"I remember the first ‘Update’ I did on Saturday Night Live. They had big cameras back then, and you were looking into a huge lens. I wasn't nervous at all because I looked right through that lens and imagined the faces of the seven funniest people I knew. It never occurred to me that millions of people were watching. What I did was just for the eight of us."—Chevy Chase, quoted in Brian McKinley, “Chevy Chase Quotes: Real Life Clark Griswold Talks National Lampoons,” Yahoo! Voices, Feb 3, 2011
He’s Chevy Chase and you’re not—unless you wouldn’t mind being an irredeemable jerk who had managed to tee off an amazing number of people in an entertainment community more than used to dealing with egos that can’t fit through the door.
Few things bother me as much as people who waste their considerable talent, and by that measure few people get under my skin as much as Cornelius Crane Chase, born on this date 70 years ago. Remembering his glorious first season on Saturday Night Live, it’s hard for me to think of him being this age—but it’s even harder to think of what he could have become.
For a guy who was valedictorian of his high school class, Chase has managed to behave in remarkably stupid ways over the years. Only some of his behavior can be attributed to prolonged substance abuse (in fact, in many ways, he’s as big a jerk now as he was before rehab).
What can you say about an actor who, after his success with the comic suspense film Foul Play (1978), was hailed as the new Cary Grant—only to tick off the first Cary Grant with ill-advised jokes about the matinee idol’s sexual orientation? That he ended up considerably poorer after an out-of-court settlement—and that he never became “the new Cary Grant.”
What can you say about a comic talent so huge, so much in a zone (as indicated by today’s “Quote of the Day”), that for a 1975 New York magazine cover story, NBC executives crowed that not only did they have in their stable “the first real potential successor to Johnny Carson," but thought he would guest-host The Tonight Show within six months? That he probably blew his chance the second he said, “I'd never be tied down for five years interviewing TV personalities." Or that, when his film career went south in the early 1990s and he was willing to be so “tied down,” he promptly proved Carson’s tart assessment that the younger man "couldn't ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner," in perhaps the most ill-advised, embarrassing part of his career—getting canceled five weeks after his debut?
What can you say about a guy who, before hitting it big, worked as a cab driver, truck driver, motorcycle messenger, waiter, busboy, construction worker, audio engineer, produce manager in a supermarket, salesman in a wine store and theater usher? That as soon as the acclaim and money came his way, he became notorious for lording it over interns, as well as insulting and abusing screenwriters, other backstage personnel, and even fellow cast members.
What can you say about a star who enjoyed one brilliant late-night TV season and a few pretty profitable, mildly amusing films (Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation)? That he made one lame film after another following that, and that he blamed agents, co-stars, almost anyone but himself for these failures.
What can you say about a tall, good-looking, funny guy on top of the world at age 32? That in his late 60s, with another chance—perhaps his last—to make a major impact on TV, in the cast of Community, he blew up even this gig with potshots shots at the show’s creator, scriptwriters—virtually anything that moved.
And that the one thing more pathetic than someone who didn’t live up to his potential years ago is someone who, continually given chances to get it right, keeps repeating his disastrous behavior.