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Animal House
Dr. William B. Boyd revisits his role in permitting the movie “Animal House” to be filmed at the University of Oregon in 1978, Monday September 24, 2018.. He was president of the University at the time. (c) Mark Hertzberg for

There was at least one person in America who had no idea who John Belushi was in 1978.

Dr. William B. Boyd, the affable and distinguished president of the University of Oregon, had never heard of Belushi when John Landis, the director of Animal House, the famous or infamous movie starring the comic actor, asked to meet with him.

Landis was looking for a college campus on which to shoot his low budget film. But no matter. Dr. Boyd, who now lives in Mount Pleasant, consented to Landis using his campus as long as the school would not be identified.

Landis sought a campus setting that “looked like a (stereotypical) college campus,” said Dr. Boyd in an interview with Racine County Eye. He had been turned down by colleges on the East Coast and in the Midwest, so he scouted locations for his fictional Faber College on the West Coast. Oregon’s campus fit the bill.

Animal House: Gross, but funny

Landis told Dr. Boyd that he had a script for “what was going to be the funniest movie ever.” Dr. Boyd asked Muriel Jackson, his assistant, to read it and report back to him and to the college vice presidents. Her verdict? “She said that it was gross, but funny.”

Dr. Boyd was Vice-Chancellor of the University of California – Berkeley when administrators were approached about filming The Graduate at the school. The Chancellor’s assistant reviewed the script and said, “it was a good movie, but it was about a person who came
home from school not knowing what to do. And he had an affair with his girlfriend’s mother.

The chancellor said we don’t need that. We all agreed.” Much of the movie was filmed at the
University of Southern California instead. “But the campuses were open and a lot of it was
filmed at the Berkeley campus even though we had said no. It was a fine movie and we, at least I, regretted that we had not permitted the filming.”

Animal House was shot during the school year. In return, the producers provided internships for 20 students, and paid the university for the privilege of filming on campus, including expenses. The student body was delighted, as were local barbers who had a “field day,” because students chosen for the cast had to have hair cuts. The producers were not on campus long, and Dr. Boyd says there was no physical damage to the buildings that he was aware of.

How the movie was filmed

Some scenes, including the homecoming parade, were filmed in the nearby town of Cottage
Grove, Oregon. One of the memorable scenes in the film is when a horse is brought into fictional Dean Vernon Wormer’s office. The setting was Dr. Boyd’s office. One of the decorations on the wall of Dr. Boyd’s office was a drawing by Kent Kirby, a friend. Kirby was proud that the producers left it on the office wall during filming, said Dr. Boyd. “He claimed he stood up in the theater and said, ‘That’s my picture!’”

Dr. Boyd took a hands-off attitude to the movie during filming. “I saw the (film production) rushes pretty much every day (at a theater downtown), but I left the movie alone. I wasn’t offended by it. I was not afraid of what anyone would say.” His verdict? “I thought it was
going to be funny, but I didn’t think it was the funniest movie ever made. I thought it was
realistic with regards to the fraternities.”

Dr. Boyd came to Racine in 1980 as the second president of the Johnson Foundation (at Wingspread). Two years later he married the late Karen Johnson. She was a fan of the movie, once telling me that her favorite scene of any movie she had ever seen was the food fight in Animal House. When asked if it was permissible to tell that anecdote, Dr. Boyd smiled and gave a thumbs up gesture.

This is the movie’s 40th anniversary year. ESPN took note of that during their broadcast September 22 of an Oregon football game. A six minute segment about Dr. Boyd and about the movie was shown during the “Gameday” segment of the broadcast.

YouTube video

Dr. Boyd did not want the campus identified because Jackson had told him the movie was
“gross.” Though indeed arguably “gross,” Animal House is on the National Film Registry, established under an act of Congress. The Registry recognizes notable movies. Dr. Boyd, now
95, watched it again a week ago. He still thinks it is “gross,” but he has no regrets about his role in American cinematic history.