This book was recommended to me by my comedian son, who lives in Chicago, home of the Second City Comedy troupe and, for a time, Harold Ramis and family.
But the real “hook” for me was Ghostbusters! The movie was released in 1984, the same year my older son was born. A huge hit! Wildly funny. Lots of ancillary products, like T-shirts. I can’t remember at what age we first took Ben to see it. It totally captured his imagination, and became his first “commercialized” passion. Our best purchase was Ghostbuster coveralls, with “Who You Gonna Call?” on the back. Both boys wore them. I’d have bought a pair for myself, if I saw them in my size.
Phrases from the movie worked their way into our daily conversation and have remained to this day. The best were “Back off, man, I’m a scientist!” and Ramis/Egon’s great deadpan line “I collect spores, molds and fungus”. We still refer to any deteriorated property as “a unique fixer upper opportunity” and remind each other “everybody has three mortgages”. “You really eat this stuff?”
So I have to tell you I was hoping for more details about Ghostbusters, which the book did not provide. The book moves sequentially through Steil’s life. I hadn’t known how many films Ramis was involved with as actor, writer, director and/or producer. Steil visited the sets of most of the movies, but her reminisces weren’t particular enlightening.
The personal chapters were more interesting. Violet Ramis Steil is a lively and perceptive writer. This wasn’t my first entertainment world autobiography. Bottom line, I don’t know how the children of celebrities survive! They are exposed to drugs and crazy adult behavior, and sometimes forced to grow up fast because their parents are irresponsible. Harold Ramis had his wilder moments, but settled down in his second marriage. He became wealthy and was generous towards his daughter and many other people.
Stiel’s discussion of her education and career choice was interesting. She knew she did not want to join the entertainment world. She wanted to help people, and went to graduate school to study social work, specializing in maternal and child health and welfare. Approving wholeheartedly, Ramis subsidized her so that she could live in Manhattan on a social worker’s salary.
The chapters about Ramis’s death are terribly painful. In 2010, he developed diverticulitis, followed by infection and a brain damaging stroke. Thinking he might recover and return to the work he loved, his wife limited the information that was shared outside the family. Four years of terrible struggle followed. Ramis experienced painful and repeated complications, seizures, treatments, and rehabilitation. No one should suffer that way.
I can’t find out what Violet R Stiel has been doing since her book was published in 2018. After the reviews, she’s been relatively invisible – not in Wikipedia, minimally present on Facebook. (Maybe I just don’t know where to look.) I hope she’s writing. Maybe she’ll provide commentary on the pandemic!