Bill Murray talked about the demise of his relationship with Harold Ramis for the first time last week.
While promoting his new movie St. Vincent on a podcast at Grantland.com, Murray said the 21-year split with Ramis — his longtime friend and frequent collaborator who died on Feb. 24 — happened during the making of Groundhog Day, and it was because of the film’s shooting conditions and creative differences.
Murray and Ramis met at The Second City improvisational theater in Chicago and later worked together on “The National Lampoon Radio Hour,” on television and off Broadway. Then they produced some of the most seminal comedies of the 1980s — Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989). Ramis wrote, directed or co-starred in all of them and helped make Murray a comedy icon.
“If you were able to pick our work out of our careers and throw it away, our careers would be hollow,” Murray said on Thursday.
In 1992, Ramis co-wrote and directed Groundhog Day in which Murray plays a misanthropic weatherman who lives the same day over and over until he achieves total selflessness. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post called it “the best American comedy since Tootsie.” Richard Corliss of Time listed Murray’s performance among the greatest of all time: “He can rise to romance and despair — and be wonderfully funny — all in the same day.” In 2006, the National Film Registry added the movie to its list of “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films.” Religious leaders of many faiths have lauded it as a reflection of their own spiritual beliefs.
But making the masterpiece was difficult, leading to the fracture between Murray and Ramis.
“When we did Groundhog Day, I felt like Harold had become kind of like … a mogul,” Murray said. “He was in an artic Canada goose wear behind the camera when the rest of us were freezing in front of the camera. …
“The conditions were very difficult. We shot it in Woodstock, Ill., which is colder than Chicago, because it’s a little bit further north than Chicago, because it’s out in the wind, and it was the longest winter I ever remember in my life. It lasted forever. It never ended, and it was cold, and we were outside all the time.”
Murray and Ramis also had creative differences. Murray wanted the movie to be more philosophical, while Ramis kept reminding him it was a comedy.
“In the editing, I think we had a difference of opinion,” Murray said. “We had a difference about the script, too. That gets a little personal, and that’s not for sharing with everyone. I just felt like a lot of what was in there was unnecessary. I felt like there was a lot of overwriting in it. I held Harold responsible for that.
“We disagreed about a lot of things, but that movie is a great, great, great movie.”
Of course, Murray’s erratic behavior on the set of Groundhog Day has been well documented. Murray, whose first marriage was ending, refused to work with co-writer Danny Rubin, showed up late and threw tantrums. “At times, Bill was just really irrationally mean and unavailable,” Ramis told The New Yorker in 2004.
Ramis died earlier this year of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a disease that involves the swelling of the blood vessels.
“It bothered me,” Murray said of their estrangement. “It just bothered me, and I know it bothered Harold, too. I know we both felt a loss and an absence. … I just didn’t know what to do.
“Then he became ill, and I thought, well, this is stupid.”
Murray visited Ramis on his deathbed — a reunion engineered by Bryan Doyle-Murray, who was also in Groundhog Day. They talked about their hometown Chicago Cubs.
“It was great,” Murray said. “It was a beautiful day, obviously.”
A few weeks later, Murray and Amy Adams presented the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. After Adams read the nominees, Murray said: “Oh, we forgot one — Harold Ramis for Ghostbusters, Caddyshack and Groundhog Day.”