Mid-1970s portrait by Pedar Ness
|Born||Douglas Clark Francis Kenney|
December 10, 1946
West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.
|Died||August 27, 1980 (aged 33)|
Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.
|Spouse||Alexandra Appleton Garcia-Mata (1970-1973)|
|Partner||Kathryn 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. He would go on to write, produce, and perform in the influential comedies Animal House and Caddyshack before his untimely death.
Kenney was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, the son of Estelle "Stephanie" (Karch) and Daniel "Harry" Kenney. Kenney was of Irish and Eastern European descent. He was named for General Douglas MacArthur. The family was very wealthy and they all lived in a very privileged background. His elder brother Dan was really the star of the family. He was a standout overachiever. And Doug looked up to him, as did everyone else. His sister Vicky was considered "the mascot". Doug's interest lay heavily into film, television, comics and books. He was the "thoughtful, sensitive and eager-to-please" child and is remembered as an exceptional English student. He had remarkably poor eyesight and had to wear very thick eyeglasses from the youngest age. His family moved to Mentor, Ohio in the early 1950s, before settling in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Kenney lived in Chagrin Falls from 1958-1964 and attended Gilmour Academy, a Catholic prep high school for boys in nearby Gates Mills, Ohio. He was married to Alexandra Appleton Garcia-Mata.
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While at Ball State, 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-around 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 during 1969. Kenney graduated in 1968. Soon after, he, Beard and fellow Harvard alumnus Robert Hoffman began work on founding the humor magazine National Lampoon. Doug found it hard to find a major, something he wanted to do in life. The only thing he seemed to enjoy and be talented at was writing for the college magazine. So he suggested to Beard they create a mainstream professional worldwide syndicated magazine with themselves as the headmasters.
Kenney was one of the originating forces of what was to become known during the 1970s as the "new wave" of comedy: a dark, irreverent style of humor Kenney used as the basis for the magazine. Kenney was Editor-in-Chief from 1970 to 1972, Senior Editor 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."
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 in a bin after a negative review from Beard. Beard later said that it was simply the wrong form and the spirit of the novel was channeled into National Lampoon's 1964 High School Yearbook, which Kenney co-wrote with P. J. O'Rourke.
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, along with Chris Miller and Harold Ramis.
Kenney had a small role in Animal House as Delta fraternity brother "Stork", with only one line of dialogue. Stork's key scene is in the big parade climax, when he sabotages the drum major and leads the marching band down the alley. We see him and fellow co-writer Chris Miller as Hardbar in the same shot during the coup. Kenney hand-selected this role for himself as it was a role he seemed most like. Most of Kenney's friends said such a role did not surprise them. 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. And he is seen dancing with her.
The film did not come out the way it was written. The film was intended to be about the caddies and their attitude towards the club's members and government. But the studio edited it to focus on the scene-stealers Dangerfield, Chase, Murray, and Knight. Kenney and the writers were unhappy with the final released version.
When Caddyshack opened to negative reviews in July 1980, Kenney became deeply depressed, though Ramis joked that the film was "a six-million-dollar scholarship to film school." 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 some friends of his. He played games with them, participated them with their daily activities, playing the part of therapist. 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.
Kenney died on August 27, 1980, aged 33, after falling from a 35-foot cliff called the Hanapepe Lookout. Police found his abandoned car the following day; three days later, Kenney's body was discovered stuck between two jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff. His death was classified as accidental by Kauai police. According to Anne Beatts upon Kenney's death, Chris Miller humorously said once that "Doug was looking for a better place to jump from, while he slipped".
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". A gag line that he had left was found: "These last few days are among the happiest I've ever ignored."
An issue of National Lampoon in June 1985 entirely dedicated itself to Doug Kenney--"The Doug Kenney Collection" was released, an entire composite of all his contributions.
Chris Miller, co-writer of Animal House, paid homage by naming the main character in his 1996 film Multiplicity Doug Kinney, a variation on, and tribute to, Kenney.
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 actor Martin Mull as a fictional future Kenney. In the movie, they show Doug's shoes and glasses lying neatly by the otherwise vacant cliffside.
- Bored of the Rings (1969) (with Henry Beard)
- Harvard Lampoon Time (parody) (1969) (with Henry Beard)
- National Lampoon (1970–1977) (Founder, with Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman)
- National Lampoon's 1964 High School Yearbook Parody (1974) (with P.J. O'Rourke)
- Between The Lines (1977, actor) - Doug Henkel
- National Lampoon's Animal House (1978, also actor) (with Harold Ramis and Chris Miller) - Stork
- Delta House (1979, TV Series, writer - 1 episode) (with Harold Ramis and Chris Miller)
- Caddyshack (1980, also producer) (with Harold Ramis and Brian Doyle-Murray) - Al Czervik's Dinner Guest (uncredited)
- Modern Problems (1981, executive producer)
- Heavy Metal (1981) - Regolian (segment "Captain Sternn") (voice) (final film role)
- Karp, Josh (2006). A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781556526022.
- MarksVeryLage.com [https://web.archive.org/web/20050208090601/http://www.marksverylarge.com/people/kenney.html Archived 2005-02-08 at the Wayback Machine (fan site).
- Anson, Robert Sam (March 2, 2014). "Doug Kenney: The Odd Comic Genius Behind 'Animal House' and National Lampoon". Daily Beast.
- "Miss Garcia‐Mata Is Engaged To Douglas Kenney, an Editor". New York Times. January 17, 1970.
- Chevy Chase, Judd Apatow, Henry Beard, PJ O'۪Rourke (2015). Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (DVD, Streaming online video). U.S.: AMagnolia Pictures.
- "Lampoon Co-Founder Dead; Kenney Fell From Cliff". The Palm Beach Post. September 5, 1980. p. A17. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
- "Will Forte to Star as 'National Lampoon' Co-Founder in Netflix Movie (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
- 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)