Forget “Casablanca” and “The Godfather,” and as for “Gone with the Wind,” well, frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn.
Any golfer will tell you the greatest movie ever made — OK, at least the most-quoted movie ever made — is “Caddyshack,” a moving picture show so memorable and beloved it has now earned its own biography.
And why not? It was a Cinderella story, wasn’t it?
It was also a story of conflicting egos, wild improvisation that daily scuttled any written script, a young director far over his head and all the pharmaceutical excesses of the 1970s, including enough cocaine to fill all the bunkers at Augusta National.
And of course, a gopher. That originally was a mole. With a minor role. But who became a star and saved the day. At least until Bill Murray, as groundskeeper Carl Spackler, blew up the gopher and the golf course he called home.
All that and more is in Chris Nashawaty’s new book “Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story,” which details the backstory of the snobs-versus-slobs movie that was part of counterculture comedy’s takeover from the films that made our grandparents titter and yuk.
After the raunchy but hilarious “Animal House” had become a surprise sensation, Nashawaty writes, “A generational fault line had opened up and swallowed yesterday’s style of comedy.” The new wave of comedy was “born in the pages of the (National) Lampoon, bred on television with Saturday Night Live” and ready to take over Hollywood.
But what story should come next? Harold Ramis, who would be making his directorial debut, first considered a comedy about Nazis marking in Skokie, which might have ended comedy as a genre forever.
Instead, Ramis and fellow writers Brian Doyle-Murray and the Lampoon’s Doug Kenney settled on a country club comedy and even managed to convince a Florida country club, Rolling Hills in Davie, to let them make it on their golf course. Sure, there was that matter about a final scene in which part of the course would be blown up, but Rolling Hills officials were assured that would be cut from the actual movie. Riiight.
The cult classic we know today looked very different in its earliest days. The writers considered insult comic Don Rickles for the role of the insufferable interloper Al Czervik until they saw Rodney Dangerfield bringing Tonight Show host Johnny Carson to tears with his nervous hangdog humor and cast him, instead. And when Dangerfield arrived for his introductory lunch with producers in an aqua-blue leisure suit and snorted two lines of cocaine off the table, they knew they had found their man.
As Ramis put it, “It was a pretty debauched country at the time. The cocaine business in South Florida was mammoth at the time and everyone was doing everything.”
Well, not everybody. Ted Knight, who played the tight-collared Judge Smails, was the rare cast member who had no use for drugs and seethed daily that everyone else did. But otherwise Ramis is spot on. Cindy Morgan, who played the luscious Lacey Underalls, recalled the morning after wild man Bill Murray arrived at Rolling Hills, knocked on her door in the dorm where the cast was housed and took her away from it all. They awoke hours later on a nude beach in Jupiter, Florida.
It was, as Ramis said, a pretty debauched country then, and Caddyshack fit right in.
Murray’s role was initially blink-or-miss-it small, but his unmatched ability to improvise and steal small scenes forced writers to give him more. The Dalai Lama speech was Murray’s creation, and the most quoted part of the film, his Cinderella story monologue, was never in the script. As filming began, Ramis asked Murray if he had ever imagined golf commentary in his head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t say anymore,” Murray replied. “I got it.”
And he did. As cameras rolled he began, “What an incredible Cinderella story. This unknown comes outta nowhere to lead the pack at August…”
In the end, for all the great bits involving Murray, Knight, Dangerfield and Chevy Chase, there was hardly a movie to be found in the mountain of film. It was only after an emergency film editor was brought in and the gopher’s small cameo was expanded in post-production, both adding considerable expense and stress, that the comedy we know emerged.
If this book occasionally feels like a long magazine story stretched to book length, it’s because it was. It grew out of a six-page oral history Nashawaty originally wrote for Sports Illustrated.
But real fans of “Caddyshack,” the kind who announce on every rainy golf day that the heavy stuff won’t be coming down for quite a while, likely won’t mind that. The movie might have opened “to a sea of indifference” at previews and to caustic reviews (the Boston Globe said the movie “presupposes an audience with the collective intelligence of a lobotomized ape…”) but it has found its place in pop culture, Nashawaty said, “quoted by everyone from professional golfers to U.S. Presidents.”
As for the explosion? It happened, despite assurances to Rolling Hills directors, who were taken out for a boat ride the night of filming so they couldn’t cry no. An incoming pilot who spotted the huge fireball called the Ft. Lauderdale airport to report a plane crash, but it wasn’t that at all. It was only the perfect ending for a Cinderella story.