Director's dad owned grocery store
'He was the most charming, easygoing, funniest, generous person anyone knew,' son says
November 26, 2009
Nathan Ramis, a Chicago grocer turned scrap-metal dealer, kept people laughing all the time.
"He joked right to the end," said his son, comedic film director Harold Ramis. "A doctor asked him: 'If your heart stops, do you want CPR?' and he responded "Why not! It's free, isn't it?' "
Mr. Ramis, 94, died Tuesday after a fall at his Northbrook home.
He was born and raised on the West Side.
Mr. Ramis ran Ace Food & Liquor Mart at Lake and Hoyne for years before moving the store and his family to Rogers Park in 1955.
"The people in the neighborhood called him Mr. Ace," his son said. "I actually sold a pilot idea to NBC once called 'Mr. Ace' It was about a Jewish family-owned grocery store on the West Side in the 1950s, but we never got it off the ground."
To kill downtime at the grocery store, Mr. Ramis bet on sports.
"He'd bet a buck on every single pro football, baseball and basketball game every day," his son said.
Unable to compete with big supermarkets, Mr. Ramis sold the grocery store in the 1960s and got into the scrap-metal business before moving to Northbrook.
"My dad pointed me toward good comedy. . . . He certified the good TV: Jackie Gleason, Rodney Dangerfield, the Marx Brothers," Harold Ramis said. "He was immensely proud, almost insanely proud of what I did. The movie stuff just knocked him out," said Harold Ramis, whose films include "Stripes," "Ghostbusters" and "Caddyshack."
Ramis said his father didn't graduate from high school.
"His family was poor," he said. "He had to work. So he joined President [Franklin] Roosevelt's New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps and lived and worked in national parks."
During World War II, Mr. Ramis worked in an assembly plant that made the nose section for B-29 bombers.
Mr. Ramis had been healthy for years.
"He's never been sick," his son said. "Never went to doctors. Never took medication -- and lived very independently until the end. He never used a walker even.
"He was the most charming, easygoing, funniest, generous person anyone knew. He was very laid-back, never yelled or got angry, and was an avid reader. He read three novels a week and both Chicago papers every day.
“Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day. He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”
"Offscreen, Ramis and Bill Murray were trapped in a cycle of personal strains. Murray’s marriage was breaking up, and he was behaving erratically—the whirling, unpredictable personality that Dan Aykroyd calls “the Murricane.” Ramis sent Rubin to New York to work with Murray on the script, because he was tired of taking his star’s 2 a.m. calls. Rubin says that when Ramis phoned him to check in, Murray would shake his head and mouth the words “I’m not here.” “They were like two brothers who weren’t getting along,” Rubin says. “And they were pretty far apart on what the movie was about—Bill wanted it to be more philosophical, and Harold kept reminding him it was a comedy.”
“At times, Bill was just really irrationally mean and unavailable; he was constantly late on set,” Ramis says. “What I’d want to say to him is just what we tell our children: ‘You don’t have to throw tantrums to get what you want. Just say what you want.’ ”
After the film wrapped, Murray stopped speaking to Ramis. Some of the pair’s friends believe that Murray resents how large a role Ramis had in creating the Murray persona. Michael Shamberg, a Hollywood producer who has known Ramis since college and who used to let Murray sleep on his couch, says, “Bill owes everything to Harold, and he probably has a thimbleful of gratitude.” "
“Interracial couple, big issues, and it would be my full fee,” Ramis said. “Ashton Kutcher is in,” he later told me dryly. “So that’s a relief.”
RAMIS: We very quickly came up with a model: Dan was the heart of the Ghostbusters, I was the brains, and Bill was the mouth.
I found my character on the front page of an abstract architectural journal. There was a picture of a guy and an article about his work. I didn’t understand a word, but his image was great. He was wearing a retro three-piece tweed suit, wire-rim glasses, and his hair was standing way up. I thought, “That could be my guy.” I took the name Egon from a Hungarian refugee I went to grammar school with, and Spengler was from [noted historian] Oswald Spengler.
Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Harold Ramis, one of America’s greatest satirists, and like so many other comedic geniuses, a proud product of Chicago’s Second City. When we watched his movies – from “Animal House” and “Caddyshack” to “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day” – we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings. Our thoughts and prayers are with Harold’s wife, Erica, his children and grandchildren, and all those who loved him, who quote his work with abandon, and who hope that he received total consciousness.
There’s another weird sequence that actually manages to answer a nagging question I’ve always had about the flick. In the movie, during the big Ghostbusters success montage, there’s an odd dream sequence bit where Ray is being, um, “serviced” by a rather fetching ghost. The bit that’s always bugged me is that Ray is wearing some sort of period military outfit in the scene with no explanation as to why. I guess, since it’s framed as a dream (the screen has one of those flowing wavey filters as a transition into the scene) I always just assumed he was dreaming about being in the Civil War or something. As it turns out, there’s an explanation for the military garb. In the book (as well as in the shooting script), there’s a sequence later in the film, right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook. They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks. He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep. When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk. Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage. What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts. Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for. Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good. Weird.
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