Their masterwork, “Groundhog Day” is a sly and subversive romantic comedy that justly earned inclusion in the United States National Film Registry and is considered a modern classic. It also split the longtime friends and film partners apart.
In Tad Friend’s definitive 2004 New Yorker profile of Ramis, the actor, writer and director who died Monday at 69, revealed that he was often at odds with Murray during filming of the 1993 comedy. Disagreements over the tone of the film — Murray wanted it to be more philosophical, Ramis preferred to nail the punchlines — made for a very tense production.
“At times, Bill was just really irrationally mean and unavailable; he was constantly late on set,” Ramis told Friend. “What I’d want to say to him is just what we tell our children: ‘You don’t have to throw tantrums to get what you want. Just say what you want.’”
Not helping matters was the fact that Murray’s marriage was dissolving at the time, Friend writes.
“They were like two brothers who weren’t getting along,” “Groundhog Day” screenwriter Danny Rubin told the New Yorker writer.
After filming ended, the pair stopped speaking together, although Ramis tried unsuccessfully to corral Murray into his film “The Ice Harvest,” a 2005 box office and critical dud ripe for reappraisal.
“Bill was a strong man…You’d do a movie with Bill, a big comedy in those early days, just knowing he could save the day no matter how bad the script was, that we’d find something through improvisation,” Ramis said. “That was our alliance, kind of, our big bond. I could help him be the best funny Bill Murray he could be, and I think he appreciated that then. And I don’t know where that went, but it’s there on film. So whatever happens between us in the future, at least we have those expressions.”
On Monday, Murray paid tribute to those expressions and his fallen collaborator, in wry, Murray-esque fashion.
“Harold Ramis and I together did the ‘National Lampoon Show’ off Broadway, ‘Meatballs,’ ‘Stripes,’ ‘Caddyshack,’ ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day,’”Murray said in a statement. “He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”