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Harold Ramis: A Big-Screen Comedy Nerd, Eager To Please
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Harold Ramis: A Big-Screen Comedy Nerd, Eager To Please



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The creator of some of the most successful movie comedies of the '70s, '80s, and '90s died this morning. Harold Ramis was 69 and had many titles - director, screenwriter, actor, producer. He helped define a cultural moment with such hits as "Animal House," "Ghostbusters," and "Groundhog Day." And as NPR film critic Bob Mondello remembers, Ramis brought an impish spirit to all of them.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Onscreen, he was a big, smiling, lug: shaggy, upbeat, cheery, almost always a supporting player, but invariably one you really couldn't ignore. In his first big-screen appearance, in the military comedy "Stripes," he and Bill Murray played buddies who decided to join the Army just for fun but first had to get past a recruiter.


WILLIAM LUCKING: (As recruiter) Now there's a couple of questions that I have to ask you. They're a little personal. Have you ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor?

HAROLD RAMIS: (As Russell Ziskey) Never convicted.

LUCKING: (As recruiter) That's good. Good. Are either of you homosexuals?

MONDELLO: There's a long pause. Ramis and Murray eye each other. Ramis is clearly trying to figure out what answer is likeliest to get them in.


RAMIS: (As Russell Ziskey) No, we're not homosexual but we are willing to learn.

MONDELLO: Rambunctious and a tad sloppy, Harold Ramis was always amusing in his eagerness to please. And you could say much the same thing about the comedies he wrote, or rather, co-wrote. Like most great improvisers, he was also a great collaborator, bouncing ideas off the likes of Murray, Dan Aykroyd, director Ivan Reitman, and then orchestrating the resulting chaos into something that occasionally made sense but almost invariably made you laugh, whether it was a food fight in "Animal House" or a convoluted plan he cooked up to neutralize poltergeists as the most scientific and optimistic of a trio of ghostbusters.


RAMIS: (As Dr. Egon Spengler) We'll cross the streams.

BILL MURRAY: (As Dr. Peter Venkman) Excuse me, Egon. You said crossing the streams was bad.

DAN AYKROYD: (As Dr. Ray Stantz) Cross the streams.

MURRAY: (As Dr. Peter Venkman) You're going to endanger us. You're going to endanger our client, the nice lady who paid us in advance before she became a dog.

RAMIS: (As Dr. Egon Spengler) Not necessarily. There's definitely a very slim chance we'll survive.

MONDELLO: Harold Ramis got his start as a joke editor for Playboy magazine, then joined the Chicago improv troupe Second City, and moved from there to New York and the "National Lampoon Radio Hour," where the aesthetic was sort of '60s counterculture meets the Borscht Belt. While he was a successful performer, he realized some of his compatriots - John Belushi, for instance - were connecting more forcefully with audiences.

Happily, Ramis found writing and directing even more satisfying than performing, and his resume soon included a long list of rebellion-against-authority comedies that more or less defined an era. Once it allowed stars to tear up a summer camp in "Meatballs," a golf-course in "Caddyshack," the army in "Stripes," all of New York in "Ghostbusters," the mob in "Analyze This" and even to rebel against time itself in "Groundhog Day," a comedy that was not just crazed but also cerebral.

The central conceits - a character caught in a loop, reliving the same 24-hour period over and over - redefined a previously uncelebrated holiday on its way to inspiring a host of doctoral dissertations. Harold Ramis, meanwhile, inspired a host of successors, among them Judd Apatow, the Farrelly Brothers, Adam Sandler. And he left a body of work that will allow audiences to get caught in a loop of comic anarchy for the foreseeable future. I'm Bob Mondello.

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