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Douglas Kenney

Douglas Kenney at work at National Lampoon magazine in the 1970s
Born December 10, 1947(1947-12-10)
West Palm Springs, Florida, U.S.
Died August 27, 1980 (aged 32)
Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.
Occupation Screenwriter
Magazine editor
Nationality American
Writing period 1965 - 1980
Genres Humour

Douglas C. Kenney (December 10, 1947–August 27, 1980) was an American writer who co-founded National Lampoon magazine in 1970. Kenney edited the magazine and wrote much of its early material.[1]





Douglas C. Kenney was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, and attended Gilmour Academy, near Cleveland, Ohio, for high school. The death of his older brother, Daniel, at 29, had a profound effect on him.

National Lampoon

While at Harvard University, Kenney was a member of the Signet society and editor of the Harvard Lampoon. 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 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.

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 his magazine. Kenney was Editor-in-Chief from 1970 to 1972, Senior Editor 1973 to 1974, and editor from 1975 to 1976.

Kenney wrote much of the 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 among 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 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 channelled into the 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 $7,000,000 among them. Kenney remained on staff until 1977. He quit to co-author the screenplay to National Lampoon's Animal House, along with Chris Miller and Harold Ramis.

Kenney had a small role in Animal House as the fraternity brother called "Stork," whose only line of dialogue was the combative "Well, whut the hail we s'posed to do, yuh mo-ron?" Produced quickly on a small budget, National Lampoon's Animal House was, until Ghostbusters, the most profitable Hollywood comedy.


Kenney produced and co-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 can be seen chopping out a line of cocaine for the female guest next to him.

When Caddyshack opened to negative reviews in July 1980, Kenney became extremely 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.


After the incident at the Caddyshack press conference, it became apparent that all was not well. Kenney's close friend Chevy Chase tried taking him to Kauai, Hawaii, hoping the relaxing environment would help him, but had to leave to get back to work. After Chase left, Kenney's girlfriend, Kathryn Walker, came to keep him company, but she also had to leave to get back to work. Kenney had called Chase and invited him to come back out, and Chase was getting ready to leave when he got a telephone call that his friend was missing.

Kenney died on August 27, 1980, aged 32, after falling from a thirty-foot cliff called the Hanapepe Lookout. Police found his abandoned vehicle the following day, but it wasn't until three days later that Kenney's body was discovered. About Kenney's death, Harold Ramis famously quipped "Doug probably fell while he was looking for a place to jump".

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, and a gag line: 'These last few days are among the happiest I've ever ignored.'"

Ramis paid homage by naming the main character in his 1996 film Multiplicity after Kenney.


  • 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)
  1. ^ (fan site)

External links


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