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Improv, drugs and a gopher: The making of the comedy classic 'Caddyshack'

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Chris Nashawaty's new book has the whole hilarious backstory to the making of Caddyshack.
Flatiron books
Chris Nashawaty's new book has the whole hilarious backstory to the making of Caddyshack.

"It's amazing when you think about it that they managed to make a movie at all."

The movie "Caddyshack" is now a comedy classic, but it wasn't exactly a hole-in-one when it was first released. And the story behind the story of how the underdog hit was made is its own comedy filled with almost as many shenanigans as the film itself.

The original idea for the film came from Brian Doyle Murray, one of the movie's writers, said Chris Nashawaty, author of the new book, "Caddyshack - The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story." 

Doyle Murray and his younger brother, actor Bill Murray, worked as caddies during the summer as kids, which was the jumping off point for the movie's story, Nashawaty said. But that was just the beginning of a pretty crazy film making process.

The script that was never finished

The three writers of "Caddyshack" -- Doyle Murray, Doug Kenney and Harold Ramis -- all had strong backgrounds in improv comedy, so they weren't concerned about having every scene completely finalized before filming, Nashawaty said. 

Many of the scenes in "Caddyshack" were changed during filming or completely improvised which leads to the film's hilarious, but somewhat random story line.

“No one scene in Caddyshack makes sense with the previous scene. It just feels, you know, made up on the spot, which in a lot of ways it was," Nashawaty said. 

Bill Murray, in particular, improvised many of his scenes in the film. His famous 'Cinderella story' speech was, in fact, completely improvised and done in a single take.

"They would just leave blank chunks in the script that said, 'Bill riffs here,'" Nashawaty said.


The cast and crew of "Caddyshack" may have had experience with improv, but they weren't exactly seasoned filmmakers.

Harold Ramis was in the director's chair for the first time when he directed Caddyshack, and one of the lead actors, Rodney Dangerfield, had very little on-camera experience.

When it came time to film Dangerfield's first scene, it became clear he was not a movie pro, Nashawaty said. When Ramis called 'Action,' to start that first scene, Dangerfield didn't react. Ramis asked him if everything was alright and Dangerfield said yes, so the director called 'Action' again, but still nothing. So Ramis told the actor, "When I call action, that's your cue to come in and do your lines," to which Dangerfield replied, "You mean do my bit?" 

From then on, Ramis yelled "Rodney, do your bit," instead of "Action" to cue Dangerfield's scenes, Nashawaty said.

Scenes, drugs and rock and roll

It wasn't just experience that stacked the deck against the "Caddyshack" crew. There was also a serious drug use problem during filming.

The movie was shot in Davey, Florida, in the 1970s. At the time, Florida was a gateway for drugs like cocaine to enter the U.S., Nashawaty said, so these were wild times and many of the cast and crew were pretty wild characters themselves.

"These people partied very, very hard. It's amazing when you think about it that they managed to make a movie at all to be honest with you," he said.

Gopher to the rescue

Once filming was finished, it was time to edit the footage that had been shot into a movie, and that's where "Caddyshack," once again, found itself hitting a roadblock (or a sand trap). 

Due to all the improvising on set and the constant changes made to the script, the movie's many scenes didn't connect up.

So one of the producers came up with an idea to make the gopher, who was then only in one scene, the through line. The crew had to beg the studio for more money and go back and shoot more gopher scenes, but it all turned out in the end, Nashawaty said.

"It actually ended up being the thing that saved the film," he said. 

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