From the daughter of comedy legend Harold Ramis (and featuring a Foreword by Seth Rogen) comes a hilarious and heartwarming account of his life, work, and legacy.
Most of us know Harold Ramis as the writer, director, and actor who brought warmth and humor to the big screen in classics like Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, National Lampoon's Vacation , and Groundhog Day . To his daughter, Violet, he was best known as an amazing father, confidant, and friend. In Ghostbuster's Daughter , Violet reflects on the life and legacy of her father, providing readers with an extraordinarily candid and insightful look into the man who helped shape modern American comedy.
Funny, endearing, and vulnerable, Ghostbuster's Daughter takes readers into the private life of the American comedy icon, from his humble roots in Chicago and ascension into Hollywood stardom to his personal philosophies on life, love, and filmmaking. While the book offers a comprehensive history of her father's career, Ghostbuster's Daughter also provides a profound homage to their special father-daughter relationship. Violet weaves anecdotes about her father's unique and devoted parenting style among stories of her own unconventional upbringing, creating a vivid and dynamic portrait of the man behind the movies. A distinctly offbeat memoir as well as a charming family story for the ages, Ghostbuster's Daughter is an intimate look at one of America's preeminent comedy filmmakers.
First Chapter or Excerpt
Young Love Let's start at the beginning-my beginning-with the story of Harold and Anne. My parents first officially met in San Francisco during the summer of 1966. They both attended Washington University, and my dad knew my mom peripherally, as the beautiful girl who had briefly dated two of his roommates. After one of them came home from a hayride with my mom, my dad asked, "How was it?" "Weird," the friend said. "Weird? Really? How?" He was intrigued. "Well," the guy said, "she only spoke in quotes from Billy Budd the whole time." Oddly, my dad thought, I gotta meet this girl. My mom was vaguely aware of my dad from his college theater work-most notably his role as the priest of Zeus in Oedipus Rex, and writing and performing in several fraternity-related shows. The summer after he graduated, in 1966, my dad headed west with his brother, Steven, and college friend David. Soon after arriving in San Francisco, they ended up at the apartment where my mom was staying with two of her girlfriends. He described first seeing her intently watching The Dybbuk (a 1937 Yiddish-language Polish fantasy film drama) on a TV so staticky, you could barely make out the picture. He tried casually chatting with her but she shushed him, leaning closer to the TV. Despite this, he thought she was interesting and beautiful and decided to ask her out for Friday night. "I can't," she told him, "I'm seeing the Bolshoi Ballet." "Okay, then how about Saturday?" "I can't, I'm seeing the Bolshoi Ballet." She had bought tickets for the whole run but agreed to go out with him the following week. He knew she was different from other girls he'd dated, but I don't think he realized just quite how different she was until they started spending more time together. One day, after my mom and dad had gone out a few times, they were listening to music in her room when, out of nowhere, she slapped him hard across the face. He dramatized this encounter in an autobiographical script he wrote called 2b or Not 2b, about his early twenties. As of now, this screenplay remains unproduced. INT. JANE'S HOUSE-LATER It's a rambling Victorian with high ceilings, lots of woodwork, reasonably well-maintained. Her roommates, Haze and Ginger, are watching TV and reading in the living room, which is nicely decorated with inexpensive thrift shop furniture, colorful French posters, and cheap Asian folk art. Jane leads Julian into her bedroom. CUT TO: INT. JANE'S ROOM-CONTINUOUS Julian has never seen anything like it. The decor is a cross between an Edwardian boudoir and a harem, a mad mix of Indian cloth, lace, floral prints, an oriental rug, Moroccan leather ottoman, colorfully painted camel-skin lamps with beautiful fringed silk scarves artfully draped over them, ostrich feathers, an art nouveau writing desk, and in the center of the room a graceful, turn-of-the-century chaise longue. JULIAN Wow. Incredible. JANE (lighting candles) Do you want to sit down? JULIAN Sure. He looks around and sits on the chaise. The rooms smells like it looks-like an exotic potpourri. Jane puts on a record-a beautiful aria. JULIAN Opera-cool. JANE You like it? JULIAN I don't know. I haven't heard that much. JANE Well, give it a try. I'm just going to change. One second. She disappears behind a lacquered three-panel Chinese screen. JULIAN (looking around) Where's your bed? JANE (from behind the screen) You're sitting on it. JULIAN This sofa? Chaise? She emerges from behind the screen wearing an exotic, floor-length, flowing white robe embroidered with red roses. JANE It's not really a chaise. It's called a "fainting couch." JULIAN (regarding her robe) That's incredible. JANE I just got it. It's from India. (She sits next to him.) Look at this needlework. She gathers the skirt and lays the silken folds in his hands for him to see. JANE It's done by children in villages so poor they never know if they'll even have anything to eat, but somehow they manage to do this beautiful work. I think that's so . . . tragic. Her eyes fill with tears. Julian doesn't know what to say. JULIAN Are you okay? JANE Yes, I'm just sad. How can life be so cruel? (really weeping now) Julian tentatively puts his arm around her shoulder, trying to be comforting but feeling helpless. JULIAN Can I get you anything? JANE (stops crying) No, thank you. I don't want you to think that you have to fix everything for me. It's okay to be sad sometimes. There are real things in life to be sad about. JULIAN I know. They look into each other's eyes, then Julian slowly leans in and kisses her tenderly. After a moment their lips part and he sits back, still gazing into her eyes. Suddenly, she slaps him surprisingly hard across the face. JULIAN (shocked and angry) What was that for? JANE I don't know. JULIAN (baffled) You don't know? Was it because I kissed you? JANE I don't think so. I liked it. JULIAN Did I do something wrong? JANE I don't know. Did you? Julian stares at her, really indignant but not even sure why. JULIAN That was very weird. JANE Don't you think you're making an awfully big deal about a little slap? JULIAN It hurt. JANE That bad? JULIAN No, it was just-surprising, that's all. JANE Maybe that's a good thing. JULIAN Yeah, well, hitting me with a chair would be surprising, too, but I don't think it would be a good thing. What were you thinking? JANE I don't know-that I wanted to slap you. I'm not angry. I'm not offended or insulted. Does there have to be a reason? He looks at her for a moment. JULIAN Just tell me-are you going to be doing that again? JANE Do you want me to? JULIAN No. JANE Then I won't. She looks deep in his eyes, then he leans forward and kisses her again, embracing her as they sink down on the fainting couch. In case you havenÕt picked up on it yet, IÕll just say that my mother, Anne, is a very unusual person. She grew up in a suburb of St. Louis with her parents, Rose and Harry, and her sister, Natalie, who was one year younger. Harry was a hard man who owned a few womenÕs clothing stores and rode his wife and daughters mercilessly about their weight. Rose likely had undiagnosed depression or bipolar disorder but loved her daughters to the point of worship and did her best to protect them from their father. My mom-angry at her dad, frustrated with her mom, and pitted against her sister-learned early on that living in her own world was her best bet for self-preservation. She threw herself into dance, art, and literature, and was uncompromising in her aesthetics. It makes perfect sense that my dad, an easygoing people-pleaser from the moment he was born, was attracted to this contrarian pixie who unapologetically pushed the limits (and, often, buttons) of everyone around her. Harold and Anne returned to St. Louis in the fall of 1966-my mom for her senior year of college, and my dad for a postgraduate program he'd enrolled in but dropped out of after two weeks. My mom took her art history classes during the day and worked as an usher for the American Theater at night. Their courtship was uneventful . . . in a very 1966 way. A typical date could range from going to see the newest movie, to grabbing a pizza, to my dad and his friends taking LSD and my mom, stone sober but with a naturally kaleidoscopic brain, leading them on an adventure through the city. "Your mother almost never drank or took drugs," my dad told me, "but everyone else did, and she was a great inspiration. I remember once . . . well, honestly, I don't really remember how we got there, but I know the night ended with a group of us in a little forest, dancing around Anne like fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream. And I'm sure that wasn't the only time." The young couple met each other's parents (both sets approved) and things seemed to be getting more serious, but my mom continued to date other people and my dad started to worry that someone else was going to come in and swoop her up. In January of 1967, she invited my dad to join her as an usher for a production of The Mikado, and he proposed to her on opening night. She knew right away that she would say yes but didn't give him an answer until the intermission. And so, six months later, on July 2, 1967, at the tender ages of twenty-one and twenty-two, my parents were married, in a traditional Jewish ceremony, under a chuppah my dad had proudly built himself. My mom had her seven bridesmaids wearing dresses from other formal occasions and my dad's tux may or may not have had ruffles and bell-bottoms. About 150 guests, mostly made up of their college friends and my dad's family, attended the reception at the Bel Air Hotel in St. Louis. My mother, true to form, wanted pie instead of a standard wedding cake, so my dad ordered twenty chocolate pies from a local bakery. He entertained the guests while Mom sat raptly listening to the singer, Sid Selvidge, an anthropology student from Memphis, perform an acoustic set of blues and folk songs. Sadly, there are no photos from this bizarre and blessed event because the photographer forgot to put film in the camera. Young, in love, and with nothing to lose, they stayed true to their Midwestern roots and moved back and forth between St. Louis and Chicago in their first few years together, following my dad's opportunities for work and my mom's interests for pleasure. They remained close with their core group of college friends, who were largely liberal Jewish artistic types. My parents weren't true hippies but definitely leaned far to the left, politically, at the time. My dad dodged the Vietnam draft in late 1967 by telling the recruiters that he was a gay drug addict (and taking a bunch of speed right before his appointment). He experimented with various types of work and occasionally got hired to sing and play guitar at parties. Though he was interested in pursuing writing and theater as possible careers, he hadn't quite figured out how to break into the creative world. At one point, early in my parents' marriage, he auditioned for a role in The Importance of Being Earnest but was told that his looks were "not Dresden enough" (read: too Jewish) and so he didn't get the part. In spite of his slow start, my dad always credited my mom with pushing him outside his comfort zone and putting him on the path that eventually led to his success. The two instances he always cited in terms of my mother's instrumental role in his career trajectory were her encouragement to perform during open mic night at the Hungry I in San Francisco soon after they first met, and her challenge for him to submit a freelance article for the Chicago Daily News a few years into their relationship. "Why not?" was her response to his hesitation in both cases. My mom lives in a universe where there are no rules, where anything is possible and the more unlikely something is, the better, which is the ideal mind-set for a boundary-pushing creative. And this idea of rules being flexible carried over in all aspects of her life. Once, when my newlywed parents went shopping at the grocery store, my mom kept jumping out of the checkout line for "one more thing." The lady behind them was getting frustrated and tried to scold my mom: "What if everyone did that?" she asked my mom. "If everyone did it, it would be socially acceptable," my mom snapped back, much to my dad's embarrassment and delight. I think he often walked the line between being deeply respectful of her intelligence and creative spirit and frustrated with her refusal to conform or compromise. As much as Dad may have appreciated my mom's extreme out-of-the-box thinking, neither one of them was particularly interested in "dropping out" and running away with the flower children. Despite their countercultural leanings, they were still just a couple of Midwestern, middle-class Jewish kids trying to make their way, and somebody had to pay the bills. Don't Go into Retail This was the only advice my grandfather ever gave my dad and he took it very seriously. My dad had worked since he was a kid-bagging and delivering groceries in the family business, and stocking shelves in a department store warehouse-but after he and my mom got married, he realized it was time to think about a career. Despite his college theater background and being a natural performer, my dad's path into the entertainment world was a meandering one. After trying grad school for a couple weeks and realizing it wasn't for him, he went on to work several odd jobs, including taxi driver, adult psychiatric worker on a locked ward in the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis, and full-time substitute teacher in the Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago's South Side. In discussing his seven-month stint in the psych ward with Debba Kunk in a 1982 interview for ONTV, he said, "I wanted to compare my own psychedelic hallucinogenic experience to madness to see what the lines were . . . it was a great job for learning a lot quickly about people and about your own madness. You think twice before you say 'I'm going crazy.'" While much of the work was depressing and serious, there were bright spots. In a 1984 Vanity Fair interview, he described a nonverbal patient who would respond to questions with "bizarre hand gestures that looked like communication but weren't." "So," he said, "everyone assumed, well, it's madness. I took it as a put-on, and I started giving him hand gestures back that were even more ludicrous than his. It was when he laughed that I knew he was as aware as I was." By allowing himself to get on this person's level, he was able to connect with him in a way that others weren't able to. I think this ability to shift perspective and take an unexpected approach is part of what made him so successful in comedy and film (and everything he did, really). He brought a similar sensibility to teaching. "Being a full-time substitute is everyone's worst nightmare. You have these kids for one day. You don't know their names, so you only have what they tell you to go on. Every day, I thought the most I could do in those circumstances was to teach them a moral lesson about justice or behavior . . . Rather than try to force something on them, I would try to field whatever it was that they were putting out. There would often-even at ten years old-be a firebrand spokesman for the class who would attack you on racial issues, and in an articulate way, like a young Stokely Carmichael. So I'd try to deal with that in a humane and rational way. Or, if they were into fun and seemed harmless, I'd try to foster it, just make them have the greatest day they ever had in school, so they'd go home and say, 'Well, that was good. I'd like to go back tomorrow'" (ONTV). Although Dad would have made a great psychiatrist or teacher, he was disheartened by his work in the trenches and started looking around for something more fun and creative. Excerpted from Ghostbuster's Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis by Violet Ramis Stiel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.