One of my earliest and fondest childhood memories was Halloween 1985. My mother always made costumes for my brother and I and they were always incredible, creative and unique. That year my brother was a Ghostbuster, using a small vacuum as a proton pack. Every Ghostbuster needs a ghost to hunt, right? Well, that was me. I was just excited to be a part of my brother’s costume, but I was too afraid to go out trick-or-treating. Everyone was dressed in scary costumes, it was dark and I refused to leave the house.
This memory wouldn’t have been possible without the late, great Harold Ramis and that is only the tip of the iceberg in Ramis’s influence on my life.
Ramis was born on November 21, 1944 in Chicago, Illinois as the son of Nathan and Ruth Ramis, who owned an Ace Food & Liquor Mart on the north side of Chicago. Harold attended college at Washington University in St. Louis, where he began writing comedic plays. He thought his sense humor to be a combination of Groucho and Harpo Marx.
On this mix of personas, Ramis said, “In my heart, I felt I was a combination of Groucho and Harpo Marx, of Groucho using his wit as a weapon against the upper classes, and of Harpo’s antic charm and the fact that he was oddly sexy — he grabs women, pulls their skirts off, and gets away with it.” Even in his early work you can see where he got the tone for many of Bill Murray’s characters that he created – Tripper Harrison in Meatballs, John Winger in Stripes and Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters.
After college, Ramis returned to Chicago and began writing freelance for the Chicago Daily News. At the same time, he joined Chicago’s Second City Comedy troupe. After writing for the Chicago Daily News, he got a job working for Playboy as a joke editor. People would always send in jokes to the magazine and Ramis’s job was to punch them up and make them funny.
When his days at Playboy were over, Ramis returned to Second City in 1972, although John Belushi had filled his spot in the main cast. It was at Second City that Ramis began collaborating with the great Bill Murray; Murray, Ramis and Belushi all worked together on The National Lampoon Radio Hour. In 1976, Ramis became a performer and head writer of SCTV, a late-night sketch-comedy show. The cast included comedy heavyweights like Dave Thomas, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara and John Candy.
In 1979, Ramis began his film career by writing National Lampoon’s Animal House with Douglas Kenny and Chris Miller. Animal House was a huge success, earning over 140 million in the box office – making it the highest grossing comedy of its time. Animal House was where Ramis began his collaborations with Ivan Reitman, who produced the film and later went on to direct Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters 1 &2.
As a kid, I remember the first pair of boobs I ever saw in a movie was Animal House. It may have been a small moment in my life, but I’ll never forget it. You know what? I’m not going to lie; it was a pivotal point in my life. I still blush whenever I watch it. (Now, my older brother probably knows why his copy of Animal House on VHS was always going missing.)
After the Success of Animal House, Ramis penned and directed classic after classic after classic. Ramis’ second feature screenplay was Meatballs, starring Bill Murray. Meatballs was the first cinema collaboration for Ramis and Murray and would not be the last. Ramis/Murray projects include Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters 1 & 2, and Groundhog Day.
In 1980, Mr. Ramis tried his hand at directing with the absolutely legendary Caddyshack. He wrote Caddyshack with Brian Doyle-Murray and Douglas Kenney. He helmed a ship with a cast of Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight and Bill Murray.
(Side note: My first job at age 12 was a caddy. Every morning, my mother would put Caddychack on and turn the volume as loud as it would go, so my alarm clock for three summers in a row was Kenny Loggins’s “I’m Alright,” the opening credits of the movie.)
In addition to Caddyshack, Ramis directed National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day, Club Paradise, Stuart Saves his Family, Multiplicity, Analyze This, Bedazzled, Analyze That, The Ice Harvest, assorted episodes of The Office and Year One. Ramis, beyond being a director and a writer, also acted in a number of great films: Stripes, Vacation (voice of Mary Moose), Ghostbusters 1 & 2, Baby Boom, Groundhog Day, Airheads, As Good as it Gets, High Fidelity (deleted scenes), Orange County, The Last Kiss, and Knocked Up.
Harold Ramis wore many hats in the entertainment industry, but I will always remember him as one of the best comedic writers of his generation and arguably of all time. If you love comedy, these titles all hold a special place in you heart.
The movie that got the most play in my home growing up and still a mainstay in my life today was and alway will be Ghostbusters. My family loved Ghostbusters as most families did and still do, but it meant a little more to me than the rest of my kin. It taught me to be silly but inquisitive, charming but never too serous, whimsical but sharp. I had two best friends growing up – one of which was my stuffed Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with glow-in-the-dark eyes and mouth. If someone offered me $100,000 for it, I wouldn’t even think of selling it. Someday, I’ll give it to my first child (after I wash it, since it’s over 30 years old now). I can’t begin to articulate how much I love Ghostbusters; I have a Ghostbusters tattoo for crying out loud. It’s my bible.
The man I am today is direct result of Harold Ramis’s creativity and genius. He wrote all the characters that subconsciously poured into my mind at a young age to make the Frankenstein monster I am today. I have a piece of all my favorite characters, from Bill Murray in Stripes, a wise ass who hated to try too hard with a chip on his shoulder for authority to Rodney Dangerfield in Caddychack, fun loving, opinionated and always speaking his mind not matter what. I’ve also got a little Bill Murray in Ghostbusters and Meatballs, a horn-ball game show host with a good heart and quick wit. Last but not least, there’s a sprinkle of Rodeny Dangerfield in Back to School – a hardworking man in the wrong world looking for something new, while making the best of every situation and laughing at the squares that can’t have fun.
I’ll never forget my favorite scene in Back to School, where Rodney is at a stuffy party at his own home and can’t find something worthy to eat or drink. Rodney finds a few beers in the back of his fridge, piles them in his suit jacket pockets and makes his way to the hors d’oeuvres table. Rodney hollows out a loaf of bread, dumps all the finger food in it and cuts it in two making a giant sandwich. This may seem like something silly and simple, but at a young age it taught me that you can always find a way to carve your own path no matter what situation you’re in. You just have to get creative.
Harold Ramis was a man who was impossible not to love and had these things to say about comedy:
“Well, for me, it’s the relationship between comedy and life – that’s the edge I live on, and maybe it’s my protection against looking at the tragedy of it all. It’s seeing life in balance. Comedy and tragedy co-exist. You can’t have one without the other. I’m of the school that anything can be funny, if seen from a comedic point of view.”
“The best comedy touches something that’s timeless and universal in people. When it’s right, those things last.”
If you believe in heaven, it’s comforting to think of the comedy greats up there. Maybe they’re all forming their own Cloud Comedy troupe (maybe Jesters for Jesus? I don’t know I’m not really religious), including John Candy, John Belushi, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, Chris Farley, Phil Heartman and Ramis himself. The image alone makes me smile.
It’s rare for me to cry and when Harold Ramis passed, I wept like I lost a father figure. It hurt to know I’d never get to meet him, pick his brain or thank him. He’s the man who taught me that no matter what, we can still laugh at anything. Losing such a inspiration is tragedy to the world, but the legacy he leaves behind will live on forever, making generations happy for eons. I hope to someday have 1/100th of the career and talent he had.
With the guidance of Ramis, the child dressed like a ghost inside me will no longer be afraid to walk out the door and face those dark and scary things that once paralyzed me in fear. Thank you, Harold Ramis, you will truly be missed. Rest in peace, you glorious bastard.