Animal House, one of the most-loved movie comedies of all time, is hotter than ever. There’s a Broadway show in the works and a new, behind-the-scenes book called Fat, Drunk, & Stupid by producer Matty Simmons, who talks to us about what Hollywood first thought of the script (hated it!), what got cut, and why there was never a sequel.
Some highlights from the interview:
On Hollywood’s initial response to the script: The Chairman of the Board of what was then Warners, now Time Warner, had been a friend of mine for many, many years. His name was Steve Ross. I called Steve up – now remember, the National Lampoon was red-hot, the biggest humor magazine in the history of publishing – so I called him up and said, “Steve, we have this movie treatment and I want to bring it to Warner Bros. And he said, “Great, we want to make a movie with you. Look, I’m going to Hollywood tomorrow and I’ll give it to Ted Ashley (who was the chairman of Warner Bros.). I said, “Well, I really think I should bring it in and discuss it.” He said, “Matty, I’m his boss, let me bring it to him because I want to make this movie.” He hadn’t even looked at it. He called me about three days later and said, “Matty, I’m really sorry to tell you this, but Ted Ashley said it will never make a movie.” Then, by pure coincidence, a guy calls me and says, “Mr. Simmons, I work with Ned Tanen, the head of Universal Studios and I just want you to know I’m a huge Lampoon fan, and if you ever have a movie idea, please let us know.” And I said, “Well, it just so happens. …”
On getting the green light: My junior partner at the time was Ivan Reitman and we went into Tanen’s office and he said, “I hate this movie. Everyone’s drunk or having sex or getting beat up. Do you think you could make it for less than $3 million?” Now I had never made a movie. Ivan had made a couple of movies in Canada for about $8. I said, “Absolutely.” And I didn’t know what I was talking about. We made it for $2.8 million, and overall, everything in to date, it’s grossed about $600 million.
On the audience response: We screened that movie in Denver … and at the end of that movie, the audience was standing on chairs and screaming and applauding and yelling. No one had seen anything like it. And then when they brought it back to Hollywood, they did a test screening and it got the highest rating in the then-history of the ratings system.
On what got cut: The studio left us alone. The budget was so low that they more or less left us alone. But I killed scatological humor. There’s a scene where he tells them that they’ve failed all their grades and Flounder had been drunk the night before and he throws up on the dean. The script and the director (John Landis) wanted to actually film him throwing up. I refused to let it happen. So what we do is we cut away to the outside office with the secretary and you just hear him throwing up. And everyone agrees that it’s much funnier.
On why there never was a sequel: We never got a sequel we were happy with. I had one … but they felt “Why take a chance?” And they gave me the excuse, well, Belushi’s dead now … and I said, yeah, so? We can still make a funny movie.
On getting Animal House to Broadway, with music by Barenaked Ladies: I had the idea about four or five years ago and it took me that long to convince Universal to do it, because they own the rights. They said, “Well, if you bring in the right team.” So I brought in a top Broadway producer, who many years ago was my publicity man and has since won about six Tonys (Jeff Richards), and the director of the Book of Mormon, the hottest show on Broadway (Casey Nicholaw).
- Stephanie Reid-Simons