John Landis on Harold Ramis: He Was Very Angry Not to Be Cast in ‘Animal House’

John Landis Animal House Herald Ramis

Director John Landis first met writer-director-actor Harold Ramis in New York in the mid-1970s when he was tasked with overseeing a rewrite of what would become “Animal House.” “Harold was an old-fashioned gag writer who could always come up with a joke,” said Landis.

Ramis died Monday from complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. He was 69.

Landis phoned Variety to share his first encounter with the celebrated comedian. His story, as told to our reporter, follows:

“Animal House” was written by Doug Kenney, Chris Miller and Harold Ramis. It was written before I was involved and given to me via a young executive at Universal. It was really literally one of the funniest things I ever read. It had a nasty edge like “National Lampoon.” I told him it was wonderful, extremely smart and funny, but everyone’s a pig for one thing. I was hired originally to supervise a rewrite. I flew to New York and to them I was the Hollywood guy, which was funny because I think made two movies, both independent. I had actually just finished shooting “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” and when I met with them, they were such extraordinary guys. They were three very different personalities, all smart and funny, all in college in 1962 in fraternities. I’m a high school dropout.

When I first talked to them it was Harold who grasped instantly what I was saying, that everyone in the movie was obnoxious. My big contribution — it was their script and screenplay — was saying there had to be good guys and bad guys. There can’t just be bad guys, so there became a good fraternity and bad fraternity. It was a long process. Harold wrote the part of Boon for himself [Peter Riegart was cast in the role]. I didn’t cast him because he was older than the rest of the cast, and someone else would be better. He was very angry with me for a long time. But if you watch Peter’s performance, he’s not playing Boon, he’s playing Harold Ramis.

I invited all three of them, and said please come to Oregon for shooting, because I wanted their help, because they are brilliant. Universal of course, wouldn’t pay for it. I told them I would hire them each day as actors. They could do it for scale and wouldn’t lose any money. Doug and Chris did just that. Doug played Stork, which was very funny. Harold was insulted and didn’t come, which was too bad. We finished production and he saw the finished film [in 1978] and was cool about it. Then it became this huge success and for like maybe two years he very cool to me, very angry with me, which hurt because I totally admired him.

Before “Caddyshack” [in 1980] came out he called me and said, “Now that I’ve directed my first movie, I get it, you were right, I’m not mad with you anymore.” We went to lunch, and he told me he was not angry any longer, which was a huge brick off my back. His footprint in comedy is enormous, he was a huge influence and essential to the careers of Bill Murray and Chevy Chase. And as he got older, he had a stronger voice and a tremendous influence. He became this Yoda-like guy. As he grew older he got mellower, and became this wise and calm presence. He was a great wit and it’s just really sad.

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  1. Squash77 says:

    What a ridiculously sensationalist headline that totally misses the point of this remembrance. AND the sentence that Landis “phoned Variety” is total b.s.–they obviously called him and he called them back. That’s just not how it works in Hollywood. If reporters like Cheney keep printing these kind of misleading headlines, I hope people stop giving them interviews.

  2. “Harold is the most laid-back character in the world and John’s totally the opposite,” said Matty Simmons, NatLamp publisher at the time and a producer of Animal House. “Landis never sleeps where Harold never moves.”

  3. A girl says:

    Calm down Bill, John Landis is just telling a great story about Harold Ramis’ ability to forgive, grow and evolve. John Landis is a great person whose heart is in the right place….he’s a talented director who made a difficult decision as a very young director. His vision was extraordinary which Ramis eventually realized..

  4. Bill Singletary says:

    B”H

    Landis really needs to work on his p.r. and humanitarian skills. His petty droning on about a beloved guy – both professionally and on a personal level – on the day Harold passed away is tasteless and Bush League.

    Landis spends a good part of the article recounting Harold’s discontent with his not being cast in Animal House as Boon and the balance on his rationalization as to why he didn’t cast Harold. Landis’ concluding comments speak to how Harold came to see the light that Landis was right in not casting him. What a pompous ass.

    Landis says he is a high school drop-out. No shame in that. It certainly didn’t impede his professional achievements. But maybe it’s time Landis went back to get his G.E.D. – Good Etiquette Degree.

    • Frank W says:

      I think the negative tone you’re picking up is how the article is presented editorially with that atrocious headline. When you tell a story about a man who has passed, you involve yourself as a character and that’s what he does here. It’s all about a great writer learning that directing is different and coming to that realization that a grudge between them was no longer necessary,

      Though I don’t know the man personally, I do think the TZ accident was directorial hubris–if you’re insisting the actor do his own stunt the camera needs to be down at his level to witness the action to prove it’s around him, not a telephoto from shore. The wide angle shot easily could have been a stunt man carrying small actors, not kids.

    • Dave says:

      He was just telling an anecdotal story about a friend. Lighten up, geez……

  5. David Toma says:

    In my early days in Hollywood I went to a Raiders game with Harold, John Landis (I think) and Mark Canton – they were big wigs and I was not – Harold was always making a joke – funniest football game I ever saw. The town will miss him.

  6. jfk says:

    Ramis was glad not to be cast in “Twilight Zone: The Movie”, though.

  7. Rusty Citron says:

    It would be nice if your headline was the last quote Landis said and not something tasteless and demeaning as your headline suggests. Bad choice on your part.

  8. AlwaysRIGHT says:

    Stripes and Animal House – two great movies that I’ve seen so many times. Hilarious.

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