By Tom Ward
Late last month I was saddened when I read the news that multi-talented Harold Ramis had died at age 69. Ramis was a terrific writer, actor and director that created some of the greatest comedy classics in movie history. Films such as Stripes, Animal House, Vacation, Ghostbusters I and II, Ground Hog Day, Multiplicity, Analyze This and That and my personal favorite Caddyshack. According to various news reports the native Chicagoan had been ill for a few years battling autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. I immediately thought of my friend actress Cindy Morgan who portrayed ‘lacey Underalls’ in the 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack where Ramis made his directorial debut. Cindy also happens to hail from the Chicago area and was more than happy to talk about her old friend Harold. Once I reached her by phone I offered my condolences because I knew she held Ramis in very high regard.
My first question was where were you when you heard the news of Harold’s passing? Cindy said,” I was in my condo here in Florida when I got a message with an article attached sent to me that he had died. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. So I called Bill Carruth who was our editor on Caddyshack who’s working with me on my book and ironically we got in touch with each other at the exact same time. I texted him and he called me. Both of us were stunned because Harold was still young and no one knew that he was sick .It was very, very sad.”
During our call Cindy mentioned how wonderful it was that Bill Murray did a shout out to Harold during the Oscars telecast. I then asked when was the last time you talked to Harold? She said, “It had been awhile but, I believe the last time I talked to him was when I was involved with the promotions for the families of the military. Prior to that I was doing a radio interview with a DJ in Chicago and they did an ambush with me asking me what I thought of Harold Ramis? I told them that Harold was driving that crazy bus. Then the DJ tells me that we’ve got a surprise for you because we’ve got Harold on the other line.”
During our conversation I asked Cindy to take me back to the first time she ever met Harold Ramis? Cindy recalled. ”I met him in the final audition for Caddyshack, but there were so many people in the room at that time. Quite frankly, I was a little concerned because I was the only one on the call sheet that day that they were bringing in to read for the role of Lacey. Up until that point I thought I’ve got nothing to lose because I’m not getting this job anyway so who cares what I do. At that moment, I knew these guys were taking this seriously and that’s when I started to get nervous. During my reading I pretty much focused on Doug Kenney because he was the guy reading with me. My goal was to make him sweat and I did. Harold was in the room along with Chevy Chase and producer Jon Peters and a few others. I knew if I was doing my job properly I wasn’t going to pay any attention to them. Harold and I first really started talking when I got to the set down in Florida. The thing about Harold that I think is so interesting is that a lot of little things, the naughty little things that Lacey did in the film a lot of the little details came directly from Harold. He would whisper into my ear saying why don’t you bite your tongue? I would ask why? He would reply by saying ”Just trust me on this one.” You have to remember I was walking into my first film, but he was so gentle, warm and very kind. This was also Harold’s first film as a director and he was very open and extremely generous with a scene. If there was ever a conflict that came up a couple of times he would be the one to play the negotiator between the warring parties. He worked really hard on that film. Once Harold got me rolling as Lacey it was me as Lacey 24-7. It really worked because when we walked out to the set whether or not you were in the scene you may have been in the scene so you just sort of became your character.” Cindy mentioned, ”During filming we were shooting some scene on the golf course and Harold came up to me and said,” What are all these things that you’re doing that aren’t part of the script?” and before I answered I remember Bill Carruth (film editor) sitting off to the side saying to Harold “All those little pieces are going to be your movie.” It was all the details and all the things that evolved. It was a very, very, lucky situation to be put in with such brilliant improvisational actors because you can’t plan to make something like what we did work. You can’t take a film crew and put them in the middle of somewhere and tell them okay you guys just improvise and we are going to have a film that people are going to love forever. Also, I have to give kudos to Bill Carruth’s brilliant editing because he’s a real genius.”
Before Cindy co-starred in Caddyshack she was a DJ in Chicago and did numerous TV commercials most notably as the ‘Irish Spring’ girl. Morgan said,” When I was in radio and television before doing Caddyshack I never paid any attention to any one directing me back then. They would attempt to direct me and I would go sure and then I went and did what I wanted to do. Working with Harold was the first time I actually listened to someone. That’s because he really seemed like he knew and he had a feeling for it. He had a sense for it and intuitively I trusted him. Just like the time I was getting my makeup touched up after one of those humid, hot 100 degree houses in Florida where the sets were so steamy and he said to come over here and sit down next to Chevy and tell him to sing you a love song. I asked, Sing me a love song why? He tells me to just do it , just do it. This was him being Lacey. He had so much Lacey in him so I said okay fine. So I sat down and I looked at Chevy and said sing me a love song. Chevy proceeds to snort the salt and tosses the tequila over his shoulder and launches into I was born to love you. Next time you watch the film look at my eyes because they register what the hell is he doing. I could see out of the corner of my right eye that the camera light was on. I thought well son of a gun these guys are shooting this. That’s how I found out we were doing a scene. Now luckily I trusted Harold and I sat down and I went with whatever was happening because when you’re in a scene with someone like Chevy you go with the action on whatever he is doing. I think my reactions to Chevy’s brilliant improvisations was the best work I did in the movie.”
Finally, as we were wrapping up our wonderful talk Cindy told me she wanted to tell me something that publicly she has never divulged before. She said,” My father Mitchell Cichorski told me a story years ago that I’ve never told anyone in the media about, but with Harold’s passing maybe it’s time. My dad was the plant manager at Stewart Warner in Chicago. They make products for cars like odometers. Being from Chicago sooner or later everyone runs into somebody. Well, it turns out Harold Ramis’ uncle was for whatever reason cut back from his job there and my dad called him into the office and gave him his job back. The man then asked why are you doing this? My dad said,” Because of what your nephew did for my daughter. It meant a lot to me and my family.” Harold was just a force to be reckoned with because he was such a well-rounded creative person especially with his type of comedy and his writing, acting and directing. It was all part of the process and he was so good at every facet of it. So many people were just floored when they heard the news of his death. I heard someone say there goes my childhood. Harold put together so many classics that are truly timeless. He was the guy who would whisper in my ear and that’s where my Lacey came from. Harold meant a lot to me so I want to say thank you Harold Ramis and I will be forever grateful!” To learn more about Cindy Morgan and see what she’s been up to lately checkout CindyMorganinfo@aol.com or the official Cindy Morgan Facebook page.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com