Flashback Interview: Judy Belushi on John, Before Chicago International Fest Premiere of ‘Belushi’

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CHICAGO – The 56th Chicago International Film Festival will honor the town and one of its favorite sons on its Opening Night on Wednesday, October 14th, 2020. The premiere of the Showtime documentary “Belushi” is a chronicle of John Belushi, directed by R.J. Cutler. The film features reminisces from familiar Belushi colleagues Dan Akyroyd, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels and his wife, Judy Belushi Pisano.

The former Judy Jacklin met John Belushi in high school in Wheaton, Illinois. Connecting profoundly, the couple went on the roller coaster ride of John’s career (marrying along the way) from The Second City in Chicago to the original cast of “Saturday Night Live,” to the heights of movie stardom in such films as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.” The documentary is a intuitive look into John Belushi’s life, aided by Judy’s insightful perspective, including the many separations the couple endured during John’s runaway drug use and lost days as a result of his fame. John passed away in 1982 at age 33 due to a drug overdose.

Opening Night: Photo still from ‘Belushi,’ featuring Judy and John Belushi
Photo credit: Showtime

“Belushi” is the Opening Night film of the 56th Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) on October 14th. Like many cinema events in 2020, the 56th CIFF will have films available through streaming on demand, virtual and online. The Belushi doc will premiere at the Chi-Town Movies Drive-In (see details below). This hybrid film festival will also have appointment screenings (designated times to tune in) and seven more drive-in movie events. There is an handy online guide with a “How to Festival” guide, instructions for ticket or event purchase, streaming guidelines and information on the drive-in screenings. Click here.

In 2013, Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com got an opportunity to talk to Judy Belushi Pisano, and she provided a bit of perspective into life with John.

HollywoodChicago.com: Starting from your roots with John in Wheaton, and from you know about John’s father, what traits did the son pick up directly from his Dad’s Albanian immigrant roots?

Judy Belushi Pisano: He could do a deep sigh, just like his father. He also could be brooding … he picked up both those things very well.

HollywoodChicago.com: After John landed at The Second City, which was and is a high point for a Chicago area comic actor, what ambition fueled him to keep going, and to allowed that you both to move to New York City from there?

Belushi Pisano: John's first goal was to get into The Second City as a main stage performer. When he was a Senior in high school, the drama teacher took us to a performance. As we walked out of the theater on Wells Street, he turned to me and said, 'this is what I want to do.'

And after he made it there, the stepping stone for him was New York City. He didn't see a future in television, he just wanted to go to New York and do films and comedy. But he wouldn't go to New York without a job. National Lampoon came calling after seeing him at The Second City, so that was the opportunity.

HollywoodChicago.com: In the New York City in the early 1970s – that gritty and almost bankrupt metropolis – was was the most adventurous thing you could run into there, and how did that play into the influence of John’s comedy?

Belushi Pisano: We ran into a lot of transvestites tripping on acid. [laughs] Just moving to New York from a Chicago suburb was pretty scary, and an adventure in itself. But we did find out that you couldn't get a milk shake in New York City at any time of night, as John Lennon once said. [laughs] New York City was great, since John had a good job and we had somewhere to go.

HollywoodChicago.com: Speaking of John Lennon, did you ever run into him while you were lived there?

Belushi Pisano: Not in the city. But here's a funny story. John and I were doing a tropical vacation, during one the weeks that he had off from 'Saturday Night Live.' While we were there, I told John I noticed another couple - a guy who I thought was American, playing the guitar, and his Asian wife, who was playing with their kid. I thought he and his wife were very cosmopolitan. I actually saw the guy's butt when I went past him at the showers. [laughs] Finally around the third day we were having breakfast, and a guy walked up to us and said, 'Hey, John Belushi, how are doing? Did you get a chance to meet John Lennon?' John looked and me and said, 'interesting cosmopolitan couple, eh?’

HollywoodChicago.com: When you were on the set of Animal House, what was the overriding discussion amongst cast and crew – did they believe they had a comedy classic hit or a small film that would probably be at the second bill of a drive-in double feature, or somewhere in between that spectrum?

Young John Belushi in a still from the Showtime Documentary ‘Belushi’
Photo credit: Showtime

Belushi Pisano: Of course, there was certainly a desire for it to be big, but everybody on the set thought it was funny. John had a taste of success with ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but hadn’t hit with his first film - ‘Goin’ South’ - so when ‘Animal House’ took off, it was unbelievable.

HollywoodChicago.com: Even though John was a national figure through ‘SNL,’ when the film exploded into a cultural phenomenon at the time, and John appeared on the cover of Newsweek, what kind of impact did it have on your marriage and John’s immediate family?

Belushi Pisano: His mother got a color television, and I got a new car. [laughs] This has been talked about before - he had the number one movie, the number one album [‘Briefcase Full of Blues’] and the number one late night show all at the same time. It was a heady time, although he didn’t need success to be heady, he was heady anyway. He was on a trajectory of fame that was difficult and yet expected, in a strange way.

HollywoodChicago.com: You watched a loved one gain unprecedented fame. Besides the surface problems with John’s appetite for temptations, what type of insanity did the companion that you knew intimately fall into, regarding a shift in his perspective?

Belushi Pisano: We both grew a lot. I can equate it to immigrants moving from a foreign country to America. It was whole new world, and we had to learn about people - what to believe and who to trust. Hopefully, we could still trust each other, and that our instincts and sensibilities could stay in sync.

HollywoodChicago.com: You remarried and had children. What do they think about your show business history past? When they came of age were they curious about it, or did it just seem like ancient history not worth talking about?

Belushi Pisano: Neither. In some ways it was like my secret life, my double life. It’s known in my family, because my work overlaps with John so much. When my son was about three years old, I went and picked up a car from a repair garage. John’s picture was on the wall. My son exclaimed, ‘That’s my mommy’s husband.’ The guy in garage said, ‘your son has a great imagination.’ When there were talks on casting for a movie biography of John, my daughter looked at who they were thinking about and said, ‘well, they’re not sexy, and John is sexy!’ Oh, I felt a bit uncomfortable. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: Okay, if you could go back in time back to high school in Wheaton, what would you tell the young Judy Jacklin to watch out for regarding John … and what would you tell John to watch out for regarding Judy?

Belushi Pisano: Well, he already watched out for me, so I wouldn’t have to go that way. I don’t know about young Judy, maybe tell her to watch our for his propensity for illicit substances?

The Opening Night Film for the 56th Chicago International Film Festival is “Belushi” on October 14th, 2020, at the ChiTown Movies Drive-In at 2343 South Throop Street, Chicago. The Festival runs October 14th to October 25th, 2020. Click here for schedules and to purchase tickets.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2020 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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