Matty Simmons, who helped launch National Lampoon and was instrumental in bringing its most famous side project, the 1978 movie “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” into being, died on Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93.
His son Michael announced his death.
In his 2012 book, “Fat, Drunk and Stupid: The Inside Story Behind the Making of ‘Animal House,’” Mr. Simmons gave a succinct version of his unusual career path.
“The Diners Club begat Weight Watchers Magazine,” he wrote, “which begat the National Lampoon and that begat ‘Animal House.’”
Mr. Simmons was a press agent in 1949, with clients including various clubs and restaurants in New York, when Frank McNamara, a businessman, and Ralph E. Schneider, a lawyer, asked if he wanted to help them bring an idea they had to fruition. They envisioned a card that people could use rather than cash to pay for restaurant meals.
Their Diners Club Card helped usher in the era of credit cards. Diners Club International calls it “the world’s first multipurpose charge card,” and Mr. Simmons was at the lunch with Mr. McNamara and Mr. Schneider in February 1950 at Major’s Cabin Grill in Midtown Manhattan when a Diners Club Card was used for the first time.
He rose to vice president for sales of the new company and started The Diners Club Magazine. Publishing came to interest him more than sales did, so in the late 1950s he left the company and started his own, 21st Century Communications.
Weight Watchers asked him to help turn their corporate publication into a general-interest magazine, which he did in 1968, to considerable success. His company, he said, had a half-share stake in the new magazine, and with the profits he began looking to invest in other magazine projects. The president of a magazine distribution company introduced him to three young men from the student publication The Harvard Lampoon: Henry Beard, Robert Hoffman and Douglas Kenney.
He helped them put out a parody of Life magazine, then a parody of Time. Then came National Lampoon, with Mr. Simmons as chairman of the board. As National Lampoon grew more successful, it turned into a franchise, with stage shows, comedy albums and, eventually, “Animal House.”
The movie, directed by John Landis (who was then largely unknown) and produced by Mr. Simmons and Ivan Reitman, involved a troublemaking fraternity, Delta Tau Chi, and its ensemble cast featured John Belushi, who had become well known from “Saturday Night Live.”
It has become a culture touchstone of sorts.
“I must have had 1,000 people say to me, ‘That was based on my fraternity,’” Mr. Simmons told the Postmedia Network in 2013. “It wasn’t; it wasn’t really anyone’s fraternity. But it’s everyone.”
A complete obituary will be published shortly.