Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis

The screenwriter, director, actor and producer returned to his alma mater several times, and delivered three Assembly Series addresses (most recently in 2009). He also served two terms on the Board of Trustees, and handled Homecoming's master of ceremonies duties in 1984.

“Animal House,” “Ghostbusters,” “Stripes,” “Analyze This,” “Groundhog Day,” “Caddyshack” — these films are just a few highlights in the extraordinary career of alumnus Harold Ramis, and they continue to influence filmmakers today.

The screenwriter, director, actor and producer returned to his alma mater often to meet with students and to give Assembly Series addresses. He also served two terms on the Board of Trustees, and in a more symbolic role, served as master of ceremonies for Homecoming in 1984. Whenever Ramis returned to campus, he met with faculty and students.

Henry Schvey, professor of drama and comparative literature in Arts & Sciences, knew him well, and in his introduction for Ramis’ 2009 talk, he illuminated the alumnus’ place in the film pantheon:

“In Ramis’ films, revolt is as much against an inflexible organization as it is against an unyielding individual psyche, as in Groundhog Day, and Ice Harvest. Some of our guest’s first practical lessons in revolting against authority were developed right here. It’s possible too that it was here where he began learning to forge that anarchical spirit into works of art.

“His career includes some of the most popular and influential films of our time. He’s a deep thinker and is a man constantly engaged with ideas.”

Ramis, who died in 2014, acknowledged that his first major hit, “Animal House,” was based on his college days here as a member of Zeta Beta Tau.

harold ramis 1979 friends
Ramis, second from left, seated, with friends during a campus visit in 1979.

“Great comedy is inherently revolutionary. Its essence lies in its ability to subvert order, the status quo, to provoke change. It teaches us to question and by extension, it teaches us to revolt against authority. We may laugh at the comedy’s absurdist tactics, but the lesson is very clear: Sometimes it’s necessary to resort to extremes, and employ humor, farce – as a means of overturning something patently unjust or impervious to human reason. The essence of comedy, I’d contend, is contained in overturning absurd, destructive authority…and by revolting against irrationality it shows us the way toward a more civilized, humane behavior.”

Harold Ramis
WashU alumnus and legendary filmmaker Harold Ramis, on one of his many campus visits.

Here’s an excerpt from his 2009 talk:

Interesting fact: Upon learning of his death, President Barack Obama tweeted: When we watched his movies… we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority.