In Toronto, they had a Bill Murray Day in his honor. Words like “beloved,” and phrases like “national treasure” are used to describe him. There is “Oscar buzz,” as everyone says, around his performance as a curmudgeonly old coot in the comedy, St. Vincent.
Everyone loves Bill.
Which is how I played a part in driving him from the movies.
I had first encountered Murray a few months before under happier circumstances, in late May 1984.
The premiere of Murray’s new comedy, a saga of paranormal ghost hunters titled Ghostbusters was being held in New York. After the press screening, there was a feeling that everyone involved in the movie had a huge hit on their hands.
Even the usually taciturn director, Ivan Reitman, was looking pleased and being a little more open with members of the press he ordinarily treated with a mixture of suspicion and hostility.
As much as everyone present viewed Ghostbusters as a success, no one, I don’t think, had any idea it would become, thirty years later, a revered comic classic—the subject of endless remake speculation (there was a 1989 sequel, and now there is talk of an all-female Ghostbusters).
Even then, Bill Murray was regarded with great affection by the public. Everyone at the press junket the next day at the Park Plaza Hotel, talked about how throngs of onlookers had shown up on New York locations for a glimpse of Murray and his co-stars, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, stopping traffic and making filming difficult.
Bill wore his star status as you might expect, with an offhand nonchalance, accompanied by a rather bemused smile. He was dryly funny, approachable, and, I believe, a little taken aback by the positive reception to the movie.
After the press interviews with Murray and the other cast members, I adjourned to the Park Plaza’s famed Oak Bar with my pal Ray Bennett and another friend, Jerry Gladman. Raymundo and I have shared many adventures over a forty-five year friendship. He was the guy who “saved” Lauren Bacall after I accidentally tripped her in Detroit.
Now here we were in the Oak Bar, and there was Bill Murray unexpectedly seated next to us. Lively banter ensued. What was Bill drinking? A Golden Cadillac, he answered. We looked confused–or at least I did. A Golden Cadillac?
Murray promptly provided the recipe: one ounce light cream, mixed with an ounce of white crème de cacao, add two ounces of Galliano, a sweet liquor. Mix the concoction in a blender, and–voila! A Golden Cadillac.
Not long afterward, a waiter delivered six Golden Cadillacs to our table. The waiter indicated the drinks were courtesy of Mr. Murray. When we thanked him, Bill said, “You need two to fully appreciate them.”
He was right. Two Golden Cadillacs did the trick. The three of us lifted our glasses to Bill. No bad reviews for him.
What nobody knew that celebratory weekend in New York, was that Murray was not happy doing comedy. At the age of thirty-three, he longed to be taken more seriously. In fact, he had actually turned down Ghostbusters until Columbia Pictures sweetened the deal and offered him a second picture of his choice.
The choice Murray made was, to say the least, curious–a remake of The Razor’s Edge, the 1946 Tyrone Power melodrama, based on a novel by Somerset Maugham, the story, to paraphrase the movie’s trailer, of one man’s search for himself.
The movie had been shot on locations in Europe and Asia, but Columbia wasn’t about to fly a press contingent overseas. It was decided that Quebec City was as close to a European location as you could get in North America. The studio put everyone up at the Château Frontenac, the landmark hotel in the historic heart of the Old City.
On a Friday night in the autumn of 1984, The Razor’s Edge was sneaked at a Quebec City theatre. The audience, out for a Friday night movie, couldn’t believe it when the star of Ghostbusters himself ambled down the aisle. He tried to prepare everyone for what was to come.
“Uh, I just want to introduce the film a little bit,” he announced to the audience. “I don’t want to misrepresent the movie. It’s not a yahoo kinda movie. It’s a movie we spent a lot of time on. There are some funny things in it, but it’s not a comedy. So I want you to relax, and not shift around too much–and don’t spill any drinks on each other.”
Despite the warning, no one in that theater was quite prepared for the turgid mess that unfolded. The movie was, in fact, funny, it just wasn’t supposed to be funny. Murray as the confused hero moving across post World War I Europe in search of himself was particularly unconvincing. Bill Murray was Bill Murray. He was no Tyrone Power.
Now here was the problem. We had just seen the biggest movie disaster of the year. Instead of being able to slink out of the theatre, avoiding the star of the stinker, we were thrown back into the Château Frontenac with him for the rest of the weekend.
What’s more, the weather outside turned rotten, so that no one wanted to leave the hotel. By Saturday morning, Murray knew what we knew, which was that he had a bomb on his hands. Nonetheless, for the next twenty-four hours, there was no escape.
The warm memory of those two Golden Cadillacs was still fresh. I didn’t want to hurt Bill’s feelings, so I did my best to avoid him. Except, every time I turned a corner, there he was. I couldn’t believe it. It was like the guy was stalking me. He wasn’t, of course, it just felt like it.
Trying to talk about anything but the movie with him turned out to be a grueling exercise in excruciating small talk—for him as well as everyone else.
Finally, mercifully, Sunday arrived, and we all made our escape. I came out of the hotel and, as luck would have it, there was Bill, alone, waiting for a car to take him to the airport. Not knowing what else to say, I wished him luck with the movie.
He looked at me like I was crazy.
I don’t want to take too much responsibility for this, but following that weekend in Quebec City, and the dreadful reaction to The Razor’s Edge—predictably, no one went near it—Murray, like the hero of the film, went off to Paris to find himself and did not make another movie for the next four years.
Thirty years later, he has recovered nicely, and now there are Bill Murray days, and he is a beloved national treasure. Just don’t ask him about The Razor’s Edge. Or that weekend in Quebec City.