After Seymour Hoffman it would seem that Harold Ramis is the second Hollywood heavy weight to pass in 2014. The 69 year old Ghostbuster died after battling autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a nasty illness that swells the blood vessels. It is horrible to see a great die at a relatively young age but, thankfully, he was surrounded by friends and family during his passing.
The height of his career was in the 1980s. Ramis, to put it bluntly was smashing it in Hollywood due to hilarious flicks that he himself wrote and directed. His most famous being Animal House (1978), Caddy Shack (1980), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Stripes (1981) and Analyze This (1998) and of course Ghostbusters (1984). A fine portfolio by anyone’s standards.
John Candy and Harold Ramis in Stripes. Image Via
Ramis, a dedicated writer was at the forefront of late 70’s and 80’s comedy. An architect into the evolution of cinema humor Ramis did not only write genius stories and scripts but was to star in them as well. He was born and raised Jewish but later commented that he did not practice any religion in his adult life. In all honesty, it would appear that he had no business in Hollywood to begin with as his first job out of collage was at a mental institute in St Louise. He later said of his time working there
….’prepared me well for when I went out to Hollywood to work with actors. People laugh when I say that, but it was actually very good training. And not just with actors; it was good training for just living in the world. It’s knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that’s connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage. As a director, you’re dealing with that constantly with actors. But if I were a businessman, I’d probably be applying those same principles to that line of work.’
I think we can all fairly say that this comment, typical of Ramis, is a true homage of his personality and humour.
He started writing in collage for parodic plays in collage. He compared himself to Groucho and Harpo Marx as the combination of both imply wittiness and piss-taking humour as well as sexy cheekiness that was part of his slap-stick sense of humour. When the Vietnam War broke out Ramis was drafted like everybody else, but, he didn’t really fancy it (can’t say I blame him) so by avoiding such an experience he decided to take a concoction of methamphetamine’s to fail his physical examination. Crafty, dangerous, but crafty.
Ramis later returned to his birth place of Chicago where he was a substitute teacher. His friend Michael Shamberg was free-lancing for local papers, a job that Ramis secretly was desperate to get involved in. He was later quoted ‘ Well if Micahel can do that, I can do that.’ And so he did. He wrote one feature and submitted it to the Chicago Daily News. From this point the paper started giving him regular assignments which he embraced passionately. His ‘funnies’ were so popular he eventually got a job becoming a joke editor for Playboy……..nice.
Whilst Ramis was working for the Chicago based newspaper he was also performing with the Chicago Second City improvisational comedy troupe where he met fellow collaborator and life-long friend Bill Murray. The two moved to New York City to work together on a radio show entitled, The National Lampoon Radio Hour, sound familiar?
After working on a series of scripts with National Lampoon magazine’s Douglas Kenney which eventually evolved into Nationasl Lamppon’s Animal House. The film, at the time of it’s release (1978) was considered riskay and saucy to say the least. However, it received a great reception as it ‘broke all box-office records for comedies” and earned $141 million.
Later collaborations with creative muse Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd saw films like Meatballs and Groundhog Day establish Ramis as a hero within the Hollywood comedy scene. A rocky relationship with Bill Murray began to eclipse his exceptional writing abilities. However it has been reported that Bill went to see Ramis a day before his departure. Their friendship had it’s up’s and down’s and, sadly, it would seem that Ramis’s illness was the catalyst for them to rekindle their fond memories.
Short I know. A lot of famous names and quotes left out, I know. But there is so much you can write on this man. Like so many before him it is not the words of a writer that legitimises a legends career, but the work he did and the steps he took to get there does.
I leave you with a phrase about film production that is not only true but powerful as well.
“Every movie is three movies, the movie you set out to make, the movie you think you’re making and the movie you find out to make”
Does this sound like a reflection of what life was to him? Without sounding too cheesy, yes, it does.
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