From Bill Murray’s Secret Role to the Reptile That Almost Terrorized New York
Slimer (a.k.a. Onionhead) vs. Bill Murray in ‘Ghostbusters’ (Columbia Pictures/GIF via HTMLgiant.com)
Imagine Eddie Murphy and his fellow paranormal firefighters battling a motorcycle-riding skeleton and a giant lizard monster from their gas-station base in a futuristic New Jersey. Who you gonna call? Ghost Smashers!
By the time it became an instant classic upon its release in 1984, Ghostbusters had morphed through radically different iterations, featuring bonkers plot points and unrecognizable creatures. Those mind-blowing details are chronicled by Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History, author Daniel Wallace’s revelatory, self-explanatory new book.
“I’m a huge Ghostbusters fan, and pretty much every page in this book contains some sort of fact that either wowed me or gave me an acute case of nostalgia,” Wallace tells Yahoo Movies.
Thom Enriquez’s Mr. Stay Puft concepts (via ‘Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History’)
Indeed, from star and co-writer Dan Aykroyd’s sci-fi-tinged original treatment and the casting process to concept art and deleted scenes, the new Ghostbusters tome is full of behind-the-scenes factoids that will astound even the movie’s biggest fans. Here are 15 to ponder:
1. Dan Aykroyd truly believes in ghosts. He wrote Ghostbusters in part because he didn’t think it was right for skeptics to dismiss the paranormal. “What if you advertised on TV or in the Yellow Pages and said, ‘Hey, we believe you, we understand you’” the actor is quoted as saying in the book. “That was the birth of the commercial enterprise of ghostbusting.”
2. Dan Aykroyd dreamed up his original treatment for Ghostbusters around 1981 — the original title was Ghost Smashers. Per Wallace, the story “threw audiences into the deep end of the pool, with a near-future setting and innumerable procedural details concerning high-tech parapsychological tactics. The heroes operated out of a converted New Jersey gas station and faced spectral threats, including a skeletal biker who terrorized a small town.” In the climax, “the Ghostbusters traveled to alternate dimensions.” As director Ivan Reitman relates in the book’s introduction, he received an updated outline in 1983 featuring “a group of men, acting much like firefighters, [who] would trap and catch ghosts as part of a new protective emergency service for the universe at large.” Reitman suggested that Aykroyd reconceive “the story in modern-day Manhattan and frame the adventure as a ‘going into business’ tale.” He also encouraged Aykroyd to bring in Harold Ramis as a co-writer. The brain trust was set and together over a two-and-a-half week vacation with their families in Martha’s Vineyard, the trio reshaped the story.
3. The script was written for Aykroyd’s fellow Blues Brother John Belushi to co-star as Peter Venkman, but Belushi died of an overdose in 1982. Aykroyd then zeroed in an Eddie Murphy to co-star. At one point another Saturday Night Live colleague, Chevy Chase, was eyed for the role — the book includes an excerpt of a script that mentions a “female ghost (romantic-sexy) [that] seduces Chevy Chase.” (Bill Murray, of course, ultimately came aboard.) Chase, meanwhile, cameoed in Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” music video.
Chevy Chase in Ray Parker Jr.’s ‘Ghosbusters’ music video (Arista Records)
4. While the new book doesn’t dive into all the name-brand actors in contention for various roles (like Michael Keaton as Venkman; Paul Reubens as the demon Gozer; or Christopher Walken, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, and John Lithgow as Egon Spengler), Reitman does mention that he considered Grace Jones as Gozer (eventually played by Yugoslavian model Slavitza Jovan). Sandra Bernhardt was considered for the role of secretary Janine Melnitz, which went to Annie Potts. And John Candy had been tapped for the role of accountant Louis Tully. “It was a different kind of character, much more flamboyant, more the character John played on SCTV [Johnny LaRue],” explains Ghostbusters producer Joe Medjuck in the book. “I think he just didn’t want to play it again, but he also had some strange ideas that Ivan didn’t want to deal with.“ Reitman balked at Candy wanting the character to have a German accent and a pair of Rottweilers as pets. So they brought in another SCTV alum, Rick Moranis, who rewrote the part. But, like Chase, Candy resurfaced for the “Ghostbusters” video.
John Candy in Ray Parker Jr.’s ‘Ghosbusters’ music video (Arista Records)
5. While many of the original elements of Aykroyd’s spacey early treatments were jettisoned, several key pieces remained. Among them: there would be a core team who operated like spook-battling firefighters, and they would encounter an apparition with a voracious appetite as well as a monstrous Stay Puft marshallow man. However, as shown in early concepts sketched by production artist Thom Enriquez (who came up with the looks for many of the film’s signature creatures), at least one version envisioned Ray’s pet lizard being transformed into a Godzilla-sized creature for the climactic attack on New York City — a tidbit Wallace cites as one of the most surprising things he discovered during his research.
Thom Enriquez’s sketch for ginormous version of Ray’s pet lizard, supersized for a NYC attack (via ‘Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History’)
Enriquez also went through several versions of the “Terror Dog” incarnations of the demons otherwise known as Zuul (the Gatekeeper) and Vinz Clortho (the Keymaster), which possess Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis.
Thom Enriquez’s Terror Dog concepts (via ‘Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History’)
6. Mr. Stay Puft was a cross between the Michelin Man and Pillsbury Doughboy, according to Aykroyd. Like the old Godzilla movies, the “real” Stay Puft was a guy in a (fireproof) suit wreaking havoc on a scale-model Manhattan populated by toy cars. Filmmakers executed the stream-crossing incineration sequence as a practical effect in one take.
Can you say s’mores? Mr. Stay Puft meets his fiery doom(via ‘Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History’)
For the big explosion at the end, gallons of shaving cream were dumped over the actors and set elements to simulate the marshmallow remains.
Ramis, Aykroyd, and Murray covered in Stay Puft’s remains(via ‘Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History’)
7. Aside from Mr. Stay Puft, the movie’s most memorable ghost was Slimer, the greenish glutton plaguing the fictional Sedgewick Hotel. The ghost was only known on set as “Onionhead,” because of the stench that was its main characteristic in early drafts of the script and was never named in the film.
Onionhead/Slimer storyboard detail (via Flickr)
However, once Murray’s Venkman announces, “He slimed me,” the ghoul was henceforth known as Slimer by fans, and the name stuck in Ghostbusters spinoffs and merchandise.
Steve Johnson sculpts full-size Onionhead/Slimer(via ‘Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History’)