Harold Ramis and the Touch of the Mensch

Peter Venkman and Ray Stantz might have been the glamor boys of the Ghostbusters, but Egon Spengler was always my favorite. I loved Harold Ramis’ dry, geeky delivery, and admired the genius evident in so many of his films. So sorry to read that Ramis has died at age 69, after a long illness.

There was a sweetness to Ramis’ stuff; his work was smart, insightful and if it could bite, there was an under-note of kindness to it. I’ve often wondered if Bill Murray (from whom he was estranged) could have had the successful film career he did if not for Ramis, and the way that sweetness balanced Murray’s innate pungency, to bring out his humanity.

It was the touch of the mensch.

Ramis leaves behind a formidable body of work, with writing credits on such enduring comedies as “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (which upon its 1978 release launched the film career of John Belushi, a former Second City castmate of Ramis’), “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.”

If you extrapolated Ramis’ best work into a Twinkie, it would be a pretty big Twinkie, with the sweet stuff hidden in the depths.

“When I was 15, I interviewed Harold for my high school radio station, and he was the person that I wanted to be when I was growing up,” said filmmaker Judd Apatow, who later would cast Ramis as Seth Rogen’s father in “Knocked Up” and would produce Ramis’ final movie, “Year One” (1999). “His work is the reason why so many of us got into comedy. We grew up on ‘Second City TV’ and ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Vacation,’ ‘Animal House,’ ‘Stripes,’ ‘Meatballs’ (which Ramis co-wrote); he literally made every single one of our favorite movies.”

Ramis also left behind a reputation as a mensch, mentor and all-around good guy.

It’s not surprising to read this. Apatow’s films, especially “Knocked Up” have always reminded me of Ramis’ work: ridiculousness that edges right up to farce, and then pulls back in a most humane, healing way.

As Egon might have said, “I’d like to have taken a sample of his brain,” to study how he managed that.

“Meatballs” is my husband’s favorite film. “Groundhog Day” may well be one of mine. Perhaps this week we’ll have a little at-home Harold Ramis retrospective, in honor of this gifted man.

Requiescat in pace, Egon.

“You’ve earned it.”

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  • Sherry

    I loved Meatballs as a kid, I haven’t seen it since, I didn’t know he wrote it.

  • MarcusRegulus

    Groundhog Day would have been completely different without him running the show.

  • Joe

    Harold Ramis’ movies often had subtle pro-Catholic messages. In Ghostbusters, the librarian says that her uncle thought he was St. Jerome, the patron of librarians. Peter Venckman is motivated to fight the Marshmallow Man after he steps on a church. In Caddyshack, the heroes are all Catholic or Jewish (Danny, Al, the D’Nunzio brothers, Maggie) and the villains are all Protestant (Judge Schmails, the Lutheran Bishop).

  • March_Hare

    The obit in the “Chicago Tribune” this morning mentioned that Bill Murray had visited Harold Ramis in the weeks before he died. I was happy to hear they made up. I think Mr. Ramis brought out some of the best acting Mr. Murray has ever done.