30th Anniversary of 'Caddyshack'

King of Comedy

May 2004

It's early afternoon in the spring of 1975. A young man with shoulder-length blond hair and wire-rim glasses walks into a Porsche dealership in Mid-town Manhattan. He's wearing torn jeans, basketball shoes and his old high school jacket, and he's staring at a red 911 Targa.

"I think I want that car," he says. The salesman ignores him. "No, really, I'll take it," he says. "And I'll pay cash."

The man is 27-year-old Doug Kenney, and the magazine he had co-founded, National Lampoon, is a runaway success. He has just sold his stake in it for millions. Three years later, the movie he would co-write, "National Lampoon's Animal House," would become the biggest grossing comedy in history and spawn a whole new cinematic genre. Kenney was golden in Hollywood. His second movie would be "Caddyshack." Today, almost a quarter of a century later, it remains a cult classic whose punch lines have become part of the very fabric of the game.

A month after "Caddyshack" opened, to lukewarm reviews, Kenney's body was found at the bottom of the Hanapepe Lookout in Hawaii. He was 32 years old.

The making of 'Caddyshack'

The appeal of "Caddyshack" lies in its magnificent cast of characters, and the way they clash with each other at the fictional Bushwood Country Club, a place that's riddled with the usual petty disputes and social conventions that can be found at any archetypal golf club. These guys are golf course stereotypes elevated to comic absurdity. Who can forget Carl Spackler, the deranged assistant greenkeeper who wages an explosive jihad against a gopher and fantasizes about lady members -- and about golf glory? ("Cinderella story, outta nowhere, a former greenskeeper now about to become the Masters champion.") Or the club's best player, supercool Zen playboy Ty Webb, who is constantly spouting meaningless psychobabble? ("Be the ball.") Or the ultimate crass loudmouth (and loud dresser) Al Czervik, whose huge golf bag contains a built-in sound system, mini-TV, phone and beer tap? ("Hey everybody, we're all gonna get laid!")

"Caddyshack" -- a direct precursor of today's teen "gross-out" movies -- will never be mistaken for a work of cinematic greatness. But it was groundbreaking in its own way, and it's still much better than any other golf movie before or since (most of which make the mistake of taking the game seriously).

"Guys like Doug Kenney were the first rock stars of comedy," says film critic Richard Roeper. "The whole National Lampoon sensibility and approach to comedy was so different from the previous generation's -- the Bob Hopes and Dick Van Dykes and Buddy Hacketts. These new guys had a completely different approach. They were writing for their generation, they were writing about sex and drugs, and they didn't care if their parents didn't get it. They were like the early Beatles of comedy. Everything changed after 'Animal House.' "

"Animal House" -- the raucous tale of a disenfranchised college fraternity that memorably features the late John Belushi imitating a zit -- was shot for $2.8 million. It took in more than $140 million at the box office, and suddenly everyone in Hollywood wanted a piece of this new breed of funny guy.

"They were literally waiting for us at the door when we came out of the 'Animal House' screening," recalls the movie's co-writer, Harold Ramis, who went on to direct nine films, starting with "Caddyshack." "One of [producer] Jon Peters' guys snagged us and said, 'Jon would really like to talk to you.' He just happened to be the first one to stop us."

Kenney told Peters that he next wanted to make, in Ramis' words, "a Buddhist acid fantasy that was a parody of New Age spirituality." Ramis pitched a social comedy about the American Nazi Party marching in Skokie, Ill. Peters hooked them up with Mike Medavoy of Orion Pictures, who shot down those ideas. Then Kenney said he and a friend, actor and writer Brian Doyle-Murray, had been thinking about doing a film based on Doyle-Murray's caddieing experiences. This one Medavoy liked, and a deal was struck in which Ramis would direct, Doyle-Murray would act and Kenney would produce. To celebrate, Kenney went out and ordered some business stationery. On the bottom, in small print, it read: "See you in court."

Doyle-Murray has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, but in his heart he's first and foremost a golfer. We're sitting at a table outside Penmar Golf Course, a municipal layout in Venice, Calif., where he takes part in Tuesday and Thursday skins games whenever he can. He's talking excitedly about his new Scotty Cameron putter. From the time he was 11 until he left for college, Doyle-Murray caddied at Indian Hill Club in Winnetka, Ill., and his father, Frank, once caddied for U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur champ Chick Evans (himself a former caddie). So by the time Doyle-Murray met Kenney, he had a bagful of caddie tales.

"Doug's dad had been a tennis pro," he says, "and Doug had worked stringing rackets in a pro shop. So we had a lot of talks about being service personnel -- and how people abuse you. I remember I once barked at a waiter or waitress, and Doug gave me a lecture on my behavior. And he was right."

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