In the 31 years since its release, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has earned the distinction of being a holiday classic. A lot has happened in those three decades, of course, including with the cast that helped make the comedy so memorable in the first place.
Before we get to the cast, though, let’s talk about the title. Yes, it’s true, there’s no actual vacation in the film. It’s a holdover from the two previous films in the franchise, National Lampoon’s Vacation (another classic) and National Lampoon’s European Vacation (not so much). Like those films, Christmas Vacation tells the story of the all-American family, the Griswolds.
As Clark Griswold, Chase found one of his most memorable screen characters—a hapless, bumbling, but well-intentioned father that many viewers found very relatable. Since Christmas Vacation, Chase starred in a series of mostly forgettable films in the 1990s like Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Cops & Robbersons. He also reprised Clark in Vegas Vacation in 1997, which didn’t find the success as the prior films.
The former Saturday Night Live star’s most high-profile role post-Christmas Vacation was likely as a racist, sexist tycoon on the TV cult classic Community. (His role mirrored his offscreen personality a little too much, according to some, including co-star Donald Glover.)
Chase also had a memorable cameo in Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), and a not-so-memorable one as (once again) Clark Griswold in the ill-conceived 2015 National Lampoon’s Vacation installment starring Ed Helms entitled…Vacation. His most recent live action movie appearance was in The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, a straight-to-Amazon sequel of Crocodile Dundee.
Ellen Griswold managed to be both a mother figure and a sex symbol, due to the casting of D’Angelo. She’s mainly stuck with supporting roles after the Vacation franchise, which notable parts in American History X and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. She also had a recurring role on HBO’s Entourage, as well as made appearances on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Cougar Town. Offscreen, she was in a relationship with Al Pacino from 1997 to 2003, with whom she had twins.
An entire book could be written about Quaid’s life after playing the husband of Ellen’s cousin in Vacation, and that would just cover his real-life exploits. To keep it brief, he and his wife Evi have been involved in a a series of controversies that have led to widespread speculation regarding their mental health.
For several years, they lived on the run—mainly in Canada—due to unpaid hotel bills (among other things), all the while giving interviews and posting videos online claiming they were being hunted by a secretive crime group, the Hollywood Star Whackers, that kills off celebrities.
Before Vacation, though, Quaid was a highly respected actor who acted in the 1970s dramas The Last Picture Show and Midnight Express. Post-Vacation, he carried on in comedy for a time with films like Kingpin before turning in a prominent supporting role in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain.
Sadly, the beginnings of his criminal misadventures soon followed with the cancelled theatrical production Lone Star Love in 2007. Allegations of physical and verbal abuse during the rehearsals from that show resulted in him getting banned for life by the Actors’ Equity Association, and his life has seen countless bizarre turns ever since.
Lewis actually played the third Audrey Griswold, following Dana Barron and Dana Hill from the first two films. (The producers felt having younger kids was essential to the Griswold story.) It’s funny to think this now, but Lewis was unknown at the time of Christmas Vacation.
Only two years later, she turned in an Oscar-nominated performance opposite Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, which was followed by a slew of critical and commercial hits. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Natural Born Killers and From Dusk till Dawn all followed. While she wasn’t able to sustain that hot streak of the 1990s, she has since fronted the rock band Juliette and The Licks off-and-on since 2003 with modest success.
Galecki took over the role of son Russ Griswold, following in the steps of Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively. While he never made much headway on the big screen, Galecki is a bona fide TV star thanks to Roseanne in the 1990s and then for his part as Dr. Leonard Hofstadter on the hit The Big Bang Theory, which ran from 2007 until 2019. Currently, he can be seen in a recurring role on the Roseanne spin-off, The Conners.
Diane Ladd as Clark’s mother. Though Ladd was arguably a bigger star pre-Vacation thanks to a role in Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown and an Oscar-nominated part in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (also 1974), she also enjoyed success with Primary Colors (1998) and 28 Days (2000).
Doris Roberts as Ellen’s mother. Although she enjoyed a long and successful career before Christmas Vacation, Roberts is best known for her 1996-2005 run as the matriarch on Everybody Loves Raymond. Sadly, she passed away in 2016 at the age of 90.
And who can forget Julia Louis-Dreyfus? She was fresh off a run on the poorly-received 1980s Saturday Night Live cast when she landed the part of an obnoxious New Yorker in Christmas Vacation, and she hasn’t looked back since. First was a little show called Seinfeld, then The New Adventures of Old Christine, and then her Emmy-winning portrayal of Selina Meyer on the HBO hit Veep. In January 2020, she signed a multi-year deal with Apple TV+ to serve as an executive producer and a star on new projects. Most recently, she emceed the final night of 2020’s Democratic National Convention.