Liiiiiiiiiiiive from New York—on Oct. 11, 1975, at11:30 p.m. (ET)—it was, for the very first time, Saturday Night Live. Since then, the world has said goodbye to Elvis, the USSR and Michael Jackson’s original nose. But SNL endures. On the occasion of its 25th season—highlighted by a TV reunion Sept. 26—PEOPLE catches up with the show’s famous and forgotten. Where have you gone, Tim Kazurinsky?
The show’s “resident genius” (in Chevy Chase’s estimation), Aykroyd left an indelible mark on audiences with his Bass-O-Matic TV pitchman, “wild and crazy” single guy Georg Festrunk, Elwood Blues (to pal John Belushi’s Jake) and Richard Nixon (Aykroyd’s favorite impression). “He was a powerhouse,” recalls writer Tom Davis. At pitch sessions, “he’d jump on the desk, do all the parts. He had everybody laughing.” The star of Ghostbusters and Coneheads, Aykroyd has done serious turns as well—in 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy and in House of Mirth (due out next year). Of his old show he once said, “I’ve often thought if I ever got a tattoo, it’s going to be a little TV set with ‘SNL: ’75-79.’ ”
Newman, one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players (1975-80), has a confession to make: “I was terribly jealous” of castmate Gilda Radner. And that’s not all. Newman, 47, admits to a past substance abuse problem that she kicked in rehab in 1987. Today she lives in L.A. with actor-writer Chad Einbinder, 36, and daughters Lena, 8, and Hannah, 4. Newman has done voice-overs for animated kids’ shows (The WB’s Histeria!) and is now shooting a dark comedy, The Flunkie. She still runs into SNL pals. “Jane [Curtin] lives up the street,” she says. “I see her walking her dog. We flip each other off and stuff and then laugh.”
Novello, 56, joined the show in 1978 and stayed two years, returning as a writer for the ’85-’86 season. He is best known as Father Guido Sarducci, the world-savvy Vatican priest who chain-smoked while dishing gossip. “It’s funnier to me for a priest to be reading The Wall Street Journal than the Bible,” says Novello. Divorced and living in Northern California, Novello is currently writing a book about white plastic chairs called Don’t Sit Down. “Ten years ago they were nowhere, and now they are just everywhere,” he says. “Where did they come from and what do they want?”
Curtin, 52, whose cool, crisp presence distinguished her from cast-mates Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner, has called her SNL years (1975-80) “the most exciting thing you could ever imagine.” There were a few minor problems, such as the prosthetic cap she had to glue onto her head to play Mrs. Conehead (hated it) and the occasional unhappy host (Louise Lasser, she once said, “locked herself in the dressing room at 11:15 and said she wasn’t coming out”). After bowing out of the show, Curtin, married to writer-producer Patrick Lynch and with a daughter, Tess, 16, soared to sitcom heights in CBS’s Kate & Allie, and now plays an earthling on NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun.
“Has it been that long?” says Chase, reminded that Saturday Night Live is celebrating a quarter-century on the air. “Good God!”
Just as hard to believe is the fact that Chase, 55, spent only the first season on the show, so strong has his influence been as an SNL founding father. “It was so exciting being the progenitors of things we still see in pictures and TV,” he says. Rubber-faced and acidly funny, he was the first anchor of the “Weekend Update” segment (“I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not”) and—playing the accident-prone then-President Gerald Ford—got belly laughs just by falling down. Those tumbles were real. “I broke some things,” he recalls. “As I got older, it really affected me in my back. I have degenerative disk disease and osteoarthritis.” He also developed an addiction to painkillers, which landed him in the Betty Ford Center in 1986. And yet, he says, “I’ve missed the show from the day I left it.” One of his favorite memories: a Star Trek skit with John Belushi as Captain Kirk and himself as Spock. “It was a perfect parody.”
Chase, who quit SNL to move to L.A. and concentrate on films, was an ’80s box office star with such hits as Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation (and two sequels). But he lasted only six weeks as host of his own FOX talk show in 1993. Scheduled to shoot a new movie comedy with director Blake Edwards in January, Chase says his greatest pleasure these days is spending time at home in Upstate New York with his second wife, Jayni, 42, and daughters Cydney, 16; Caley, 14; and Emily, 11. “I not only enjoy it—it’s my life,” he says. “I’m known as a good dad.”
Chase says he likes the current SNL cast, “but it’s never going to be the same as the first year,” he says, “when it was new, breaking ground.” One constant remains—the excitement of a show done live. “The best thing in the world,” Chase observes, “is to watch television and see somebody screw up.”
She did handstands atop the “Weekend Update” anchor desk and sang a lot of wacky songs (“I am not a bimbo”). But after six years (1986-92) of playing airheads, “I was burned out,” says the bubbly Jackson, 40. Three months after leaving SNL she wed Paul Wessel, now 41 and a Miami police helicopter pilot, with whom she has raised daughters Scarlet, 13 (from Jackson’s first marriage, to a professional fire-eater); and Aubrey, 5. “I’ve been doing stand-up comedy [on the road],” says Jackson, who also starred in an X-Files episode last year. “There are no opportunities to entertain people [in suburban Miami] unless you’re a stripper.”
To paraphrase his most famous character, Latino “base-a-boll” player Chico Escuela, SNL was “berry, berry good” to original cast member Morris, 62. On the show, however, “there was a clique who made it clear they didn’t want me there,” recalls Morris, who won’t name names. “[But] Gilda [Radner] and John [Belushi] led a group to keep me.” Even after leaving in 1980, Morris (now a regular on The Jamie Foxx Show) has proved a hardy perennial. A near-fatal 1994 shooting by robbers in South Central L.A. resulted in “about 10 operations,” Morris recalls. “I am now running five miles every other day,” he says. Berry good news indeed.
With his vast gallery of eccentric characters (hyperkinetic Ed Grimley, albino crooner Jackie Rogers Jr., Katharine Hepburn’s great-nephew Nelson), it’s hard to believe that Short, 49, was on SNL for only a single season, 1984-85. But, he says, it “was like final exams every week, and that got to you.” Plus, “I had a new baby at the time.” Short, now a father of three with wife Nancy, went on to films (Three Amigos), Broadway (where he won a ’99 Tony for Little Me) and back to TV—as host of the new Martin Short Show. As Ed Grimley might put it, we must say he’s an eclectic fellow!
“What the hell was I doing?” asks Joe Piscopo, 48, reflecting on his slide from a top SNL star known for Doug Whiner and the loud-talking Sports Guy to a beefed-up, much-derided bodybuilder in diet-supplement ads of the early ’90s. “I did some stupid things.” But his TV glory days (1980-85) weren’t perfect either. The weekly hunt for fresh jokes, he says, “was the equivalent of war.” And for four seasons he was fighting (and beating) thyroid cancer (which prompted all the weight training). Then, in 1988, he lost custody of his son Joe Jr., now 20. “What are you going to do,” he says, “try to be a star or put your life in order?” Now married to his second wife, Kimberly, and the father of Alexandra, 6 months, Piscopo is touring with his killer Sinatra impersonation and a 20-piece band. And, he says, “I’m the happiest schmuck alive.”
Saturday Night Live was “a great kind of boot camp for us,” says Nealon, 45. And he was a good soldier. In nine seasons (1986-95) he played everything from P.I. P.I., a politically incorrect private investigator, to bodybuilder Franz (“Pump—you up!”) with unflappable skill. Now living in L.A. with his wife, Linda, 40, an animal rights activist, and four cats, he’s developing a sitcom pilot (after appearing in several that flopped). “At the time, I knew [SNL] was a great part of my life,” he says. “I was really appreciating it when it was happening, although it was happening fast. It went by so fast.”
“He always made you feel warm,” says Joe Piscopo of Murray, 49. “He’d put his arm around you.” Laraine Newman recalls the time she flubbed a joke, and he rushed on camera and improvised a line to tie up the skit. “He saved my ass,” she says. Murray, who was on the show for four consecutive seasons, filled the void left by Chevy Chase’s 1976 departure with such keystone characters as Nick, a smarmy, no-talent lounge singer, and lovable nerd Todd DiLaMuca. Murray, now married to his second wife, Jennifer, and the father of five sons from his two marriages, has long been a successful film star (Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day), but he remains as seemingly indifferent to celebrity as when he was starting out on SNL. “Whenever I hear [a star] say ‘my fans,’ ” he told The New York Times this year, “I go right for the shotgun.”
During his seven SNL years (1986-93), “Dana was the heart of the show,” says Nora Dunn. “He’s a very versatile guy—real tender too.” He created Church Lady and shy basement rocker Garth (whom he played in two Wayne’s World movies with Mike Myers). But since a failed 1996 series and angioplasty in 1997, Carvey, now 44 and fully recovered, has stuck mostly to stand-up, staying close to home in Northern California with his wife, Paula, 39, and young sons Dex and Tom.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m still tired from that experience,” laughs Dunn, 47, a five-year veteran (1985-90) who played vapid fashion maven Pat Stevens and, with Jan Hooks, half of a giddy musical duo, the Sweeney Sisters. In retrospect, she says, it’s easy to tick off “a litany of complaints” (including a lack of jokes for the women), and she famously boycotted a show hosted by shock comic Andrew Dice Clay. But when Mary Tyler Moore hosted the show, says Dunn, who lives in L.A. with her husband (theater-technology teacher Sean McGarry, 36) and plays a journalist in the new George Clooney movie Three Kings, “that was one of those things where you keep pinching yourself.”
Getting fired as SNL’s acerbic “Weekend Update” anchor in 1998—after then-NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer reportedly said, “You’re not funny”—may have been Macdonald’s biggest career break since, well, getting hired on the show five years earlier. Macdonald, who left in the spring of ’98, parlayed the uproar into his own ABC sitcom, now in its second season. “I was never angry. [Don] always seemed like a good guy,” says Macdonald, 36, who is married with a 6-year-old son. And there are still no hard feelings. “I watch [SNL] every week,” he says.
“The Liar was an inside joke between me and a friend,” recalls Lovitz, 42, about one of his signature characters. “So was Master Thespian. I was imitating a professor at college [the University of California at Irvine].” The roles got him hired at SNL in 1985. There ensued a friendly rivalry for airtime with Dana Carvey (“I remember trying really hard to make Dana laugh [on camera],” says Lovitz). Lovitz went on to star in The Critic and in NewsRadio, succeeding pal Phil Hartman in 1998. He recently wrapped a new Woody Allen movie. “Woody’s the reason I became a comedian,” he says.