Harold Ramis Was Furious When He Didn’t Get A Part in ‘Animal House’

Especially maddening? Ramis had written a part for himself
Harold Ramis Was Furious When He Didn’t Get A Part in ‘Animal House’

Second City and National Lampoon stage veteran Harold Ramis was an obvious choice to help script the first Lampoon movie. While co-writers Doug Kenney and Chris Miller had writing chops from their years working for the counterculture humor magazine, Ramis brought the sketch-comedy stage experience necessary to create workable scenes for actors. Together, the three writers turned in an outrageous first draft for what would become National Lampoon’s Animal House. 

No one disputes that the first-time screenwriters’ original draft was uproariously funny, but that doesn’t mean it was ready to be turned into a film. An executive at Universal turned that version over to John Landis, an up-and-coming director who was just coming off the gonzo comedy Kentucky Fried Movie. “It was really literally one of the funniest things I ever read,” Landis told Variety years later. “It had a nasty edge like National Lampoon. I told him it was wonderful, extremely smart and funny, but…”

There’s always a but. For Landis, the “but” was that every character in the script was a pig, a movie full of a-holes with no one to root for. Universal agreed and hired Landis to supervise a rewrite. “When I first talked to (the writers), it was Harold who grasped instantly what I was saying, that everyone in the movie was obnoxious,” explained Landis. “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.”

Eventually, the script was finished and ready to film. Ramis had written the role of Boon for himself, but Landis, who was eventually hired as the film’s director, couldn’t see it. “I didn’t cast him because he was older than the rest of the cast, and someone else would be better,” Landis said. “He was very angry with me for a long time.” 

The irony? Landis cast the younger Peter Riegert as Boon, and “if you watch Peter’s performance, he’s not playing Boon,” the director said. “He’s playing Harold Ramis.”

Landis did offer smaller roles to all three writers, but Ramis, the only comic actor of the group, “was insulted and didn’t come.” As for Kenney and Miller? The two magazine writers became minor but memorable members of Delta House, Dwayne “Stork” Storkman and Curtis Wayne “Hardbar” Fuller.

Maybe not fat but definitely drunk and stupid. 

Ramis’ anger at Landis lasted for a few years, but that all changed when Ramis helmed his first comedy, Caddyshack, from another script collaboration with Kenney (and Brian Doyle-Murray). “(Ramis) 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,’” Landis said. “We went to lunch, and he told me he was not angry any longer, which was a huge brick off my back.”  


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?