If you’ve ever been to Washington University in St. Louis, walked through the English-style layout of gothic and brick academic buildings on the vibrant, yet relatively peaceful, city campus that gives the highly regarded university an air of distinction, you would be hard pressed to assume that is one of the schools at which the legendary, raunchy fraternity comedy “Animal House” was born. Then again, if you looked at “Animal House” cowriter Harold Ramis circa 1977–skinny, bespectacled, and looking more like a character from “Revenge of the Nerds” than his own film “Animal House,” you probably wouldn’t expect the Wash U. and Zeta Beta Tau alumnus to be one of the sources of a comedy centered around a group of sexually depraved, socially dysfunctional fraternity men either.
Harold Ramis, who died yesterday at the age of 69, was a comedy icon, and by virtue of his collaborative writing effort on “Animal House,” which was his first screenwriting gig, Harold Ramis was also a fraternity legend.
Ramis’s filmography is truly one of the all time impressive bodies of work in the history of Hollywood. The actor, writer, and director was, in one form or another, responsible for a litany of classic films. Ramis’s writing credits include “Animal House,” “Meatballs,” “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” “Ghostbusters II,” and “Groundhog Day.” Ramis also directed “Caddyshack,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Groundhog Day,” and several episodes of hit TV show “The Office.” Most people might best remember Ramis for his acting role as hyper-intelligent “Ghostbusters” mastermind Egon Spangler. Ramis also played bit parts in a number of other films, most notably “Knocked Up” and “Orange County.” Four of those films–“Ghostbusters,” “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” and “Groundhog Day”–are on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 comedies of all time. As if Ramis’s filmography wasn’t enough to cement his status as a legend, the comedy writer began his career penning jokes for Playboy. The guy was just killing it from the start.
For many, “Groundhog Day” was Ramis’s most outstanding film, and it’s hard to disagree, but this is Total Frat Move. “Animal House” will always be his most outstanding work to us, though we will hear arguments for “Caddyshack” as well.
Looking back on “Animal House,” it’s hard to tell exactly what Ramis contributed compared to his two cowriters, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller, or director John Landis. Ramis was known for his ability to write hilarious quips, so perhaps lines such as “Only we can do that to our pledges,” or “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” were Ramis’s doing, though it’s impossible to guess. However, one part of the film that always struck me as something that could and absolutely would happen in St. Louis, where Ramis’s alma mater is located, is the scene in which a group of sheltered, white frat guys go to a black club to be “cool,” only to spend the entire time sitting in the corner, terrified for their lives, because black people. I like to imagine that maybe, sometime during the ’60s, perhaps on the East Side, Ramis and some of his sheltered, Wash U. ZBT brothers tried to pull that very same, hilariously misguided stunt, with similar results.
Rest in peace, Harold Ramis, comedy icon and fraternity legend. To show proper remembrance to the “Animal House” writer, my advice to all you TFM readers is to start drinking heavily.