June 16, 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 midtown 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.
Doug Kenney was a creative genius at National Lampoon.
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.
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."
The pair began compiling their ideas in New York, wandering into coffee shops and bars and jotting down ideas on napkins. They rented a place in a run-down Manhattan hotel, and Ramis came in to help put all their material together. A script -- and those characters -- began to take shape.
Doyle-Murray would play Lou Loomis, the caddiemaster who likes a bet on the side. The Havercamps, the doddery old couple who can barely hit the ball out of their shadow ("That's a peach, hon"), were based on a couple Doyle-Murray had known at Indian Hill. Lacey Underall, Judge Smails' zesty blond niece (played by Cindy Morgan), was patterned after a wealthy, unattainable beauty who was a guest at Kenney's club one summer. And the infamous Baby Ruth swimming pool scene -- a spoof of the movie "Jaws," where instead of a shark there's a candy bar that's mistaken for, um, something else -- actually took place at Doyle-Murray's high school. Ramis still wishes they had marketed a plastic "Caddyshack" pool toy that looked like a Baby Ruth.
But it was Danny Noonan, the smart, upwardly mobile kid, who was closest to Kenney's heart.
As work on the script progressed, Kenney started to play a little golf himself. He began carrying around a putter. "I took him out a couple of times to Paramus, and to Westchester and to Hillcrest in L.A.," says Doyle-Murray. "He had a jerky, armsy swing." Though Kenney had been a very good tennis player, he couldn't quite figure out how to apply the tennis rotation to golf. Dressed in a bucket hat, khaki shorts and a faded polo shirt that was always untucked, Kenney kept score conscientiously (unlike his alter ego, Ty Webb), despite recording mostly 7s, 8s and 9s. "He was a little too slow for my taste," says Doyle-Murray. "He spent too much time thinking over his shots. But he loved all the accouterments of the game -- the ball marker, the repair tools, the spike tightener."
As casting began to fall into place, the movie needed a star -- or stars. Kenney recruited his friend Chevy Chase to play Ty Webb. Don Rickles was the original pick for the Al Czervik role, but Rodney Dangerfield was doing such a great job as a guest host on "The Tonight Show" that he changed their minds. A young Mickey Rourke almost got the role as Danny Noonan, the likable kid who wants to win Judge Smails' caddie scholarship so he can go to college, but the more All-American Michael O'Keefe won out. As for Spackler, the rustic greenkeeper, Kenney knew exactly who he wanted: Bill Murray.
Murray is one of six brothers (including Doyle-Murray, who added his grandmother's surname to his own when he discovered there was already an actor named Brian Murray). He is sitting in a rented Cadillac near the "Caddyshack" theme restaurant that he and his brothers opened three years ago in St. Augustine, Fla. It's late in the evening, and Murray has completed his duties at the Murray Brothers' annual charity event. He leans his head on the steering wheel, runs his fingers through his hair and starts doing Kenney's hand mannerisms, recalling his constant movement and his slightly forward-leaning walk. "He would laugh really, really hard and really, really loud," Murray says.
"It brought people in -- made them feel comfortable." He stares ahead, then recalls the first time he met Doug Kenney. Murray was broke at the time, and hanging out at the National Lampoon offices, hoping no one would notice him while he waited for Brian to finish work on the "National Lampoon Radio Hour" in a recording studio upstairs.
"There was one guy who kept walking by and talking to me, and he was there after everybody left," says Murray. "When I saw his office, I realized he must be pretty important. Finally he said, 'Do you want to go get something to eat?' So we got in a cab and went down to Greenwich Village for burgers. It was such a big deal to me, and he was so cool. Doug had money then, and he always paid. I think I learned to be generous from Doug."
Kenney's generosity was on display when Murray showed up on the set of "Caddyshack" and asked if another brother, John, could get a few days' work as an extra. Kenney's solution: "[Screw] it, let's make him a production assistant." Kenney had earlier interviewed the oldest Murray brother, Ed, about his caddieing days, so he flew Ed down, too, for a small part, meaning that four Murray brothers had a hand in the movie.
When filming finally got underway at Rolling Hills Golf & Tennis Club in Davie, Fla., and at nearby Boca Raton Hotel & Country Club, it quickly turned into an orgy of late-night partying. Even by Hollywood standards, the 11-week shoot was a wild scene where, according to a biography of Jon Peters, "debauchery reigned every night."
Alcohol, pot and cocaine were around for the taking. Bunkers of it. Nights bled into mornings. Doyle-Murray remembers Kenney for never missing a call. And Chase remembers him as being the last one to bed at night, and then falling asleep on the grass during the day. He recalls Kenney snoozing behind a wall while Chase was filming the improvised rub-down scene with the Lacey Underall character.
At times, filming was chaotic. The script was just a starting point, with wild improvisation the order of the day, and some of the young stars trying to outdo each other. Much of Carl Spackler's role was made up on the spot by Murray, and Al Czervik was originally supposed to have only a minor role, but no one could stop Dangerfield once he got going. The plot dissolved into a series of routines.
Kenney worked tirelessly to keep the cast and crew happy, riding around in a golf cart as a sort of self-appointed social director. The Murray brothers remember Kenney as a producer who could tweak little things in a scene without leaving fingerprints. But he was not taking care of himself.
"I think he was so frustrated," says Lucy Fisher, a college friend who was running Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope studios in Los Angeles at the time. "He had gone from being the center of things, and then suddenly he was more or less a hired hand on somebody else's movie. He hated that he was working with Jon Peters. He felt that he had somehow gotten into this vulgar world, that he had made a wrong turn somewhere and he didn't know how it had happened to him. He didn't have enough to do, and he was on a downward spiral."
After the shoot, Kenney, Ramis and Doyle-Murray returned to Los Angeles to edit all the antic footage down to the 99 minutes that comprise the finished movie. The days were long, and Kenney's partying continued.
"Some people can do drugs and be integrated," says Emily Prager, a former girlfriend of Kenney's who wrote for Lampoon and is now a novelist and columnist in New York City. "But Doug was the type of person who became dis-integrated."
Ramis didn't start to worry about his friend until close to the end of the editing process. "He was very good at concealing his pain," says Ramis, sitting on a leather couch on the second floor of his Ocean Pictures office in Highland Park, Ill. He shows off the door sign from "National Lampoon Radio Hour," which Kenney had once stolen and presented to him as a gift. "He was more likely to mock sadness. He preferred to be charming above all else. Doug was such a gracious guy -- he had this incisive, killer humor. You knew he could destroy you if he wanted to. Part of his grace was in not destroying you. But there was a day when he physically fought with Jon Peters and Mike Medavoy -- there were shoving matches. Doug felt they weren't promoting the movie correctly."
"I remember him having Jon Peters in a headlock," says Doyle-Murray. "It wasn't like Doug."
Things deteriorated. At a press conference the day after the movie's first screening, Kenney showed up drunk and proceeded to tell the assembled gathering, which included his parents, to "f--- off." Then he passed out. The reviews ranged from bad (The New York Times' Vincent Canby wrote that the movie had some comic moments but was "immediately forgettable") to worse ("The writers have saddled themselves with a bland hero and a perfunctory drama that will be of interest only to the actors' agents," wrote David Ansen in Newsweek).
The movie culminates with the golf course exploding into flames. The explosion was reported at the nearby Fort Lauderdale airport by an incoming pilot, who suspected a plane had crashed. It also seemed sadly prophetic for Doug Kenney, considering where he was headed.