If you are like me, you prefer films like Die Hard or Batman Returns that go against the grain of what we expect from typical holiday movies, and I believe National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to be one of the best in that category. Now, clearly the 1989 classic starring Chevy Chase is a Christmas movie, but its boldly uproarious exploration of everything that is not-so-jolly about the season is why it has remained an annual tradition for so many.
Written by John Hughes, the third installment of the Vacation movies covers everything about the holiday season through the eyes of Clark Griswold and his miraculously tolerant family, with a 50/50 chance of ending in misery. This takes us from the quest to locate the perfect tree, to the dangers of setting decorations, and the act of keeping the family happy, to name a few. The latter is probably the most memorable and relatable theme of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and for that we can thank the brilliant cast.
Accomplished veterans of the screen, A-listers at the time the movie was first released, and a familiar face or two who would grow up to be even bigger stars later on make up the unmistakable ensemble of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In celebration of more than 30 years of this timeless classic, we take a look at the casts’ current whereabouts, starting with the quintessential dad of the family tragicomedy genre.
Chevy Chase (Clark Griwsold)
Outside of the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise (or even just Christmas Vacation), people who did not grow up on the early years of Saturday Night Live, Caddyshack, or Fletch, among others, may best recognize Chevy Chase as Pierce Hawthorne on Community - arguably the best and worst thing to happen to his career. Since leaving the hit sitcom, the 77-year-old has reprised Clark Griswold in 2015’s Vacation “rebootquel,” played himself opposite Paul Hogan in The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, and voices a royal extraterrestrial in the upcoming animated film Panda vs. Aliens.
Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold)
In the 2015 Vacation installment, Beverly D’Angelo also reprised her National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation character as Clark’s wife Ellen Griswold - which is still her most iconic role to date, while she's also known for playing Edward Norton’s mother in American History X, rebellion heiress Sheila in Hair, and starring in 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter as country singer Patsy Cline. The 69-year-old actress more recently played a national security advisor on USA’s series adaptation of Shooter, a version of Ellen Griswold (if she did not have the same temperament) on Netflix’s Insatiable, and stars alongside Sigourney Weaver and Morena Baccarin in The Good House - an adaptation of Ann Leary’s novel that is now in post-production.
Juliette Lewis (Audrey Griswold)
Someone who did not reprise the role of Audrey Griswold in the Vacation reboot was the third actress to play the character, Juliette Lewis, who would receive an Oscar nomination for playing the daughter of another troubled family in Martin Scorsese’s 1991 Cape Fear remake, and received praise in 1994 as one of the trouble-causing couple in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. Other than the 2018 Blumhouse thriller Ma and Sia’s feature-length directorial debut Music, most of Lewis’ more notable appearances have been on TV, such as the Fox drama Filthy Rich and a recent guest spot on The Conners as the love interest of her onscreen brother from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Johnny Galecki (Rusty Griswold)
Johnny Galecki actually got to star in two 1989 holiday movies (as young Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and the reindeer-led fantasy Prancer) before joining the cast of Roseanne as David Healy in 1992. After playing Leonard Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory, the actor would reprise his Roseanne role on the sitcom’s 2018 revival before it was revamped as The Conners later that year and is currently looking to executive produce a reboot of the Vacation franchise as a TV show for HBO Max.
Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie Johnson)
In addition to being Dennis Quaid’s brother, Oscar nominee Randy Quaid is well-known for Independence Day, Kingpin, and even a very brief Saturday Night Live stint, but his defining role is as wacky Cousin Eddie Johnson, whom he actually reprised in a direct made-for-TV Christmas Vacation sequel in 2003. Lately, the 70-year-old seems to have been reprising a more extreme iteration of the character in real life, from bizarre legal issues to alarming conspiracy theories on social media, such as claims he and his wife, Evi, have been targeted by “Hollywood Star Whackers.” Otherwise, there is not much in the realm of acting to report about Quaid for the foreseeable future.
Miriam Flynn (Cousin Catherine Johnson)
Randy Quaid’s onscreen wife from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miriam Flynn, is still working steadily, however, with more than 150 acting credits to her name - notably as Sister Helen on Grounded for Life, and in Babe as the voice of the elderly sheep, Maa. Much of her best-known acting efforts these days can be seen on TV, such as a recent guest appearance on the CBS sitcom Mom in 2020.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Margo Chester)
One of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ first major films after breaking out on Saturday Night Live was in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as the Griswolds’ snobbish neighbor Margo Chester in 1989 - a year before she was in the star-making, Emmy-winning role of Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. She would go on to win eight more Emmys combined for CBS’s The New Adventure of Old Christine and as a ruthless politician on HBO’s Veep, which ended in 2019, but the 59-year-old actress has recently said a revival is not out of the question. As for the big screen, Louis-Dreyfus played the disappointed wife of Will Ferrell in Downhill and elvish mother to Tom Holland and Chris Pratt in Pixar’s Onward in 2020.
Nicholas Guest (Todd Chester)
Playing Margo Chester’s husband Todd in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is Nicholas Guest, who is not much of a household name, but has led a pretty impressive career that includes Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, playing opposite his future sister-in-law Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places, and on a Season 5 episode of Mad Men. His true claim to fame, however, is voice acting, from playing various characters in animated Disney classics like Aladdin and Frozen, to blockbuster video games like the Call of Duty franchise, to the dual roles of Martian Manhunter and The Question on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. More recently, in the realm of live action, Guest played a fictional Russian president on Madam Secretary and a recurring role on Guest Appearances, which was created by and starred his daughter, Elizabeth.
Brian Doyle-Murray (Frank Shirley)
Also well known for his many “guest appearances” is Brian Doyle-Murray, who actually had a small role in the first National Lampoon’s Vacation before playing Clark Griswold’s selfish boss, Frank Shirley, in Christmas Vacation. He also has a previous connection to Chevy Chase, as a successor to Chase's Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” anchor position, and with a role in Caddyshack, which also stars his younger brother, Bill Murray. Doyle-Murray also had a recurring spot on the AMC dramedy Lodge 49 and recently reprised his role as the voice of the Flying Dutchman in the video game SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated in 2020.
Diane Ladd (Nora Griswold)
Long before Diane Ladd played Clark Griswold’s mother Nora in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, she played Ida Sessions in Chinatown in 1974 - the same year she originated the role of Flo in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The three-time Oscar nominee, and mother of recent Oscar winner Laura Dern, has more recently had a starring role on the Hallmark Channel original drama series Chesapeake Shores, played opposite Peter Fonda in his final film, The Last Full Measure, and plays another grandmother in the far less disastrous family holiday film Charlie’s Christmas Wish, which was just released on VOD in November 2020.
Doris Roberts (Frances Smith)
Starring as Ellen Griswold’s mother, Frances Smith, in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is Doris Roberts, whose prolific career as an actress of the big and small screen dates back all the way to 1951. But, her best-known role to modern audiences was as the ultimate overbearing mother-in-law, Marie Barone, on Everybody Loves Raymond - which earned her four of her total of five Emmy Awards. After that hit CBS sitcom ended in 2005, the St. Louis-born actress would continue to play motherly (and grandmotherly) roles in movies like 2006’s Grandma’s Boy and other bit TV roles until, sadly, she passed away in 2016 due to complications from a stroke. Roberts was 90.
William Hickey (Uncle Lewis)
Last, but not least, I felt it important to mention William Hickey, another cast member of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (as the grouchy Uncle Lewis) who has since passed away due to issues with emphysema and bronchitis. However, he would leave behind a memorable legacy in Hollywood - mainly for his unmistakably distinct (and, honestly, pretty creepy) voice, which he would lend to yet another unique holiday classic as the voice of the Evil Scientist from The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993. The most memorable among the Oscar nominee’s final roles was as Nathan Lane and Lee Evans’ late father in Gore Verbinski’s Mousehunt from 1997, the year of his death at the age 69.
What do you think? Is William Hickey’s Uncle Lewis one of the most underrated characters from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or does his voice creep you out beyond comfort and joy? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on this hilarious holiday tradition, as well as even more inside looks at the cast members from your favorite movies and TV shows, here on CinemaBlend.