He is the whitest of the white trash, the kind of man who dumps raw sewage in a storm drain and kidnaps your boss as a Christmas present. And the only man to ever combine a leather belt with a bathrobe.
Randy Quaid has played lovable moocher ‘Cousin Eddie’ in four separate National Lampoon films, but his most famous performance still resides at yuletide. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, directed by Jeremiah C. Chechik) has weathered years of apathy to become something of a seasonal favourite. Watching Chevy Chase’s bipolar family man Clark Griswold lose his rag every December is now a festive tradition .
Yet Clark is not really the star of the movie at all, no that honour falls to Cousin Eddie Johnson arriving just past the half hour point wearing an insane grin and vinyl trooper hat. One of the reasons we love Eddie so much is his lack of self awareness. This is reflected in a wonderful wardrobe of mismatched retro outfits for which we have costume designer Michael Kaplan to thank. That’s right, the man who created Marla Singer, Burlesqued Cher, reinvented Star Trek, and is currently costuming Star Wars VII also put Randy Quaid in a Val Doonican v-neck and dickey, inadvertently creating a style icon in the process.
Well, because it’s that time of year we got in contact with Michael Kaplan and asked for his help on a memory lane tour of Eddie’s eccentric Vacation attire. This is the gift that keeps on giving.
Arrival at Clark’s
Green vinyl trooper hat, white ‘Dairy Derby’ print short sleeve shirt, long sleeve thermal t-shirt, short sleeve green corduroy shirt with revere collar.
Cousin Eddie appears outside the Griswold home dragging his poor family along with him (look out for young Rocky in a Wally World t-shirt). He is everyone’s favourite crazy uncle, dressed in Goodwill’s catwalk and constantly beaming as if the wind changed and he stayed that way.
Eddie: “You surprised to see us, Clark?”
Clark: “Oh, Eddie. If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.”
‘The green vinyl hat with ear flaps worn early on, sells the fact that Cousin Eddie is good natured imbecile’ offers Kaplan. Eddie is known for that vinyl trooper hat, it’s his signature look. Just try wearing one now and see if someone doesn’t ask if the “shitter’s full”.
White acrylic v-neck sweater, black dickey, slim leg green trousers, white patent leather loafers with gold snaffle, brown leather belt.
This is the one – classic Eddie. You just have to Google Image search ‘Cousin Eddie costume’ to see how definitive this outfit is. Individually it’s the dickey and white loafers that make the ensemble work, but couple together snug green pants and v-neck and we simultaneously have the coolest/naffest person alive.
‘I think the sheer white acrylic v neck sweater worn with a black dickey is one of my favourite creations of all time’ Kaplan notes. ‘The clothes in a weird way are a precursor to Tyler Durden’s wardrobe in Fight Club’.
Ten years after Christmas Vacation was made fashion underwent something of a vintage revival, especially for the 1970s. Kaplan’s costumes for Brad Pitt in Fight Club inspired disenchanted teenagers of the late nineties to team a porn vest with tracksuit bottoms and oxblood leather jacket. It was more a retro rebellion.
Mid-brown with narrow dark brown stripes sheepskin lined coat; green vinyl trooper hat; knitted red, brown and yellow pattern scarf; green work trousers; red and white ski gloves.
Comparatively sedate for Cousin Eddie this ensemble. Okay, what we really mean is that when it’s cold enough to go sledging then wearing any old tat is acceptable just so long as it’s warm. Eddie though, sells this get-up with one accessory; one that perhaps most sane people would not team with a sheepskin coat and trooper hat: ski mitts.
Kaplan has his own opinion on Cousin Eddie’s surprising sartorial legacy, ‘Eddie’s clothes take on a bit of hipness after all these years; no less funny, but what were tacky used clothes from second hand stores in the late 1980s when the film was made are now period seventies clothes again with a new look and meaning’.
Clark’s Swimming Pool Dream
White singlet vest, cheetah print swimming trunks.
You do have to love the way Cousin Eddie just wanders uninvited into Clark’s daydream like a poor man’s forerunner to Inception. On consideration this has to be looniest Eddie outfit of them all. The funny thing is however, this is not actually Eddie’s choice at all; this is how Clark imagines he would look loitering around his (as yet unbuilt) swimming pool. Clark’s imagination is worse than the real thing.
This about as far as Randy Quaid was willing to push it costume wise. Actually no, not according to Michael Kaplan, ‘I recall Randy sticking a beer can down the inside pant leg during the supermarket scene’ he recalls. ‘I had to talk him out of that fashion choice. He was game for all of my ideas but there always must be a line drawn’.
Emptying the Shitter
Short white cotton towelling bathrobe with light blue trim, white leather belt with gold buckle, black socks, black leather loafers with gold and braided leather buckle, green vinyl trooper hat.
It’s difficult to comprehend how such an ensemble could make sense to anyone, but let’s examine this from Eddie’s point of view: Toilet needs emptying? Put on bathrobe. Can’t find the matching belt? Add whichever is closest. It’s cold out so socks, naturally, and nobody wants sewage on their feet so slip on the nearest pair of shoes. Top off with a hat to keep the draft out and, of course, a lit cigar, plus something alcoholic to drink while waiting. Done. To Eddie this is just getting up in the morning.
‘At the time the mini robe with black socks and shoes seemed like the wardrobe de riguer for draining the mobile home potty’ remembers Kaplan. Nonetheless trying this in front of your own house might elicit the odd sideways glance. Just smile and raise your beer can.
White leather western style jacket with copper poppers, light brown floral print and pattern shirt, white leather belt with gold buckle, mauve trousers.
Imagining what this ensemble would be like with the aforementioned beer can stuffed down the trousers is not pleasant; those pants are tight enough without anything else to rub against. On close inspection we can make out the jacket Eddie’s wearing is leather, or more likely vinyl, and that it’s probably part of a two-piece. If only we could see how Eddie looks wearing a full western style leisure suit in a dinner party setting, perhaps with a butterfly print shirt and white loafers? Oh, we can…
Light blue streaky wash polyester poplin leisure suit, white with blue butterflies print shirt, white leather loafers.
‘It’s interesting how time adds unintended layers’ Kaplan notes. In other words what looked awful, even ironically, nearly a quarter of a century ago just a few years later is actually kinda cool. Well maybe not cool but certainly peculiar enough to be hipster. Nothing says you’re misunderstood like a leisure suit.
One of Kaplan’s fondest memories of Christmas Vacation was being on set with Mae Questel who played dotty Aunt Bethany. ‘I loved working with Mae. She was the voice of Betty Boop in the late 1930s cartoons’. If you didn’t know that already just watch her in the film again and it all makes sense. The leopard print coat she wears is all Boop, too.
For the finale, Eddie adds his sheepskin coat and hat to kidnap Clark’s boss for failing to cough up a decent enough Christmas bonus. This is Cousin Eddie in a nutshell: thoughtful, thoughtless, nuts, and able to rock a leisure suit like no man before or since.
With thanks to Michael Kaplan.
You can watch Randy Quaid in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at LOVEFiLM.com.
© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.