When Caddies Were Kings: Little-Known Facts About ‘Caddyshack’
The greatest sports movie of all time? There are many candidates for the honor, from Raging Bull to The Natural to Uneccesary Roughness. We kid, we kid. But we also love a funny sports movie, and the funniest of them all is easily Caddyshack. Since its release in 1980 nearly everyone can quote a line from this snobs vs. slops epic. But there’s plenty you probably don’t know about how Caddyshack made it to the big screen. It was a true Cinderella story.
You Can Go ‘House’ Again
Screenwriters Doug Kenney and Harold Ramis were coming off their smash box office hit, Animal House (1978), and looking for a follow-up that could equal its comic genius. Initially, they had pitched a number of different ideas, but every suggestion was shot down.
Then came the lightbulb moment.
The film’s pitch was straight to the point: “Animal House on a golf course.”
Incredible. It’s often said that a great premise should be able to be broken down into just a few words, but this is sheer mastery, because it really is the perfect summary of what Caddyshack is all about.
The opening scene of Caddyshack introduces us to one of the film’s lead characters, caddie Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe). Noonan’s family going through their morning routines looks more like an entire neighborhood gathering inside with ridiculous number of siblings running around.
Since Brian Doyle-Murray, who plays Lou Loomis, was one of the movie’s main writers, he took a lot of his own life experiences and put them into the film, which was actually the inspiration behind Noonan’s enormous family.
Doyle-Murray’s family may not have been an army like Noonan’s, but a whopping nine siblings—three sisters and six brothers—isn’t too far off!
Teeing From The Blues Brothers
Doyle-Murray’s ridiculous number of siblings wasn’t the only family tie he had in the movie. In fact, the movie’s most iconic character, Carl Spackler, was played by his younger brother, Bill Murray.
Imagine the mayhem that must’ve gone down in a household where two of the SIX brothers account for one of the greatest comedic actors AND comedy writers of all time live.
While there are a number of stories to come that involve these two Murray bros, they aren’t even the only ones who took part in the making of this film! Oh yeah, the creation of Caddyshack is a full-on family affair.
Since two apparently wasn’t enough, there was a third Murray, John, who took part in the making of this film, though in a very different way.
Like his brothers, John was technically involved as an uncredited actor, though spotting him is more of an Easter egg than anything, as that wasn’t really what he was there for. (He’s the kid in the red hat, while circle logo.)
Murray No. 3 was actually on the set of Caddyshack as a production assistant tasked with giving a warning whenever a plane looked like it was going to fly over. That sounds random, but due to the golf course being nearby an airport, so many planes had flown over that a lot of the sound had been ruined and needed to be looped in after filming.
Rubbed The Wrong Way
Cindy Morgan’s Lacey Underall and Chevy Chase’s Ty Webb shared a romantic movie moment, but it was far from hearts and flowers in real life, even as they filmed their intimate, oily scene. The two had an on-set feud running, and it carried over to the love scene.
“I said something, he said something,” Morgan recalled. “We were fighting during that scene. I was not in a lovey-dovey mood, and he sure challenged me.
In the movie, Chase spills oil all over Morgan’s back. Her reaction, “You’re crazy!” was very real.
“I was mad at him,” Morgan said. “He spilled all that oil on my back, and that wasn’t supposed to happen. He was trying to make me mad. Chevy was challenging me while the camera was running.
“The next morning Chevy and I came in for dailys. We thought we were in so much trouble for that scene, but we weren’t. They kept it in the movie.”
What became the only famous Baby Ruth candy bar pool scene in movie history was as much a legendary prank in real life as it was in the film, as the Murray brothers actually pulled this stunt off back in high school at the school’s swimming pool.
At least they say they pulled off this prank. Or maybe they used a different candy bar. Because the fine folks at Mythbusters tried re-creating the event in 2013 and discovered that the density of the Baby Ruth caused the bar to sink beneath the waves, like a chocolatey Excalibur, instead of floating its way into infamy.
Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler character was originally supposed to be a non-speaking role. The groundskeeper was supposed to be inspired by Harpo Marx. But when director Harold Ramis realized the talent, creativity and interaction between his three main stars, Murray took on speaking lines.
Thanks to that decision, all who watched the film were treated to a stirring play-by-play of the final round of the Masters, with the Cinderella story, coming out of nowhere, wielding a mean 5-iron, putting it IN THE HOLE! Moviegoers also received the gift of total consciousness. So, they all had that going for them, which is nice.
All of Caddyshack is supposedly meant to function as a Marx Brothers film. Along with Murray being Harpo, Rodney Dangerfield is meant to represent Groucho, while Chevy Chase stands in as Chico. The Groucho-fication of Dangerfield is present in the dinner scene, with Al Czervik going around the room firing off insulting one-liners mocking the pretentious guests.
Dangerfield, who went on to make several hits as the lead man in the 1980s, even channeled some of the physical acting gifts of the great Groucho, with his swinging-gate broken arm routine (“My aahhm, My aaahm!”) in the climactic golf showdown scene. No one would ever compare Rodney’s performance to low-grade dog food.
So much of the movie’s lines were totally improvisational. Arguably the movie’s most famous scene called for Murray’s Spackler to 3-wood off the tops off a series of flowers. But that entire monologue about Spackler’s “Cinderella Story” victory at the Masters came completely courtesy of the top of Murray’s head. “IT’S IN THE HOLE! IT’S NOT IN THE SCRIPT!”
Another moment of improv came in Spackler’s tale of caddying for the Dalai Lama (“Big hitter, the Lama. Long.”). In the original writing, Murray had no props. But in the final cut, there’s Spackler, talking to the young caddy with the business end of a pitchfork up against his throat. Actor Peter Berkrot is not acting as he warily eyes Murray and those sharp metal tips.
Ramis Wasn’t A Party To It
Everyone partied a ton. Actors reportedly regularly showed up to set tardy. Since it was Harold Ramis’ first time directing, he didn’t party until shooting was a wrap (apparently had to be carried home). Ted Knight also hated the partying, which was true to form for his snobby character.
Apparently, those two really missed out. According to an epic catalogue put together by Cracked.com, drugs were one of the four main food groups during filming. The film crew requested their weekly pay in cash (dealers don’t take checks, dude). Drunken golf cart races were commonplace. Anybody seen Bill Murray? Check the sandtraps.
Morgan Takes A Stand
Her fight with Chevy Chase aside, filming Caddyshack was not a pleasant experience for Morgan. She had reluctantly agreed to filming her nude scene in an era far-far removed from #metoo. But when the producer brought in a photographer from Playboy to take pictures – which would then be published to promote the movie – Morgan refused.
Executive producer Jon Peters threatened to ruin Morgan’s blossoming career if she didn’t relent, but Morgan stood her ground before director Harold Ramis stepped in and cancelled the photo shoot.
“I don’t have a problem with nudity; I have a problem with bullies,” Morgan told Sports Illustrated. “I didn’t work for a really long time after that.”
Rodney Finally Gets Some Respect
Everyone remembers some of Rodney Dangerfield’s great film roles of the 1980s, like Easy Money and Back to School. But before Caddyshack, Dangerfield has virtually no experience as a movie actor. His act was Las Vegas and The Tonight Show before the role of Al Czervik changed his life forever.
So raw as an actor was Dangerfield that he was convinced his performances in the movie were terrible, even as he created arguably the most entertaining character in the film. Why was he so insecure? No one ever laughed at his jokes. He didn’t understand that filming required silence from cast and crew.
The Judge Gets Benched
The overwhelming amount of improvisation performed by Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield shoved a considerable amount of Ted night’s role — to the point that his initial major role in a feature film as the snobby Judge Smails turned into a supporting role, whereas those three originally had cameos written for them.
Not that Knight didn’t have some classic moments in the film. The yacht christening scene. “Well, we’re WAITING.” Who hasn’t named their putter the “Billy Baroo”? But, at the end of the day, the film editors basically said to Knight’s character, “You’ll get nothing and like it!”
Dangerfield Nailed His Lines
Dangerfield wasn’t even the original choice to play the role of the obnoxious, insult-hurling Czervik. Obnoxious? Insult-hurling? Late 1970s comedian? Yep, the first option for the role was supposed to go to Don Rickles. “He had the right obnoxiousness and was probably a better actor than Rodney,” Ramis told Sports Illustrated.
But Dangerfield, who always killed in his appearances on The Tonight Show, drew the producers’ attention. They he blew everyone away at his audition with a little … blow. Actually, a LOT of blow. “We brought him in, and he came to the studio in a big black limo,” executive producer Jon Peters told SI. “Then he came into my office and took out a plastic bag and did two lines of coke on my desk.”
Gopher Filled The Holes
The Gopher might be the most memorable character of the entire movie. The hip-shakin’, course-quakin’ little rodent made a star turn as the nemesis of groundskeeper Carl Spackler. It’s almost a sure bet that if you hear Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” on the radio, you can picture the dancing gopher surviving for another day.
The gopher burrowed his way into the screenplay when Ramis decided he needed some sort of throughline in the movie to pull all the gags and subplots together. The scenes with the gopher were all added after the human actors had performed their duties, using a mechanical doll.
A Golf Course Far Far Away
The man who handled that editing task, John Dykstra, had won an Oscar for his visual effects on Star Wars. So, think of the gopher as a really tiny Wookie.
“We had a visual effects company and one thing we did was puppets,” Dykstra told Screenrant.com in 2011. “When we were brought in, they had a movie that didn’t have anything but a sock puppet for a gopher in it. And we decided that characters needed a little more room to move.”
“Harold Ramis worked with us and a few other people came up with the idea for a mechanical gopher,” Dykstra said. “We worked with some engineers and puppeteers they figured out how to make him have a personality.
And if you were/are old enough, and the sound of the snickering gopher sounds familiar, that’s because they’re actually the sounds of another famous film animal. They used audio footage from the classic TV show, “Flipper.”
Team of Rivals
The bonding scene between Ty and Carl wasn’t in original script. At the time, Chase and Murray were on the outs, tracing back to a fistfight between them after a taping of Saturday Night Live in its second season. Chase was an original cast member in the inaugural 1975-76, then left after one year to pursue a movie career.
Murray replaced Chase on SNL and when Chase returned to host the program in Season 2, the hard feelings that still lingered over Chase’s decision to leave the show the previous year spilled over a post-taping party, with the two stars trading insults before actually coming to blows, requiring Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, to break up the fisticuffs.
Making Up A Scene (And Friendship)
The producers of Caddyshack had no idea there was a history of bad blood between Chase and Murray, and they realized during the course of filming that the two comedy heavyweights had no scene together. So, the writers quickly created one, with Ty stumbling into Spackler’s “apartment,” leading to a bromance.
The improvised scene served as the vehicle for the two actors to put their past problems behind them and become real-life friends. “That’s my favorite part of the movie,” Chase later told Sports Illustrated. “I have nothing but admiration and affection for Bill. He still can be a surly character, to say the least. But ultimately, he’s a good guy. Even though I’m the Number 1 star in the movie under the title, I always think of it as Billy’s movie.
One of Lacey Underall’s biggest moments came at the caddie pool party, as she sauntered to the diving board, leaving a bevy of breathless boys in her wake. She then climbed the ladder, walked to the board’s edge and performed a perfect dive. It was much harded than it looked. Looking was the problem.
“The pool scene was scary,” Morgan said. “I was legally blind without my contacts. One month before filming I had to take all kinds of lessons, including swimming. I couldn’t have my contact lens in for the scene, and so I had to literally climb the ladder blind. I walked out on the board and saw nothing.”
The Inspiration For Bushwood CC
The movie’s Bushwood Country Club is inspired by an actual golf course: Indian Hill Club in Winnetka, Illinois, the course where Bill Murray and brother Brian Doyle-Murray worked as teenagers. Bill was in charge of the hot dog stand on the 9th hole. Not only was Indian Hills the model for the golf course, the six Murray brothers became the inspiration for Danny Noonan’s family.
“I started as a shag boy at Indian Hill outside Chicago when I was 10, which means a guy would hit balls and you’d run out and collect them,” Bill Murray told Sports Illustrated. “You were basically a human target. Eventually, you worked your way up to caddie.”
Ramis’ Original Idea? Illinois Nazis
We all need second chances in life. Sure, Jake and Elwood Blues hated Illinois Nazis, but Ramis apparently saw the humor in the late 1970s furor that gripped Skokie, Ill., and launched intense debates about free speech and white nationalism that served as a precursor for the summer of 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.
But Ramis saw the Nazi rally in Skokie as a launch point for a really dark satirical comedy, and he pitched it to Orion Pictures. Luckily for Ramis, even after the idea was rejected out of hand, the producers took him seriously long enough to hear his pitch for a comedy about a golf club. The rest, they say, was history. Nazi-free history.
Unlike the oldest of the Murray bros, Harold Ramis said he had only played two rounds of actual golf in his life prior to writing and directing Caddyshack. But one of his few golfing exploits actually found its way into the movie.
Ramis tried swinging the wrenches in preparation for shooting the film, with disastrous results. According to the legend, one of Ramis’ errant drives nailed a spectator right in the … um … bucket of balls. This encounter of the worst kind became a key moment of comedy when Ted Knight’s Judge Smails takes one right in the golf bag during the movie.
The Unkindest Cuts Of All
When Caddyshack hit theaters in 1980, its run time was 98 minutes. That’s a very reasonable run time whether talking about a comedy or any movie. Had we been gifted the director’s cut, movie-goers would have been signing up for a marathon when entering the movie theater.
Ramis struggled so much to cut scenes out that the first “final” cut was four and a half hours long. Woof. That’s about how long it takes the average PGA golfer to complete a round of 18 holes. You ever try staying awake for entire TV golf broadcast? Can’t be done. The Murray “Cinderella Story” scene was originally 30 minutes long!
Caddyshack: Based On A True Story
The concept of Danny Noonan hoping to gain Judge Elihu Smails favor to earn a “caddie scholarship” sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it’s shockingly rooted in truth. Ed Murray, the oldest of the Murray brothers, had actually won the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship, which he used to help pay for his Northwestern University.
According to the Chick Evans website, the Caddie Scholarship provides full housing and tuition for caddies renewable for up to four years. More than 960 scholarships are awarded each year. Since 1930, more than 10,000 scholarships have been awarded. Selected applicants must have a strong caddie record, excellent grades, outstanding character and demonstrated financial need.
Bill Murray is truly an enigma. We’ve appreciated his genius for years, but it’s crazy to think of how he managed to pull off acting in this film. Murray was on set for a grand total of six days. As for the number of lines he had written in advance … that grand total is zero.
Remember, his role was initially intended to be a non-speaking one. (The Dalai Lama story was originally meant for another character who couldn’t handle the scene.) “My part just kept growing like a mushroom,” Murray told SI. “I’d go back to New York and work on SNL, and they’d call me up and ask if I wanted to come back down and do some more. I was good back in those days.”
“Alright, We’ll Use Loggins”
Give the producers of Caddyshack an A for effort. When looking for a musical act to headline the soundtrack for our little golf movie, the producers took out the biggest driver in the bag and took a mighty rip. Perhaps you’ve heard of the first choice? Pink Floyd?
When the band heard about this insane request, they must have gone numb, and not comfortably. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. So, who do you turn to when Pink Floyd says no? Duh, you tap Kenny Loggins on the shoulder and let the magic happen! Loggins wound up with a hole-in-one with “I’m Alright.” Never again would the pop singer’s career be in the Danger Zone.
The Zen Master
If only we could putt like Ty Webb. (If only we could do a lot of things like Ty Webb). The man was a genius around the green. A savant. A na-na-na-na muttering Zen master as each practice putt finds the bottom of the cup. Let’s face it, Jack Nicklaus wasn’t citing the 17th-century poet Basho when he dropped that 50-footer on No. 16 in the 1975 Masters.
The idea to turn Webb into a philosopher-duffer came from producer and writer Doug Kenney, who dabbled in Buddhist meditation in his personal life. But that chanting noise on each putt? That was actually Ramis’ idea. The director merely told Chase to “make a spiritual sounding sound,” and the rest is monosyllabic, repetitive noise history.
The climactic scene called for Murray’s Carl Spackler to unleash a maelstrom of explosions all over the course, in his attempt to eradicate the gopher. But the actual golf course owners did not want an explosive final scene ruining their precious terra firma. This called for a bit of skullduggery on the part of the filmmakers.
With this scene saved for the end of filming, the producers invited the golf course owners out to lunch as a thank you gesture for their cooperation throughout filming. While the owners were off-site, the film crew staged the explosions on a fake green. The course was spared damage, but at least one area pilot saw the fireballs and radioed to air traffic control that he had just witnessed a plane crash.
The Bishop Was King
One of the more underrated gems from Caddyshack is the Icarus-esque tale of Bishop Pickering, who braves a torrential rain storm by playing the greatest 17 holes of his life – with Carl Spackler in tow as his caddie – until tragedy befalls the Bishop on No. 18. A frog, an uncommon expletive and a lightning bolt, and triumph becomes comic tragedy.
The man who gave the world, “Ratfarts!” was no stranger to the screen. Ramis picked veteran actor Henry Wilcoxen for the pivotal role. Wilcoxen had starred in several 1940s classics, including Mrs. Miniver, which won the 1942 Best Picture Oscar. Wilcoxen also worked with Cecil B. DeMille, and when the lightning strikes the Bishop, a cut from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments drives the scene in tribute.
That’s A Fact, Jack!
A look at Bill Murray’s resume reveals that Caddyshack was merely part of the beginning of a transcendent career. There would be Stripes and Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation, and that only scratches the surface. But Carl Spackler will always remain at the top of the list of beloved characters, and the “Augusta” scene among his finest work. Don’t believe us? Consider the man who really made Augusta famous.
“The first time I went to Augusta, I was skulking around with a hat pulled way down on my head, trying to be invisible,” Murray told Sports Illustrated. “And I ended up right behind Jack Nicklaus and his son, who was caddying for him. They were standing on the 18th tee. And his son spots me and points at me. And I thought it was because they saw this strange guy with his hat pulled down. I thought they were going to call security. And just as I was about to run, the son says to his dad, in Carl’s voice, “I think it’s about a five-iron.” And I thought, Holy cow, that’s my joke!