He’s Chevy Chase, and Tom Shales is Not

The former Washington Post TV critic and co-author of an SNL oral history shares some gilded show memories

The Internet has saved the best Saturday Night Live memories for last. Just ahead of tonight’s big 40th anniversary special, former Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales, who was born two weeks ahead of Lorne Michaels in the fall of 1944 and co-authored an oral history of the program that was recently updated, has shared his golden memories. Memories bathed in a lifelong friendship with Michaels and access to the VIP viewing spot under the bleachers.

It’s a great read, and includes Shales’ recollections of the time Michaels came to Washington D.C. with several cast members for a White House visit:

We all strolled along the reflecting pool on the Mall. Actually, Lorne and I strolled; John Belushi and best-buddy Dan Aykroyd romped and ran. They launched into one improv bit after another – John grabbing a stick and using it as a cane and Dan following behind with a notepad shouting, “Senator! Senator, please!” Tourists were confused.

John, Dan, Lorne and Chevy Chase’s girlfriend all made me feel welcome that afternoon. The one guy who didn’t: Chevy Chase. He asked Michaels in a hushed voice – hushed but loud enough, he knew, for me to hear – how much longer “this guy,” me, was going to be tagging along. That seemed pretty crummy; the guy wasn’t even a star yet, though it was already clear he would be. But he hadn’t learned, and never will apparently, that you don’t say aloud everything you’re thinking inside.

There are several other mentions of Chase in the post. All of them – right down to a random encounter with Shales at the old Schwabs drugstore in Los Angeles – remind that the performer tended to stumble in very different ways once the red camera light was off. Shales also takes a funny swipe at the SNL credentials of the great majority of writers who have been posting 40th anniversary tribute pieces.
[Photo of Chase circa 2002: The Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com]