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Some 30 years later, ‘Groundhog Day’ still casts a spell, no matter who shows up at a reunion

Rick Kogan – Chicago Tribune (TNS)

On the momentous evening of Aug. 8, 1988, two of the greatest characters this city has ever known shared a microphone at Wrigley Field. It was the occasion of the first night game in Wrigley history and the conversation was lively.

Harry Caray asked, “Have you thought of broadcasting baseball as something after you’re tired of being a great star of movies, stage, television …”

Bill Murray answered, “I think that when I have completely lost my mind, I’ll step up here with you in the booth.”

These two talked for only a couple of minutes. Murray mentioned his upcoming film, “Scrooged,” and Caray asked about Murray’s mom Lucille.

Murray was a few years away from making what many consider his best film, “Groundhog Day,” which was filmed in Woodstock and hit theaters in 1993 and remains part of the fabric of that delightfully charming northwest suburban town, which for many years has displayed engraved metal plaques signifying notable scenes from the film, and hosted yearly celebrations.

The year’s festivities start on Feb. 1 and continue into Feb. 4. There are such offerings as walking tours, a screening of the movie, a breakfast and a dinner dance, storytelling, bingo and, of course, the prognostication at 7 a.m. Feb. 2, when a groundhog will emerge to a large crowd and much hoopla and search for its shadow. (In case you may have forgotten, if the groundhog sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of nasty winter; if not, then six weeks of fairer weather).

There will also be a groundhog in Chicago that day, since this year brings a new “Groundhog Day” celebration, taking place at the Harry Caray oasis at Navy Pier. It starts at 3 p.m. Feb. 2 and will feature such cast members as Brian Doyle-Murray, Stephen Tobolowsky, Marita Geraghty, Robin Duke, David Pasquesi, Peggy Roeder and Richard Henzel. A groundhog, named Chicago Harry, will make its “prediction.” Alderman Brendan Reilly will read a proclamation declaring it Harold Ramis Day in Chicago and there will be a movie screening and other activities and movie-related food and drinks.

This Navy Pier bash was born to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Harold Ramis, the Chicago native who was the director and co-writer (with Danny Rubin) of the film.

The idea for this event came from Grant DePorter who, as the CEO of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, oversees the operation of seven restaurants, is a tireless and inventive promoter of those restaurants, and keeper of the flame of the broadcaster who died in 1998.

He tells me: “I grew up at the Hyatt Regency here (his father, Don, was an executive with the hotel chain). We had access to what was called SpectraVision. This was before streaming and so I was the only one I knew who had nonstop access to movies. I watched movies to the point I could quote every line.”

Ramis’ movies — which included “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters” — were his favorites, and the favorite of all was “Groundhog Day.” He was understandably thrilled when Ramis became a partner when the Harry Caray’s opened on the pier in 2010.

“Harold passed away 10 years ago this February and I thought this would be a great way to celebrate his life.”

Ramis’ widow, Erica Mann Ramis, is scheduled to be at the event. She is the mother of their two sons. He also had two daughters with his first wife Ann Plotkin. One of them, Violet Ramis Stiel, lives in New York with her husband and children. She is a charming person and the author of a wonderful (honest and funny and moving) book about her father. Titled “Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis” (Blue Rider Press), it came out in 2018.

She writes about spending a chilly April week on set in Woodstock during the filming of the movie when she was a 14-year-old. When I met her years later she told me that “Groundhog Day” was “probably the most widely loved and respected film of my father’s career.” But in the book, she detailed how the film fractured the friendship between her father and Murray, who happens to be her godfather.

She writes: “(Bill) and my dad were not seeing eye to eye on the tone of the film. They had a few arguments on set, including one in which my dad uncharacteristically lost his temper, grabbed Bill by the collar and shoved him up against a wall. Eventually, Bill just completely shut my dad out … for the next 20-plus years.”

This hurt and confused Ramis, but there was a reconciliation. Stiel writes: “In classic Bill fashion, he showed up at the house, unannounced, at 7 a.m., with a police escort and a dozen doughnuts. My dad wasn’t able to talk much at that point, so they didn’t get to the nitty-gritty of what happened or go back and rehash any of the old stuff, but they spent a couple of hours together, laughed a little, and made their peace.”

That is a heartwarming story and maybe people will share it at the upcoming celebrations. Now, be aware that Bill Murray is among the most elusive celebrities in the world. He shows up at the most unusual places, and is often a no-show at places where one might have expected him. He is refreshingly unpredictable. Both he and his “Groundhog Day” co-star, Andie MacDowell, have been invited to the Harry Caray event. Some hope they come, some hope the groundhog doesn’t see its shadow. There are no guarantees in this life. Or as Stiel once told me, “Perhaps the simplest and most useful thing my father ever taught me was this: Life is messy.”

©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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