He was Chevy Chase, and John Belushi wasn’t. That’s what caused the feud between Chase and his former Saturday Night Live castmate, at least according to Chase. Chevy believes their long-simmering rivalry was just the result of jealousy.
“I felt pretty strongly that I was the funniest,” the 78-year-old told CBS Sunday Morning this week.
Chevy Chase and John Belushi first worked together and fought long before they joined the inaugural cast of Saturday Night Live. They starred in the Off-Broadway production of National Lampoon: Lemmings in 1973. Belushi was the breakout star of that show. The hierarchy remained that way until they joined the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.
Chevy Chase took centerstage once they joined SNL. He believes that’s what caused the rift in their relationship.
“I got a couple of photos and in the background, there’s John like this,” he said, holding up his middle finger. “And he didn’t do it just once. Anytime I could find a (photo), there’s John.”
The idea that Belushi was just angry at rival’s success is convenient for Chase to say today. Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982 and can’t tell his side of the story. But according to their colleagues, there is some truth to it.
‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast, Crew on Chevy Chase, Belushi Rivalry
John Belushi was in the first sketch on Saturday Night Live‘s first show in 1975. But it was Chevy Chase who got to say the now-iconic line “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night” for the first time. Chase was also the first host of “Weekend Update.”
This helped Chase become the show’s first superstar.
“New York magazine comes out with Chevy on the cover,” producer Dick Ebersol told the authors of Live From New York, an oral history of SNL. “John is radically pissed off because he sees Chevy running away with the show. Now it’s going to be all about Chevy. Onstage, John had to be the star, not Chevy.”
Belushi wasn’t the only Saturday Night Live star to feel that way. Several other members of that inaugural cast felt Chase hogged the spotlight.
“Chevy was certainly easy on the eye back then. And he was also full of himself. He could present himself in a way that was funny and accessible to a certain degree. When he entered the room, the room changed,” Jane Curtin told the Archive of American Television.
“So it made sense that he would be the face. But then the face got a little big. It became a really big face, which ticked a lot of people off. John wanted to be the face, and other people wanted to be the face. It was tense when that happened.”
Chase left Saturday Night Live in the second season to star in movies. Belushi stayed on and became famous for his over-the-top characters and big personality.
“[Belushi] was a little bit jealous that I had become the standout guy the first year, when John [felt he] deserved to,” Chase told Time years later. “And he did. John was our ringer. But television doesn’t care too much about ringers who are short and have a beard. Somehow they took to the tall, thin, handsome guy.”