It is a bit startling to realize just how successful Rodney Dangerfield’s film Back To School, in which he plays a self-made millionaire who goes, you know, back to school, was when it first came out. It made $91 million domestically. That’s more than Aliens, for god’s sake.
So even though it hasn’t endured in the same way as some other comedy classics, for a generation of kids it was a touchstone of their youth, a cinematic offering they watched time and again, thanks to its arrival coinciding with the massive explosion of VHS sales and rentals by the mid-’80s. Given that everything from fleeting musicals within Simpsons episodes to the week that Anthony Scaramucci was White House Communications director now get their own oral histories, it was only a matter of time until someone gave Back To School the oral history treatment.
Actually, Mel Magazine’s “An Oral History Of Rodney Dangerfield’s Back To School” is as much a history of Dangerfield himself as it is the making of that particular film. Peppered throughout the piece are anecdotes about Dangerfield’s personality, his generosity with other comics, and other aspects of his life and career far from the brief time in which he made the movie. It thoroughly recounts a long-standing grudge the comedian had against Johnny Carson, for example, which resulted in Dangerfield refusing to go on The Tonight Show for the last decade of Carson’s tenure. But there’s also plenty of memories about making the movie. Unfortunately, Robert Downey Jr. is not among those who participated, meaning we don’t get to hear whether he came up with those deeply silly noises his character makes during the bar fight scene.
We’re guessing the inspiration was old Looney Tunes segments.