Harold Allen Ramis (November 21, 1944 – February 24, 2014) was an American actor, director, and writer specializing in comedy. His best-known film acting roles are as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984) and Russell Ziskey in Stripes (1981); he also co-wrote both movies. As a writer-director, his films include the comedies Caddyshack (1980), National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Groundhog Day (1993), and Analyze This (1999). Ramis was the original head writer of the television series SCTV (in which he also performed), and one of three screenwriters for the film National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).
Ramis's films have influenced subsequent generations of comedians and comedy writers. Filmmakers Jay Roach, Jake Kasdan, Adam Sandler, and Peter and Bobby Farrelly have cited his films as amongst their favorites.
Ramis was born November 21, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Ruth (née Cokee) and Nathan Ramis, shopkeepers who owned the store Ace Food & Liquor Mart on the city's far North Side. He had a Jewish upbringing, although in his adult life Ramis did not practice any religion. He graduated from Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School and Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago, and, in 1966, from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was a member of the Alpha Xi chapter of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.
Afterward, Ramis worked in a mental institution in St. Louis for seven months. He later said of his time working there that it
He had begun 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". Avoiding the Vietnam War military draft by ingestion of methamphetamine to fail his draft physical, he married San Francisco, California artist Anne Plotkin, with whom he would have a daughter, Violet, and, years later, divorce.
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's 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".
National Lampoon and SCTV
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 (which ran November 1973 to December 1974).
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). 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 "Ramis' masterpiece”. He also had a role in the 1997 film As Good As It Gets as Helen Hunt's son's doctor. His films were 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 had three children. On July 2, 1967, he married San Francisco, California artist Anne Plotkin, with whom he would have 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. They had two sons Julian Arthur and Daniel Hayes. Ramis was a Chicago Cubs fan and attended games every year to conduct the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field. In May 2010, Ramis contracted an infection that resulted in complications from the autoimmune disease vasculitis. He lost the ability to walk, but after relearning to do so, he suffered a relapse of the disease in late 2011.
On February 24, 2014, Ramis died at his Chicago home from complications arising from vasculitis. He was 69 years old.
Awards and honors
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.
|1983||National Lampoon's Vacation||Marty Moose|| Voice|
|1984||Ghostbusters||Dr. Egon Spengler||Writer|
|1987||Baby Boom||Steven Bochner|
|1988||Stealing Home||Alan Appleby|
|1989||Ghostbusters II||Dr. Egon Spengler||Writer|
|1990||The Earth Day Special||Dr. Elon Spengler (Brother of Egon)|
|1993||Groundhog Day||Neurologist||Writer, director, producer|
|1994||Love Affair||Sheldon Blumenthal|
|1997||As Good as It Gets||Dr. Martin Bettes|
|1999||Analyze This||Writer, director, producer|
|2000||High Fidelity||Rob's Dad||Scenes deleted|
|2002||Analyze That||Writer, director, producer|
|2002||Orange County||Don Durkett|
|2006||The Last Kiss||Professor Bowler|
|2007||Knocked Up||Ben's Dad|
|2007||Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story||L’Chai’m|
|2009||Year One||Adam||Writer, director, co-producer|
|2009||Ghostbusters: The Video Game||Dr. Egon Spengler|| Voice|
|1976–1977||Second City Television||Various Characters|
|1982||Second City TV Network 90||Various Characters|
- Caddyshack (1980)
- National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
- Club Paradise (1986)
- Groundhog Day (1993)
- Stuart Saves His Family (1995)
- Multiplicity (1996)
- Analyze This (1999)
- Bedazzled (2000)
- Analyze That (2002)
- The Ice Harvest (2005)
- The Office (2006) (TV)
- Year One (2009)
- Second City Television (1976–1979) (TV) – Associate Producer
- The Rodney Dangerfield Show: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1982) (TV) – Producer
- The Top (1983) (TV) – Executive Producer
- Back to School (1986) – Executive Producer
- Groundhog Day (1993) – Producer
- Multiplicity (1996) – Producer
- Bedazzled (2000) – Producer
- The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest (2002) – Executive Producer
- I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (2006) – Executive Producer
- Year One (2009) – Co-Producer
- The National Lampoon Radio Hour (1973–1974)
- The National Lampoon Show (1975) (Stage)
- Second City Television (1976–1979) (TV)
- National Lampoon's Animal House (with Doug Kenney and Chris Miller (writer)|Chris Miller) (1978)
- Delta House (1979) (TV)
- Meatballs (with Dan Goldberg and Len Blum) (1979)
- Caddyshack (with Doug Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray) (1980)
- Stripes (with Dan Goldberg and Len Blum) (1981)
- The Rodney Dangerfield Show: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1982) (TV)
- Ghostbusters (with Dan Aykroyd) (1984)
- Back to School (with Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, and Peter Torokvei) (1986)
- Club Paradise (with Brian Doyle-Murray and Chris Miller) (1986)
- Armed and Dangerous (with Peter Torokvei) (1986)
- Caddyshack II (with Peter Torokvei) (1988)
- Ghostbusters II (with Dan Aykroyd) (1989)
- Rover Dangerfield (with Rodney Dangerfield) (1991)
- Groundhog Day (with Danny Rubin) (1993)
- Analyze This (with Kenneth Lonergan and Peter Tolan) (1999)
- Bedazzled (with Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan) (2000)
- Analyze That (with Peter Tolan and Peter Steinfeld) (2002)
- Year One (with Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky) (2009)
- Ghostbusters: The Video Game (with Dan Aykroyd) (2009) (Video Game)
Picture Of Ghost Busters
- The Best Movies Ever Film by Him & Dan Aykroyd (Ray)
- Harold Ramis at the Internet Movie Database
- Henkel, Guido. "Anatomy of a Comedian: Harold Ramis", DVD Review, August 6, 1999
- Garfinkel, Perry. "And If He Sees His Shadow...", Shambhala Sun, July 2009 (excerpt)
- Harold Ramis Discusses Ghostbusters 3 at AMCtv.com
- Meatballs Movie Website