Celebrating ‘Animal House’ 40 Years Later

Cottage Grove was the base for the making of the iconic comedy about Greek life

By Craig Reed

Animal House parade float
“National Lampoon’s Animal House” was filmed in Cottage Grove in 1977. The town is hosting a celebration in August to commemorate the event.

The community of Cottage Grove is gearing up to relive its role in the movie “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

Despite early doubts because of several raunchy scenes, the movie became a classic comedy. Set in 1962 on the fictitious Faber College campus, the production wanted to tell a story “about the last good days of America,” says Katherine Wilson, who was a location/ casting director for the movie.

Now, 40 years later, the Double Secret Society—consisting of leaders from Cottage Grove, the chamber of commerce and area businesses—is planning to relive the town’s claim to fame in the movie industry.

Cottage Grove’s downtown area was the location for the movie’s climatic parade that featured runaway floats, the marching band turning into an alley and coming up against a wall, and the Deathmobile wreaking havoc on the parade and then taking out the grandstand where college and city officials viewed the event.

Many of the fraternity and college scenes were shot at the Delta Tau Chi fraternity and the administration building on the University of Oregon campus. The basement of the Cottage Grove Armory received a makeover and was also used for fraternity scenes.

“We’ve been planning this reunion and this anniversary for over a year,” says Jeff Gowing, Cottage Grove’s mayor and a high school junior in the town in 1977, when the movie was filmed.

Cottage Grove “Animal House” Day is August 18. “Louie, Louie” will be the day’s official song. A parade featuring floats and a replica of the Deathmobile will stage at 11 a.m. and roll at noon down Main Street.

To cap off the day, organizers hope to stage the world’s biggest toga party in Bohemia Park, starting at 7 p.m. Besides the effort to attract 5,000 people in togas to reclaim a Guinness Book of World Records mark, the party will include Otis Day and the Knights, the Kingsmen and other regional musical groups in concert. Otis Day and the Knights was a fictional band created for “Animal House,” but it later toured as a real band.

Beth Martin and John Ulbricht in tan clothing next to the mailbox in a scene during the parade.
Beth and John today.

“It’s going to be a long day,” Jeff says. “That movie kind of put Cottage Grove on the map. The movie was like the pioneer for all those National Lampoon comedies.”

Travis Palmer, director of the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce, said several members of the movie’s cast and crew will be at the anniversary celebration.

“I think the community will embrace this event,” Travis says. “A lot of the buildings that were the background for the parade look about the same. Businesses around Cottage Grove are jumping on board for this celebration.”

Katherine says she read the script for the movie in advance and described it as “awful.” But being in her 20s and learning about the film industry as a member of the Oregon Film Factory in Eugene, she accepted the location/casting director job because “it was a paycheck.” She lined up the local extras and helped find locations to shoot different scenes.

“The movie was an incredible capture of what was going on in the 1970s even though it was set in 1962,” Katherine says. “None of us thought it had potential, but now I take some pride in being part of it.”

Beth Martin and John Ulbricht, both of Cottage Grove, were seniors at Cottage Grove High School in 1977 when movie scenes were being shot in their town. They both skipped school and were paid as extras, each receiving around $125. In one scene, the two can be seen on either side of a mailbox. John can also be seen running down the street once the parade is disrupted by the Deathmobile.

“It was a lot of fun, a blast,” John says. “I thought the movie was great, and to think we were in a movie that is historic.”

“I didn’t even have an understanding of what the film was going to be, just a movie,” Beth says. “And I felt really excited that I got paid to be in this movie. But if I would have known it was going to become such a big deal, I probably would have framed that check I got from Hollywood.”

To help promote the “Animal House” 40th anniversary activities, the Eugene Emeralds baseball team will host Animal House Night at their August 17 game. Otis Day is scheduled to throw out the first pitch.

The Bohemian Film Festival is also the weekend of August 17–19. In addition to “Animal House” being shown on a large screen in an airport hangar, numerous other films will be shown at several other area venues.

Jeff is optimistic all the weekend activities will bring enough people to town to set a new toga party record. At the 25th “Animal House” anniversary in Cottage Grove, a record was set when 2,166 sheet-wearing people packed downtown. That record was broken when two Queensland universities combined for a toga record of 3,700.

“I want to get the record back,” Jeff says. “I hope we can destroy the record with 5,000 people in togas, making it real hard to break again.”

Katherine is optimistic the anniversary activities will be a hit.

“There are ‘Animal House’ celebrations everywhere, but people are writing us, saying yours is the coolest,” she says. “Nobody else has Otis Day, nobody else has the Kingsmen and nobody is having it where it was shot. Ours is going to be the ultimate.”

Tickets for the toga party and concerts are $20. There are discounts for children, seniors and groups of 10 or more. Ticket sales will help confirm the number of people attending in togas to officially qualify for the record.

In the credits at the end of “Animal House,” is text that reads, “The producers gratefully acknowledge the generous assistance of the people of Eugene and Cottage Grove, Oregon.”

Cottage Grove continues to be proud of its part in the comedy.