O'Donoghue was among the original contributors
to National Lampoon when it began in 1970. It would be no
exaggeration to say the brilliance of the early years of the magazine
was largely due to his presence.
Prior to writing for NatLamp, O'Donoghue
had been a contributor to Evergreen Review and the East
Village Other. (At Evergreen Review, he gained notoriety
for creating as series of comic-book-style stories called Phoebe
Zeit-Geist. The series was drawn by Frank Springer, who would
also later appear in National Lampoon.) He was brought to
the attention of Beard and Kenney by Christopher Cerf and George
Trow, fellow Harvard Lampoon alums. Cerf was at Random House
at the time, and had published a book by O'Donoghue called "The
Incredible, Thrilling Adventures of the Rock" which may have
inspired the "pet rock" craze. Trow had written a screenplay
with him for a movie called "Savages."
Some classic O'Donoghue pieces include "Tarzan
of the Cows," a comic book parody in which the infant Lord
Greystoke survives a plane crash not in Africa, but in rural Wisconsin;
and "The Vietnamese Baby Book," a vividly anti-war parody
of the familiar "baby book" diary, in which the unfortunate
parents fill in items such as "baby's first shrapnel."
With fellow staffer Tony Hendra, O'Donoghue
wrote and produced NatLamp's first comedy album, "Radio
Dinner" in 1972.
O'Donoghue had earned a reputation for having
a volitile temper. After a falling out in 1973 with Hendra, who
was kept out of his way by being assigned to the Lemmings
stage review, he created the first special National Lampoon
issue comprised entirely of new material, The National Lampoon
Encyclopedia of Humor. Lavishly produced and ad-free, it was
a big success.
When Hendra had unexpected success with Lemmings,
O'Donoghue was furious. In order to appease him, and given his
brilliant work on "Radio Dinner," O'Donoghue was
assigned to produce the National Lampoon Radio Hour.
The Radio Hour may well have been O'Donoghue's
crowning achievement at the National Lampoon. But it was
a financial disapointment for publisher Matty Simmons. In 1974,
after doing thirteen shows, Simmons asked him to return the magazine,
where his presence had been sorely missed. A week later, after an
argument with Simmons over what was actually a simple misunderstanding,
After leaving National Lampoon (and
taking fellow Lampoon writer and girl friend Anne Beatts
with him), O'Donoghue became head writer in 1975 for a new NBC program
called Saturday Night Live. Not coincidently, it got much
of its sensibility (as well as cast) from the National Lampoon
stage productions and the Radio Hour.
After Saturday Night Live, O'Donoghue
wrote a number of screenplays, including "Biker Heaven"
(intended to be a sequel to "Easy Rider"), "Dream
Master," "Planet of the Cheap Special Effects" (purported
to be his masterpiece), and "Scrooged," which made it
to production and starred Bill Murray. He also wrote a pilot for
Fox for a show called "TV," directed by Mr. Bill creator
According to associate Darius James, not long
before O'Donoghue died, he had met Quentin Tarrantino and the two
were planning to collaborate on a film.
O'Donoghue died on November 7, 1994 of a brain
hemorage at the age of 52. For his wake, his apartment was decorated
with his CAT scans.
A biography of O'Donoghue has just been published
by Avon Books, called "Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael
O'Donoghue, the Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous," by Dennis Perrin.
For a personal memoir of Michael O'Donoghue by Darius James, click here...
Other works by Michael O'Donoghue:
The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist
Grove Press, 1968
The Incredible, Thrilling Adventures of the
Random House, 1968
Television & Movies
Screenplay (with George W.S. Trow)
Directed by James Ivory
Angelika Films/Merchant-Ivory Productions, 1972
NBC's Saturday Night Live
Head writer, 1975-1978
Mr. Mike's Mondo Video
Writer, producer, and director
New Line Cinema, 1979
(Documentary) Starring Gilda Radner
Broadway Pictures/Warner Bros., 1980
Starring Bill Murray
Screenplay (with Mitch Glazer)
The Real Story of Itsy Bitsy Spider
(Animated) Starring Andrea Martin
As an actor, O'Donoghue has appeared in the following
films: Manhattan (1979), Head Office (1986), Wallstreet
(1987), and The Suidice Club (1988).
Special thanks for additional biographical material
for this page go to Darius H. James (a.k.a., Dr. Snakeskin), Brian
Siano, Joe Thomas and Jim Wilson.