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'ANIMAL HOUSE': REVISED DOCUMENTARY TELLS STORY OF PEOPLE BEHIND THE FILM

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Video showcases Oregon's role in the iconic 1978 comedy


COURTESY: KATHERINE WILSON - The members of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity in the movie 'Animal House,' which itself is the subject of a new documentary, 'Animal House of Blues 33 1/3,' by Katherine Wilson. The film's relationship to Oregon is explored in the new documentary. That's the late John Belushi in the middle, fourth from left.They were both “depressives,” and shy enough that they gravitated toward one another.

“We could be quiet together, and not have to be ‘on,’” says Eugene resident Katherine Wilson. “We both loved music, and he would go hang in the record store I was part of, in the listening room, with headsets.”

Wilson is talking about the late John Belushi, one of the original cast members of “Saturday Night Live,” whom she met when he came to Eugene in the autumn of 1977 to film “Animal House.” Released the next year, the low-budget flick became a monster hit, making back its original budget dozens of times over since then.

Prior to the filming of “Animal House,” Wilson, an actress, writer and producer, was already a veteran of the movie industry, having served as a liaison between the Oregon governor’s office and the producers of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” among other achievements. She was hired to serve as location scout and local talent recruiter for “Animal House,” a National Lampoon flick filled with ribald humor considered politically incorrect by some folks today but still ranked among America’s best comedy films ever.

The movie was filmed mostly in Eugene, around and on the University of Oregon campus, with additional scenes shot in Dexter and Cottage Grove. The film employed a bevy of local talent, from 27 speaking roles to myriad extras to crew members, Wilson says.

“All this was because ‘Animal House’ had a ‘B-drive-in-movie’ budget, and they couldn’t really afford to bring the crew up from L.A. like they typically did on films before that, like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’” Wilson says. “So they were more willing to give us a chance.”

COURTESY: KATHERINE WILSON - Katherine Wilson, right foreground, is seen here working on the set of the 'Animal House' parade scene in Cottage Grove. You can learn about Wilson's documentary on the 'Animal House of Blues 33 1/3' page on Facebook.The chance the filmmakers took on Oregon is documented in “Animal House of Blues,” a 2012 video that won Best Documentary Feature by a Pacific Northwest Filmmaker at the Eugene International Film Festival that year. Wilson and others recently updated the movie with new footage, retitled it “Animal House of Blues 33 1/3” and celebrated the revised version with a toga-themed party at the Exchange Ballroom in Portland Oct. 30.

Narrated by James “Izzy” Whetstine, who played the chainsaw-wielding janitor in “Animal House,” the 2016 version of “Blues” has also won an award, garnering “Best Bang for the Buck” honors in the “Remake” category at the Eugene film festival this year.

You can learn more about the revised, updated version at www.facebook.com/ahob33.3edition/.

Along with local acts The Hauer Things and The Mean Reds, on hand to perform at the Oct. 30 party was DeWayne Jessie, an African-American actor who portrayed singer Otis Day in the movie, and who sang “Shout” with Portland rockers The Cry. Also at the party: Portland’s most famous garage rockers The Kingsmen, whose rendition of “Louie, Louie” was memorably and drunkenly sung by Belushi and his fellow fraternity characters in the film.

“House of Blues” features The Cry’s members interviewing Jessie, who actually legally changed his name to Otis Day after the movie’s release. Taking on his film role moniker and performing around the world with The Knights (who then included a young Robert Cray in the movie), Day has spent decades performing “Shout” and “Shama Lama Ding Dong,” among other danceable tunes. His interviews in “Animal House of Blues” prove to be among the movie’s most riveting, as he recounts how a voice told him to take the part in the movie just when he had decided not to.

“I swear to God a voice came into my head and said, ‘Take it! Take it!’” Jessie/Day says in the documentary, which shows him moved to tears by how becoming Otis Day changed his life.

COURTESY: KATHERINE WILSON - The DeathMobile took out the viewer stands in the 1978 film 'Animal House.' The scene was shot in Cottage Grove; most of 'Animal House' was shot in Eugene at the University of Oregon.The documentary also ties together several threads of history, from the involvement of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters alumni in the making of “Animal House” to the creation of the Blues Brothers, a musical act by Belushi and the harmonica-playing Dan Aykroyd that evolved into John Landis’ 1980 film of the same name.

“Animal House of Blues” delves deeply into how Belushi got to know Oregon singer-harmonica player Curtis Salgado, whom he met one night after Salgado had played with The Crayhawks, a combined group of the Nighthawks and the Robert Cray Band.

Salgado and keyboardist D.K. Stewart — who also performed at the Oct. 30 bash — both note in the film that they played most Saturday nights, so they were not as familiar with Belushi as most TV viewers.

Salgado says Belushi told him Aykroyd played harmonica — “Oh great,” Salgado says in the video. “What the world needs, another harmonica player” — but that Belushi won him over when he mentioned he was excited Ray Charles was going to perform on “SNL.”

The two men wound up bonding over music, and eventually Belushi sat in with Salgado as well as pianist Stewart. The video includes a recording of Belushi’s performance of “Hey Bartender” at the Eugene Hotel as well as Salgado recounting how he coached Belushi to find his own voice, one more authentic than the Joe Cocker parody Belushi affected at first.

“He wasn’t a very good singer,” Salgado recalls. “But he was charismatic.”

Belushi’s and Aykroyd’s first album, “Briefcase Full of Blues,” was dedicated to Salgado, who also got another tip of the hat when they dubbed Cab Calloway’s Catholic orphanage janitor character in their movie “Curtis.” Meanwhile, “House of Blues” also recounts how Stewart’s souped-up Galaxy Ford car may have inspired the famed ex-police-car-turned-Bluesmobile in the “Blues Brothers” movie as well.

Wilson, DeWayne Jessie/Otis Day, The Cry and possibly The Kingsmen hope to take the “33 1/3” video on the road sometime next year, and also to participate in Eugene’s and Cottage Grove’s plans for a 40th anniversary celebration of “Animal House” in 2018.

“We hope to have a wang dang doodle of a time,” Wilson says, noting organizers hope to plan the world’s largest toga party in celebration.

While not the only factor, Wilson says the movie played a crucial role in putting Oregon in Hollywood’s sights.

“During the filming of ‘Animal House,’ the director and producers couldn’t believe how easygoing and nice we were, or how good we were at our jobs, which was mostly creative problem solving, or how sophisticated we were about things like music and literature,” she says. “After that, Oregon had a reputation of helping a great deal in making a blockbuster out of a B-movie budget.”