had picked was Chevy Chase as Otter, Bill Murray as Boone, Brian Doyle-Murray as Hoover, [Dan] Aykroyd as D-Day, and [John] Belushi, of course, was Bluto. None of them wanted to do it except for Belushi. They were very competitive. Chevy thought he was onto a big movie career, and he wasn’t going to share the limelight with Belushi.”—American actor-screenwriter-director Harold Ramis (1944-2014), quoted in Chris Nashawaty, “Building ‘Animal House,'” Entertainment Weekly, Oct. 9, 1998
Take a look at the guys in the above picture. Now, imagine them replaced by the prominent names mentioned by Ramis. Quite a difference, eh?
By “we” in the above quote, Ramis had in mind himself, his co-writer Chris Miller, and co-producers Ivan Reitman and Matty Simmons. John Landis, brought in to direct, had his own ideas—and sounds like he rubbed the original creative team the wrong way by calling the project “my movie.”
In general, Landis desired to cast straight dramatic actors—quite a contrast from those mentioned above. But some of his other choices were, shall we say, unusual. He sounded out Jack Webb to play Dean Wormer and Meat Loaf for Bluto, in case Belushi wouldn’t or couldn’t take on the role.
But, for my money, his most unusual idea was Kim Novak as Mrs. Wormer. She had, by this time, fled Hollywood without completely abandoning her film career.
But the hard-drinking, libidinous dean’s wife would have been quite a change from the far more restrained roles that the blond Fifties goddess played in films like Bell, Book and Candle, Pal Joey and Picnic.
What might have happened if she decided to go through with it? Might other roles have come her way? Would she have played the wild cucumber scene with the same uninhibited delight that Verna Bloom did, or would she have tantalized Otter by staying just out of reach, aisle after aisle in the supermarket, as she did with Jimmy Stewart early in Vertigo?
We’ll never know. But it’s as startling an alternative casting idea as the original choice for Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate: Novak's fellow blond Fifties star Doris Day.