“Harold was clearly the most successful comedy writer-director of all time,” said Tim Kazurinsky, who followed Ramis at Second City and later became his friend. “The number of films that he has made that were successful, that were blockbusters, nobody comes close. Even in light in of that, he was more successful as a human being.”
. . . Ramis leaves behind a formidable list of achievements, with writing credits on such enduring comedies as “National Lampoon's Animal House” (which upon its 1978 release catapulted the film career of John Belushi, with whom Ramis acted at Second City), “Stripes” (1981) and “Ghostbusters” (in which Ramis also co-starred), plus such directing efforts as “Caddyshack” (1980), “National Lampoon's Vacation” (1983), “Groundhog Day” and “Analyze This” (1999).
. . . Ramis' comedies were often wild, silly and tilting toward anarchy, but they also were cerebral and iconoclastic, with the filmmaker heeding the Second City edict to work at the top of one's intelligence.
There was something about Harold Ramis that made you love him immediately. At first sight. At first word. First gesture.
His love of ironical life twists (see Caddyshack and Caddyshack II), good humor and zen-like acceptance in all types of screwy situations (see Stripes), his ability to deal with any adversity (see Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II), and his never-ending sweetness and consideration of others (see his (and my choice for his greatest) masterpiece Groundhog Day). I must have watched Groundhog Day 20 times at least - I never not watch it when it comes on TV.
I was heart attacked when I learned of his death. He always seemed to be just my age. Or much younger . . . any age actually. Or maybe it was just my joie de vivre.
My favorite scene from all the movies he directed (and it was incredibly hard to choose the most, among the favorites, as I loved them all (and I just watched Meatballs again last weekend)):
The absolute best of Harold Ramis (if only he could do mine):
I'll think of your zen gaze, Harold, every time I watch a movie.
. . . Ramis worked in a mental institution in St. Louis for seven months. He later said of his time working there that it
...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.. . . Ramis began writing parodic plays in college, saying years later, "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". He avoided the Vietnam War military draft by taking methamphetamine to fail his draft physical.
Following his work in St. Louis, Ramis returned to Chicago, where by 1968, he was a substitute teacher at the inner-city Robert Taylor Homes. He also became associated with the guerrilla television collective TVTV, headed by his college friend Michael Shamberg, and wrote freelance for the Chicago Daily News. "Michael Shamberg right out of college had started freelancing for newspapers and got on as a stringer for a local paper, and I thought, 'Well, if Michael can do that, I can do that'. I wrote a spec piece and submitted it to the Chicago Daily News, the Arts & Leisure section, and they started giving me assignments [for] entertainment features." Additionally, he had begun studying and performing with Chicago's Second City improvisational comedy troupe.
Ramis' newspaper writing led to his becoming joke editor at Playboy. "I called a guy named Michael Lawrence just cold and said I had written several pieces freelance and did they have any openings. And they happened to have their entry-level job, party jokes editor, open. He liked my stuff and he gave me a stack of jokes that readers had sent in and asked me to rewrite them. I had been in Second City in the workshops already and Michael Shamberg and I had written comedy shows in college". Ramis was promoted to associate editor.
. . . After leaving Second City for a time and returning in 1972, having been replaced in the main cast by John Belushi, Ramis worked his way back as Belushi's deadpan foil. In 1974, Belushi brought Ramis and other Second City performers, including Ramis's frequent future collaborator, Bill Murray, to New York City to work together on the radio program The National Lampoon Radio Hour.
During this time, Ramis, Belushi, Murray, Joe Flaherty, Christopher Guest, and Gilda Radner starred in the revue The National Lampoon Show, the successor to National Lampoon's Lemmings. Later, Ramis became a performer on, and head writer of, the late-night sketch-comedy television series SCTV during its first three years (1976–1979). He was soon offered work as a writer at Saturday Night Live but he chose to continue with SCTV. Characterizations by Ramis on SCTV include corrupt Dialing for Dollars host/SCTV station manager Maurice "Moe" Green, amiable cop Officer Friendly, exercise guru Swami Bananananda, board chairman Allan "Crazy Legs" Hirschman and home dentist Mort Finkel. His celebrity impressions on SCTV included Kenneth Clark and Leonard Nimoy.
. . . Ramis left SCTV to pursue a film career and wrote a script with National Lampoon magazine's Douglas Kenney which would eventually become National Lampoon's Animal House. They were later joined by a third collaborator on the script, Chris Miller. The 1978 film followed the struggle between a rowdy college fraternity house and the college dean. The film's humor was raunchy for its time. Animal House "broke all box-office records for comedies" and earned $141 million.
Ramis next co-wrote the comedy Meatballs, starring Bill Murray. The movie was a commercial success and became the first of six film collaborations between Murray and Ramis. His third film and his directorial debut was Caddyshack, which he wrote with Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray. The film starred Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, and Bill Murray. Like Ramis's previous two films, Caddyshack was also a commercial success.
In 1982, Ramis was attached to direct the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The film was to star John Belushi and Richard Pryor, but the project was aborted. In 1984, Ramis collaborated with Dan Aykroyd on the screenplay for Ghostbusters, which became one of the biggest comedy hits of the summer, in which he also starred as Dr. Egon Spengler, a role he reprised for the 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II (which he also co-wrote with Aykroyd). His later film Groundhog Day has been called his "masterpiece".
He also had a role in the 1997 film As Good As It Gets as Helen Hunt's son's doctor.
His films have been noted for attacking "the smugness of institutional life ... with an impish good [will] that is unmistakably American". They are also noted for "Ramis's signature tongue-in-cheek pep talks”. Sloppiness and improv are also important aspects of his work. Ramis frequently depicts the qualities of "anger, curiosity, laziness, and woolly idealism" in "a hyper-articulate voice".
In 2004, he turned down the opportunity to direct the Bernie Mac-Ashton Kutcher film Guess Who, then under the working title "The Dinner Party", because he considered it to be poorly written. That same year, Ramis began filming the low-budget The Ice Harvest, "his first attempt to make a comic film noir". Ramis spent six weeks trying to get the film greenlit because he had difficulty reaching an agreement about stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton's salaries. The film received a mixed reaction. His typical directing fee, as of 2004, was $5 million.
In an interview in the documentary American Storytellers, Ramis said he hoped to make a film about Emma Goldman (even pitching Disney with the idea of having Bette Midler star) but that none of the movie studios were interested and that it would have been difficult to raise the funding.
Ramis said in 2009 he planned to make a third Ghostbusters film for release either in mid-2011 or for Christmas 2012.
. . . Ramis was married twice and was the father of three children. On July 2, 1967, he married San Francisco, California artist Anne Plotkin, with whom he had a daughter, Violet. Actor and Ghostbusters co-star Bill Murray is Violet's godfather. Ramis and Plotkin separated in 1984 and later divorced. In 1989, Ramis married Erica Mann, the daughter of director Daniel Mann and actress Mary Kathleen Williams. Together they were the parents of two sons, Julian Arthur and Daniel Hayes. Ramis had two grandchildren at the time of his death.
Ramis was a Chicago Cubs fan and attended games every year to conduct the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.[when?] His pastimes included fencing, ritual drumming and making hats from felted fleece, and he reportedly learned to ski by watching skiing on television.
. . . In May 2010, Ramis contracted an infection that resulted in complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He lost the ability to walk; after relearning to do so, he suffered a relapse of the disease in late 2011. On February 24, 2014, Ramis died at his Chicago-area home from complications arising from vasculitis. He was 69 years old.
. . . In 2004, Ramis was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. In 2005, Ramis was the recipient of the Austin Film Festival's Distinguished Screenwriter Award.
. . . Harold Ramis frequently collaborated with Ivan Reitman. He co-wrote National Lampoon's Animal House, which Reitman produced before going on to co-write the Reitman directed comedy, Meatballs. He also went on to write and appear in three Reitman films: Stripes, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II.