Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Original Animal House

"For He's a Kappa Sig ... !"

Consider the following – despite what’s described on the “Animal House” website about Chris Miller and his days at Dartmouth. Despite what Miller - one of the film’s writers - “remembers” about his college days, and unrelated stuff he describes and later publishes in his book, “The Real Animal House (2006),” there’s a genuine influence for “Animal House” that must finally be acknowledged. What I’m saying is, during the years I was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at the University of Missouri, a full 10 years before the movie came out (in 1978), we experienced the actual events depicted in “Animal House,” the movie, co-written by Miller and Harold Ramis – who, according to at least one brother who saw him there - actually saw this stuff take place at Mizzou.

Ramis, a co-writer (and later very successful director), graduated Washington University, St. Louis, in 1966. He was a ZBT and had many friends at the very active ZBT house over at Missouri University, in Columbia, less than 2 hours away. (The website claims he based some of the pranks in the movie on his experiences at Wash U; there’s no way this is possible, not really. WU was a suburban St. Louis, white bread school for serious students). As a Kappa Sigma at Mizzou, with many brothers from St. Louis, we had a lot of friends who were Zeebs (and Sammies, the other primary Jewish fraternity), as we used to call them, and would actually party with them on occasion. Great partiers, too, just like us.

I graduated Mizzou in 1968; I was told years later that Ramis would visit the Kappa Sig house back then, and our weekend parties, when he would come to Columbia. And while I can’t personally attest to this, he must have. Here is what he saw, or would have seen – and these are all true, way-back-then events that I can attest to, because I was there, and saw all of them:

Toga Party. 15 years before the movie came out. We held ours at the Mizzou Motel the week before school started every year, where we crammed 25-some actives, and various disposable dates into a single room, all wrapped up in various sheets. Togas. Our “toga/toga/toga” chant traditionally ended with most of the togas on the floor. A couple of honorary pledges were always invited to these Toga Parties, held the weekend before school started. This is how I was introduced to the real Kappa Sig fraternity as a pledge: knock on the Mizzou Motel door, it opens, we walk in. First thing I see, a brother is screwing his date on the only bed in the room (under their togas). Round the corner into the kitchen, and there’s another brother, stirring his drink with his Johnson. Seriously).

“My man Otis.” Ours was Winston Rose (and the Aftones), a black R&B band who played many weekends at a black club in the middle of downtown Columbia, below street level. Jim’s Rib Station. It was actually laid out just like the club in the movie, bar on the right, bandstand on the left, dance floor crammed in the middle, and populated by many large, downtown dudes. And every so often a couple of us white brothers would descend the stairs down into what was then a very alien world. Winston actually stopped in the middle of a song one time, just like in the movie, but only because he recognized me from the last time I sat in with the band. The first night I was ever there was my freshman year, as a dorm rat (I pledged the summer before my sophomore year). We went in there and ordered champagne cocktails or some stuff and started interactin’ with the bro’s, not the brothers, the bro’s. And pretty soon here come’s Jim his ownself, and suggests we leave, now, with emphasis on NOW, and then escorts us all the way down the street to our car, just in case. This night, we took our dates out with us.

D Day’s motorcycle up the stairs. Terry Ranahan, who now practices law in California, wheeled his Ducati bike all the way up the front stairs into the frat house one night, just like D Day did. I was there, I saw it. Terry was chasing our housedog, Heidi, around the backyard; she was a St. Bernard, and she was terrified. She runs into the downstairs dining room to get way – and Ranahan follows her in. The look of absolute terror and surprise on her face was unforgettable. Then he rams his bike up the front stairs and all the way to the presidential suite - where I’m actually studying (I was GM, illegally, nine months after being activated). I dutifully threaten him with a fine, and he guides his Ducati down the back stairs, jumps it off the back steps between two parked cars, and lands it in the gravel parking lot, where he does a couple of doughnuts, spraying gravel around on everyone's cars.

Years later they rip up the old carpeting off the front stairs to replace it, and Terry's tire marks are still there! This is a true story; you cannot make this shit up.

Mazola parties. A major fantasy. But we talked about it all the time: the brothers, a bunch of fun-loving dates, a big plastic sheet spread out on the chapter room floor, and multiple bottles of Mazola Oil. Get naked. Pour! And mix it up. Repeat. Didn’t actually happen in my frat lifetime. But we all dreamed about it. And I was reminded of it in “Animal House” when Otter is shopping with Dean Wormer’s wife in the super market, and the first thing he reaches for … is Mazola Oil! A great tribute.

Pissing off the porch. The Kappa Sig annex was a dump of a rented house outside Columbia; several of the senior brothers rented it for … study hall. It was fronted by a railed porch. It was a zoo, especially on weekends. We honored the tradition of those who came before us by regularly pissing off this heralded platform – just like Belushi’s doing in the movie’s opening scene.

It was also at this annex that Brother Charles (Hoot) Gibson rigged a hole in the bathroom window from out on the porch, at … knee level. Shameless, and you had to stand guard when your own date was in there, if you cared. Amazing shots. At least we didn’t have to climb a ladder, like Bluto did at the Tri Delt house.

Food fights. The real deal. Once a year, minimum, in our dining room. And who cared? Pledges had to clean in up. And we could hose off upstairs, in the showers. Once the housemother even got nailed.

Dickenson College. In “Animal House” it’s an all-girls school near Faber. In Columbia, Missouri, it’s Stephens College, a quasi-notorious all-girls school attended by privileged young women from around the country. We called them Stephens’s dollies, and they were. The Kappa Sigs, whose brothers included numerous football varsity jocks, miscellaneous face men and all around dweebs and Blutos, would actually cruise Stephens Friday afternoons for dates, pile them into their cars and take them out to the Kappa Sig annex house, out on West Broadway, and … rock.

Your date’s dead. A classic at the Kappa Sig house. One example: one of the brothers (Gary Hilmer, the Lip) was worried about a blind date he was set up with at Stephens College, one of two all-girls schools in Columbia(!), so he sends over a fellow brother to check her out first, with the instructions to tell her he’s just been in a tragic car wreck if she shows up ugly. She did, and he did. Just like Otter did at Dickinson College – except they reversed the gag in the movie.

Spook trains. As rush chairman, I myself followed a long fraternity tradition by ushering undesireable rushees into a back room, all together, where one of our brothers would engage them in the theory of the slide rule or something. Another time I showed them a room upstairs, where we had a pledge lying face down on the top bunk. On the springs. Butt naked. Face down. Got it? Didn’t see this last bit in the movie. Funny thing, we used to call these rushees “geeks.” Little did we know that one day they would rule the world.

And without fail we would introduce ourselves to incoming rushees as Neil Downaneater, Michael Hunt or Dick Hertz – this last one a name you’ll see written on the blackboard in the student court scene in the movie.

Our Niedermeyer was, well, I won’t name him. But he was already a Vietnam Vet and back in the house, fully armed and dangerous. Once he shot a harpoon gun through his room wall, just missing a pledge’s head in the next room over. He used to fire his semi-automatic off the back fire escape, into the night air, “just to clear his head,” he would say. Then he re-upped, and would send photos of dead Viet Cong back to the house.

Annual Kappa Sig tradition: Keg party in the chapter room, followed by an exodus over to the Pi Phi sorority house, where we raised our beers, sang our “You didn’t win the skit Pi Beta Phi” song at the top of our lungs, and emptied our bladders on their lawn in their honor, en masse.

Two of my pledge brothers were locals, from Columbia. One of them dated an underaged girl from local Hickman High, a Kewpie – just like Tom Hulce’s Clorette. Ours was the daughter of Dan Devine – Mizzou’s head football coach.

This one wasn’t ours – but it happened at the KA house while we were in school. They had a drop dead gorgeous, 40-something housemother. Drove a Corvette convertible. Beautiful. The KA’s had some hunks, including Mizzou’s back-up quarterback. Yep, he did, just like Otter and the Dean’s wife.

Double Secret Probation. The entire three years I was in the house (I pledged my sophomore year), we were either on social or scholastic probation, or both. We called our Dean “Black Jack” for some reason, and had to visit him often. We were under constant threat of being closed down. My first duty as house president was to deliver a check to the SAE house because one of the brothers had thrown a boulder through their front window, drunk, and then sat down to wait for them to come out. The SAE’s were arguably the quintessential privileged white bread anti-frat Omega Theta’s epitomized in the movie. They were the first guys I ever saw that wore Khakis, with razor pressed creases, and Weejuns and no socks. The “OmegaTheta Pi’s,” and their squeaky-clean president, Marmalard – and his girlfriend Mandy – are carbon copies of the SAE’s at Mizzou back then.

The Delta Tau Chi’s in the movie get thrown off campus for 3 reasons: 1 – don’t remember; 2 – serving illegal alcoholic beverages to freshman pledges (Duh, who didn’t?); 3 – providing illicit “diet pills” to brothers (what they didn’t say was why: they kept you awake when you had to cram; our brother David Glenn had a regular business selling prescription Dexatrim pills to all of us during finals week, year in and year out. Dex. They could seriously fuck you up, and did).

Road trips were a long-standing tradition at Mizzou, even for dormies. Why? It was “illegal” to drink in the house (and definitely illegal in the dorm). So, you got some old guy to buy you a case of beer some Sunday afternoon, and off you went, a carload out to Clinkscales Road. The Delts did a road trip, too, and wrecked Flounder’s car in the process.

“I’m a zit.” Did it, seriously. Did it. Said it. In 1966. Mashed potatoes. And ketchup. Just like Belushi’s Bluto did. And I wasn’t the only one.

You cannot make this stuff up. And I’m not.

True, factual stories, every one of them. And every one of them in “Animal House,” one way or the other. Coincidences? I don’t think so. True greatness like this does not come by accident. It has to be earned. And believe me, there are many, many more stories, some of which will remain untold except at Kappa Sig reunions.

You’ll see on the Animal House website that their first choice for filming location was Missouri University, in Columbia, “College Town USA” (ended up shot at the University of Oregon; MU turned them down). No wonder.

Tim Arnold
Grand Master
Kappa Sigma, 1968
University of Missouri

1 comment:

  1. As a sophomore brother at Kappa Sigma Beta Gamma Mizzou, reading this makes me very proud to be a brother, especially after the allegations we've just made it through as a house, A-B this was one hell of a good read, thanks Brother Arnold, we as a house kick all ass and take all names