Charlie Brennan

BRENNAN: St. Louis inspired 'Animal House'

Charlie Brennan
June 20, 2018 - 12:28 pm

After an interview earlier this month with Violet Ramis, the daughter of the late actor Harold Ramis, I got this note from Kent Hirschfelder of St. Louis:

Last week you interviewed Violet Ramis Stiehl, Harold Ramis’ daughter, about her new book. In that interview there were a couple of questions left unanswered:

Was any Animal House character based on a Washington University student friend of Harold?

What was the basis for the scene in the black night club where the Delta brothers visited?

I can answer both.

The character of Otter, the “cool” Delta President, was drawn from Harold’s ZBT fraternity brother George Clare, an art school major from South Orange, NJ. Harold acknowledged this in interviews. George now lives in Arizona, and recently sent me a copy of the Memorial Service that was held for Harold in Los Angeles shortly after his passing.

The night club was based on the Blue Note at 4200 Missouri Ave., in East St. Louis, where some of the members of ZBT would go (foolishly) on weekends. It closed years ago.

How do I know the answers?

I was a fraternity brother of Harold’s and in 1965/66 lived across the hall from him in the ZBT house at 7020 Forsyth in U. City. We were friends, both majored in English, and I performed in a number of the Bearskin Follies and Thurtene Carnival skits that Harold helped write. I kept up with him a bit in the years following our graduation, though my brother, who was Harold’s Pledge Father at ZBT, remained good friends with Harold and his family, and saw him every summer on Martha’s Vineyard, where they both vacationed.

Kent Hirschfelder

I really appreciate Kent’s note. Violet Ramis also told us in the KMOX interview that her dad was completely embarrassed by the St. Louis scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation, which he wrote and directed, and would cringe and apologize whenever it was shown. That’s the scene where Chevy Chase and family get lost in a black neighborhood and lose their hubcaps to thieves as they ask for directions.

Violet Ramis also told us her mom and Harold’s first wife, Anne Plotkin Ramis, is from University City. Harold and Anne got engaged during a performance of The Mikado at the old American Theater and her dad was an orderly at Jewish Hospital after he graduated from Washington University in 1966.

A caller to the show, who claimed she knew Ramis back in his hospital days, said he worked the hospital halls in his bare feet. 

Considering his work in Ghostbusters, Stripes, Animal House, Back to School, and Caddyshack, I am not surprised.