Prior to his film career, John Hughes worked in advertising and wrote comedic short stories on the side to flex his creative muscles (via The New York Times). One of Hughes' shorts, "Vacation '58," was published by National Lampoon Magazine in 1979, and then adapted into the 1983 film "National Lampoon's Vacation." The film earned $61 million and introduced the world to the shenanigans of The Griswold family. A second film in the series, "National Lampoon's European Vacation," was less successful, but Hollywood remained interested in Hughes' Griswold tales, especially one that centered on Christmas.
After producing the first two films in the franchise, executive producer Matty Simmons told Rolling Stone in a 2020 retrospective that he turned his attention to another Hughes short, "Christmas '59." In 1989, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" became the most successful Griswold film (earning $74 million worldwide), despite being the last of the franchise, and continues to spawn loads of holiday merchandise over 30 years after its release. Like the two previous films, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" features relatable characters, memorable quotes, and plenty of Griswold antics, but it lacks one crucial element, a father-son bonding moment.
Years before he portrayed Leonard Hofstadter in the popular CBS series "Big Bang Theory," Johnny Galecki got his first big break when he landed the role of Rusty Griswold. The 14 year old, who'd only acted in local plays and a few forgettable TV movies, quickly proved he could hang with the likes of Chevy Chase and Juliette Lewis as he lit up the screen with dry humor and a pre-teen attitude. Although he was the third young actor to portray the character, Galecki's interaction with his on-screen dad (Chase) wouldn't be as touchy-feely as the previous ones, which is a decision the actor now regrets.
Decades before Eugene Levy and Jason Biggs perfected cringeworthy coming-of-age interactions in "American Pie," Chevy Chase provided audiences with plenty of memorable father-son moments. In the first film, Clark and Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) discuss skinny-dipping with a beautiful woman, rag on elderly family members, and down a roadside beer. In the sequel, Rusty (Jason Lively) and his dad have a lighthearted shoving match on a train to Rome and debate the fashionability of berets. Unlike its predecessors, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" doesn't feature any similar moments between Chase and Galecki, even though Hughes had written one for an early draft of the screenplay.
The final shooting script for "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" didn't include any father-son moments. Galecki told Rolling Stone that Chase pointed this out to Hughes, saying, "There's always been kind of a man-to-man scene between Clark and Russ in the previous films … But there isn't in this one." He asked Hughes to "consider putting that back in." Galecki was asked if he wanted to shoot the scene, and he told the filmmakers that it would be a waste of time. "Somebody thought it was worth taking out at some point," He recalled thinking at the time. "So even if we shoot it, it'll probably get taken out again." They never filmed the scene.
Although Galecki was dead set against the bonding moment during filming, he's since changed his mind. "I literally talked myself out of what could have been a classic scene with Chevy Chase," the actor mused. "Now that I'm a jaded Hollywood f***, I realize the error of my ways. I still kick myself in the ass for this every day."
Fiction Vs. Reality
While I understand being upset about giving away an opportunity to share a sweet, yet cringe-worthy, scene with a comedy legend like Chase, I think Galecki is looking at this all wrong. As far as I am concerned, his portrayal of Russ is the best of the entire franchise, even without the father-son relationship. Galecki shared an electric on-screen chemistry with Chevy Chase that the previous young actors didn't, so his film didn't need the man-to-man moment to convey the father-son bond.
Hughes' biggest strength as a writer was his ability to craft real, relatable, and universal characters and experiences, which is why the father-son relationship plays better without the scene. As much as I love coming-of-age moments in movies, they can easily become schmaltzy and disingenuous. In a Frank Capra Christmas film, the audience will accept a tender moment between the patriarch and his son, but "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is all about the iron fist of reality smashing into the jaw of your hopes and dreams, so a Kodak moment between a kid and his dad might have felt fake.
Sometimes we might wish our childhood holidays had been more like a classical Hollywood film, but it's nice to see the truth make it to the big screen every now and then. And in reality, your Christmas bonus is a Jelly of the Month Club membership, you end up locked in the attic while the rest of your family goes shopping, your deadbeat cousin shows up and empties the sh**ter in his underwear for the whole neighborhood to see, and dads put the smartass, whiny kid on decorating duty instead of sitting down with him for a heart-to-heart and a beer.
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