I am sitting with a legend. I want to pinch myself. I want to run to the phone, call my friends, and say “MY GOD, DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM TALKING TO?”
He is not the president. He is not a sports hero. He has never won a Nobel Prize, and probably never will, unless they give it out at a toga party.
Basically, he is an entertainer who made a handful of small films — and one very big one. He was on the screen for maybe five minutes. Five wild and crazy minutes. Five legendary minutes.
I am sitting with Otis Day.
OTIS, MY MAN!
“You know,” he says, in a scratchy voice, “if I had a nickel for every time someone said that, I’d have $15 million by now. At least.”
In case you don’t know, Otis Day is the man who sang “Shout!” in the film
“Animal House” — while John Belushi and his fraternity pals wiggled in togas. It was silly. It was wild. It was also the quintessential party scene in the history of the movies — better than the Elvis films of the ’50s, better than the beach party films of the ’60s. The “Shout” scene has been replayed everywhere from MTV to halftimes of Pistons games.
Maybe it was that hairdo. Maybe it was that soulful singing. Maybe it was the movie itself, which became a cult classic among 20- to 40-year-olds. But somehow, Otis Day, with five minutes on the screen, became folklore, larger than life. He was the singer we wanted to be at the party we always wanted to attend.
And here he is, in front of me, about to perform at a local radio convention. Good God. I feel like crushing a beer can on my forehead. He’s still shouting
Now, before we go any further, I must explain a few things to my fellow
“Animal House” fans. Yes, Otis still has that enormous energy. He screams. He shouts. He cackles with laughter.
Then again, why not? Otis is only 39 years old. And he’s not really Otis
— and least he wasn’t born Otis. He was born DeWayne Jessie, an actor who barely knew the song “Shout!” when the folks from “Animal House” hired him for the part.
“People meet me and think I’m 97 YEARS OLD!” he bellows, jumping up, then sitting down again. “They think I’m some long lost blues singer from Mississippi! Sometimes, I play along. I tell them, yeah, that’s me. ‘The Still of the Night.’ ‘Earth Angel.’ I WROTE ALL THOSE SONGS! HAHAHAHA!”
Actually, Otis — uh, Jessie — was hired for “Animal House” strictly because of his looks. He was only supposed to lip-sync that party scene. But he convinced them to let him sing for real. Wearing a wig and a sequined jacket, he belted out the number, threw his hands in the air, made all those crazy faces . . .
And picked up his paycheck. The whole scene, he says, took three hours to film. “I figured, you know, that was fun. But it was just a part.”
And then the film opened. And people went nuts. OK. Men went nuts. A lot of women think “Animal House” is stupid and boorish. But hey, they said that about another classic: “Caddyshack.” So what do they know?
Anyhow, the offers came flooding in. For Otis, not for Jessie. People wanted to book him. At this club. At this party. At this frat house. As a singer.
And so Otis — uh, Jessie — formed a band, and began to tour. The money increased. The offers grew larger. He played Prince’s club in Minneapolis. He played at Caesars Palace. He played on the floor of the Stock Exchange. Fans screamed. They wore their togas. “OTIS, MY MAN!” they yelled.
Amazing. DeWayne Jessie had done what Dr. Frankenstein always dreamed of.
He had given his creature life. Now, the name is his
And today, after nine years and $350,000 in fees and lawyers, he owns the name. He is Otis Day. Which has its ups and downs.
“One time I got on this airplane, and just as I got to my seat, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and said ‘OTIS, MY MAN!’ I wanted to DIE!
“Another time, I was pulled over by the cops in LA. ‘What’s your name?’ the cop said. I said ‘Otis Day.’ He said, ‘OH MY GOD. I JUST RENTED YOUR TAPE LAST NIGHT!’ “
Amazing. Five minutes in a movie. A lifetime career. I watch him do his act. He sounds familiar. When the first notes of “Shout!” are played, the crowd goes bananas.
“You know,” he says afterward, “I’m glad people like Otis. But to tell the truth, the ‘Shout!’ scene really wasn’t my favorite scene in the movie. I liked the part where John Belushi shoots a gun and the horse has a heart attack. I cracked up! I mean, that horse just killed me!”
I wonder what he’s doing now?
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Live Albom II,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at B Dalton Bookseller at Westland Mall.