So, the writers plodded away at further drafts. “We had a treatment that had taken nearly a year to write and wasn’t exactly structured,” Simmons continues, “but we were sure we had something.”
Nick de Semlyen’s book “Wild and Crazy Guys” paints a picture of “controlled chaos” in the writing room, a space wherein Miller, Ramis, and Kenney “typed with one hand while holding joints with the other.” This shouldn’t be shocking to those familiar with National Lampoon where dead dogs, drugs, and debauchery rule the day. Semlyen describes Universal president and all-around square Ned Tanen grumbling to the writers, “I’d never make this movie — except you’re the National Lampoon.”
What grew from those smoke-filled writing sessions was a loose expansion of Miller’s short story “Night of the Seven Fires,” a lewd account of his fraternity initiation at Dartmouth College first printed in the October ’74 issue of “National Lampoon Magazine” alongside pieces like a “Boys’ Life” parody and Kenney’s send-up “Nancy Drew and the Case of the Missing Heiress.” One element that didn’t make the journey from story to screen: an inebriated freshman vomiting on another’s genitals. It would briefly carry the title “Laser Orgy Girls” before swapping the lasers and orgies for food fights and toga parties, and the rest is history.
In the end, the story may not have been “War and Peace,” but it was a sprawling tale of failure and triumph, carefree abandon and coiled rage, all in a 109-minute party. One part hilarious writing, one part stacked cast, and one part disciplined director made for a comedy classic as intimidating for its successors to match as any Tolstoy work.