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Animal House turns 40: 'A story about the last good days of America'

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Steve Wickham remembers taking actor John Belushi down to the Eugene Hotel during the filming of "Animal House" all those years ago to hear bluesman Curtis Salgado and the Robert Cray Band. The rest is history. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - Steve Wickham remembers taking actor John Belushi down to the Eugene Hotel during the filming of "Animal House" all those years ago to hear bluesman Curtis Salgado and the Robert Cray Band.

"He just loved it and loved them," said Wickham, who appeared as an extra in the movie. "So he became friends with Curtis and everything moved on to the 'Blues Brothers' from there."

Belushi - the "Saturday Night Live" star appearing in his first film as Bluto Blutarsky - held a special place in Katherine Wilson's heart.

"I went to stand next to him," she said, looking at a photo of herself with the late actor, "and he grabbed me and pulled me on his lap, and that's why my eyes are closed and I'm laughing. I loved him a lot."

Wilson served as location scout for the movie, transforming the West University area into a movie set.

"They wanted to tell a story about the last good days of America," she said, "which were 1962 before Kennedy was assassinated."

The movie broke the mold for low-brow comedies - and turned much of Eugene into a motion picture lot.

Marv Leake was an extra in "Animal House" and still has a movie artifact: an original script.

"It's amazing how close the movie is to the script," Leake said.

Izzy Whetstine, 79, played "Mr. Mycolostomy" in the movie.

"I was the janitor, the all-around handyman," he recalled. "I emptied the waste baskets and cut up the dead horses or widened the doors. I'm not really sure what I did with that chain saw."

Now folks in Cottage Grove are busy planning a toga party to end all toga parties in honor of the 40th anniversary.

The town's Main Street was used to film the homecoming parade scene that featured a ban marching into a brick wall.

Mark your calendars: On August 8, 2018, people in Cottage Grove are planning to celebrate.

At meetings of the "Double Secret Society", business leaders and the Cottage Grove mayor are working to cook up the 40th anniversary bash for the movie.

"I was still in high school," Mayor Jeff Gowing said, "so I remember being down here skipping school to come watch them film it."

The Chamber of Commerce is helping organize the August celebration, which will feature a replica of the Deathmobile and an attempt at a new world record for toga parties.

"I looked up on Guinness," said Travis Palmer, director of the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce, "and I wrote them and I said, 'Hey, we want to get our record back' and I applied - and by God we're going to do it."

They are also organzing a county-wide "food fight" in July to benefit FOOD for Lane County.

So for 40 years, Animal House has stood the test of time.

Will the story endure another 40 years?

"It's like 'The Little Engine That Could'," Wickham said. "Nobody thought this was going to make it."

But in the end?

"It's timeless," Wilson said.


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