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Local History

By Robert Matsumura, Contributing Writer

The Movie Poster for Animal House

In the fall of 1977 the producers of “Animal House,” a movie that was to become one of the most successful American film comedies of all time — were searching for a college campus as the setting for their story about the scandalous Delta Tau Chi fraternity and the madcap chaos it wreaked on fictional Faber College.

After initial overtures to the University of Missouri were rejected, Universal Studios approached the University of Oregon, who agreed to permit filming on the campus for $20,000 and an agreement that the university not be identified in the movie. Universal also negotiated deals to use the houses of two fraternities located just off campus on the 700 block of East 11th Avenue. The Delta fraternity house was set in the Eugene Halfway House located between the two fraternities. The city of Cottage Grove, twenty miles south of Eugene, also got in on the fun. City officials agreed to close down Main Street for three days for the filming of the movie’s dramatic homecoming parade scene.

In October of 1977 the cast and crew arrived in the area, settling at the Rodeway Inn in nearby Springfield. The movie was a showcase for Belushi, who had recently risen to fame due to “Saturday Night Live,” and featured Donald Sutherland as well, who played the role of an English professor on campus. “Animal House” was also the film debut for Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen, both of whom went on to enjoy major success in numerous hit movies. In addition to these famous Hollywood names, Tom Hulce (of “Amadeus” fame) and Tim Matheson (of the ’60s “Johnny Quest” series, and more recently, “The West Wing”) also played minor roles. Behind the scenes, “Animal House” was the first major Hollywood movie for director John Landis, who subsequently brought hit movies such as “Trading Places,” “The Blues Brothers,” “An American Werewolf in London,” and others to the big screen.

The Cast of Animal House pose for a promo photo.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, (from left): Bruce McGill, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, John Belushi, James Widdoes, 1978. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Auditions for extras were held on the U of O campus, and 150 men and 50 women were chosen to appear in the film. The students were paid $2.30 an hour, and the male extras were instructed to have their hair cut in the style of college students from 1962. Filming of the movie commenced on October 24 at the Sigma Nu house, where the majority of interior shots of the fictitious Delta house were taken. U of O President Boyd’s office was used for that of Dean Wormer, the enemy of the Deltas. The Dexter Lake Club, located 20 miles east of Eugene, served as the locale for the movie’s “road trip” scene, where the Deltas take their dates to hear their favorite R&B band called Otis Day and the Knights.

During his off hours Belushi befriended Portland blues legend Curtis Salgado, who helped fuel Belushi’s passion for the blues, which in turn led to the subsequent movie, “The Blues Brothers,” starring both Belushi and Dan Akroyd. While filming “Animal House,” Belushi and his wife, Judy, also had dinner with Oregon author Ken Kesey (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) at his home in nearby Pleasant Hill.

The Cast of Animal House pose for a promo photo.

“National Lampoon’s Animal House” premiered in New York City on July 24, 1978, and in Portland in August of the same year, with many of the movie’s extras in attendance. The movie was the second most popular film in 1978 and a remarkable financial success. Produced for under $3 million, “Animal House” grossed $140 million in the U.S. and Canada. So successful was “Animal House” that it spawned a whole genre of zany, over-the-top comedies focused on younger audiences. Aside from one’s cinematic preferences, “Animal House” ranked 36th on the American Film Institute’s list of the hundred greatest film comedies of all time. In 2001, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Although “Delta House” was torn down in 1986 and replaced by another building, a bronze plaque still marks the site for posterity. The old Sigma Nu house still stands. The building is now home to the Northwest Christian University’s School of Professional Studies, but if you peer through the front door you can still see the stairwell where Belushi’s character, Bluto, bashed a hole in the wall with the guitar of a student playing folk music.

The Cast of Animal House pose for a promo photo.

Despite the fact that the University of Oregon initially attempted to downplay its involvement in the movie, “Animal House” has actually become a part of U of O’s popular culture and is even marketed as a feature of the school’s identity. Locations from the movie are pointed out on campus tours, and Otis Day and the Knight’s version of “Shout” is belted out by the audience at Duck football games. To this day, people in both Eugene, and Cottage Grove, take great pride in their town’s participation in this American comedy classic.

So, the next time you witness Duck fans singing “Shout” at a U of O football game, or happen to watch “Animal House” on television, know that this wild, raucous and influential movie was filmed close to home, right here in the state of Oregon in the southern Willamette Valley.