‘Saturday Night Live’: Why Chevy Chase Became the First Cast Member to Leave

Saturday Night Live premiered on October 11, 1975, with the now-legendary cast of Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase. Chase was the first to leave, only a year later, and went on to become a major comedy star of the back of National Lampoon’s Vacation and Caddyshack.

Chase was able to bounce so quickly because he had opted not to actually sign a performer’s contract, coasting on a year-long writer’s contract. Though he would land his first lead role two years after his departure in the critically acclaimed Foul Play, it would be hard to argue that he was tempted away from Saturday Night Live by the promise of film stardom. So, why did he leave so fast?

Why did Chevy Chase leave ‘Saturday Night Live’?

Chevy Chase during 'Weekend Update.'
Chevy Chase during ‘Weekend Update.’ | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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Chase touched on his swift departure from Saturday Night Live in his 2007 biography, I’m Chevy Chase… and You’re Not. Chase and author Rena Fruchter discussed the book in an interview with Today, and the actor gave his version of the story about why he left: for love.

“I left for a girl that I was in love with,” Chase said. “It had nothing to with lucrative film deals awaiting me. I didn’t make a movie for three years. It was just a lot of bunk… I was very much in love with a girl who just would not leave California.”

The girl in question was aspiring actress Jacqueline Carlin. Despite her apparent reticence to leave Los Angeles, per IMDb, she appeared in several early episodes of Saturday Night Live, playing mostly background parts like “Student” and “Wife.”

Chase and Carlin were married in late 1976, shortly after the actor left Saturday Night Live and after his divorce from his first wife, Suzanne Hewitt, was finalized. The two later divorced in 1980. Chase married his third wife, Jayni Luke, in 1983 and the couple has stayed together ever since.

Who replaced Chevy Chase on the show?

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Saturday Night Live didn’t feel the sting of Chase’s departure for very long. The show brought in Second City alumni and future-legend in his own right, Bill Murray, to fill the spot left vacant. Murray stuck around a bit longer, appearing in three seasons from 1977 to 1980, at which time Hollywood came calling.

Chase and Murray famously worked together on the classic sports comedy, Caddyshack, in 1980. Despite that, the two comedians had previously had a major dust-up during Chase’s return to host Saturday Night Live in 1978.

According to Biography.com, Chase felt strongly that there was a lot of resentment towards him behind-the-scenes of Saturday Night Live two years after his departure. He described the atmosphere as “poisoned.”

This later culminated in a confrontation between Chase and Murray, where the latter told the former that everyone on the show hated him. The final straw came when Murray harped on the well-known difficulties in Chase’s marriage to Carlin. The two later began to throw fists just before Chase was scheduled to go out for his monologue, with John Belushi having to keep them apart and taking most of the beating.