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The Classic Saturday Night Live Page

The Classic Saturday Night Live Page

Dan Aykroyd | John Belushi | Chevy Chase | Jane Curtin | Laraine Newman | Bill Murray | Garrett Morris | Gilda Radner

On October 11, 1975, the NBC network aired Loren Michael's "Saturday Night" at 11 p.m. EST for the first time. Two young comedians, John Belushi and Michael O'Donoghue, sat opposite of each other in a sketch with Belushi as a foriegner and O'Donoghue as a interpreter giving instructions on how to say phrases such as "I want to feed you finger tips to the wolverines."
The sketch ended with O'Donoghue keeling over with a heart attack and Belushi following suit. Then another young comedian, Chevy Chase, came on and spoke the words that have reverberated throughout television history..."Live! From New York! It's Saturday Night!"

For the next five years, Belushi, Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtain, Laraine Newman, Garret Morris, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner made people laugh so hard their sides hurt every Saturday night.

The show became culturally important, even being credited for causing Gerald Ford to lose the 1976 Presidential elections by being constantly hounded by jokes on the show portraying him as a clumsy buffoon (mostly done by Chase).

The sketches performed on the show became etched in the memories of Americans and the world. The list is endless...Mr. Bill, the Bees, Landshark, Rosanne Rosannadanna, Joan Face, Two Wild and Crazy Guys, Emily Latella the Blues Brothers, the Greek restaurant, the Samurai sketches, the Coneheads, Weekend Update, Michael's famous $3,000 offer to reunite the Beatles, Aykroyd's fast-talking salesman act and so much more.

Sadly, the contracts for the so-called Not-Ready-For -Prime-Time-Players were not renewed in 1980. The show sunk to a depth that it has never fully recovered from. Even though great talent has passed through SNL since (such as Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Eddie Murphy and Dennis Miller), the show has never been as funny as it was from 1975 to 1980.

This page is dedicated to those first five years only.

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The Not Ready For Prime Time Players

Dan Aykroyd

Born on July 1, 1952 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Aykroyd had been a member of Second City Comedy improv in Toronto, Canada when Michaels chose him to star in SNL in 1975. Before SNL, Aykroyd had been writing, producing and had acted in several Canadian productions. While on the show, Aykroyd brought many memorable characters to life, including Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers, Beldar Conehead, the "wild and crazy" Festrunk brothers (along with Steve Martin), Fred Garvin-Male Prostitute, a great Nixon imitation and a gory, but hilarious, Julia Child imitation.
Aykroyd left the show in 1979 (along with Belushi) to peruse a career in movies. Since then he has starred in "Ghostbusters" (also wrote) in 1984, "Trading Places" (1983) with Eddie Murphy, "Spies Like Us" (1985) and "Dragnet" (1987). In 1990, he received an Academy Award nomination for his role in "Driving Miss Daisy."
While Aykroyd continues to make movie audiences laugh, his talent is sorely missed on the small screen. This was never more apparent than when he appeared on the new SNL along with Steve Martin doing the Festrunk Brothers in a Roxbury sketch in 1999. It was the funniest that show has been in years.
Aykroyd is married to Donna Dixon and has three children, Belle, Stella and Danielle. He is a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa.

John Belushi

There may be imitators, but there will never be a duplicator of John Belushi. Michaels reluctantly hired Belushi, an Albanian descendant, after seeing his Samurai imitation. With just a raise of his eyebrow, Belushi could make audiences roll on the floor with laughter.
His first well-known SNL character was the singing Bee (a pre-cursor to the Blues Brothers). After that his loud, boisterous comedic style came out in characters like the insane news commentator, the ever-grunting Samurai warrior, Joe Cocker and Joliet Jake Blues, the voice of the Blues Brothers.
He made the saying "But, nooooooooooooooo!!!!!!" a trademark.
Belushi left SNL in 1979. He had become a huge star in 1978 when he was on television's highest rated comedies (SNL), America's funniest movie (Animal House) and a number one record (A Briefcase Full of Blues). He felt he had outgrown the confines of SNL.
Belushi went on to star in "The Blues Brothers" (1980), "1941" (1979), "Continental Divide" (1981) and "Neighbors" (1981).
Sadly, Belushi fell victim to drug addiction, something that was common place in the 1970s and 1980s (not to say it isn't now). He indulged in marijuana, cocaine and heroin. He died on March 5, 1982 after injecting a deadly combination of heroin and cocaine, called a 'speedball,' into his system. It was the end of a comic genius and the beginning of the so-called "SNL Curse."
His presence is very much so missed.

Chevy Chase

The first star of SNL was Chase. His Gerald Ford imitations were credited with causing the then-incumbent president to lose the 1976 elections to Jimmy Carter (more like the disgusted post-Watergate public wanted someone who had no connection to Nixon).
For the shows first season, the show opened up with Chase tumbling to the floor in a heap and looking into the camera and exclaiming the show's intro.
Chase also made a name for himself as Weekend Update's first anchor. Every episode, Chase opened up the sketch with "I'm Chevy Chase...and you're not!" Among his most hilarious sketches was when Jane Curtin would come on as a school-girl-like commentator and Chase would make idiotic faces and revert to a normal face whenever, Curtin would glance his way.
Chase relied more upon slapstick techniques rather than costumes to convey his comedic style. Not once did he ever try to look like Ford, but just brought him to life with moronic actions.
Chase left the show in 1976 to pursue a movie career. In 1978, he had a hit with Goldie Hawn in "Foul Play." Since then he has starred in "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983), which spawned a couple of sequels, "The Three Amigos" (1987) and "Caddyshack" (1980).

Jane Curtin

After Chase's departure, Curtin took over as Weekend Update anchor. From 1977 to 1980, she was subjected to a multitude of abuse from Rosanne Rosannadanna, Emily Latella, Dan Aykroyd on 'Point, Counter-Point,' Belushi's hyperactive commentator and others. Curtin played the role of the tightwad, school-master-like image that had come to mean something bad in the eyes of the post-Vietnam, Watergate, pot-smoking crowd that watched the show. Getting her just desserts wasnĠ´ just funny, it was necessary!
Curtin also made a name as the Conehead mother and as Joan Face, the 60 Minutes-like woman host of shows that made fun of those early newsmagazines that saturated the airwaves in the 1970s. Curtin had the most post-SNL success in television. She went on to star in "Kate and Allie" in the '80s and is presently on "Third Rock From the Sun."

Laraine Newman

Waif-ish Laraine Newman was nearly drowned one time when rehearsing for a sketch. The sketch was called "Theodoric, Medieval Judge." The sketch called for Newman to be submerged in a tank full of water called the Trough of Justice. Newman was an accused witch and it was said if she sank, she was innocent. However, if she floated, she was guilty. The trial found her innocent.
There was a trough hidden inside the trough with which Newman, who had her hands tied loosely, was supposed to go under the wall and be pulled by a stagehand hidden from sight. However, she almost did not make it and had taken in large amounts of water before being rescued. An hour later, she performed the stunt live with no problems.
While Newman didn't become the star like Aykroyd or Chase, she did possess a great deal of talent that should have been more utilized. Her portrayal of the demon-possessed girl in the "Exorcist" sketch (with a priestly Richard Pryor) is classic. Newman shows up once in while on television, so look for her.

Bill Murray

In 1977, after Chase' departure, Michael's replaced him with a new comic talent named Bill Murray. Audiences were leery of this new face at first, but he has now become one of the most successful and recognizable stars from the old SNL.
Murray's lack of singing talent was actually a talent that was used many times on SNL. It came in quite handy for the Nick the Lounge Singer skit.
Murray brought a new bravado to the show that defined a new sense of comedy for the late '70s and early '80s. He soon became a favorite of audiences who soon asked "Chevy who?"
Since leaving the show in 1980, Murray has starred in a number of memorable films such as "Stripes" (1981), "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Meatballs" (1979) and "Rushmore" (1999).

Garrett Morris

As the only black member of the cast, Garrett Morris took his role seriously. While being a willing subject who made fun of the treatment of blacks, Morris made you think as well.
Already an actor when he joined the cast in 1975, Morris immediately personified the cool, slick black man of the 1970s. He was hip.
His portrayal as the head of the New York School for the Deaf on Weekend Update is classic.
Morris has made appearances on "Martin" and "ER" since leaving the show in 1980.
Morris was one of the lucky ones who escaped the so-called SNL Curse. He was shot in LA one night a few years back. He recovered and was recently on the 25th anniversary special for SNL, sporting a cane, but still very much the cool, hip Garrett Morris of the old SNL.

Gilda Radner

One of the sweetest , and best-remembered, members of the cast was Gilda Radner. From the beginning, she brought a unique style of comedy that became embodied in such characters as Rosanne Rosannadanna, Candy Slice (very funny), the little Girl Scout, Emily Latella and Baba Wawa (Barbara Walters).
While Radner may not have voted herself winner of a beauty pageant, she conveyed sexiness and a sweetness not found in most Hollywood actresses today. She was good-looking in a lot of respects.
After leaving the show in 1980, Radner married Gene Wilder and starred in three movies with him, "Hanky Panky" (1982), "Haunted Honeymoon" (1984) and "The Woman in Red" (1984).
In 1987, Radner was found to have ovarian cancer. She bravely fought for her life for two years, writing a book called "It's Always Something" about her struggle. She died May 20, 1989 at age 42.

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The Sketches

Click on the sketch title for a transcript of some of the classic SNL sketches that made the show one of the best ever on television.
    Wolverines-This is the very first sketch ever done on SNL. It originally aired October 11, 1975.

    Weekend Update 12/13/1975-This was the first Weekend Update to feature Emily Latella (Radner).

    Exorcist II- On a night when Richard Pryor hosted, the show made fun of "The Exorcist" complete with a demonic voice and pea soup. Hilarious!

    Bass-O-Matic-Dan Aykroyd, a blender, one dead bass and a live television audience = classic sketch! Aired April 17, 1976.

    The Phone Company-One of SNL's better commercial parodies. Funny thing is...IT'S TRUE!!!!

    Coneheads on 'Family Feud"- A sketch that aired in 1978. Very funny.

    The Greek restaurant-This one got America saying "Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger,Cheeseburger!"

    The French Chef-Dan Aykroyd doing Julia Child. Not for the weak at heart!

    Stretch Marks-Gilda Radner in a record commercial parody. Great stuff!

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    Honorable Mention

    Steve Martin

    -Hosted SNL many times during the good old days. Continued to host after cast change in 1980, but never quite as funny. Great as one of the Festrunk brothers, Theodoric of York, King Tut and a slew of other sketches. Opening monologues were classic. What happened to the Wild and Crazy guy stuff?

    Buck Henry

    - Became the host of every last show of the season from 1976 to 1980. Gave great monologues that poked fun at himself and was good as Roy, the alleged baby sitter/child molester (he could make an unfunny subject funny.) Has not hosted an SNL show since the cast change (very smart).

    Michael O'Donoghue

    -Was on the show mostly as a writer until 1978. His wild brand of comedy could be seen in the opening credits that made fun of television shows (example-"Little House On the Prairie Burns Down" will not be seen tonight due to an NBC special presentation). He wrote the Norman Bates Hotel Quiz sketch in 1976.
    O'Donoghue died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1994.

    Andy Kaufman

    From his Mighty Mouse rendition to women's wrestling to having audience members lip sync to Old McDonald's farm, this zany individual became an early fixture on SNL (until viewers voted him off in the early 1980s). When he died of cancer in 1984, most people thought it was another one of his jokes. Wish it were.

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    Click here for more classic sketches from 1975 to 1980.

    The SNL Curse

    One of the darker things connected with Saturday Night Live is the so-called curse that some believe has befallen on some of the cast members.
    While most scoff at the idea of a curse (with good reason), it has grown into folklore, much like the Kennedy curse. The "victims" of the so-called curse die young and of unnatural causes. The men seem to die a death with drugs involved (Hartman's wife was on drugs), while the women die of cancer.
    Here is a list of tragedies of SNL stars:

    John Belushi- Died of a heroin and cocaine overdose after partying for days in Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont hotel. For years, Belushi was known for being a wildman on the party scene who went to levels that others did not dare to go. While this as great for his image onscreen, it was deadly in his personal life.
    What is most ironic about Belushi's passing is a particular sketch done on SNL. It was one of Schiller's Reels. Belushi was an old man, visiting the graves of dead SNL stars. As he walks to each grave, he makes quips. At Garrett Morris' "grave," Belushi says he died of "heroin and cocaine overdose." At Bill Murray's he says "he'd just grown his mustache back. Probably still growing." When he reaches Chevy Chase's tombstone, Belushi says "He died after his first movie with Goldie Hawn ( a reference to Chase's movie 'Foul Play')." At the end, he attributes his long life to the fact that he can dance and then he proceeds to dance around the gravestones. He was the first tragedy amongst the SNL cast. (Note: The first grave he visits in the sketch is Gilda Radner's).
    He died March 5, 1982.

    Andy Kaufman- After appearing on SNL, Kaufman went on to star as the nasal-voiced Latka on ABC's "Taxi." Latka was based on one of Kaufman's characters called Foriegn Man, who first appeared on SNL in 1975. Known for a comedy style that made people react more than laugh, Kaufman's antics became legendary.
    Kaufman died of a rare form of lung cancer in May, 1984 after being diagnosed only a few months before. He was a strict vegatarian and non-smoker.

    Gilda Radner- Just weeks after appearing on "The Garry Shandling Show" in 1989, Gilda died of ovarian cancer, a disease she had fought for two years. Radner was known for staying away from the heavy drug scene during the shows run the '70s. She fought bravely and even wrote a book about her battle with cancer. In her memory, the Gilda Foundation, a cancer-fighting organization where donations can be made, was established.
    With her passing, the legend of the curse began to grow.

    Chris Farley-The roly-poly "new" John Belushi. Farley idolized him, lived like him...and died like him. Farley was found dead of a drug overdose in a hotel room in Chicago (one of Belushi's favorite towns) on December 18, 1997 at age 33. Like Belushi (who was also 33 when he died), Farley indulged heavily in everything he did, including drugs and alcohol.
    Ironically, Farley's last words were similar to Belushi's: "Don't leave me alone."

    Phil Hartman- Died by a gunshot wound inflicted by his wife, Brynn, while sleeping in 1998. Brynn was known to be a cocaine-addict (rumors were that Phil did his share as well) and that Phil has planned to divorce her. It was said that Brynn had aspirations of being a star herself and possibly her motivations were a combination of the impending divorce, the threat to her future "stardom" and the drugs. She killed herself with the same gun used to kill Hartman while her two children were in an adjacent room.
    Hartman was on the show for 8 years. He was known for is chameleon-like comedic skills that allowed him to perform a wide range of characters, including the Anal Retentive Cook and President Clinton. He was on NBC's "News Radio" when he died.

    Danitra Vance- Died of cancer in 1994. Was the first African American woman on the show. She was on the show for only a season, supposedly leaving because there was not enough sketches for black women.

    Michael O'Donoghue- Insane-like comedy was his trademark. O'Donoghue made an interesting movie called "Mr. Mike's Mondo Video" in 1979. If you ever find it in a video store, check it out. He tried to help revive the show in the early '80s after the original cast departed, with some marginal success.
    He died suddenly in 1994 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

    Robert Downey Jr.-He had some trouble but has rebounded nicely. Maybe the "Curse" is dead?

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