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National Lampoon's Best Movies
With this weekend's Vacation, Ed Helms and Christina Applegate bring the long-suffering Griswold clan back to theaters for the first time in nearly 20 years. A lot has changed since the first time we met the family in 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation, which has us feeling nostalgic for all their previous adventures, so we decided we'd go ahead and dedicate this week's feature to the National Lampoon filmography. They can't all be the original Vacation, of course, but chances are you've laughed more than a few times at the movies on this list. Jump in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, kids -- it's time for Total Recall!

Comedy actor, writer and director Harold Ramis is best known for the 1984 film Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote and starred in along with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Ramis had co-written and planned to star in the long-awaited Ghostbusters IIIbut did not get the chance. Ramis died Monday in Chicago from an autoimmune disorder. He was 69 years old.

Ramis co-wrote Animal House, Meatballs and Stripes. He co-wrote and directed Caddyshack, and directed Murray in Groundhog Day.

Today, we remember Ramis with excerpts from a 2005 interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross:

“I played a lot of weasels, a lot of cowards; sweating cowards was my thing. I used to play like hippies and, like, counterculture guys, and [John] Belushi kind of took that over, so I moved into the coward role. … The other thing I would always play was the character called "specs” or “the professor.” I’d play the brainy guy, which I ended up doing, of course, in Ghostbusters.“

image via US Magazine Credit: Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

Obit of the Day: Writer, Director, Actor Harold Ramis

To find comedy talent, you don’t have to look much further than Harold Ramis. Mr. Ramis wrote, directed, and starred in some of the greatest comedies in American film history.

Getting his start with the famed Second City Theater in Chicago, Mr. Ramis moved to New York to become a writer for National Lampoon joining Bill Murray, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner. He would later become the first head writer for SCTV - while he colleagues all joined the new sketch-based late night show Saturday Night Live.

His first film screenplay, Animal House (1978), which documented the chaotic happening at Delta Tau Chi fraternity was his first big hit, and also a breakout for Mr. Belushi. Over the next decade Mr. Ramis would write and direct some of the most beloved comedy films of all time. He co-wrote scripts for Cadddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984) and Back to School  (1984). He was also behind the camera for Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation - both of which starred another SNL alum, Chevy Chase.

Mr. Ramis, who had co-starring roles in Stripes and Ghostbusters (as well as its sequel), slowed his output in the 1990s but still managed to find success on the big screen. His 1993 classic Groundhog Day was ranked the 34th best comedy of all-time by the American Film Institute*. (According to Mr. Ramis this was also the film that forever damaged his relationship with Mr. Murray. They had differing visions on the focus of the film’s message.) He also wrote and directed the 1999 Billy Crystal-Robert DeNiro hit Analyze This. 

Mr. Ramis also starred in films that he neither directed nor wrote, including As Good As It Gets (1997), Knocked Up (2007), and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007). At the time of his death Mr. Ramis had no current projects, and his last film credit was for the Jack Black-Michael Cera caveman comedy Year One (2009).

Harold Ramis, who was a native of Chicago and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, died from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, on February 24, 2014. He was 69 years old.

Sources: Chicago Tribune and IMDB.com

(Image of Mr. Ramis as Egon Spengler, the serious scientist in Ghostbusters, circa 1984 is copyright of Columbia Pictures and courtesy of mennascope)

Also of interest:

Bernie Sahlins - Co-founder of Second City

Joyce Sloane - Second City producer who discovered John Belushi

And Obit of the Day’s Film page is always interesting

Improbably, [John Belushi’s] most famous role as a frenetic substance abuser went off without a hitch. The people in charge of Animal House had the amazing foresight to anticipate that Belushi’s trademark Belushiness might cause a problem with production, so they stuck him in the suburbs with his wife, Judy, far away from everyone else. 

However, the rest of the cast apparently got together and decided to method act the shit out of this thing. … In order to get into character as asshole frat boys, the cast decided to attend a real-life asshole frat party and mingle, because they somehow managed to convince the production team that this qualified as “research.” The real-life fraternity members didn’t appreciate these “Hollywood faggots” (that is a direct quote) taking up their precious drinking-and-sexual-assault space, so actor James Widdoes responded the only way he knew how – by tossing a beer at the first jock he saw. This triggered a huge brawl that gave [actor Bruce] McGill a black eye and nearly cost Widdoes some of his teeth (to be fair, he had cruelly wasted an entire beer). When Belushi arrived on set the next day and heard about the fight, he had to be physically restrained from exploding into the fraternity house and teaching them exactly why an entire movie studio was keeping him annexed from the rest of the cast.

(via ‘5 Famous Movies That Were Insane Parties Behind the Scenes’)