Caddyshack: 20 Things You Never Knew About The Comedy Classic
Perhaps there aren’t enough golfing comedy films, but Caddyshack is fantastic, and one of our very favourite comedy films of the entire 1980s. It was released all the way back in 1980, was directed by Harold Ramis, and had a stellar cast that included Michael O’Keefe, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, and the legend that is Bill Murray.
Below are some things you probably didn’t know about the film that ESPN once crowned “the funniest sports movie ever made.”
20. It was inspired by the real life experiences of Bill Murray and his brothers
Caddyshack was co-written by director Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray, who also appears in the film as Lou Loomis. Doyle-Murray is the brother of Bill Murray, who of course went on to become a film comedy legend. As outlandish as Caddyshack may seem, it was largely inspired by the real life experiences of the Murray brothers.
Bill, Brian and their other four siblings all spent time working on golf courses back in their teenage years. Harold Ramis said in 2010, “There were six Murray boys in the family, and we modelled the Noonans after them in Caddyshack.” Ramis also recalled of his first meeting with his future Ghostbusters co-star Bill Murray, “Bill had just graduated from high school, and his job at the time was running the hot dog stand on the 9th hole.”
19. All the shots of the gopher puppet were added afterwards
Despite the wealth of great comedy stars in Caddyshack, in the eyes of many viewers the entire movie is stolen by the adorable gopher. It may come as a surprise, then, that the gopher puppet was not originally intended to be in the movie. It wasn’t until principal photography had already wrapped that the filmmakers hit upon the idea of adding the cute little critter.
Because of this, every shot of the puppet had to be carefully inserted into scenes which had already been filmed in their entirety. Oscar-winning Star Wars visual effects supervisor John Dykstra was hired to create the gopher puppet. And if you’ve ever thought there was something familiar about the cute noises the gopher makes, that may be because all the creature’s sound effects were recycled from TV show Flipper.
18. Mickey Rourke was considered for the role of Danny Noonan
Caddyshack may be best remembered for the comedic performances of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield, but none of them are really the lead. The true focal point of Caddyshack is the character of Danny Noonan, the ambitious young caddie portrayed by Michael O’Keefe. However, before O’Keefe landed the role, director Harold Ramis had his eye on another up-and-coming actor named Mickey Rourke.
At the time, Rourke was a 28-year old unknown with no film credits to his name; he would make his debut with a small role in Steven Spielberg’s largely forgotten 1979 comedy 1941. But as Ramis reflected afterwards, Rourke was “so cool—a very natural actor, almost too real for the movie.” Rourke would go on to make a name for himself in less comedic fare, before enjoying one of the most varied and turbulent careers in Hollywood history.
17. Producer Jon Peters bullied Cindy Morgan into doing her nude scene
For the role of love interest Lacey Underall, producer Jon Peters had initially wanted to cast Bo Derek, a huge celebrity in the wake of 1979’s 10. Instead, director Harold Ramis chose actress Cindy Morgan, a total unknown with only one film credit to her name. Morgan happily accepted the role, but was uncomfortable when she was informed she had to perform a nude scene.
According to Ramis, “She didn’t want to do it. And I’m the good guy. I said, ‘I don’t want you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.'” However, producer Peters then spoke to Morgan on the phone and told her she’d never work again unless she did the nude scene, at which point the actress reluctantly agreed. Morgan says of the incident, “I don’t have a problem with nudity; I have a problem with bullies. I didn’t work for a really long time after that.”
16. Co-writer Douglas Kenney died under mysterious circumstances shortly after the film came out
The theatrical release of Caddyshack was tinged in tragedy, as the film’s co-writer Douglas Kenney less than a month after it opened in 1980. Kenney was the co-founder of the original National Lampoon magazine, which formed the basis of the successful National Lampoon’s big screen franchise; he co-wrote 1978 smash National Lampoon’s Animal House with Harold Ramis. Unfortunately, he also had a significant substance abuse problem which grew particularly intense around the time Caddyshack came out. When the initial reviews for the film proved less enthusiastic than expected, Kenney took it hard, and fell deeper into addiction.
Chevy Chase then accompanied Kenney on vacation to Hawaii in the hopes of “drying out;” Chase admits in hindsight he “was the last guy to ask.” Chase left early to return to California, and Kenney went missing. A few days later Kenney’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff. His death was officially ruled as accidental, but many who were close to Kenney believe it was suicide.
15. Bill Murray and his brothers opened a chain of Caddyshack restaurants
The enduring popularity of the original Caddyshack proved to be enough to inspire a chain of official Caddyshack restaurants. Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray and the rest of the Murray brothers were the founders of the first Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant in 2001. Modelled on the Bushwood Country Club of the movie, the flagship venue was opened in World Golf Village near St. Augustine, Florida.
Further Caddyshack restaurants were later opened in Florida (in Orlando and Ponte Vedra Beach) as well as one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, although these have since closed. The original Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant remains open, and the Murray brothers occasionally put in appearances there. At present there’s only one other Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant open for business, and that’s in Rosemont, Illinois.
14. It was Rodney Dangerfield’s first movie
By 1980, Rodney Dangerfield was 59 years old with a long stand-up comedy career and a slew of TV talk show appearances behind him. It may come as a surprise, then, that prior to Caddyshack he hadn’t appeared in a theatrical film before. Ramis admitted afterwards he wasn’t 100% sold on Dangerfield’s casting: “I was actually inclined toward Don Rickles for the part. He had the right obnoxiousness and was probably a better actor than Rodney.”
Cindy Morgan was surprised to see Dangerfield lacking confidence in his ability behind the scenes. “I remember having lunch with Rodney one day and he’s tugging on his collar just like he does in his act, going, ‘Am I O.K.? It’s my first movie.’ It’s amazing how someone that funny could be insecure.” After Caddyshack, Dangerfield went on to take the lead in Easy Money, Back to School and Ladybugs, and would also appear in 1994’s controversial Natural Born Killers.
13. The Baby Ruth scene was based on a real-life prank
One of the most memorable and repulsive gags in Caddyshack is the moment with the Baby Ruth bar. Shot and edited in the style of Jaws, the sequence features the chocolate being dropped into the swimming pool. And, of course, when everyone sees a long, thin piece of chocolate floating in the water, they assume it’s… something else. A mass panic ensues, with all the swimmers manically rushing out of the pool as quickly as possible.
This is one of the moments in Caddyshack that was directly taken from the real-life experiences of Brian Doyle-Murray and his brothers. As a prank, the Murrays once utilised a Baby Ruth bar to that exact same purpose in the high school swimming pool. Whether this also resulted in the bar being eaten by the guy who cleaned the pool out, we may never know!
12. Harold Ramis tried to get Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack
Caddyshack has one of the quintessential 80s comedy film soundtracks, with a number of songs that are well-remembered today. For one thing, it features four original songs by Kenny Loggins, including the film’s official theme song I’m Alright. Loggins would go on to record a number of the most memorable movie songs of the 80s, including the theme song for Footloose and Danger Zone from Top Gun. In addition, Caddyshack prominently features the track Any Way You Want It by famed 80s rock band Journey.
However, things could have been very different, as Harold Ramis had originally hoped to get original music from Pink Floyd. The iconic British prog rock band had to decline Ramis’ request, as they were too busy touring at the time.
11. The cast and crew consumed a lot of illicit substances on set
One of the great cliches about 80s Hollywood is that a huge amount of recreational drug use is said to have taken place. By all accounts this was very much the case on the set of Caddyshack. The film’s producer Jon Peters recalls comedian Rodney Dangerfield doing drugs in front of him at the audition, and that was just the beginning. Actor Chevy Chase concurs that things got “pretty f***ing nuts on that set. At night, we would race golf carts down the fairways, people whacked out having a good time.”
However, Chase insists this was only after hours: “I don’t remember getting high during the actual shooting or Billy [Murray] or anybody doing that.” Eventually reports of on-set debauchery got back to the studio, who demanded producer Jon Peters keep his cast and crew on a shorter leash.
10. Every single Bill Murray line was unscripted
Bill Murray was a rising star in comedy when he was cast as deranged groundskeeper Carl Spackler in Caddyshack. Murray had already taken the lead in 1979 comedy hit Meatballs, and was the host of TV’s Saturday Night Live at the time. Because of his busy schedule, Murray was only part of the Caddyshack production for six days.
Over the years, Murray has developed a reputation for regularly going off-script in his comedy roles – and he was directed to do just that on Caddyshack. According to Harold Ramis, “There were no scripted lines for Bill in the whole movie. Everything we shot with him, he would just riff. That’s how he worked.” Murray recalls, “I just took it and ran away with it. My part just kept growing like a mushroom… Improvising about golf was easy for me.”
9. The role of Ty Webb was written specifically for Chevy Chase
Caddyshack was one of the movies that helped make Chevy Chase one of the biggest film comedy stars of his generation. Although Chase hadn’t enjoyed much big screen success up to that point, he’d become a huge star on TV’s Saturday Night Live. Hoping to cash in on Chase’s fame, the makers of Caddyshack created the role of Ty Webb specifically with the actor in mind.
There have long been rumours of bad blood between Chase and Bill Murray (his successor at SNL), so some tension was anticipated between them on the Caddyshack set. However, Ramis insisted both actors were “respectful and cooperative” with one another when shooting their scenes. After Caddyshack, Chase enjoyed a run of high-profile hits included the National Lampoon’s Vacation series and Fletch.
8. It was the final film of actor Ted Knight
While Caddyshack was the film debut of Rodney Dangerfield, it proved to be the last film from a performer of that same generation. Ted Knight was 57 years old when he took the role of Judge Elihu Smails in the 1980 comedy. Sadly, Knight died six years later from cancer, and while he took a few more TV roles he never made another movie. A seasoned professional actor, Knight had worked extensively in film and TV since the late 50s. He was also a staunch traditionalist who preferred to keep to the script, which was not the case for most of his Caddyshack co-stars.
By all accounts, Knight was frequently angered by the informality and heavy improvisation of Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield.
7. The first cut of the film was four and a half hours long
When Caddyshack hit screens in 1980, conventional wisdom dictated that an audience-friendly comedy shouldn’t be much longer than 90 minutes. However, the first cut of Caddyshack assembled by director Harold Ramis was considerably longer than that. It is said that, in its earliest form, Caddyshack went on for over four and half hours. This excessive length was reportedly down to the huge amount of ad-libbing that had been done on set.
Take Bill Murray’s celebrated ‘Cinderella story’ speech, in which Spackler provides imaginary commentary to his own golf performance; all completely improvised by Murray, as with all the actor’s dialogue. In the final film, this sequence lasts around 90 seconds, but in the original uncut form it went on for a full half hour. So much comedy gold had been created in the extensive ad-libs that Ramis struggled to decide what to keep and what to cut, but eventually editor William C. Carruth got it down to 98 minutes.
6. The original ending was ditched
Because of all the improvised craziness that went on during the Caddyshack shoot, the final film strays quite far from the original intent of the script. The film had been conceived as a coming-of-age comedy that really focused on Michael O’Keefe’s young caddy Danny Noonan. As such, the film’s final scenes were originally intended to put Danny centre stage and show how his experiences at the golf club had affected him. In Chris Nashawaty’s book Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story, he details how the script originally closed on Danny about to go to college, then changing his mind and following his heart.
Nashawaty says this would then have been followed by “a brief Casablanca-like scene in which Ty (Chevy Chase) and Lacey (Cindy Morgan) walk off into the sunset.” As the final cut of Caddyshack emphasised madcap comedy, the filmmakers chose to scrap these scenes altogether and end with an explosive, raucous scene on the golf course.
5. Critics didn’t like the film at the time
Today, Caddyshack is fondly remembered as a great comedy, as well as a launchpad for several of the biggest funnymen of the 80s. However, on release the film didn’t prove to be particularly popular with the critics. Reviews highlighted the inconsistency of Caddyshack’s tone and content as a particular problem.
Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said “the picture lurches from style to style… and collapses somewhere between sitcom and sketch farce.” The influential Roger Ebert agreed, saying the film simply “[wanders] off in all directions in search of comic inspiration.” However, Ebert’s partner Gene Siskel disagreed, saying Caddyshack was “funny about half of the time it tries to be, which is a pretty good average for a comedy.”
4. It was the directorial debut of Harold Ramis
Caddyshack marked the first time that comedy icon Harold Ramis called the shots on a motion picture. Ramis first made his mark in comedy as a writer, and broke into film with the scripts for National Lampoon’s Animal House and Meatballs. After directing Caddyshack, Ramis went on to have a huge impact on comedy cinema on both sides of the camera. As an actor, he went on to co-star with Bill Murray in Stripes before taking the role he is best remembered for: Egon Spengler in the first two Ghostbusters movies, which he also co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd.
As a director, his most celebrated films include National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day and Analyse This. Ramis was widely mourned when passed away in 2014 aged 69, his death attributed to complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis.
3. Tiger Woods is a fan
It makes a lot of sense that Caddyshack would prove to be a popular film among real-life golfers. The comedy is reportedly a firm favourite of the most famous golfer of them all, Tiger Woods. So big a fan is Woods, he even appeared in an American Express TV commercial inspired by the film. The ad in question sees Woods take on the persona of Bill Murray’s Spackler, in conflict with a troublesome gopher.
Nor is Woods the only prominent sporting figure to have an admiration for Caddyshack. Influential magazine Sports Illustrated and TV sports channel ESPN have called it the funniest sports movie ever. In a 2008 American Film Institute list of the top 10 sports films of all time, Caddyshack was listed at number 7.
2. Harold Ramis thought it could have been a lot better
Caddyshack helped launch Harold Ramis on to a successful career as a writer, director and sometime actor. However, the late comedy legend admitted that he really didn’t know what he was doing on his directorial debut. In his later years Ramis reflected, “I can barely watch it. All I see are a bunch of compromises and things that could have been better.”
Amusingly, one of Ramis’ main problems with Caddyshack in the years since is how badly it presents its central sport. The director recalled, “it bothers me that nobody except Michael O’Keefe can swing a golf club. A movie about golf with the worst bunch of golf swings you’ve ever seen!” Still, Ramis admitted that, while this bothered him, it did nothing to quell the film’s popularity with actual golfers.
1. The sequel is considered one of the worst comedies ever made
Caddyshack performed above expectations financially, making a tidy $40 million in the US alone. However, the sequel Caddyshack II proved to be a complete financial and commercial bomb, and is widely regarded one of the worst comedy sequels ever. The follow-up film didn’t get made until 1988, and after a troubled development process, none of the original cast returned except Chevy Chase.
Harold Ramis co-wrote the first draft of the script but had little involvement beyond that, and called the end results “terrible.” Studio Warner Bros also insisted on toning down the R-rated humour of the original in favour of a PG, which was widely regarded a mistake. After costing around $20 million to make, Caddyshack II took less than $12 million in ticket sales, making a substantial loss at the box office.