Harold Ramis might be the one true godfather of contemporary comedy. Whether as a writer, director, actor, or some combination of all three, he had his hand in infallible classics like Animal House, Caddyshack, SCTV, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and Stripes. He passed away in 2014, having never written what would have certainly been a well-made and fascinating memoir. So his daughter stepped up.
Violet Ramis Stiel’s extremely personal memoir/biography Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life With My Dad, Harold Ramis hits stores today. While there are certainly some salacious details about the filmmaker’s personal life (e.g., Ramis and his first wife had an open marriage), it’s the little-known details about the making of his classic movies that’s the good stuff. Some things we learned about Ramis in Ghostbuster’s Daughter:
1. He had no idea what he was doing on Caddyshack.
After co-writing Animal House and Meatballs, Ramis stepped behind the camera for the first time with Caddyshack. While Stiel says that her father knew Animal House would be a hit as he was writing it, Ramis didn’t have that kind of confidence on the classic 1980 golf comedy. Stiel found a draft of a speech Ramis once wrote describing how completely out of his element he felt when he walked onto the set.
“…the AD asked where I wanted to put the camera. I could feel the whole crew staring at me, the first-time director, waiting to see what kind of leader I’d be. I looked around and saw nothing but trees and manicured fairways all around, so I arbitrarily pointed, ‘That way.’ The AD looked in the direction I was pointing and squinted. Apparently he noticed something I hadn’t. ‘So you want us to move the generator, the catering tent and all the trucks, ‘cause they’ll be in the shot.’ ‘Oh, is that what all that stuff is?’”
Ramis eventually asked the director of photography where he thought the camera should go, and “from that moment on everything ran smoothly with the understanding that I knew nothing and should not be consulted on anything technical.”
2. He wrote a biographical screenplay that never got produced.
Stiel provides a lengthy excerpt from 2b or Not 2b, an unproduced screenplay Ramis wrote about his early 20s and dating Anne Plotkin, whom he’d marry in 1967. He’s “Julian” and she’s “Jane” in this scene set in Jane’s old Victorian house.
They look into each other’s eyes, then Julian slowly leans in and kisses her tenderly. After a moment their lips part and he sits back, still gazing into her eyes. Suddenly, she slaps him surprisingly hard across the face.
(shocked and angry)
What was that for?
I don’t know.
You don’t know? Was it because I kissed you?
I don’t think so. I liked it.
Did I do something wrong?
I don’t know. Did you?
3. Analyze That was a nightmare.
Ramis co-wrote and directed Analyze This! and Analyze That! The first was a surprise hit, necessitating a sequel. It was so rushed into production that Ramis would write (or rewrite) scenes at the same time that the crew would scout filming locations for those very scenes. Ramis didn’t have time to write everything — the film’s big heist scene was conceived by the film’s prop guy, and Ramis told him to go ahead and write it up.
4. He and Bill Murray resolved their feud at the last minute.
Ramis and Bill Murray had been friends and collaborators since the ’70s and worked on Caddyshack, Meatballs, and Ghostbusters together, but their friendship fell apart on the set of Groundhog Day. Star Murray and director Ramis had such intense creative disagreements that one day Ramis grabbed Murray by the shirt collar and threw him against a wall. After that, Murray didn’t speak to Ramis for over 20 years. Stiel says her father “did his best to be diplomatic about the whole thing” and “tried not to take it personally” since Murray had been going through some personal problems at the time, but to little avail. The falling out got under his skin — Stiel says that her dad told her he felt alternately “heartbroken, confused, and yet unsurprised by the rejection.” Just before Ramis died, Murray showed up unannounced at his old friend’s house at 7 a.m. with a box of doughnuts and a police escort. Ramis had pretty much lost his ability to speak by that point, so Murray did most of the talking. They didn’t rehash the events from the set of Groundhog Day, choosing instead to hang out for a couple of hours, laugh, and make amends.
5. He wanted to be a Serious Man.
According to Stiel, Ramis didn’t get as much of a thrill from acting as he did directing and writing. To the best of her knowledge, she only knows of one project he wanted to act in that he wasn’t sought out for or otherwise involved in its creation: the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. He didn’t get the part.
6. How Ramis got Knocked Up
Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen attended the 2005 Deauville American Film Festival in France, and when they heard Ramis was there, too, they set about tracking him down, locating him at a hotel restaurant where he was doing a press junket for his movie The Ice Harvest. They sat next to Ramis for an hour until he was done, and then Ramis took them out to dinner. They wanted to meet one of their heroes, but they were really laying the groundwork for casting Ramis as Rogen’s character’s father in Knocked Up. Stiel says her father jumped at the offer — he loved The 40-Year-Old Virgin and wanted to be a part of the new, emerging comedy generation.