A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: CaddyShack – 40th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball…” A 40th anniversary celebration of “CaddyShack”. Whether your a golf fan or not, director Harold Ramis’ golf comedy, is a film you can embrace with it’s unabashedly crude and juvenile comedy and classic slapstick, it’s unforgettable characters and endlessly quotable dialogue. “CaddyShack” was besieged by an uneven script that was described to be the size of the Bible, that left the first cut of the film to clock in at four and a half hours. There were infighting within it’s cast members, it was the last film of Ted Knights career, while giving Rodney Dangerfield a resurgence in his, to being the directorial debut for actor Harold Ramis. Written by Harold Ramis and Bill Murray’s real-life brother, most of the script was left improvised including all of Bill Murray’s scenes. Ramis has his hands full with endless problems, including a set that was fueled by drugs….lots of drugs. If that’s all not enough, they were forced to ask the studio for an extra half-million dollars to build an animatronic gopher. While it overcame harsh reviews by critics and test audiences in becoming, one of the greatest and most classic comedies in Hollywood. 

As beloved, embraced and as quoted as “CaddyShack”, is forty years later. It’s easy to think that it was a smash hit right from the start. When in fact, it wasn’t and instead, it was a mess. As Chris Nashawaty, a longtime film critic for Entertainment Weekly has detailed in his definitive 2018 book, “Caddyshack: The Making of A Hollywood Cinderella Story”. He explains how shocked he was the film even got made at all. 

Nashawaty who got to be on set says: “I’ve been on a lot of movie sets as a reporter and they’re pretty boring,” Nashawaty says on this week’s Golf Digest Podcast. “But this is the one movie set that I can think of that the making-of story is even better than the movie. Just because it was shot in Florida in 1979, it’s pretty much the gateway into America for cocaine at that time, and everyone was just nuts. It was a big party. It’s amazing a movie got made”.

The year was 1980. Both Chevy Chase and Bill Murray were at the peak of their fame in their “Saturday Night Live” days; while Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight were having career resurgences and “Animal House” (which was written by Harold Ramis) had just become a massive blockbuster that ushered in a new generation of the slobs vs. snobs comedy into mainstream cinema. 

And yet the cast, the producers and director Harold Ramis were prepared for “Caddyshack” to tank. Actor, writer and director Harold Ramis was getting his shot at being a first-time director, who was just trying to wrangle a fiasco of a production. Early preview screenings made the entire crew think they made a Baby Ruth of a movie, rather than landing the next “Animal House”. While the response from critics and ticket sales weren’t any better, maybe tepid at best.

The original script of “Caddyshack” written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray came in at 200 pages and was far different from the movie it would become. “It looked like the Bible”, says executive producer Mark Canton. The script went through so many last minute changes on set that the actors lost track of what was going on. Entire monologues and memorable lines of dialogue from Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray and more were completely improvised, as was most of the film.

So much so, that not once in the 200 pages did the character Carl Spackler appear. Bill Murray was a late addition to the cast, and was with the production for only six days, when he finally did have a character, he appeared in only a handful of scenes, with all of his lines being unscripted. His “Dalai Lama” story sequence was given to another actor who struggled with it, his scene with Chevy Chase’s character Ty Webb was tacked on after Murray had already wrapped and returned to “SNL”. 

Bill Murrary’s “Cinderella Story” monologue was entirely an invention and an improvisation by Bill Murray. There was nothing written in the script for that scene, so Murray based the monologue off of two lines of stage direction that Ramis gave him. One direction was to act like a child, as Murray hit flowers with a hoe while improvising from Ramis’ second stage direction, by asking Murray: “Did you ever do imaginary golf commentary in your head?”. This resulted in Murray fantasizing aloud about winning a major golf tournament during the scene. 

The scene that begins when Ty Webb’s (Chevy Chase) golf ball crashes into Carl Spackler’s shack was not in the original script. It was added by Harold Ramis after realizing that the two of his biggest stars, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray until then, did not appear in a scene together. The three met for lunch and wrote the scene. The two previously did not get along due to a feud dating back to their days on “Saturday Night Live”, but were tolerant and professional towards each other, on set. It is the only film that Chase and Murray have appeared in together. 

Murray has countless urban legends to his name, but his legendary status started even before his “Caddyshack” days. When Murray was shooting the Hunter S. Thompson movie “Where the Buffalo Roam”, in the summer of ’79 and was due back in New York for “SNL” in the fall. Murray had never made it clear just when he’d show up to the “CaddyShack” set, so as far as Ramis knew, Murray was MIA.

As it turns out Murray had commandeered “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels’ VW bug and had driven it, from Los Angeles to Florida to Aspen. When he finally arrived, he rolled up in a golf cart and said, “Which way to the youth hostel?”. Where the following morning, Bill Murray and actress Cindy Morgan (who played Lacey Underall) woke up together on a nude beach in Florida, after the two had just met.

The film was inspired by writer and co-star Brian Doyle-Murray’s memories of working as a caddie at the Indian Hill Club in Illinois. His real-life brothers Bill Murray and John Murray (who was a production assistant and a caddy extra) and director Harold Ramis also had worked as caddies when they were teenagers. Many of the characters in the film were based on characters they had encountered through their various experiences at the club. 

The classic scene involving a Baby Ruth candy bar being thrown into the swimming pool was based on a real-life incident at Doyle-Murray’s high school. The scene in which Al Czervik hits Judge Smails (Ted Knight) in the genitals with a struck golf ball happened to Ramis on what he said was the second of his two rounds of golf, on a nine-hole public course. 

The film was shot over eleven weeks during the autumn of 1979; Hurricane David in early September delayed production. The Golf scenes were filmed at the Rolling Hills Golf Club (now the Grande Oaks Golf Club) in Davie, Florida. According to Ramis, Rolling Hills was chosen because the course did not have any palm trees. He wanted the film to feel that it was in the Midwest, not Florida. 

The role of Danny Noonan was down to two finalists: Mickey Rourke and Michael O’Keefe, who ultimately won the role. “This was the early, young, hot, relaxed Mickey Rourke”, O’Keefe says. “He was as compelling as Marlon Brando in a way back then…But I’m a little more easy on the eyes than Mickey. Clearly it would have been a much darker movie”. 

Ramis described Rourke as “maybe too real for the movie,” saying, “Michael O’Keefe seemed like a really good boy. Plus, he was a scratch golfer. Mickey Rourke was much more complicated”. Michael O’Keefe, who later had a recurring role on the ABC series “Roseanne”, says that “Cocaine was everywhere on the set”. He described his 11 weeks there as “a permanent party”. Instead of producers making sure everyone played by the rules, producer Douglas Kenney had led the charge of much of the cast and crew’s rampant drug use. Supporting actor Peter Berkrot describes the cocaine as “the fuel that kept the film running”. 

“The eagle has landed; the eagle has landed! Get your per diems in cash, the dealer’s here”, he would yell, as he ran through their motel hallways. Chase described that cocaine would just “materialize” on set, much to the annoyance of Ted Knight, who always got to bed early, showed up for call time early and didn’t appreciate the looser, more improvisational approach to the filming. Basically the only person on the “CaddyShack” set who was not high on something was Ted Knight, which was Knight’s last screen appearance.

Shooting at the same time and released the same summer was “The Blues Brothers,” which was also when John Belushi started getting heavily addicted to cocaine. When that film’s budget started rising as a result of Belushi’s binges, the studio was forced to crack down on the parties on the “Caddyshack” set.

It became clear fairly quickly that Ramis was out of his depth in editing “CaddyShack”. He had come from an improv background and had a great sense of comic mentality during filming, but he struggled to find a connective thread for the countless scenes of his actors just riffing and being goofy. The first cut of “Caddyshack” clocked in at four and a half hours. And it was a mess of a first cut. 

They had several editors look at the footage and make any attempts to salvage it, but it was executive producer Jon Peters who suggested that the gopher, only be seen sparingly at first and could be the thing that ties everything together. They were then forced to ask the studio for an extra half-million dollars to build an animatronic gopher and in the process, cut out the romantic subplots of many of the younger actors.

A deal was made with John Dykstra’s effects company for visual effects, including lightning, stormy sky effects, flying golf balls and disappearing greens’ flags. The gopher was also part of the effects package, as Dykstra’s technicians added hydraulic animation to the puppet, including ear movement and built the tunnels through which it moved.

The title track “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins, was released as a single in 1980 and then reached the top 10 of the U.S. singles chart. Eddie Money makes a guest appearance in the song’s background chorus, as the song is one of the most frequent choices at Kenny Loggins’ concerts. 

In anticipation of the movie, the single was released nearly three weeks before the movie opened and became a top ten hit the last week in September 1980. CBS Records also issued a soundtrack to “CaddyShack” later that year. It included ten songs, four of which were performed by Kenny Loggins, including the aforementioned “I’m Alright.”

When Kenny Loggins saw that gopher dance, the theme song he wrote should’ve been a clue that everything with “Caddyshack” would be just fine, as he says: “I’m Alright. Nobody worry about me”. 

Early screenings of the movie were not kind, nor were the early reviews. But over time, “CaddyShack grew into a cultural touchstone, in part because of how many of the stereotypes about golf have held up, but also because the performances by comedic legends such as Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield had just got better with age.

The theatrical take-in was $40 million on a $6 million budget, but it took time for people to appreciate the movie and re-watch it. It became a cult movie. If you asked anyone if “CaddyShack was a hit they’d say, ‘Of course it was’. But it really wasn’t and was only through word of mouth and VHS that it became a big deal. The film has been described by ESPN as “perhaps the funniest sports movie ever made”. 

On June 7th 2001, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray and their brothers opened a themed restaurant inspired by the film at the World Golf Village, near St. Augustine, Florida. The restaurant is meant to resemble the fictional Bushwood Country Club and serves primarily American cuisine. The brothers are all active partners and make occasional appearances at the restaurant. 

Three more “CaddyShack” restaurants were opened, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Orlando and Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Although these are now closed, leaving the original St Augustine, Florida their flagship location, that is open to fans and diners. Bill Murray and two of his brothers were in attendance when another venue opened in Rosemont, Illinois, in April 2018.

“CaddyShack” is neither as raucous nor as outrageous as the definitive college comedy “Animal House”, but it has the same rebellious spirit and a great cast of comedy legends. Still every bit as funny, and every bit as stupid, as it was forty years ago. An iconic comedy we still quote endlessly today, that keeps you smiling and laughing all the way to it’s end credits, as we watch an adorable dancing gopher. “CaddyShack” is that rare comedy, where everything clicks and that once in a lifetime effect of lightning in a bottle was caught to make a true classic. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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