Early Life and Career
Ramis was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Ruth (née Cokee) and Nathan Ramis, shopkeepers who owned the store Ace Food & Liquor Mart on the city's far North Side. He had a Jewish upbringing, although in his adult life he does not practice any organized religion. He graduated from Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School and Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago, and, in 1966, from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was a member of the Alpha Xi chapter of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.
Afterward, Ramis worked in a mental institution in St. Louis for seven months. He later said his time working there
...prepared me well for when I went out to Hollywood to work with actors. People laugh when I say that, but it was actually very good training. And not just with actors; it was good training for just living in the world. It's knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that's connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage. As a director, you’re dealing with that constantly with actors. But if I were a businessman, I’d probably be applying those same principles to that line of work.
He had begun writing parodic plays in college, saying years later, "In my heart, I felt I was a combination of Groucho and Harpo, of Groucho using his wit as a weapon against the upper classes, and of Harpo’s antic charm and the fact that he was oddly sexy — he grabs women, pulls their skirts off, and gets away with it". Avoiding the Vietnam War military draft by ingestion of methamphetamine to fail his draft physical, he married San Francisco, California artist Anne Plotkin, with whom he would have a daughter, Violet, and eventually, years later, divorce.
Following his work in St. Louis, Ramis returned to Chicago, where by 1968, he was a substitute teacher at the inner-city Robert Taylor Homes. He also became associated with the guerrilla television collective TVTV, headed by his college friend Michael Shamberg, and wrote freelance for the Chicago Daily News. "Michael Shamberg right out of college had started freelancing for newspapers and got on as a stringer for a local paper, and I thought, 'Well, if Michael can do that, I can do that'. I wrote a spec piece and submitted it to the Chicago Daily News, the Arts & Leisure section, and they started giving me assignments entertainment features." Additionally, he had begun studying and performing with Chicago's Second City improvisational comedy troupe.
Ramis's newspaper writing led to his becoming joke editor at Playboy . "I called a guy named Michael Lawrence just cold and said I had written several pieces freelance and did they have any openings. And they happened to have their entry-level job, party jokes editor, open. He liked my stuff and he gave me a stack of jokes that readers had sent in and asked me to rewrite them. I had been in Second City in the workshops already and Michael Shamberg and I had written comedy shows in college".
Read more about this topic: Harold Ramis
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