Animal House: truth or fiction? Chris Miller '63, creator of the classic film, shares experiences

by Maura Henninger | 5/15/98 5:00am

For Chris Miller '63, creator of the movie "Animal House," Green Key was the best weekend of the year.

"It always happened after the hard cold muddy months, when everything was fresh and beautiful," Miller said last year in a telephone conversation from his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

"We would just fling open the doors and have a hell of a weekend," he said.

"Animal House," which became the highest grossing comedy of its time, was inspired by Miller's own Green Key experiences as a brother in Alpha Delta fraternity.

In those days, AD was generally considered to have the best, most debaucherous parties. The ongoing, weekend-long parties every Green Key were the outrageous champions of them all.

Song and dance

Miller recalled the bands which descended on Hanover each year for Green Key as one of the highlights of the spring weekend.

Each of the approximately 24 fraternities had a band, so waves of music flowed in every direction from Webster Avenue.

Miller said "square" houses, like Psi Upsilon fraternity, got Dixieland bands to play, but AD brought in the "down and dirty" rhythm and blues bands.

He said the favorite was Lonnie Youngblood and the Redcoats -- a band which Miller said bears a striking similarity to Otis Day and the Knights, the band which plays at Delta Tau Chi fraternity in "Animal House."

The influx of women from area schools -- such as Smith, Mount Holyoke and Skidmore colleges -- was another anticipated aspect of Green Key Weekend, Miller said.

"I really like women," he said. "All-male situations are f*cking insane and kind of gamey."

Miller said the women brought a new feeling to the campus for the weekend.

"When the women arrived it was like this wave of happiness and wonder," he said. "I was just thrilled. I wanted to meet all of them and get friendly with all of them."

The women were treated with respect -- most of the time.

"Some of the guys were terminally animal-like when women came," Miller said.

The 'Animal House'

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Green Key Weekend for College men in Miller's time was the opportunity to participate in unrestrained, irresponsible and hedonistic mischief.

Many of the crazy situations in "Animal House" were based on things Miller and his AD brothers actually experienced, he said.

A particular AD brother -- whom Miller referred to by his pledge name, Seal -- was involved in a number of wild antics.

The scene from "Animal House" in which John Belushi pours mustard on himself originated from one of Seal's Green Key episodes.

One Sunday of Green Key Weekend -- as everyone else was beginning to realize they had to return to real life the next day, a party still raged at AD, as people danced and sang to an R&B band, Miller said.

In the midst of this revelry, Seal discovered an industrial-sized bottle of mustard, and proceeded to pour it all over himself.

He then started hopping around the dance floor on all fours, biting women's behinds and shouting, "I am the Mustard Man. I am the goddamned Mustard Man."

The scene in "Animal House" when a Delta Tau Chi brother skis down the stairs as the band breaks into "Shout" did in fact happen one Green Key Weekend at AD, Miller said.

Another story involving Seal centers on the Green Key Weekend tradition of couples sleeping on mattresses on the golf course. In the 1960s, the "outdoor sleep" was a way for Dartmouth men to provide their dates with a place to sleep when the houses were full.

One year, as Miller tells it, Seal decided to shake up the event.

"Seal jumped on his motorcycle stark naked and went roaring around the course howling drunken obscenities," Miller said with a chuckle. "It was his way of disturbing people's peace of mind and piece of anything else."

Apparently, Seal had more than one motorcycle incident. Not all were related to Green Key Weekend, but they are amusing nonetheless in their creativity. Miller related one such story:

"It was one week before graduation, and, against all odds, Seal was graduating. He had gone out for breakfast at a restaurant near the ski jump," he said.

"Seal had a big old hog motorcycle and was heading back to school with some brothers," Miller said. "A dean who had come off all prissy and proper to Seal was playing golf."

"Seal spontaneously drove off the road, got onto the golf course where the dean was, and chased him all over the course and then ran him over," he said. "Seal didn't graduate that year."

Though legendary, Seal was not the only one who was sometimes beyond control on Green Key Weekend. Another AD brother, Mumbles, engaged in equal insanity.

"It was an occupational hazard being in the house that you'd get thrown out of school for a term," Miller said. "Mumbles did. But he was coming back for Green Key Weekend."

According to Miller, Mumbles left Massachusetts one morning -- a case of beer in the back seat of his car -- and proceeded to drive north while drinking the beer.

Every time Mumbles saw a dog by the side of the road, he put it in the car, Miller said. By the time he reached the College, the car was crammed with canines.

"We were all on the porch waiting for the weekend to begin in earnest," Miller said. "Mumbles roared up the street, having drunk most of the case of beer, and drove onto the lawn. He flung open the doors of the car, and 900 dogs jumped out."

Back to the basics

In 1989, Miller returned to Dartmouth for Green Key Weekend at the invitation of the editor of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, who wanted him to do a story comparing the fraternities of today to the fraternities of yesterday, the time Miller made legendary.

"The editor of the Alumni Magazine expected me to say it was so sedate," he said. "But at Phi Delt, Theta [Delt], even a sorority, it was wild as sh*t. It was excellent. People were partying their asses off."

Miller said he was struck by an undiminished, singular sense of fun among the College's students, despite a more complex system with registered parties, required identification at the door and harsher alcohol rules.

"I found that Dartmouth kids still knew how to party despite having to abide by a whole lot of rules that weren't around back in the 60s," he said.

A month after Miller's article "Son of Animal House" -- appeared in the Alumni Magazine, it was published, with juicier content, in Playboy magazine titled "Return to Animal House."

Miller said the administration and student body were not amused.

"I was crucified in the Daily Dartmouth," he said. "All the forces of political correctness were horrified. AD house got in trouble. The whole thing was quite sticky. I just wrote what they told me, though."

On the last day of his Green Key visit, Miller was listening to a funk band at AD. The house's front yard had been transformed into a lake of mud the night before by a torrential rain, and several brothers were enjoying it.

"Everyone was partying and mudsliding," he said. "There were all these mud creatures out there.

"Then, all of a sudden, seven or eight guys came right at me with these crazed looks, carried me over their heads and dropped me into a puddle."

"At first I thought, 'Wait a minute, I'm too old for this.' But it was great. I danced my ass off," he said.

A picture of a very muddy Miller graced the cover of The Dartmouth the next morning.

Miller's final take on Green Key Weekend?

"With nothing crazy, life is bland," he said. "You can be really crazy one time in your life, the college days. You have a four-year window between living with your parents and then living with your wife and kids. You have to jam it all into a four-year period. You have to do things that are wild and outrageous and offend all sense of decency."

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