Thanks for the laughs and memories, Harold Ramis.

haroldramisI may have been 8 or 9 when I learned of the Ghostbusters. Oddly enough it wasn’t because of the movie, it was the cartoon that ran from 86’-91’ that turned me into a fan of the franchise.

I remember its subtle anime look–which was not by coincidence, Japanese studios like Toei animation, TMS Entertainment, & KK C&D among others, all had their hand in animating the series–and its whimsical portrayal of Slimer; the floating, green Cronenberg-like apparition, who happened to be the go-to mascot in the animated series, and the entry-level, eating-disordered ghost that popped the Muon Trap’s cherry during the first film.

I also enjoyed the series’ animated depiction of the Ghostbusters.

There was Peter Venkman (the Bill Murray character), first voiced by Lorenzo Music (Garfield cartoon) during seasons 1-2 and later by Dave Coulier from Full House fame and also surprising muse for Alanis Morisette’s late 90’s scornful mega-hit, You Oughta Know. Then we had Ray Stantz, the Dan Aykroyd character, voiced by the prolific Frank Welker of Fred from Scooby Doo fame; Winston Zedmore (Ernie Hudson in the film), who for the first three seasons was voiced by Arsenio Hall, and of course, finally, my personal favorite, Dr. Egon Spangler; the brains, the logician, and the true leader of the operation who I wanted to emulate and whose animated likeness royally jacked up my pre-adolescent brain, along with the fact that there was another animated series called The Ghostbusters around the same time, and that had been produced by Filmation (He-Man) and predated The Real Ghostbusters film, apparently. Crazy times…indeed.

See, when Columbia Pictures decided it was time to spin the franchise off into to a cartoon, they felt portraying the cartoon characters similarly to Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis, and Hudson–who all had dark brown/black hair–would’ve caused confusion among viewers, especially during the cartoon’s long shots. Venkman lost Murray’s trademark acne-pocked, cherubic face in favor of a Steve-Guttenberg-likeness (remember Guttenberg was en fuego in the late 80’s). They turned Stantz into a ginger, giving him a bright-orange buzzcut. Winston was straight up pulled from Golgo 13’s stock character vault and slathered with Crayola’s Beaver (don’t quote me on this), and the craziest deviation of them all: Dr. Egon Spangler.

Gone was Ramis’ trademarked look of black thick-rimmed glasses and an equally colored head of coarsened mad scientist hair (kinda like a cooler version of Eugene Levy), enter an illustrated Eric Roberts, with a wavy pompadour blond mullet and a red pair of Sally Jesse Raphael reading glasses. What a departure…what a contrast, and my 8 year old ignorant self celebrated Egon’s depiction by making him my favorite Ghostbuster.

Egon comparison

Then I finally saw the movie…7 years later.

Egon’s original portrayal turned out to be more Barton Fink than Ziggy Stardust. I was confused. My little pop-cultured brain fed on Saturday Morning cartoons and Kellogg’s magical corn factory felt somewhat betrayed. I felt just as duped as I did when I found out Mr. Furley came after Mr. Roper. Even though the difference between the real-life Egon and his cartoon version startled me, I remember quickly looking past the juxtaposition and immediately recognizing there was something about Ramis, himself, that made me hang onto each one of his lines. There’s a scene in Ghostbusters where Janine, their secretary, is flirting with Egon and she asks him if he has any hobbies. Egon responds dryly, with the muppet-like, Ray Romano voice that followed Ramis throughout his acting career, “I collect spores, mold, and fungus.”  He didn’t have Murray’s sarcastic and cynical ability to deadpan a humorous line or two, or Akyroyd’s engaging, everyman comedic timing, or Hudson’s…well, uh…token reminder of inclusion, but there was always something about Ramis’ performances that seemed as if there was another level of sub-text underneath his acting. As if he knew more than the actors on set and the viewer’s themselves, and it was comforting at times. It’s like he was in on the joke, a scene, or its development and quietly reveled in it. Later, I come to find out where that confidence came from.

Through the years I later found out he had directed Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation, and the year I finally saw Ghostbusters was the year Groundhog Day had come out, which he had directed as well. I also discovered he co-wrote Animal House and numerous skits for Second City Television during the 70’s. A few Years later he popped up again in As Good as it Gets as Dr. Bettes and husband to Melvin’s (Jack Nicholson) publisher. Melvin hires Dr. Bettes to care for Carol Connelly’s (Helen Hunt) ill son. Carol, a waitress, thanks Dr. Bettes for his services and is eager to get back to work. Dr. Bettes understands Carol’s eagerness of getting back to work as quickly as possible and then proceeds to ask her where she works (thinking she’s a highly paid professional due to her association with Melvin, a famous writer). Carol tells him she’s a waitress and Dr. Bettes is instantly surprised, but expresses a gentile smile…one of understanding and an underlying sense of social awareness. Ramis could’ve portrayed Bettes’ oblivious sense of classism by inviting derision from the viewer, but he didn’t. His inflections and the tone of his voice were somewhat patriarchal, not overbearing, but well-meaning and immediately benevolent to Carol’s plight.

This is what I mean by acting with subtext. He had a firm grasp on the script’s subtext and nuances because Rami was a wonderful writer and film director in his own right. He wasn’t a clown like Tarantino when he shows up in his own films (I still love QT though), but he always came across as if he knew something more than you, me, the actors, and everyone else involved with his films that wasn’t the writer or its director.

Not only was Ramis a brilliant comedian in his own right, but that subtle brilliance also came through in other areas of his artistic life like his acting, writing, and the way he carried himself throughout the creative process of all the projects he was involved in. So thank you Harold Ramis for the memories and the many ways you taught me to view the creative process through its subtleties and its wonderful complexities, and teaching me the choices we make as artists can be limitless in scope while always striving to deny the obvious or that initial concept that always proves to be the easiest way out.

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