Miller '63 reveals the real history of 'Animal House'

by Joanna Patterson | 11/9/06 6:00am

Chris Miller '63 drew on his experiences as a member of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity for the movie "National Lampoon's Animal House," which helped make the Dartmouth fraternity scene infamous. Now, Miller is back with a new book -- "The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie" -- that delves further into Dartmouth's fabled Greek life.

The book sheds light on some aspects of the movie that were inspired by actual events. In one scene, a fraternity member tries to pick up a college student by mentioning the girl's dead roommate. The book attributes the incident to a fraternity member named "Alby," though in an interview with The Dartmouth, Miller said the character was a member of the Class of 1963 known as "Turnip."

"When we premiered Animal House in 1978 in New York City, Turnip was among the boys who I'd invited, and when that part of the movie occurred and everyone was laughing, he stood up and did a Rocky," Miller said.

However, some of Miller's specific college experiences were omitted from the film, Harold Ramis, the film's director said in the book's forward.

"What didn't make it into the film were some of the really hard-core events, true stories that the producers and executives at Universal found too shocking or disgusting," Ramis wrote.

For example, the book describes a brother named "Round" who brings the brains of a car accident victim to the fraternity bar and proceeds to drink a beer from the glass containing the brains. This incident was omitted from the movie.

"There was a kind of ... creativity about all of the acts of creative sickness that were performed. It's a strange skewed value system but that was the point. I have to behave like a Dartmouth gentleman the rest of my life. Let me get real weird right now," he said of his time at Dartmouth.

Stories like "Round's" elicited strong responses from the book's reviewers.

"[Miller's] book is sophomoric, disgusting, tasteless, vile, misogynist, chauvinist, debased ... unspeakably revolting ... and utterly hilarious," Christopher Buckley wrote in his review of the book in The New York Times.

One current member of Alpha Delta fraternity, which was originally Alpha Delta Phi, had a more muted reaction.

"It's certainly a funny story, but less shocking considering some of the stories I've heard from the alumni that come visit ... some of these guys were pretty crazy back in the day," Conor Fernandez '08 said. "I think to some extent we all try to live up to the stories we hear about the old ADs."

The general atmosphere at Dartmouth during the 1960s provided some of the motivation for the fraternity's crazy activities at the time, Miller said. The book references a number of Dartmouth institutions still present today, including Thayer Dining Hall, Mid Fayerweather Hall, Dick's House, the Sphinx, Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, Psi Upsilon fraternity and Baker Tower.

"[Dartmouth is] a great institution you feel an awe for... but there was a square energy field in Hanover you had to cope with and perhaps that's what some of the rebellious behavior was at AD. The right kind of fun was not being provided, we had to make our own," he said. "The kind of person who goes to Dartmouth probably grew up in a home whose parents had a certain amount of discipline and who will get out of college and wind up high in a corporation or teaching in a great school or being a doctor, and you got one short window in your life to go absolutely nuts, and you take it."

Miller said he began writing the book, which was released in the beginning of November, in 1973 or 1974 with chapters for National Lampoon, which became the inspiration for the movie, but finished it more than 30 years later.

"I am curious as to what sort of ... what the coloration of the official Dartmouth College response with this will be. They were not too pleased with me when 'Animal House' came out," Miller said. "[The book] is very politically incorrect. But very accurate and honest of our serial drinking and sexual escapades and acts of depravity."