It’s hard to believe, but today marks the 25th anniversary of Home Alone, the classic holiday comedy about negligent parents, incompetent burglars, and one endlessly resourceful kid. To commemorate the silver anniversary, James Hughes, the son of producer of late writer-producer John Hughes, reunited with many of the cast and crew to put together an extensive oral history of the hit film for Chicago Magazine. Here are some of the highlights:
Director Christopher Columbus got the job in part because he couldn’t stand Chevy Chase
The first — and biggest — revelation comes from Christopher Columbus, who was then coming off a box office bomb with Heartbreak Hotel. He really needed a job, and was thrilled when ‘80s comedy master John Hughes sent him a script for the sequel Christmas Vacation. Columbus loved the screenplay, but was turned off by a series of meetings with star Chevy Chase.
“To be completely honest, Chevy treated me like dirt,” Columbus said. He tried to make it work — he even shot second unit footage for the film — but it was just not meant to be. “I had another meeting with Chevy, and it was worse. I called John [who was producing the film] and said, 'There’s no way I can do this movie. I know I need to work, but I can’t do it with this guy.’”
Hughes was quite understanding and sent Columbus the script for Home Alone, which he had recently written. Columbus signed on immediately, and soon casting began for the roles of Kevin McCallister, his frantic parents, and the two doofy baddies invading his home.
A future Saturday Night Live star almost played Santa
While the film made a star out of Macaulay Culkin, the precocious kid who Hughes had cast in Uncle Buck, it missed out on another future star: Chris Farley, who did not have the best audition when he tried out for the role of the smoking Santa Claus.
"It was 9 a.m. [and] apparently, he was out all night and had just been dropped off after a night of shenanigans, shall we say,“ said Ken Hudson Campbell, the Chicago-area actor who ultimately got the part. "Farley was kinda making catcalls to the girls who worked in the office.” Farley (who died in 1997) would go on to join Saturday Night Live for the 1990 season, just before Home Alone hit theaters.
John Candy spent a whole day improvising for his cameo
While Farley didn’t make the cut, another comedy titan did make a cameo appearance: John Candy, Hughes’ Uncle Buck star, who spent 24 hours on set to film his part as a polka musician who helps Kevin’s mom (Catherine O'Hara) get home to Chicago.
“I swear we worked for 21 hours straight, improvising,” O'Hara said. “Candy would start a bit. John Hughes would start a bit, and Candy would pick up on it, and we would just go with it. It was all in the moment. We’d start a ridiculous conversation and go as far as we could. Chris told me later how we couldn’t use most of it. He laughed and said, 'You’re supposed to be looking for your kid, and you’re just having a good time with these guys in a truck.’”
The movie’s stuntmen took some serious abuse
If the shoot was exhausting for some of the actors, it was extremely hazardous for the stuntmen who doubled for stars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, as Harry and Marv. The bumbling crooks are subjected to Kevin’s house of horrors that includes iced-over stairs, foot-impaling nails, red-hot doorknobs, and one blood-curdling tarantula.
“John [Hughes] and I used to talk about how violent stunts were funny, but the softer stunts weren’t,” Columbus said, referring to all the different ways that Kevin torments his adversaries in the third act. “It was getting those gags that were more dangerous and making absolutely sure the stuntmen weren’t getting hurt. Literally, three or four times while shooting Home Alone and Home Alone 2, I thought those guys were dead. There was no CGI [computer-generated imagery]. It was kind of terrifying to watch.”
It was worth it: 25 years later, we’re all still wincing — and laughing. For more, read the whole oral history at Chicago Magazine.