John Engelman '68 was a member of Alpha Delta (AD) fraternity, and he has served as alumni advisor to the organization since the early 1970s. On August 13 the Biography Channel will air a documentary about the movie National Lampoon’s Animal House, which was co-written by Chris Miller ’63, who based the movie in part on his experiences as a member of AD. Engelman recently spoke with public affairs about the upcoming documentary.
John Engelman visits with Alpha Delta fraternity brothers in 2006. (Photo from Dartmouth Life.)
PA: In what ways was the movie an accurate representation of fraternity life at Dartmouth in the 1960s? In what ways was it inaccurate?
JE: I own the movie, and I don’t watch it all the time, but I laugh when I watch it. While the incidents in the movie were not necessarily true, the characters and the culture the movie captures were reminiscent of people I knew and saw, not only at Dartmouth, but of people of that generation. The character of Bluto, for instance, was a composite of two or three guys I met from the early 60s.
PA: How has AD, and how have fraternities in general, changed since the time the movie was set?
JE: Fraternities and the College have changed tremendously. Of course, the socializing changed with the introduction of coeducation. It used to be that the main parties and interaction with women took place over the big weekends of Homecoming, Green Key, and Winter Carnival. Those weekends are still big, but the social activities are more spread out through the year, and of course men and women are participating together. All Greek life organizations, the fraternities and the sororities, are also doing a lot more. They participate in community service, sponsor educational events, and are more involved in programming. AD, for instance, has hosted a forums on sexuality in conjunction with Dartmouth’s gay and lesbian community.
PA: What do members of AD think of Animal House?
JE: They don’t speak about it a lot, but I think they have sort of a perverse pride in it. It’s made AD arguably the most famous fraternity in the world. But it’s ancient history. It doesn’t have a great deal of relevance to AD, and Dartmouth, today.
PA: What do you like about being the alumni advisor to AD?
JE: It keeps me in touch with undergraduates, and reinforces my commitment to Dartmouth.
Fraternity photo of Chris Miller '63. Courtesy www.chrismillerwriter.com.
Chris Miller ’63, who co-wrote the movie Animal House with Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney, said he is looking forward to watching the documentary next week. “The Dartmouth connection hasn't really been explored in-depth before,” he said in an August 7 interview. “Many other students claim it, but Animal House was absolutely AD at Dartmouth.”
Asked when he first thought the movie might be a success, he said, “You never want to think you’re writing a movie that will be a hit, because that’s a sure way to jinx it, but we just felt so good about what we were writing.” He added that it helped that during the filming of the movie, “it was the happiest movie set you could imagine.”
Along with the movie’s director John Landis, Miller recently watched the classic at a 30th anniversary celebration for Animal House in Santa Monica, California. “We had no idea it was going to become this beloved, iconic movie,” he said. “I’m still amazed.”
By STEVEN J. SMiTH
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Last Updated: 12/17/08