At a New York press junket for "Ghostbusters," I asked star Bill Murray why Harold Ramis, who cowrote the screenplay with Dan Aykroyd, gave all the good lines to Murray and not himself.
"That's just the kind of guy he is," Murray said.
The Essential Harold Ramis Film Library1. "Groundhog Day" -- Ramis' masterwork as comedy director, even though the screenplay came from one-time Chicago/Evanston resident Danny Rubin. It's practically a biblical parable gushing with the director's inner core of humanism and precision comic timing. Shot in Woodstock and starring Bill Murray.
2. "The Ice Harvest" -- An overlooked gem of film noiry appeal starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as characters caught up in crime and double-crosses. Ramis directed. Shot in Carpentersville, Northbrook, Waukegan, Glenview and other suburbs.
3. "Caddyshack" -- The cult comedy classic directed by Ramis.
4. "Animal House" -- That other comedy classic written by Ramis, and the movie that launched Wheaton native John Belushi's film career.
5. "Ghostbusters" -- That other, other comedy classic cowritten by Ramis and co-star Dan Aykroyd, with Bill Murray also starring.
That was in 1984. It was one of those moments that, for me, defined Ramis, who died Monday at his North Shore home.
Another came 15 years later when I interviewed him for directing the mob comedy "Analyze This" starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal.
I asked Ramis to name the toughest challenge making it. He surprised me with this humanistic response:
"Doing the violence," Ramis said. "I've never featured real violence in a movie before. I wanted there to be action, but I didn't want to glorify the violence. The movie's not about that.
"I worry about movies that make violence look like fun. Or that seem to relish the physical suffering of strangers. It doesn't matter how many extras you kill in a movie, apparently. You can kill them any way you want. You can blow them up. You can machine gun them."
As long as it's fun for the audience?
"Yes. That struck me once watching a movie in a theater. 'The Untouchables.' One bad guy gets shot in the head on the stairs in the train station and the audience cheered.
"I thought, hey, why are they cheering? I mean, this guy could have been there on his first day on the job. He might have had three kids. Or taken the job to support his sick mother. Who knows?
"It's so easy to celebrate this carnage in the movies when they manipulate us to feel that it's OK."