Jayni & Chevy Chase… LOTS OF LAUGHS!

Mar 6, 2024

Photos: Emily Neville Fisher     |     Hair & Makeup: Eva Scrivo     |      Video: Shane Handler

Famous as Chevy Chase is, not too many locals realize that Chevy and his wife Jayni moved to Bedford in 1995; that their three girls, Cydney, Caley, and Emily, were in Seventh, Fifth, and First Grades when they moved, and all three went to Rippowam Cisqua and grew up here; that Jayni has been a force in the environmental movement, and; that the Chases have been influential in enticing quite a few other families – like the Fishers, who are also featured in this issue, and songwriting and singing sensation Natasha Bedingfield and her family – to move into town.

 

Chevy is a comedic giant, best known for his performances as a cast member in the first season of Saturday Night Live in 1975-1976 – including his legendary roles as the original anchor on the Weekend Update segment and his portrayal of a bumbling and stumbling President Ford – and then for his leading roles in Foul Play, Caddyshack, Fletch, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, and as Clark W. Griswold in four National Lampoon Vacation movies.

 

Though Chevy has also been a prolific comedy writer, hosted both the Academy Awards and the Emmys, performed in numerous roles on television – including on his own The Chevy Chase Show and in the NBC’s series Community, and been a go-to voice in animated films, it is his physical comedy, mixed with his personal impish brand of witty sarcasm, that makes him iconic. “I studied the great comedic actors who came before me, like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Ernie Kovacs, the Marx Brothers, Harold Lloyd, and Jonathan Winters,” Chevy reflects. “At its essence, all comedy is physical. It’s how you deliver it. The winking of an eye, the very way you speak the dialogue.” And Chevy delivers even that serious analysis with a slight smile, edging on a smirk, which is his internationally recognized comedic trademark. 

 

Born Cornelius Crane Chase, Chevy says he grew-up upper-middle class, but a more objective view might be that it was more ‘middle-upper’ than Chevy admits. Either way, the sad reality is that Chevy had a difficult childhood. His parents were divorced when he was four. He has only good things to say about his brother, Ned, and his father, Edward Tinsley ‘Ned’ Chase, who had two daughters from his second marriage. “Dad was highly intelligent. He went to Princeton and was a critically acclaimed writer, editor and publisher. He gave me a good understanding of the importance of intellectualism and love, taught me about the importance of civil rights, and got me reading novels and fine publications like the New Yorker, The New York Times, Commonwealth and The New Republic. He edited the likes of Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut and published them. He was well respected. …And my dad was funny! He made me laugh a lot. He would lift his leg when passing a hydrant just to get me and Ned to laugh, and he had this hilarious ‘face’ he’d put on to make fun of people when they weren’t looking,” Chevy recalls. …But Chevy also recounts that his mother, Cathalene, whose ancestors dated back to the Mayflower and who was remarried twice after divorcing Chevy’s father, and her husband John Cederquist, were, at times, physically and psychologically abusive to Chevy. …And it doesn’t take Freud to understand that humor was an escape.

 

“Laughter is the most profound feeling any of us has,” Chevy reflects. “When we laugh we lose all sense of darkness. A sense of humor is a sense of perspective. It’s a way of judging what’s good and bad, right and wrong. It helps us to make better judgments.”

Raised in Manhattan, he was ‘asked to leave’ both Dalton and Riverdale, before landing at the Stockbridge School, in Lenox Massachusetts, where Chevy soared. “I was never the class clown, but I was definitely funny. I said and did funny stuff… I’d raise my hand and say to the math teacher, ‘I have to urinate Miss Newby’. At Riverdale, in Study Hall, I got maybe 150 kids to all cough when the clock second hand hit a specific time – and I thought Mr. Schultz, the French teacher who was proctoring that day, was going to have a heart attack. When I was in summer school, which I needed to do to make up for some poor marks, there were only two of us sitting at a large table with Mr. Schultz, and raising our knees, we slowly lifted the table off the ground two or three inches and then dropped it…again scaring the bejesus out of the poor man. One prank I pulled off has been told and retold to Riverdale students over the years… On a really freezing winter day, we poured water on the steep driveway, which immediately froze into a sheet of ice, creating sheer sliding havoc at the start of the school day. …The fact is, 99% of the time, I have always been pretty much the funniest guy in the room!” Indeed, in 1975, New York Magazine called Chevy ‘The Funniest Man In America’.

 

Chevy first attended Haverford College, and there remains some question whether he was asked to leave because he had a cow in his dorm room, or whether he just didn’t fit in. About this, Chevy remarks, “They told me that I had to see a psychiatrist or leave…so I did.” He transferred to the more liberal Bard College, where Chevy was in his element, intellectually…and musically. Remarkably, at Bard Chevy played drums in a band called The Leather Canary, with schoolmates Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker, who went on to musical stardom as the leaders of the band Steely Dan. Right after college, Chevy played drums and keyboards on an MGM Records album with a band called The Chameleon Church. In 1980, Arista released Chevy’s album called Chevy Chase. Using his unparalleled satirical humor, he re-wrote the lyrics of several popular and well known songs, and did the singing, voices and harmonies. Legendary pianist Richard Tee and outstanding saxophonist Tom Scott, who did all the musical arrangements, helped out on the album. It was difficult to market a musical-satirical-funny album at that time, so it didn’t really sell, but all three of his daughters tell him he should re-release it as they think it would do well now. Then, in 1986, Chevy starred in the music video for Call Me Al with his good friend Paul Simon, and in 1991 Chevy played saxophone with Simon at his free concert on the Great Lawn in Central Park. …Chevy has perfect pitch, and nowadays any guest at the Chase’s house is more likely to be entertained by Chevy the accomplished jazz pianist than Chevy the pratfall prankster.

 

Jayni Chase, nee Luke, is a California girl who went to North Hollywood High School and graduated with a degree in Communications from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She met Chevy while working in her first job as an Assistant Coordinator on the film Under the Rainbow, which Chevy was shooting with Carrie Fisher and others. “He started flirting with me immediately, but I was at work and I had no desire to go out with him. I finally had to face the fact that he was a sweetheart and even though it wasn’t in my plan at 23 years old to fall in love, I quickly did just that,” Jayni recalls. “Our first date was going to see the premiere of Seems Like Old Times. Chevy came to my ‘desk’, which was a large folding table set up near a bank of payphones in L.A.’s Union Train Station, and he said ‘Goldie is in Paris and another girl I asked can’t make it, so can you go with me to my premiere tonight?’. I quickly replied, ‘Not if I’m the third choice’. As he turned to walk away, I saw he was crestfallen and that hit me right in the heart. I saw the nice guy. I saw that he realized I wasn’t impressed with fame and Hollywood BS, and he was very embarrassed. So, I called him and said I could come…and the rest is history!”

 

It’s clear that Jayni has seen ‘the real Chevy Chase’, who he is at his core, and that that’s the Chevy she loves. “The abuse he endured, and the confusion between his mother’s and his father’s homes, and the sometimes conflicting principles they embodied, meant he had to find ways to survive and, eventually, thrive. It was humor that got him through, and that made him someone people were drawn to. Chevy’s super smart and he has this ability to jump ahead of everyone else in the room and put a crazy funny spin on whatever is going on. His brain puts all the elements, personalities and settings into perspective and, wham, he cracks everyone up! …Sometimes at someone’s expense…which can get him into trouble if that person is either intimidated or sensitive. But if Chevy sees that, or is told, he absolutely will apologize. It’s rarely his intention to hurt someone, and whether it’s intentional or not, he can be really good at apologizing.”

 

 “We were married in 1982 at our house in Pacific Palisades. Chevy was absolutely smitten with each of our daughters, and he’s been a super loving and devoted father. By the time we were expecting our third, Emily, I realized I needed to find ways to share my passion and understanding of the importance of taking care of our environment,” Jayni recalls. “I grew up being taught that it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can about what’s going on around me, to push back against injustices and live in a way that makes the world a better place for everyone. I felt a responsibility to have an impact. I was upset that our schools weren’t providing our kids a solid understanding of environmental issues. Knowledge begets understanding, and understanding is empowering. So, in 1987, I founded a non-profit organization called the Center for Environment Education, with the purpose of serving as a resource center for K-12 teachers, administrators, parents and kids to learn about the environment. The Center flourished and became a leading resource for books, curricula, videos, music and materials on basically all aspects of environmental education including information on the loss of wildlands, the misuse of Federal lands, the intrusion of chemicals in our food supply, and other human impacts on the environment. We closed the Center in 2006, when it was essentially replaced by the Internet.”

 

“We started spending our family’s summers in East Hampton, Long Island, and in 1994 we decided it would be better to raise the kids in the Northeast than in Los Angeles. In 1995, we moved into our house in Bedford, and have lived here ever since. We have four dogs, two cats, beehives, chickens, a couple of retired horses, three native plant gardens, and a vegetable garden. We have never used pesticides, fungicides or herbicides on our property. We spray plants that the deer would devour with deer deterrents like Bobbex, which is egg-based)” Jayni describes. “Scholastic published my book, “Blueprint for a Green School” the same year we moved here, and I’ve continued to work to have a positive impact on the environment for the 29 years we’ve been here. I served on the Board of Friends of the Earth U.S. for 30 years, and in November I finally stepped-down after a very fulfilling second term as Chair. After meeting Murray Fisher in, I think 2007, I joined his Board, for the New York Harbor School, and continued onto the Board of the Billion Oyster Project…and then I helped woo Murray and his wife Emily to move to Bedford! I invited friends to speak and present at the Bedford Garden Club’s first Environmental Summit – including Dr. Tom Lovejoy, who coined the term “Biodiversity”, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Carl Safina, Majora Carter, and others. I’ve been a longtime active supporter of Bedford 2030, and I’m interested in learning more about and working with Dark Sky, which is focused on reducing the amount of light we emit.”

 

“Chevy and I belong together,” Jayni declares, “I ‘get’ him, and he adores me. He’s the love of my life, and Chevy and I have had an amazing 44 years. We’ve had lots of extraordinary friends and we’ve met a lot of high-profile people, but it’s our three fabulous daughters that matter most to us. And, hopefully, we’ve had a positive impact on the community and the world around us.” …And Chevy responds, “Well it’s me that’s had the dream of 44 years of love, fun, and laughter with Jayni! I’m in love every day! We laugh A LOT! My personal world is really great!”

 

 

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At 80…and still working…Chevy has delivered a body of comedic work which puts him in the pantheon of Chaplin and the others. “I’m very happy,” Chevy declares. “How lucky am I that things happened for me, and that I have somehow managed to stay famous and liked by many.” 

 

But notwithstanding Chevy’s tremendous comedic stature, his greater legacy lies with the family he’s nurtured… 

 

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Chevy and Jayni’s oldest daughter, Cydney, who teaches Yoga, shares, “My parents are persistent in their joy, love, fight for humor as perspective, and for goodness – towards one another, the earth, and animals.  Their unconditional love bolsters my spirit, emboldens me, and informs my creative endeavors.” 

 

And as Chevy and Jayni’s middle daughter, Caley, who went to NYU Tisch and is now the House Pianist at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, puts it, “While I think my dad taught us all something about comedy and having a sense of humor, the real lessons we have from our parents are to be a good person, be who you are, and fight for what you believe in.”

 

And as Chevy and Jayni’s youngest daughter, Emily, who works for the National Audubon Society, summarizes, “My mom is definitely the primary inspiration behind my career choices. Her passion for environmental education, advocacy, and climate activism, was the chief motivator for me to seek out a career in my own niche of the environmental sector—wildlife conservation. My dad is the funniest and most generous and loving person I know. He has a huge heart and everything he does is for us, his daughters, and our mom—who he has been completely infatuated with since 1980. We truly couldn’t ask for a better dad.”

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Chevy Chase on a lawnmower
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