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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Story pick: Happy Groundhog Day

By Brigid Schulte

I've never been one to look for shadows or pay much attention to the fact that Feb. 2 is Goundhog Day. Until Harold Ramis came out with a bizarre and brilliant movie of the same title. Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, is widely recognized as Ramis' comic masterpiece.

In the film, Bill Murray, a caddish weatherman, lives the worst day of his life, Groundhog Day, over and over and over again, until he embraces the possibilities of the day and becomes a better man. Harold Ramis, in an interview, later said he was surprised that various religious groups - Jews, Christians, Buddhists - all claimed the metaphor of the movie as expressing their fundamental beliefs about life.

Ramis, who was raised a Jew and calls himself Buddh-ish, is the subject of this intelligent and deeply reported profile, "Comedy First," which ran in The New Yorker in 2004. Here's the opening to the section on how he came to write Groundhog Day:

On May 15, 1984, Harold Ramis wrote two words in capital letters on a red index card and taped the card to the inside of a kitchen cabinet in the house that he and Anne shared in Santa Monica. Anne Ramis has preserved the memento in situ, and with a faint smile she opened the cabinet door to show me its message: “new life.”

“That resolution was inspired by a combination of marital discontent and being hung over in some way,” Ramis says. “The image I was cultivating was Last Man Standing, but I realized I felt sick most of the time, that anhedonia had set in, just as it did with Doug near the end.” Ramis left Anne, forswore drugs and, later, cigarettes, and, in 1989, married Erica Mann, his former assistant. Erica and her mother had both spent time at Buddhist retreats, and Ramis began to move in that direction. “I’m Buddh-ish,” he likes to say, acknowledging that he has been unable to divest himself of “sarcasm, cruelty, self-indulgence, and torpor.” He developed a laminated “5 minute Buddhist” card that he hands out, enjoying the joke of presenting the path to salvation—“The Four Sublime States,” “The Five Hindrances”—as if it were a Chinese menu.

The end, about his strained and symbiotic relationship with Bill Murray, I won't spoil by excerpting. But it's well worth the wait.

By Brigid Schulte  | February 2, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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