"Originally, I went back to college as a poor guy trying to help his son get through and embarrassing him by working in a car wash, things like that," [RODNEY DANGERFIELD] said. "It was Harold ([Harold Ramis]) who suggested we change it to a rich guy." Voila! Now Dangerfield is Thornton Melon, uneducated self-made millionaire businessman (owner of a chain of Tall and Fat clothing stores) whose son (Keith Gordon) is doing miserably in his freshman year at Grand Lakes University. Melon senior strikes a deal with Melon Jr.: If he can make it through, so can the son. When the college president delicately inquires about Melon's nonexistent high school transcript, Melon offers to build a business college on campus. You can see the wheels whirring in the college president's head.
Someday, film critics may speak of the Dangerfield oeuvre, and how he evolved from his first low-budget film, "The Projectionist," into a character who learned how to more or less blend in with what was going on around him (though, in "Back to School," Dangerfield is still Dangerfield-eyes bulging, head popping). But movie making holds no mystique for Dangerfield, who, at 64, is a bit beyond the blandishments of commercial success. He doesn't even appear to like making them.
Dangerfield was laconic to the point of being taciturn this day. A deep unhappiness seemed to be pulling at him. Perhaps school talk reminded him of growing up in New York's Kew Gardens, where, as a boy named Jacob Cohen, he had an entertainer father who didn't use the family name (he billed himself as Phil Roy and when Dangerfield went into show business as a comedian, he used the moniker Jack Roy). Phil Roy was gone most of the time, and Dangerfield has recalled elsewhere the memory of working as a grocery boy and having to make deliveries to his schoolmates' homes after school.