Most people recognize Chevy Chase as Clark W. Griswold, Fletch or even as President Gerald Ford from “Saturday Night Live.” But who is the real Chevy Chase? Author Rena Fruchter profiled the famous comedian, now 63, in the new authorized biography “I’m Chevy Chase and You’re Not,” which covers the actor’s more difficult times, including his childhood abuse, stint at the Betty Ford Center and departure from “Saturday Night Live.”
Here is an excerpt from the book:
“I lived in fear all the time, deathly fear,” Chevy recalls. He remembers being awakened in the middle of the night and slapped, continually and hard, across the face. “I don’t remember what it was for, or what I had done.” This was not unusual. Being locked in the bedroom closet for hours was also a standard punishment in the household. To this day, Pamela says, she cannot keep a hairbrush in her home. Her mother would hit her with a hairbrush when she became enraged. “A hairbrush doesn’t feel safe to me.”
It was hard work for Chevy just to survive as a child. He was a sensitive boy, filled with fear, and thoughts of his home life while he was at school made studying hard. His grades were low yet when tested his IQ was extremely high. This made the problem worse because his stepfather, hearing this news, claimed there was no excuse for the low grades and would hit him, making his nose bleed, or lock him in a dark closet.
Chevy felt that he was working as hard as, or harder than, his classmates, but working at “just being accepted as a person, or at understanding how to survive such fear and despair and still be a ‘good’ child.” Chevy never told anyone what was going on at home, although he imagined some family friends must have known or suspected things were not right. He never felt that he could tell his father, Ned. By that time, Ned had remarried and had a second family. Chevy didn’t want him to know, didn’t want him to worry. “I was afraid if Dad would face off against John Cederquist he would lose a fight. John Cederquist was a bigger, angrier, strong man. I also didn’t know I would be allowed to say anything.”
Friends and the extended family “just knew I was a confused and sad kid.” Chevy received the worst treatment of the five children. Chevy’s older brother, Ned Jr., toed the line more than Chevy and suffered fewer harsh punishments. “I was fraught with fear and low self-esteem,” remembers Chevy. “You’re inundated with those thoughts and those fears, and you learn nothing about how to organize your time and do your homework.”
Chevy’s younger half brother John explained that Ned was “a model student and high school athlete. In my parents’ estimation, there was no need to hammer on him, since he already ‘fit the mold.’ In contrast, Chever [“Clever Chever” is his nickname for Chevy] was moody and troublesome, and worse yet he responded to the poundings he received—be they physical or, worse, psychological and emotional—with sullen obstinacy, which I can tell you from my own experience was the quickest route to painful reprisal from my parents. Ned was always Mommy’s golden boy, while Chevy was ever the ‘pain in the butt.’ It was a daily ordeal for all concerned, but a particularly vicious cycle for Chevy.
“My parents also compartmentalized their abuse and neglect of us, especially our mother. Everything was a dirty secret, to be kept hidden from my father. She didn’t want her shrink husband to know anything about her bizarre conduct, and for his part my father’s whole life was a secret, as he spent all day locked in the sanctum of his psychoanalytic office, poking around inside other people’s heads.
“My mother, at her worst, was like an unleashed animal. It was at her hands, in her feral altered states, that Chevy suffered the darkest of his secret torments.”
Excerpted from “I’m Chevy Chase… And You’re Not” by Rena Fruchter. Excerpted by permission of Virgin Books USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.