win, bad guys lose, everyone’s gonna get laid, etc.

    I’m sure it could be better if I gave more than 20 minutes thought to it, but like I said, I was bored.


  2. hes not a good actor but still it makes me wonder if chase didnt turn it down it would lead to great things memories of invisible man was not drama it was comedy it didnt realy have dramatic elements i think chase has an ego wants to be a big star all the time he would think an indie would be a step down for him hes to lazy to devolpe acting skill. Murray was like chase earlier his career then as he aged he realized his roles would get old so actualy devolved real acting skill by taking challenging roles chase was to lazy to do that it might to late now


    • I think if Chase had made American Beauty, American Beauty would have sucked. It wouldn’t have been critically acclaimed. It would have flopped like everything else he was doing at the time. I don’t think it would have led anywhere for him.


  3. i also heard he turned down gump too him and travolta


    • Chase was a big, big star. The list of scripts he turned down is a long one. But you also have to keep in mind that when an actor passes on a film, it changes the outcome of the movie. If Chase had made Forest Gump or American Beauty, they would have become Chevy Chase projects. It would have completely changed everything about those movies.


  4. we dont know if it would iam sure had he not turned down American beauty it would still be a dark comedy maybe it would be sold as a comeback vehicle for chase it did have some sarcastic witty humour i guess i can kind of picture chase saying spaceys line spacey was a big name then before american beauty but he was not seen as a leading man since he didnt have alot of successful leading roles at that so it was kind of risky casting him in a lead role if chase didnt turn it down it could have been still the same he played depressed man before


  5. if u think about lester could have been a dark take on clark griswald


  6. It occurred to me that Chevy Chase has something in common with David Caruso and Farrah Faucett: all three left highly successful tv series after only one season. Chase beat the odds by actually having a successful movie career unlike most who leave for greener pastures so soon after gaining fame.


    • It’s true. Leaving SNL was actually a good career move for Chase. At least for a decade or so.


      • Here’s the difference between Chevy Chase and the idiots you guys are discussing that don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as CC. Even when I was unemployed for the better part of a year, you could not have paid me any amount of money to watch anything with Seagal, VanDamm, or Ahnuld in it.


        • I do think you’re being unfair to Arnold. The other two, not so much. But your preference is just that, personal preference. Someone else who prefers action to comedy would likely feel the exact opposite way you do. Personally, I share your preference. But I don’t think Chase is superior to those guys in any way. He’s just a comedic talent where Seagal and Van Damme have talents that don’t appeal to you (or me) as much.


  7. chevy chase had a good run of movies but never reached bill murray stardom


  8. but never had murray like range i saw ghostbusters last night murray was great i know chase was one of the original choice he could not have pulled it off chase can still try drama maybe grandpa roles in drama he turned american beauty cause he wanted to family oriented films this proves hes ok with his career being in the can u cant blame him for turning dwn the movie aas good as it was in the 90s there alot of these subrian type films like ice storm not all of them were hits plus sam mendes was a first time director so it wasnt a sure thing it would be a hit


    • Why does Bill Murray suddenly think he is a “serious” actor?


      If you look at the careers of many comedians you’ll see there comes a point where they either branch out and grow as actors or stagnate and become typecast.

      Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Steve Carrel and Charlie Chaplin are a few examples.

      There is nothing “sudden” about Bill Murray taking more serious roles. Back in 1984 Bill Murray made a deal with Columbia Pictures that he would appear in Ghostbusters only if they financed The Razors Edge. That film bombed and Murray went back to making comedies. But if you look at comedies he made after Razor’s Edge you can see many of them had darker or dramatic layers.

      In 1988 he made Scrooged which has a very dark 3rd act and a passionate speech. Sure What about Bob and Quick Change were silly films but a few years after those films he made Groundhog Day which walked the line between comedy and drama. Groundhog Day was his last headlining blockbuster and you could see audiences were getting tired of his movies.

      In the years that followed Murray had some funny cameos but most of his headlining films after Groundhog were bombing. But in 1998 he made Rushmore and entered his post-comedy reinvention with the help of Wes Anderson. It got him a Golden Globe nomination. A few years later he was nominated for an Oscar for Lost in Translation. He was being rewarded for his dramatic work.

      Meanwhile, Jim Carrey never got the recognition he deserved as a dramatic actor so he’s gone back to the well with Dumb and Dumber. Robin Williams won an Oscar but he’d still make comedies. Chevy Chase tried to make a few dramas, they bombed and his career never recovered.

      Reprising roles 30 years later really hasn’t worked for a lot of actors and I think Murray wants to do something new and different than the same thing over and over again. He’s proved he can and audiences accept him so let him do whatever he wants.


  9. lebeau i dot care for chases acting dont think hes funny but to say hes worse then arnold is an insult arnold never has dont drama he suck at it. arnold not a good actor he sucks at comedy too no timing the only thing he has going for him is build which fits his action roles all he does is action scene and one liners but no real acting chops chase is a little better then arnold chase had a better chance getting a oscar nom chases acting has been praised in a few of his moives arnolds never was


    • Agreed.. hence the SNL skit. Ahnuld’s talent can be summed up as “We’re here to PAMP YOU up”


      • I strongly disagree. You’re both selling Schwarzenegger short. He has a very strong screen presence and quite an impressive range. No, he’s never going to be an actor. But as a movie star working within his wheelhouse, he can do comedy and action as well as anyone. And he can do limited dramatic roles. I was quite series when I said I believe he has more range than Chase. Both are talented guys. But Chase is limited to basically doing his schtick. Schwarzenegger has shown he can do more. No insult to Chase. That’s just an honest assessment.


        • I agree with Lebeau on this one. I love Chevy Chase, but at the same time his range is limited. His acting on SNL, Caddyshack, Vacation and Three Amigos (my favorite works of Chevy’s) all fall into a very narrow range. Don’t get me wrong Chase is terrific and talented at what he does, but there’s not much range or nuance there.

          Arnold Schwarzenegger displayed soild acting chops in the action film genre with Terminator, Commando and Predator, but then expanded his range (and his audience) by doing Twins. He surprised many by displaying keen comedic sensibilites and Twins became his biggest hit to date. Kindergarden Cop showed Twins wasn’t a fluke with another comedy hit. True Lies served as a strong action comedy for him as well. I would say because Arnold has successfully done both action films and comedy films, he has a somewhat wider range than Chase, who has only done comedy successfully.

          I think some just knock Arnold because they view “action films” as a lower grade of film or something, but it does take certain acting skills to successfully pull off an entertaining action film. Look at Steven Seagal. He was quite successful in action films in the late 80’s to mid 90’s, yet he never stretched out into comedy films or dramas, and I don’t think he could have even if he tried. Actually, he did try once, when he hosted Saturday Night Live, and he bombed so badly that Lorne Michaels calls him one of the worst hosts in SNL history. Just goes to show that comedy isn’t as easy as it looks. So the fact that Arnold expanded beyond action films into comedy successfully proves that he does have range.


          • Exactly.

            Also, don’t overlook Arnold’s range as a dramatic actor. I know, his range is limited. But he has done dramatic roles like Stay Hungry and The Jane Mansfield Story. Look at True Lies in which Schwarzenegger deftly balances comedy and action with a little dramatic acting. Heck, look at his most iconic role. The Terminator. He has played The Terminator as both a hero and a villain. A humorless killing machine and a catch-phrase spouting protector who even elicits a tear or two when he makes his final sacrifice. When’s the last time anyone cried because Chevy Chase died on screen?

            Yes, Arnold’s range is limited. But not as limited as you might think if you assume he is just a musclebound idiot. He’s definitely not.


  10. arnold even said himself countless of times he is a bad actor he knows it people dont watch his movies for great acting granted hes gotten slightly better then when he first started still sucks one of the things i hate is when people put stallone and arnold same category stallone started off as a dramatic actor he was called the next brando he just choose to star in some crappy action films he turned himself to action star. he can handle more dialogue then arnold his acting has been praised


  11. when has arnold ever done drama he no comic timing chase has personality in his roles he just has 1 liners arnold is one of the worst actors ever chase has a better shot at oscar people say keanu reeves is bad arnld is worst


  12. Here’s Why ‘Fletch Lives’ Isn’t A Terrible Movie:


    ‘Fletch Lives’ stands out as one of Chevy Chase’s most under-loved films, but maybe people are being too harsh.


  13. “I don’t like Chevy”: Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase’s tense post-”Saturday Night Live” battle:


    Rivalry between Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase extended past that famous “SNL” sketch — and included Johnny Carson

    David Henry and Joe Henry

    Richard had sworn off appearing on talk shows six years earlier because, as he said, there would always come a point in the conversation when the host would turn to him and say, “Isn’t America wonderful, Richard?” And he would have to say, Yes, Merv/Mike/Joey/whoever, it sure is. Then the host would say, “See, guys? He said it. What’s the matter with the rest of you?”

    On May 4, 1977, Richard and Chevy Chase both went on the Tonight Show to plug their respective TV specials, airing back-to-back on NBC the following night. Chase had left Saturday Night’s midway through its second season to pursue a solo career. Carson and Chevy only met for the first time the previous day. Although he was noticeably cool toward Chase, Carson could barely conceal his glee over Chase’s painfully inept performance, as the comic actor, visibly flustered, stumbled over even the simplest questions groping for witty replies but coming up with none.

    Carson asked Chevy to demonstrate, for the benefit of folks at home who may not have seen it, the pratfall that made him famous on Saturday Night. Using a chair and a glass of water for props, Chase gives an overlong introduction, explaining what it is he’s about to do, what makes it funny, then instructs the audience (growing noisy and restless) on the proper way to land when taking a fall. Finally he does it. Applause. As he steps up onto the riser, returning to his chair, he trips and falls again.

    Chevy became less tongue-tied once Richard came out and took the guest chair next to Johnny. Being pushed out of the spotlight seemed to energize Chevy. His comic style being better suited to the role of a sideline taunter than ball carrier, he kept leaning over from the couch into Richard’s frame and repeatedly interrupted with ineffective wisecracks. After suffering a number of verbal smack-downs from Richard—with the audience clearly on Richard’s side—Chevy attempted to make amends by saying that he had seen Richard’s special and that it was “hilarious. Not quite as funny as mine, but, really, it’s quite good.” Richard remained unmoved. When Johnny asked Richard if he’d seen Chevy’s special, he answered, “I don’t like Chevy.”


  14. Chevy Chase says he’s returning to “Community,” Sony says it’s not true:


    A rep for Sony Pictures Television says Chase, who asserted in a Reddit AMA that he’ll make a “small cameo,” “is not confirmed to appear in Season 6 at this time.”


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