Saturday, June 27, 2015


Little Facts Mean A Lot

By Jon Gallagher

A long time ago (20 years), in a galaxy far, far away (Galesburg, Illinois), I did a radio show once a week called the J. L. Newton Rock ‘n’ Fun Show. I had started doing the show as a non-traditional student on the college radio station in town (WVKC – the VOICE of Knox College), and when I graduated, a local FM station contacted me to continue the show on commercial radio (WGBQ-FM, Q-93).

On the show, I played oldies, introduced songs with bits of trivia about the song, and even took trips in our Magical, Mystical, Musical Time Machine back to whatever date we were on, to a year somewhere between 1960 and 1985. I’d play the top 20 songs in countdown order from that date, looked at magazine covers that had come out that week, read the top stories that had appeared in both local and Chicago newspapers, and covered what movies were at local theaters (most of which didn’t exist anymore) and TV shows that were on that night. It took a lot of research, but it was a ton of fun, and it gave me four hours a week on Sunday nights to relax with music and escape from life. Even after I became a high school English teacher (after all, I had gone to college for that), I continued to do the show (without my students knowing it) because it was so much fun. I’d probably still be doing it today if the owner of the station hadn’t sold it to a company I wouldn’t have worked for no matter what kind of money they paid (I’d have done the show for free for the first owners – and practically did!).

I bring all this up to give you a rather long-winded explanation of how I came across what this particular entry is about. I miss doing the show and the trivia that goes with it, so at the suggestion of a few friends, I put together a Facebook page called the Rootin’ Tootin’ J. L. Newton Rock ‘n’ Fun Show page where each morning I post an almanac of what happened on that date, plus trivia and a song of the day.

When I wrote the June 8 entry, I found that Ghostbusters had come out 31 years ago on that date. Ghostbusters is a timeless classic (that will be remade and released in 2016 with female stars) that is just as good today as it was 31 years ago. While researching it, I found out a lot of things I didn’t know.

The movie was conceived quite differently than the finished product. Originally named “Ghost Smashers” by writer Dan Aykroyd, it was supposed to take place in the future, not the present, and Ghostbuster units were to be found at every fire station, just like paramedics and other first responders. John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, and Aykroyd were to star. The problem was, with all the special effects written into the original futuristic version, the budget would have been (according to director Ivan Reitman) over $300 million in 1984 dollars!

Instead, they decided to make it present day. The ghostbusters would wear SWAT uniforms and instead of carrying bulky equipment, they would dispel the evil spirits with special magic wands.

While retooling the original, Belushi died from a drug overdose, and Chevy Chase was offered his part. He declined because he felt the original script was “too dark.” Bill Murray stepped into the Belushi role, but only under the condition that the studio remake the movie Razor’s Edge with him as the star. John Candy signed on, but quit the cast early on when he felt that his ideas were not being used. Murphy was offered Beverly Hills Cop, so Ernie Hudson took his role. Michael Keaton was offered a part as either lead character, but he turned it down.

John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Walken, and Jeff Goldblum were all considered for a role in the film, but Harold Ramis, one of the writers, finally decided that he himself was best suited to play Dr. Egon Spengler.

Whenever things would happen unexpectedly on the set (whether by accident, or accidently on purpose), the cast and crew would blame it on the ghost of Belushi. More than once, someone said that they hoped that busting the ghosts on the film would hurt John’s ghost.

Although there was a script, a good part of the movie was improvised. In fact, Murray never recited a single line the way it was written. He had ad-libbed his way through Caddyshack four years earlier and it worked so well that they allowed him to do it in this film as well.

During a battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Aykroyd’s character mentions roasting marshmallows at “Camp Wokanda” when he was a boy. Camp Wokanda is one of our local parks, a former Boy Scout Camp just a little ways north of Peoria, about 35 minutes away from where I now live. I always enjoy hearing about nearby locations in movies.

The Ghostbusters theme song was also interesting. Huey Lewis was approached (as was Lindsay Buckingham) to write the theme, but he turned it down. Ray Parker Jr. took the job and didn’t have much done on it as the deadline approached. Parker saw a late night TV commercial for a New York plumber with the phrase “Who you gonna call?” and he took off from there. Ironically, Huey Lewis would later successfully sue Parker for plagiarizing his song “I Want A New Drug” with the Ghostbusters theme.

Parker rushed his song into production and he used anybody he could find for the chorus. Even his young girlfriend was used for the group that chants “Ghostbusters!” at the appropriate time in the song. Whatever he did must have worked because the song spent three weeks on the top of Billboard’s Hot 100.

The video for the song had a long list of celebrities making cameos, and a whole list of stars who didn’t make the cut for some reason or another. Appearing in no particular order: John Candy, Irene Cara, Chevy Chase, Melissa Gilbert, Al Franken, Ollie E. Brown, George Wendt, Jeffrey Tambor, Carly Simon, Danny DeVito, Terri Garr, and Peter Falk.

Director Ivan Reitman made the comment on the DVD commentary that he was so rushed to get the movie finished that many of the special effects were left unfinished. He notes several shots where wires are showing, for example. The thing is, he noted, no one really cared.

There’s even more, mundane as it may be, trivia about the film, but I’ve whetted my own appetite. I wonder if I can find it somewhere online to watch. The video store is about 20 miles away!

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