The Lost Harold Ramis Tape

February 26, 2014

By Dan Lybarger
for blood, dirt & angels

As you probably know by now, Harold Ramis, the man who directed Groundhog Day and National Lampoon’s Vacation, co-wrote National Lampoon’s Animal House and who played the Ghostbuster Egon died last Monday at the age of 69. He had been suffering from a rare vascular disease called autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis.

At his best, the Chicago-born Ramis contributed to or make comedies that were compassionate and smart, and I was lucky enough to hear him discuss making such a film when he was in New York to promote his 1999 effort Analyze This, which starred Billy Crystal as an already struggling psychiatrist who finds himself being roped into treating an especially violent mafioso (Robert
DeNiro).

I was in town covering the movie for Kansas City’s The Pitch. Warner Bros. was holding a press junket at the Essex House Hotel facing Central Park. Because I was not with a television outlet or a print publication the size of The New York Times, I encountered Ramis after Crystal had already had us rolling with his description of making the film. When I got back to KC, my editor and I decided to use the Crystal roundtable discussion because he announced that he was not going to host the Oscars that year. He had done it so many times that his announcement was news in itself.

The odd thing was that every other hack and I actually preferred listening to Ramis talk about a variety of subjects. I had always wanted to go back and share some the observations that Ramis had on that day, and sadly his passing seemed to be the best reason to do what I should have done in the first place, make what Ramis said public.

I got my recording started a little late. I had to put my tape recorder close enough to Ramis so that he could be heard over a reporter who always typed as the subject was talking. To everyone else in the room, this scribe’s assault on his laptop keys sounded as loud as machine gun fire. That’s why you don’t hear the first question Ramis was responding to. I didn’t want Ramis’ words to become collateral damage.

He was one of the few people who could compare filmmaking to Buddhist concepts without sounding like a pretentious tool. Shortly after the 14-minute mark, you can hear me ask the only question I was able to throw his way. Because Analyze This was about people who kill for a living, I asked him how he approached violence in the movie. His eyes seemed to light up when he heard the question and acted as if he had been longing to share his concerns on on-screen violence for some time.

At the time, he expressed skepticism about a sequel for Analyze This, even though he was obviously happy to talk about the then-recently completed film. He was probably right because Analyze That was lackluster.
Still, there aren’t too many people who can discuss Talmudic wisdom and what it’s like to become an action figure in the same half hour. Now, there’s unfortunately one less.

On a personal note, my brother and I used to test each other to see who had memorized Ramis’ dialogue in Animal House more accurately. Lonnie, who later attended Washington University in St. Louis (Ramis’ alma mater), always bested me. You will be missed, Mr. Ramis.

Hear Dan’s Billy Crystal Interview here.


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