How ‘Groundhog Day’ Pissed Off Its Small-Town Hosts

Not all locals were won over by Bill Murray and Harold Ramis
How ‘Groundhog Day’ Pissed Off Its Small-Town Hosts

It’s almost Groundhog Day, that annual event when Western society takes its meteorological cues from a sleepy rodent for some baffling reason. While Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania may host the most famous Groundhog Day celebration, in recent years it’s seen some competition from Woodstock, Illinois, the town that stood in for Punxsutawney in the classic comedy Groundhog Day. Woodstock now holds an annual festival that lasts for several days, presumably to stave off any pesky time-loops. 

Woodstock has clearly embraced its association with Groundhog Day, but that wasn’t always the case. Although the movie is about a big city egomaniac who comes to embrace the residents of a small town, behind-the-scenes, the production actually pissed off several residents of their small-town location. 

According to the film’s locations manager Bob Hudgins, director Harold Ramis opted not to film in Pennsylvania because Punxsutawney is kind of boring.” So instead, they chose Woodstock due to its town square — which wasn’t without controversy at the time. Hudgins later revealed that there was a “contentious fight” in Woodstock’s City Council over whether or not to allow the shoot. The city manager resigned just two months before filming began, though not “specifically” over this issue. 

Groundhog Day finally got the local government’s okay to film in Woodstock, but a number of local businesses created a resistance coalition, even producing buttons emblazoned with the number “23” to “represent the 23 businesses standing together to oppose the filmmaking activity.” Hudgins eventually managed to placate some, whittling the number of aggrieved parties down to just 14. 

After filming was completed, three shops took the drastic step of suing Columbia Pictures, claiming that they’d missed out on sales as a result of the production, and were never properly compensated. A pharmacist said that he had lost “about $15,000” during the three-month shoot, and had only been offered $3,000 in restitution by the studio. "We were lied to by Columbia. We were deserted by the city fathers and the Chamber of Commerce," he angrily told the press at the time. 

To be fair, Groundhog Day fostered a lot of goodwill in Woodstock, too; Bill Murray reportedly handed out pastries to onlookers, the cast and crew played locals in a charity softball game and Columbia gifted the town $30,000 to “restore the town square” and $15,000 for new “Welcome to Woodstock” signs. Moreover, when the film was done, Columbia held a $50-per-ticket premiere screening to benefit the Woodstock School Board, along with an auction of Groundhog Day memorabilia, all of which was expected to raise around $30,000. 

But, again, not everyone was happy. That’s because the advance screening was held in nearby Crystal Lake, Illinois, owing to the fact that Columbia had a pre-existing relationship with the theater there. Woodstock’s local rep theater, on the other hand, was completely shut-out of showing Groundhog Day when it was first released. “The town was good enough to shoot in, but not good enough to bring the movie to,” the cinema’s public relations manager stated in 1993, adding, “We feel used.” The executive director of the town’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry was similarly upset about the lack of any kind of advance screening in Woodstock: “We gave so much in energy and heart and soul and time commitments. This is the least we could get in return.”

Thankfully, it was all in the service of creating a comedy classic that still totally holds up today — until the moment you realize that Groundhog Day is about Bill Murray behaving inappropriately with a female co-worker over and over and over again. 

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