Sad news hit the web yesterday when it was reported that writer/director/actor Harold Ramis has passed away at 69. Not only did he appear or provide voice talent for over a dozen films, but he also wrote, produced, and/or directed several more. His film career really took off with co-writing National Lampoon's Animal House and Meatballs in the late 70s. His success then spilled over into the 80s and from that, continued through the '90s until the present day with films including Groundhog Day, Analyze This, Year One and Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
I thought I'd pay my respects by highlighting 7 of Harold Ramis' contributions to '80s films I'm thankful for.
Stripes (Character Russell Ziskey, Co-writer) Stripes was both a box office hit and critically acclaimed film. Though not an original concept by Ramis, he was approached to Paramount Pictures to run with a "Cheech and Chong join the army" script. With he and Bill Murray on board, a handful of actors like John Larroquette, Judge Reinhold, and Sean Young received their big break in Hollywood. Ramis initially didn't want to act in the film, but Murray insisted and gave us the classic scene of Winger and Ziskey enlistment in the Army.
National Lampoon's Vacation (Director)
With his National Lampoon background of Animal House and writing for the 1974-75 radio hour show, Ramis was chosen to direct John Hughes' film Vacation. Though he stayed behind the camera for the film, he is the uncredited voice of Marty Moose in the classic scene when the Griswolds arrive at the park.
Ghostbusters (Character Egon Spangler, Co-writer)
After Dan Akroyd penned an elaborate script which was turned down by director/producer Ivan Retman, Ramis came on board to help Akroyd overhaul the script. He named his character Egon Spengler after German philosopher Oswald Spengler and a Hungarian high school classmate Egon Donsbach. His intelligence combined with the way he dispersed it to his friends (like using a Twinkie) made for an unforgettable character. Rediscover how the film came together by watching the original Ghostbusters featurette.
Back To School (Executive Producer, Co-writer)
Clearly a film driven by Rodney Dangerfield one-liners, yet Ramis (along with Steve Kampmann, Will Porter, and Peter Torokvei) somehow manged to weave a script around them. The writing really paid off as the film went on to gross over $100 million at the box office, good for 6th place in 1986. The film was also critically acclaimed.
Armed and Dangerous (Co-writer)
Writing for his Second City TV buddies John Candy and Eugene Levy, Ramis teamed with Brian Grazer, James Keach, and Peter Torokvei to pen the script of Armed and Dangerous. Although not well received by the box office or critics, it remains one of my personal favorites comedies of the 80s.
Ghostbusters II(Character Egon Spangler, Co-writer)
After pressure from Columbia Pictures due to the success of the original film and animated series, Ramis and Akroyd penned the script for Ghostbusters II. Despite a record-breaking opening weekend and over $200 million overall, it still didn't measure up to the original at the box office or to the critics. For the 13 year old boy that I was and had waited 5 long years to see the Ghostbusters again on the big screen, I was very grateful. Check out this behind the scenes featurette on the sequel.