Chevy Chase turned seventy last week. This caught me a little off guard, since I had been thinking of myself as a contemporary of Chevy's. I can remember when his star was on the rise. I can remember those first, tentative steps out on the ledge. He was the voice of a new generation. And you're not.
He didn't stick around on Saturday Night very long. Hollywood called, and Chevy stumbled his way out to Los Angeles where he became a star. On a par with Goldie Hawn, who also got her start on a boundary-pushing television comedy program. Hers was "Laugh-In." These two iconoclasts joined forces to make the highly revolutionary film, "Foul Play." Okay, this may have been why Chevy was labeled a sell-out. It's also why Bill Murray, upon Chevy's return to Saturday Night Live as a host, called the first SNL breakout star a "medium talent."
Don't get me wrong. I still laugh at things that Chevy has done. His smart-aleck demeanor helped me define my own comic persona and there are still dozens of Chevy Chase lines that fall from my mouth instinctively when my own dialogue fails me. Why isn't he a bigger deal? Maybe because he's never taken himself a seriously as he would have others do it for him. Why isn't the star of "Fletch," the Griswold family patriarch and most importantly to me, Ty Webb, more a part of the comedy firmament? It could be because of "Fletch Lives," "Nothing But Trouble," and "Spies Like Us."
Or maybe he was just a hero of a generation that didn't try so very hard. The Proto-Slackers. It probably also has something to do with the fact that he didn't die young. John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Phil Hartman, Chris Farley: Saturday Night Live cast members who never got to see fifty-some, let alone seventy years. I suppose the snarkiest thing left to say is this: At least Chevy outlived Charles Rocket.