OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Time for Chevy Chase, Christmas and Imogene Coca Valpo memories

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2012-12-18T00:00:00Z 2012-12-18T12:26:37Z OFFBEAT: Time for Chevy Chase, Christmas and Imogene Coca Valpo memoriesPhilip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

The latest television commercial campaign for Old Navy reunites the stars of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo resurrect their goofy husband and wife characters, along with Juliette Lewis returning as daughter Audrey, so the Griswolds are once again face to face with the holidays, just like the popular 1989 feature film.

The commercial has Chase as Clark Griswold trying to light the massive string of lights display on the family home as wife and daughter provide eye rolls.

While the Christmas-themed movie was the third sequel in the film franchise, it ranks as the second most popular, right after the original 1983 film that launched the characters into pop culture.

In one of the recent issues of Entertainment Weekly, the magazine included a five-page centerpiece spread focusing on all the central characters of the original film, which starred Anthony Michael Hall as son Rusty and actress Dana Barron as Audrey, along with legendary comedienne Imogene Coca as grouchy Aunt Edna.

Chase told Entertainment Weekly writer Anthony Breznican, that he was excited to work with Coca.

"Every take she'd be like, 'Was that too mean? Was that too awful?' We were like, 'It was great!' It was like sweet seeing a woman play so crabby yet not want to be crabby," Chase said in the Entertainment Weekly story.

In one scene, D'Angelo remind's Coca's character that she's her niece, only to receive the reply: "You're the one who sent me the fruitcake at Christmas! It made me so sick, I almost died!"

Coca, who died at age 92 in June 2001, was always a pro, something that is echoed by region entertainment icon Bill Wellman, who booked Coca and her then husband King Donovan at his Bridge VU Dinner Theater in Valparaiso to star in 1971 in the play "Plaza Suite."

Wellman tells a great story in his published memoir "It's Made to Sell — Not to Drink" (2006 AuthorHouse $29.95) about the comedy couple and their stay in Valparaiso (with Imogene's beloved cat in tow) for the play's 14-performance run and the duo's love for martinis.

He said Coca was particularly impressed by the show's set and scenery built by Valparaiso University theater professor Richard Pick.

"Mr. Pick, I have worked on a lot of stages, but the scenery you have designed is the best I have ever worked with," she said according to Wellman.

"The glass in the windows is real and when it rains outside the windows, it's really wet!"

Since Coca's health prevented her from appearing in any of the "Vacation" film sequels (plus, her character was killed in the original film," for the "Christmas" installment, Chase and D'Angelo had the honor of working with veteran character actress Mae Questel playing an equally loopy role as Aunt Bethany.

Questel, who died at age 89 in 1998, is most famed for her famous pipes providing the vocals of cartoon characters Betty Boop and Popeye's girlfriend Olive Oyl.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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