Douglas Kenney

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Douglas Kenney
Mid-1970s portrait by Pedar Ness
Mid-1970s portrait by Pedar Ness
BornDouglas Clark Francis Kenney[1]
(1946-12-10)December 10, 1946
West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.
DiedAugust 27, 1980(1980-08-27) (aged 33)
Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.
OccupationScreenwriter, magazine editor
Years active1965–1980
Alexandra Appleton Garcia-Mata
(m. 1970; div. 1973)
PartnerKathryn Walker (?–1980, his death)

Douglas Clark Francis Kenney (December 10, 1946 – August 27, 1980) was an American comedy writer of magazine, novels, radio, TV and film who co-founded the magazine National Lampoon in 1970. Kenney edited the magazine and wrote much of its early material.[2] He went on to write, produce and perform in the influential comedies Animal House and Caddyshack before his sudden death at the age of 33.

Early life[edit]

Douglas Clark Francis Kenney was born in West Palm Beach, Florida to Estelle "Stephanie" (Karch) and Daniel Harold "Harry" Kenney, both originally from Massachusetts. His paternal grandparents, Daniel J. Kenney and Eleanor Agnes (Noonan), were of Irish origin. His maternal grandparents, Anthony Karczewski and Victoria Lesniak, were Polish.[1] He was named for General Douglas MacArthur. His family moved to Mentor, Ohio, in the early 1950s,[citation needed] before settling in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Kenney lived in Chagrin Falls from 1958 to 1964 and attended Gilmour Academy, a Catholic prep high school for boys in nearby Gates Mills, Ohio.[3] He was married to Alexandra Appleton Garcia-Mata.[4]


National Lampoon[edit]

While at Harvard University, Kenney was a member of the Signet Society, president of the Spee Club and editor of The Harvard Lampoon. He decided once he got to college, he was going to re-invent himself as an all-round golden boy. There, he was part of the first group of newcomers who restyled the college humor magazine. Another of these writers was Henry Beard, with whom Kenney frequently collaborated, and who became a lifelong friend. Together with Beard, he wrote the short novel Bored of the Rings, which was published in 1969. Kenney graduated in 1968. Soon after, he, Beard and fellow Harvard alumnus Robert Hoffman began work on founding the humor magazine National Lampoon.[3] Doug found it hard to find something he wanted to do in life, his only joy and talent was writing for "The Harvard Lampoon." So, he suggested to Beard they create a mainstream, professional, worldwide, syndicated version of the magazine.

Kenney was one of the originating forces of what became known during the 1970s as the "new wave" of comedy: a dark, irreverent style of humor that Kenney used as the basis for the magazine. Kenney was editor-in-chief from 1970 to 1972, senior editor from 1973 to 1974 and editor from 1975 to 1976. Thomas Carney, writing in New Times, traced the history and style of the National Lampoon and the impact it had on comedy's new wave. "The National Lampoon," Carney wrote, "was the first full-blown appearance of non-Jewish humor in years -- not anti-Semitic, just non-Jewish. Its roots were W.A.S.P. and Irish Catholic, with a weird strain of Canadian detachment. . . . This was not Jewish street-smart humor as a defense mechanism; this was slash-and-burn stuff that alternated in pitch but moved very much on the offensive. It was always disrespect everything, mostly yourself, a sort of reverse deism."[5]

Kenney wrote much of the Lampoon's early material, such as "Mrs. Agnew's Diary," a regular column written as the diary of Spiro Agnew (or "Spiggy")'s wife, chronicling her life amongst Richard Nixon and other famous politicians. The feature was an Americanized version of Private Eye's long-running column "Mrs. Wilson's Diary," written from the viewpoint of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's wife.

To escape the pressures of running a successful magazine, Kenney sometimes took unannounced extended breaks, although, despite these absences, "Mrs. Agnew's Diary" was always submitted to the Lampoon. During one of these breaks he wrote a comic novel, Teenage Commies from Outer Space. Kenney threw the manuscript out his office window after a negative review from Beard. Beard later said the book simply made no sense and was all over the place. National Lampoon's 1964 High School Yearbook, which Kenney co-wrote with P. J. O'Rourke was the best selling edition of the magazine, it was based on an earlier two-page piece by Michael O'Donaghue, a "National Lampoon" writer and editor.

Kenney had a five-year buyout contract with the Lampoon's publisher, 21st Century Communications. Kenney, Beard and Hoffman took advantage of this, dividing a sum of $7 million amongst them. Kenney remained on staff until 1977, when he left the magazine to co-write the screenplay to National Lampoon's Animal House, with Chris Miller and Harold Ramis.

Kenney had a small role in Animal House as Delta fraternity brother "Stork," with only two lines of dialogue. Stork's key scene is in the big parade climax, when he pushes the drum major away and leads the marching band down a blind alley. We see him and Miller, as Hardbar, in the same shot during the escapade. Kenney hand-selected this role for himself as it was a role he seemed most like. Produced on a very modest budget, National Lampoon's Animal House was, until Ghostbusters in 1984, the most profitable comedy film in Hollywood history.


Kenney produced and wrote Caddyshack with Brian Doyle-Murray and Harold Ramis. Kenney also had a small role in Caddyshack as a dinner guest of Al Czervik. In the background of the Bushwood Club dinner party scene, Kenney is visible chopping out a line of cocaine for the female guest next to him. He is also seen dancing with her.

The final film was quite different than the one Kenney, Doyle-Murray and Ramis had envisioned. They had intended it to be about the caddies and their attitude towards the club's members and government, but the studio edited it to focus on the stars, Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Ted Knight.

When Caddyshack opened to negative reviews in July 1980, Kenney became deeply depressed, although Ramis joked that the film was "a six-million-dollar scholarship to film school."[3] At a press conference, Kenney verbally abused reporters and then fell into a drunken stupor. Concerned, friends began asking Kenney to seek professional help, but by that time he was out of control, joking about previous suicide attempts, driving recklessly and using increasing amounts of cocaine. He decided to stay with two friends. He played games with them and participated in their daily activities. He even referred to both of them as "mom and dad" during his stay.


After the incident at the Caddyshack press conference, it became apparent that Kenney had a substance abuse problem. Kenney's close friend Chevy Chase took him to Kauai, Hawaii, hoping the relaxing environment would help him, but had to leave to return to work. After Chase left, Kenney's girlfriend, Kathryn Walker, came to keep him company, but she also had to return to work. Kenney had called Chase and invited him back. Chase was preparing to return to Hawaii when he received a telephone call telling him that his friend was missing.[6]

Kenney died on August 27, 1980, aged 33, after falling from a 35-foot cliff called the Hanapepe Lookout. Police found his car the following day; three days later, Kenney's body was discovered between two jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff. His death was classified as accidental by Kauai police.[7] According to Anne Beatts, upon Kenney's death, Chris Miller said, "Doug was looking for a better place to jump from, when he slipped."[6]

Found in Kenney's hotel room were notes for projects he had been planning, jokes, and an outline for a new movie. "We also found," Chevy Chase told Rolling Stone magazine, "written on the back of a hotel receipt, a bunch of random thoughts that included the reasons why he loved Kathryn."[citation needed] A gag line that he had left was found: "These last few days are among the happiest I've ever ignored."[3] The National Lampoon published a tribute to him by Matty Simmons, and a cartoon showing a sign next to the edge of a cliff with the inscription, "Doug Kenney Slipped Here."[6]


Kenney received a nomination from The Writers Guild of America for his National Lampoon's Animal House screenplay (along with Harold Ramis and Chris Miller).

The June 1985 issue of National Lampoon, titled "The Doug Kenney Collection," was dedicated entirely to Kenney and contained a compilation of all of his contributions.

Chris Miller paid homage by naming the main character in his 1996 film Multiplicity "Doug Kinney."

Twenty-six years after Kenney's death, the book A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever was published, a biography on Kenney and the impact he made on comedy and the people he knew. The book was adapted into the 2018 Netflix feature film A Futile and Stupid Gesture, which stars comedian Will Forte as Kenney and is narrated by the actor Martin Mull.[8]




Year Title Credited as
Actor Producer Writer Role(s)
Between The Lines Yes No No Doug Henkel
National Lampoon's Animal House Yes No Yes Dwayne "Stork" Storkman
Caddyshack Yes Yes Yes Al Czervik's Dinner Guest (uncredited)
Modern Problems No Yes
(Executive Producer)
Heavy Metal Yes No No Regolian (segment "Captain Sternn") (voice)[9]


  1. ^ a b Karp, Josh (2006). A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever. Chicago Review Press. p. 5. ISBN 9781556526022.
  2. ^ Archived February 8, 2005, at the Wayback Machine (fan site).
  3. ^ a b c d Anson, Robert Sam (March 2, 2014). "Doug Kenney: The Odd Comic Genius Behind 'Animal House' and National Lampoon". Daily Beast.
  4. ^ "Miss Garcia‐Mata Is Engaged To Douglas Kenney, an Editor". New York Times. January 17, 1970.
  5. ^ Carney, Thomas (August 21, 1978). "They Only Laughed When It Hurt". New Times. pp. 48–55.
  6. ^ a b c Chevy Chase, Judd Apatow, Henry Beard, PJ O'۪Rourke (2015). Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (DVD, Streaming online video). USA: Magnolia Pictures.
  7. ^ "Lampoon Co-Founder Dead; Kenney Fell From Cliff". The Palm Beach Post. September 5, 1980. p. A17. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  8. ^ "Will Forte to Star as 'National Lampoon' Co-Founder in Netflix Movie (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  9. ^ "Heavy Metal". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 21, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • New Times, August 21, 1978
  • People, September 1, 1980
  • Esquire, October, 1981
  • Karp, Josh. A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever ISBN 1-55652-602-4 (2006)

External links[edit]