The Writers Guild of America, West has chosen late screenwriter-director-actor-producer Harold Ramis to receive its Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement, awarded to a Writers Guild member who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the screenwriter. Erica Mann Ramis and family will accept the award on Ramis’ behalf at the Writers Guild Awards ceremony on Saturday, February 14. Harold Ramis passed away on February 24, 2014 at the age of 69. From today’s announcement:
“Harold Ramis changed the face of comedy. His death last year deprived us of his unique way of seeing the world, at once hilarious and wise. From his early work with National Lampoon and SCTV through Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, and Ghostbusters, Ramis’ voice was strong, clear, outrageous in all the best ways. His unrealized projects – an adaptation of Confederacy of Dunces, a biopic about Emma Goldman – leave us aching with an anticipation that will never be fulfilled. And then there’s Groundhog Day, one of modern cinema’s few true masterworks, a film that is impeccably crafted, morally astute, emotionally sustaining, philosophically insightful, and funny as hell. We could watch it again and again and forever,” said WGAW Vice President Howard A. Rodman.
Born on November 21, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, Ramis graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1966. After a stint as a substitute teacher in the inner-city schools of Chicago, as well as working in a mental institution – a job he would later joke helped him prepare for dealing with people in Hollywood – Ramis became associated with the guerilla television collective “TVTV” and wrote freelance pieces for the Chicago Daily News, which led to his start at comedy writing: working at Playboy magazine as a joke editor. In 1969, he began studying and performing with Chicago’s Second City improv comedy theater, later moving to New York to write and perform in The National Lampoon Show with fellow Second City alums John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Bill Murray, who would later go on to TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1975. Rather than go the SNL route, Ramis joined TV’s SCTV. From 1976 to 1979, Ramis wrote for and appeared as part of the cast of the acclaimed late-night sketch comedy series, serving as SCTV’s head writer and associate producer from 1976-77, as well as supervising writer during its 1978 season.
A former member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University, where he began to pen parodic plays, Ramis would soon mine his own college life experiences for his Hollywood screenwriting debut, collaborating on the script for the 1978 box-office hit frat comedy film, National Lampoon’s Animal House (Written by Harold Ramis & Douglas Kenney & Chris Miller).
In quick succession during a prolific four-year period, Ramis co-wrote a quartet of wildly popular big-screen comedies: 1978’s Animal House, for which he shared a WGA nomination (Screen: Original Comedy) with co-screenwriters Kenney & Miller; 1979’s summer camp romp Meatballs (Written by Harold Ramis, Len Blum, Dan Goldberg, Janis Allen); 1980’s country club satire Caddyshack (Written by Brian Doyle-Murray & Harold Ramis & Douglas Kenney), for which he made his directorial debut; and 1981’s madcap military farce Stripes (Written by Len Blum & Dan Goldberg and Harold Ramis), in which he shared the screen as “Russell Ziskey” with frequent co-star Bill Murray.
On a roll in the ’80s, Ramis would follow-up this successful feature film run by co-writing and co-starring in 1984’s sci-fi comedy hit Ghostbusters (Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis), in which he portrayed “Dr. Egon Spengler” and shared a Hugo Award nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation with director Ivan Reitman and co-screenwriter Aykroyd, as well as its successful 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II (Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd), in which he reprised his role of Dr. Spengler. The popular film franchise would inspire the animated television series, The Real Ghostbusters, which aired from 1986-1991. Ramis would also co-write Rodney Dangerfield’s 1986 college comedy, Back to School (Screenplay by Steve Kampmann & Will Porter and Peter Torokvei & Harold Ramis, Story by Rodney Dangerfield & Greg Fields & Dennis Snee).
In 1993, Ramis would co-write and direct what many consider his most acclaimed feature film comedy, Groundhog Day (Screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, Story by Danny Rubin), for which they shared both a BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay and a Hugo Award nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation with co-writer Rubin. Groundhog Day also landed at #27 on the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays list. Later in the decade, he would co-write 1999’s Analyze This (Screenplay by Peter Tolan and Harold Ramis and Kenneth Lonergan, Story by Kenneth Lonergan and Peter Tolan) and its 2002 sequel, Analyze That (Written by Peter Steinfeld and Harold Ramis and Peter Tolan, Based on Characters Created by Kenneth Lonergan and Peter Tolan), both of which he directed.
His other screenwriting credits include: Club Paradise (1986, Screenplay by Harold Ramis & Brian Doyle-Murray, Story by Harry Shearer & Rom Leopold and Chris Miller & David Standish) which he also directed; Armed and Dangerous (1986, Screenplay by Harold Ramis & Peter Torokvei, Story by Brian Grazer & Harold Ramis & James Keach); sequel Caddyshack II (Written by Harold Ramis & Peter Torokvei, Based on Characters Created by Brian Doyle-Murray & Harold Ramis & Douglas Kenney); and Bedazzled (2000, Screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Harold Ramis & Peter Tolan, Based on the Motion Picture Bedazzled, Screenplay by Peter Cook, Story by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore), which he also directed.
As a director, Ramis also helmed such as films as National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Stuart Saves His Family (1995), Multiplicity (1996) and the Christmas Eve caper comedy The Ice Harvest (2005). While his final feature film was the caveman comedy Year One (2009), which he co-wrote (Screenplay by Harold Ramis & Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg, Story by Harold Ramis), directed, and served as co-producer, he also found time to direct several episodes of TV’s The Office from 2006 through 2010. In addition, Ramis often served as producer on the many films he co-wrote and directed.
In front of the camera, Ramis often cast himself in smaller roles in the films that he directed, including memorable supporting turns in Stripes, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, and Groundhog Day. He also appeared in many other feature films, including roles in Knocked Up, Baby Boom, Stealing Home, Airheads, Love Affair, As Good As It Gets, High Fidelity, and Orange County.
In 2007, Ramis received the Contribution to Film Award at the Vail Film Festival. In 2000, he received the Chicago Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. In 2001, he was inducted in the American Screenwriters Association’s Screenwriting Hall of Fame – and four of his films ultimately made AFI’s 100 Funniest Films list: Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Animal House, and Caddyshack. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Washington University.
Ramis passed away on February 24, 2014, at age 69.
Awarded to a Writers Guild member who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the screenwriter, past recipients of the WGAW’s Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement include screenwriters David Mamet, Lawrence Kasdan, Robert Benton, Barry Levinson, Steven Zaillian, Eric Roth, Tom Stoppard, and Paul Mazursky.