To many [East St. Louis] will forever be the place where a goofy honky from Chicago named Clark Griswold gets his hubcaps stolen in the movie Vacation.
Caricatures may depict a machine-gun-toting thug on every corner, but the sad reality is that the city is mostly desolate. Virtually every block is dotted with boarded-up or burned-out buildings.
"They go over the [Poplar Street] bridge before it happens, so technically it would be in St. Louis," Ramis says of the scene in which Chase gets lost and prefaces his request for directions from the locals with an incomparably delivered "Excuse me, homes."
Many a moviegoer has misattributed the scene to East St. Louis, including writers at the New York Times and the Hollywood Reporter. Not so St. Louis' own Steve Kratky, who called attention to the gaffe in a letter to the editor (see page 6).
"Nine out of ten people [in St. Louis] project their own image of East St. Louis onto the screen," says Ramis, a Washington University grad. "When I was in college, we used to go there to listen to music. It was always considered an edgy thing to do."
Ramis, who shot the "Excuse me, homes" bit on a Warner Bros. back lot in Hollywood, says he regrets having filmed it in the first place.
"I apologize for the whole scene," says Ramis. "I wouldn't think of doing a thing like that now. It was supposed to be about prejudice, when in fact it was prejudiced."
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.