‘Christmas Vacation’: The Squirrel Trained to do the Stunts Died the Day Before They Started Filming

It’s that time of year again when many people carry on the tradition of watching and streaming some beloved Christmas classics. One holiday movie that makes watchlists in homes year after year is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

If you’ve seen the 1989 comedy, then you can’t forget the squirrel scene. After the animal jumped out of the Griswold family’s live tree, chaos ensued. It was pretty hectic behind the scenes as well when the stunt squirrel died just before filming began. Here’s more on that and what had to be done to get that scene in.

Chevy Chase in a scene from 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation'
Chevy Chase in ‘Christmas Vacation’ | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

The squirrel scene is one of the most memorable in ‘Christmas Vacation’

The hilarity begins after the family clears the living room and the squirrel attaches itself to Clark’s back. Everyone begins running all over the house and soon Cousin Eddie’s dog gives chase.

The canine trashes everything in its path in order to get to the rodent until Clark opens the front door and out go both animals right onto the Griswold’s neighbor Margo Chester, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

It was huge part of the movie and the squirrel was trained for months to do what was required for the scene.

The shooting was extremely chaotic after the stunt squirrel died

Just one day before shooting was set to start, the squirrel that had been trained to do the all stunts for the film died.

During an interview with Rolling Stone director Jeremiah Chechik recalled what his reaction was when he heard about the stunt squirrel’s death. “I said, ‘Holy f*ck, we’re shooting that today!'” he remembered. “And the animal trainer turned and said, ‘Ya know, they don’t live that long.'”

But as they say: The show must go on. So the only choice was to use a squirrel that was not trained.

“We still had to shoot the scene, so we used an untrained squirrel. It was just total chaos,” Chechik said.

Other little known facts about ‘Christmas Vacation’

Christmas Vacation
Scene from Christmas Vacation | Warner Bros.

This ‘Christmas Vacation’ Actor Broke a Bone While Filming a Memorable Scene

Something else that you might not have guessed about the movie is that Clark’s rant when he doesn’t get a Christmas bonus was created with the help of everyone else in the room. In order for Chevy Chase to remember all the words he needed and get them out in quick succession, the other actors wore cue cards.

“You are assigned a place to stand for camera placement and all that kind of stuff. But this particular scene, it was blocked in a way that would allow each of us to have around our necks a piece of rope that was attached to a big cue card,” Beverly D’Angelo, who played Ellen Griswold, told The Dinner Party Download.

“The rant was divided into sections so that he could go all the way through from the beginning to end without a chance of forgetting his lines or flipping his lines,” D’Angelo stated. “They were all right there.” 

Another fact that many people don’t know is that Cousin Eddie got his own movie. Anyone who’s seen a Vacation film certainly remembers Cousin Eddie. The character became so popular that a movie titled Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure was released in 2003. It wasn’t a success though and only received a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.