Cornelius Crane Chase, better known as Chevy Chase (born October 8, 1943) is an American comedian, writer and television and film actor from Woodstock, New York.
Chevy Chase: Background
He was raised in affluence as part of the Crane plumbing fixture family. His middle name, Crane, refers to Crane Castle, his childhood vacation home in Massachusetts, where he liked to spend his summer and other vacations at a castle on a beautiful beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Chevy was actually a childhood nickname -- possibly based on the Maryland suburb -- bestowed by his grandmother. The Chase family was affluent and distinguished, and Chevy was listed in the Social Register at early age. His paternal grandfather was painter/teacher Frank Swift Chase; his father, Ned Chase, was a prominent Manhattan book editor and magazine writer. His mother was descended from the Crane plumbing-fixture family.
His parents divorced when he was four, and his father remarried into the Folgers coffee family, while his mother's third marriage was to Juilliard School professor/composer Lawrence Widdoes.
Chevy Chase was also the valedictorian of his high school class. He was a long-time class clown expelled from private schools like New York City's Dalton but did well at Stockbridge School in Massachusetts. He was expelled from Haverford College after bringing a cow into the third floor of a campus building. He then transferred to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where he dated actress Blythe Danner and graduated in 1967. He also attended Riverdale Country School in New York City.
He really wanted to be a doctor and was pre-med in college. Besides an actor, he says he was also a writer, a rock drummer, a jazz drummer, a pianist, a truck, cab and motorcycle driver, a construction worker, a fruit picker, a waiter and bus boy, the head of produce in a supermarket, an audio engineer, a salesman in a wine store and a theater usher.
He was the drummer a couple of times for what he called "a bad jazz band" - the college band "The Leather Canary". The band also included Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. That band became Steely Dan. He has perfect pitch, which is a musical ability to remember the exact frequency of a note.
Chevy Chase: Career
Saturday Night Live
Chase is best known as one of the original cast members for NBC's Saturday Night Live television series from 1975 to 1976. Chase was the original anchor for the Weekend Update segment, which he began with the catch phrase "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not," a takeoff of New York news anchor Roger Grimsby's "Here now the news" opening line. Another trademark was the pratfall during the opening skits.
In a 1975 New York magazine cover story, NBC executives referred to Chase as "The first real potential successor to Johnny Carson" and claimed he would begin guest-hosting The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson within six months of the article (which proved to be false).
At 6' 4", he was the tallest original cast member of Saturday Night Live. Among the other tall guys to follow were Dan Aykroyd, Dean Edwards, Will Ferrell, Anthony Michael Hall, David Koechner, Norm Macdonald, Finesse Mitchell, Bill Murray, Kevin Nealon, Randy Quaid, Rob Riggle, Charles Rocket, Damon Wayans, and Fred Wolf. Only Nealon and Quaid equaled Chase in height.
Immediately tagged by the media as the star of the show, and only signed to the show for one year, Chase left in 1976 to pursue a career in film. Ironically, he was never signed as a cast member. He signed a one year writer contract and became a cast member during rehearsals. Chevy was the first member of the original Saturday Night Live cast to leave the show, and was replaced by Bill Murray, who got into a legendary backstage brawl with Chase moments before Chase's scheduled 1978 hosting stint on SNL. He has said that he regrets leaving after just one year.
After leaving as a cast member, Chevy Chase hosted Saturday Night Live eight times. He was banned from ever hosting the show again after the February 15, 1997, episode due to his verbal abuse of the cast and crew during the week. Chase became notorious for his treatment of certain cast members when hosting past episodes, particularly his remarks to openly gay cast member Terry Sweeney in 1985 when he suggested that a perfect skit for Sweeney would be one in which Sweeney plays an AIDS victim who gets weighed every week. Chase's abusive behavior during the 1985 episode and others are detailed in the Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live book. Although Chase has not hosted the show since 1997, he appeared on the 25th anniversary special in 1999 and was interviewed for the 2005 special on the first five years at SNL.
Chevy Chase: Film
Chase's earliest major film roles were Foul Play (1978) and Oh! Heavenly Dog (1980). He followed these with the more successful Caddyshack (1980), and Modern Problems (1981), where Chevy Chase was nearly killed (electrocuted) during the filming, when, during the sequence in which he is wearing "landing lights" as he dreams that he is an airplane, the current in the lights short-circuited through his arm, back, and neck muscles. The near-death experience caused him to experience a period of deep depression. His career continued in 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation. Chase's big hits for National Lampoon were Vacation and European Vacation movies; in which he played Clark Wilhelm Griswold, Jr., and 1985's Fletch.
In 1986, Chase joined SNL veterans Steve Martin and Martin Short in the comedy ¡Three Amigos!. He admitted in an interview that making ¡Three Amigos! (1986) was the most fun he has had on a film.
The role of Eric 'Otter' Stratton in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) was originally written with him in mind, but owing to a scheduling conflict, he had to turn the role down. The role went to Tim Matheson instead.
At the height of his career he earned around $7 million per film.
Chevy Chase: Later years
Considered a comedy genius in the late 1970s and 1980s, Chase saw his career take a downturn in the 1990s. Few of Chase's subsequent films have been able to duplicate the critical or commercial success of his early career, and in 1993 he hosted a talk show, The Chevy Chase Show, which was cancelled after five weeks and remains one of the most notorious failures in the history of broadcast television. It was billed as a Cornelius Production, Cornelius being Chevy's real first name. He later appeared in a Doritos commercial which made humorous reference to the show.
1995 saw Chase team up with Farrah Fawcett and many precocious kids in Man of the House, which immortalized the YMCA Indian Guides program. He was also convicted of drunk driving this same year.
Chevy is a Winner of Harvard Lampoon Lifetime Achievement Award 1996.
When he visited Cuba, his room was bugged with both video and audio recording devices, says former Cuban intelligence officer Delfin Fernandez. Later at Earth Day 2000 in Washington, D.C., Chase stated, "Socialism works. I think Cuba can prove that."
He was Roasted into the New York Friar's Club on September 28, 2002. Chevy Chase is a member of the exclusive Hollywood Gourmet Poker Club with fellow card players Johnny Carson, Martin Short, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, Barry Diller, and Neil Simon.
On May 30, 2005, Chase was the keynote speaker at Princeton University's Class Day, part of commencement activities for the graduating Class of 2005. Though he mentioned that he "left his written speech on the corner of the bathtub at home," he spoke for about fifteen minutes about sense of humor and the perspective on life that it creates.
He appeared in the music video and sang in the choir on the song "Voices That Care." He appeared alongside Paul Simon, who is one of his best friends, in the music video "You Can Call Me Al," in which he lip-syncs all of Simon's lines.
Chevy Chase: Trivia
- He prefers to do family-oriented movies, suffers from a fear of snakes, runs five miles a day to stay fit and healthy, and helped campaign for John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential Election.
- His most embarrassing moment was the time he spit tuna fish out of the nose in front of his date's mother when he was 15.
- He likes it when people enjoy his work, but dislikes the lack of privacy within show business.
- He was sued by Cary Grant for saying that Grant was a homosexual during a talk show appearance. The case was settled out of court.