×

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

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.

More Film

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • Tarantino Movies Ranked Illustration

    All of Quentin Tarantino's Movies Ranked

    In the history of cinema, has any director done more to elevate the idea of movies as cool than Quentin Tarantino? Certainly, the idea that films could be made by fans dates back at least to the French New Wave, when a group of die-hard critics stepped behind the camera. A few years later, Spielberg, [...]

  • A Stranger on the Beach

    Anonymous Content Wins Film Rights to Michele Campbell's 'A Stranger on the Beach' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anonymous Content has won the adaptive rights to the forthcoming Michele Campbell novel “A Stranger on the Beach.” In a competitive situation, Anonymous outbid multiple players for the thriller, which it will adapt for the big screen with in-house producers Alex Goldstone and Rosalie Swedlin. “Stranger” has been likened to sensual thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” [...]

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener Team on 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon and Affleck co-wrote the script with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener. Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. Drew Vinton is also [...]

  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas Ed Asner Elliott

    Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ed Asner, Elliott Gould Seek SAG-AFTRA Board Seats

    Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and Jonathan Taylor Thomas are seeking SAG-AFTRA national board seats as members of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Asner is the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving two terms from 1981 to 1985, and winning five Emmys for his role as Lou Grant and two others [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor Comic Con

    Comic-Con: Marvel 'Shock and Awe' Strategy Dominates Twitter Buzz

    Disney’s Marvel Studios handily won the hype trophy from this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Marvel Studios — which returned to the 2019 Comic-Con stage with a chock-full Phase 4 slate of announcements — dominated the discussion on Twitter out of the convention, capturing the biggest volume of buzz for nine of the top 10 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content