The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, Feb. 26:
Harold Ramis didn't have a face familiar to many Americans, even though he shared a marquee with Bill Murray in "Ghostbusters" and made cameo appearances in other movies. But everyone knows his work - "Animal House." "Caddyshack." "Ghostbusters." "Groundhog Day." "Analyze This." Classic after classic after classic.
Ramis' strength, his passion, was writing and directing. His brilliant work shaped not just the baby boomer generation of comedy but inspired the next ... and the next.
Like Olympians who display consummate skill after years of practice, he made it look easy. It isn't.
"Comedy ... is very difficult," he told the Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1983, while he was working on "Ghostbusters." "Even to make a stupid joke work takes a certain kind of intelligence that's not apparent in the content of the joke. In 'Meatballs,' for example, the kids are coming out of mess hall, and you hear Bill (Murray) saying: "Here's an update on today's lunch. It was veal. Veal. The winner of today's mystery-meat competition is Billy Posner, who guessed, 'Some kind of meat.'" Ramis laughed. "Now that is a different way to handle it than just having kids look at their plates and go 'yuck.'"
The late comedian John Candy, who co-starred with Ramis on the landmark 1970s television series SCTV, said: "He taught us a lot of discipline. We were always writing long stage pieces. Harold would come in and just slash, slash, slash. Initially you thought it was something you did. Why does he hate me? But he was always explaining, 'There, this is what's funny right here. Cut right to it.' He always kept saying, 'Just think of yourself watching.'"
Ramis was a driving force on SCTV. One of our favorite scenes: Dr. Sloan, Unnecessary Surgeon.
Sloan to patient: "I'd like to operate to remove your mucus membranes." Later, after the operation, the patient moans: "Doc, doc, I don't want to bother you, but, ah, I feel like my shoulders are gone." Doctor: "Oh yes, I took the liberty of removing your shoulders. Don't worry, though, your health insurance should cover it."
Over the years, Ramis, who died Monday at 69, gathered film accolades and friends, returned to the Chicago area where he grew up, and became a cinematic guru here. The successful Hollywood director who shucked LA because, as he told the Tribune in 1999, it was too much like high school. "Am I popular? Am I cool? Am I in? Who's the in crowd? How do I get into that party? These are not things I ever wanted to worry about. Here I'm so liberated from that."
Chicago was the better for it. You could run into Ramis at a Starbucks in Glencoe or a diner in Northfield. He'd flash that big smile, the hint of subversiveness dancing behind the glasses and arched eyebrows. He felt at home. He was.
Thanks for the laughs, Harold.