Reel Life: 'Caddyshack'
By Jeff Merron
Special to Page 2

There didn't seem much long-term hope for "Caddyshack" when it hit theaters in July 1980. It did well enough at the box office, but Vincent Canby of The New York Times, looking at that summer's top films, wrote that "Caddyshack" (along with "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie") was "immediately forgettable." As it turned out, Canby's statement was immediately forgettable, and "Caddyshack" lives on.

"Caddyshack" was written by Brian Doyle-Murray. In "Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf," Bill, his brother, writes "The film is the gripping tale of the Murray brothers' first experiments with employment ... [Brian] wrote the events of his and my brother Ed's caddie life in a way that showed he'd paid attention."

But how much attention? Does the comedy have a healthy does of realism? Let's take a look. We don't even need a reason.

In Reel Life: As Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe) wakes up and gets ready for his day of caddying, kids spill out of bedrooms like gumballs from a broken machine.
In Real Life: This is an autobiographical moment -- Doyle-Murray had eight brothers and sisters.

In Reel Life: Danny's father asks, "Did you get out yesterday?" Danny replies, "Yes. Twice. I caddied for Ty Webb in the morning and I had doubles in the afternoon." He then says he made $30 plus tips, and his father tells him to put it in the college fund.
In Real Life: Brian Doyle-Murray and Bill Murray caddied at Indian Hill Golf Club in Winnetka, Ill., and, as Bill writes in "Cinderella Story," such a workday was typical. He also writes that he and his brothers caddied to earn tuition money for Loyola Academy, a private school: "If you worked all summer, you'd make your tuition, and have a little money left over."

Ted Knight
You couldn't put yourself through college with Judge Smails' (Ted Knight's) tips.
In Reel Life: Danny puts some money in a jar. His father says, "I saw that, that's about 10 bucks and change." Danny says, "I had a couple of burgers and some Cokes for lunch." "How many Cokes?" "Four or five."
In Real Life: The caddie master at Indian Hill made a lot of money off the caddies by selling overpriced food and drinks. "One day, Brian came home with only $2.50," writes Murray. "So at dinner the whole family grilled him. 'I had a hot dog and a Coke -- that's 85 cents.' 'And then what?' 'And then I had an ice cream sandwich.' 'That's 15 cents. You're still missing $4.50 ..."

As it turned out, Doyle-Murray was spending the extra cash on cigarettes. Danny, of course, was buying something stronger.

In Reel Life: Lou (played by Doyle-Murray), the caddie master, is placing bets over the phone: "Mets and three, and I'll take the Yankees even."
In Real Life: The caddie master at Indian Hill was named Lou. And, Murray writes, "Louie was a gambler. He'd bet on anything."

In Reel Life: Ty Webb (Chevy Chase), the club's resident Zen ace golfer, talks with Danny: "Do you take drugs, Danny?" Danny: "Every day." Ty: "Good."
In Real Life: Media-related remnants of the "War on Drugs" survive, and are evident during some TV showings of "Caddyshack." At those times, the Ty-Danny exchange proceeds thusly: Ty: "Danny, can I ask you a question -- do you do drugs?" Danny: "No." Ty: "Good boy."

In Reel Life: Much of the film takes place at Bushwood Country Club.
In Real Life: Most of the shooting took place in Florida, at Rolling Hills Golf & Tennis Club, and Boca Raton Hotel & Country Club.

Chevy Chase
Chevy Chase's advice as Ty Webb gets watered down on cable.
In Reel Life: Danny asks Ty, "Did you ever have to take that Kuder Preference test when you were a senior in high school." Ty replies, "Oh yeah, I took it. They said I should be a fire watcher."
In Real Life: The Kuder Occupational Interest Survey was developed by Dr. Frederic Kuder, and was first given in 1938; it is designed to help young people decide on a career. Ty's test results may have pointed him in the direction of what sounds like the most laid-back of firefighting careers, what the U.S. Department of Labor calls "forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists," whose jobs are to "spot fires from watchtowers and report their findings to headquarters by telephone or radio."

Those advising Ty (or writing the script) might have been thinking of Jack Kerouac's career path. The great Beat writer, like Ty, sought Buddhist enlightenment, and in his quest he served as a fire lookout during the summer of 1956, on Desolation Peak in the Cascades. Kerouac wrote about this experience in his classic, "The Dharma Bums" and also in "Desolation Angels."

In Reel Life: Ty tries to teach Danny a little about golf: "There's a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen and be the ball." Later, on the practice green, Ty can't miss. As he's putting, he says, (approximately, and at a rapid, machinelike pace), "Nanananananana dadadadadadadadada nanananananana vavavavavavava dadadadadadada."
In Real Life: "The mystical Zen approach of Chevy's character was (Doug Kenney's) contribution," writes Murray. He "had an idea for a putter with electromagnetic sensors that would signal you to putt when you'd reach alpha state." Clearly, Ty was in alpha state, but in his low-tech way, received his signal from within.

In Reel Life: Danny decides to try to get the club's caddie scholarship.
In Real Life: The oldest Murray brother, Ed, attended Northwestern after winning the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship.

In Reel Life: Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) is the assistant groundskeeper. He seems an unlikely sort to know or care much about golf.
In Real Life: Golf is in Murray's blood. His father, Frank, once caddied for 1921 U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur Champ Chick Evans, and he encouraged Bill and his brothers to work as caddies. "I've worked in every aspect of the sport," Murray told the Augusta Chronicle in 2001. "I've been a caddie, a greenskeeper, worked in the (pro shop) and then become a player and a member of the club."

Dalai Lama
Big hitter, the Dalai Lama.
In Reel Life: Carl tells a caddie that he once carried clubs for the Dalai Lama in Tibet. "So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddie, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself ... So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one -- big hitter, the Lama -- long, into a 10,000 foot crevice, right at the base of this glacier. And do you know what the Lama says? 'Gunga galunga, gunga -- gunga galunga.'"
In Real Life: The Dalai Lama's not a golfer. But when the Tibetan leader visited the United States last year, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura asked him if he'd ever seen "Caddyshack." He told Ventura he hadn't seen the movie. But, Ventura said, "Before he [the Dalai Lama] left, he looked at me and said, 'Gunga, gunga la-gunga'."

In Reel Life: Carl's primary job during the film is to get rid of the gophers plaguing the course.
In Real Life: Murray's role was small to begin with, but grew as filming progressed on the largely improvised movie. The gopher sequences were an afterthought, filmed and inserted after most of the movie was shot. The animatronic gopher came about through trial and error. "We started trying to cast a live animal," says director Harold Ramis in "Caddyshack: The 19th Hole," the "making of" documentary on the "Caddyshack" DVD. "We thought maybe we'd do this with a trained groundhog, a woodchuck, a beaver, a squirrel. We tried every kind of small mammal we could find." They also tried to get a trained ferret. Then they settled on the gopher, which was built, along with its world of tunnels, at great cost, by John Dykstra, who created special effects for "Star Wars."

In the July 26, 1980, Washington Post, Gary Arnold wrote that the gopher originated in the 1978 National Lampoon cable TV special "Disco Beaver From Outer Space."

Even using explosives, gophers will continue to haunt you. Case in point: "Caddyshack 2."
In Reel Life: The gopher tears up the golf course, building tunnels everywhere and wreaking havoc. Carl tries everything he can to defeat the gopher, eventually settling on explosives.
In Real Life: Gophers and other wildlife are a real problem for golf courses. Birds, bees, rattlesnakes, coyotes, squirrels, snakes, turtles, and many other forms of wildlife just go about their business, often oblivious to the human recreational activity proceeding in their midst.

In the 22 years since "Caddyshack" came out, there have been real attempts to make golf courses more habitable for wildlife, including a certification program for "eco-friendly" courses. So what could a tree-hugging assistant groundskeeper do these days to deal with gophers damaging a course? Some say he should just survey the grounds every morning, repair surface damage, and leave the gophers alone.

In Reel Life: There's a clear class system at Bushwood, and there's no doubt that caddies are at the bottom.
In Real Life: The movie "should have had more about the stratification of country-club life," Bill Murray told The New York Times Magazine in 1988. "The kids who were members of (the Indian Hill Club) were despicable; you couldn't believe the attitude they had. I mean, you were literally walking barefoot in a T-shirt and jeans, carrying some privileged person's sports toys on your back for five miles."

Rodney Dangerfield
Despite his insecurities, Rodney Dangerfield (at left with Scott Colomby as caddie Tony D'Annunzio) won respect for his role as Al Czervik.
In Reel Life: Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) is an obnoxious nouveau-riche real-estate magnate who appears at Bushwood and, to the horror of Judge Smails (Ted Knight), pretty much takes over the place.
In Real Life: "Caddyshack" was Dangerfield's second silver-screen role (his first was in an obscure 1971 film, "The Projectionist). Initially he was only supposed to make a cameo appearance. But he was a scene-stealer, and while he riffed, the cameras kept rolling. Cindy Morgan (who played Lacey Underall), says that Dangerfield was very insecure about his work; he kept asking her, "Am I OK, am I OK?"

In Reel Life: Al is about to enter the club with an Asian friend. He says, "I hear this place is restricted, Wang, so don't tell 'em you're Jewish, OK?"
In Real Life: Country clubs have long banned many different groups -- Jews, African-Americans, Asians, and so on. In a 1996 interview in Psychology Today, Ramis, who grew up in the Midwest, said, "I didn't belong to a country club, but I had enough feelings about them. You can't not have feelings about country clubs, whichever side you're on. The country clubs I'd heard of were predominantly restricted to Jews. I didn't know yet about Jewish clubs, which are restricted in their own way. But I definitely had the sense of being the guy on the outside looking in."

"I had always felt excluded from the country-club life as a consequence of being, you know, poor and Jewish," Ramis told the London Daily Telegraph in a later interview. "I couldn't care less about golf. I was just interested in the satirical aspect."

In Reel Life: Al uses orange golf balls.
In Real Life: Al was on the cutting edge -- Wilson introduced its ProStaff orange balls in the early 1980s, marketing them for their visibility. Many golfers, who took to calling the ball "the pumpkin," liked the idea, and the product took off. But traditionalists scoffed at the notion. Malcolm Candlish, senior vice president of marketing for Wilson, thought it was necessary to defend the balls in a 1982 letter to Sports Illustrated. He wrote, "Dan Jenkins suggested that only Calvin Klein can determine what orange golf balls are going to add to the game. However, there were no further comments from SI after the Hawaiian Open, won by Wayne Levi using a Wilson Pro Staff Optic Orange ball. It seems that Levi -- and the thousands of other golfers who are using it -- appreciate properties in the orange golf ball that have escaped Jenkins and SI."

In Reel Life: Al hits a shot that's heading straight at Smails. He yells "Fore," but it's too late. The ball hits Smails square in the crotch.
In Real Life: Ouch. The first written use of the word "fore," in a golf context, came in 1878, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It is most likely derived from the Scottish and British military phrase "ware before," which was shouted by soldiers behind the front line as a warning for their trailblazing compatriots to get down, lest they be the victims of "friendly fire."

In Reel Life: Lou chews out the caddies for their misbehavior: "If you guys want to be replaced by golf carts, just keep it up."
In Real Life: The caddies must have kept it up. Carts are required at the real-world Bushwood (Rolling Hills Country Club); no walking is allowed.

In Reel Life: Oh sure, there are some conflicts and disagreements at the club and around the caddyshack, but all in all, everyone seems to be having great fun.
In Real Life: The filming of "Caddyshack" was, as Clark Collis wrote in the London Daily Telegraph, "An 11-week party which has become legendary even by Hollywood standards." Chase, in "The 19th Hole," says, "I recall (the younger actors) getting loaded a lot." And according to a biography of "Caddyshack" producer Jon Peters, "debauchery reigned every night."

Bill Murray
Hmmm, nutty.
In Reel Life: A Baby Ruth bar flies into the swimming pool during "Caddie's Day," and when it's spotted floating around, everyone assumes it's fecal matter. There's mass panic and a rapid exodus. Later Carl drains the pool, finds the candy bar, and, to the horror of those watching, eats it.
In Real Life: This scene was a great, intentional spoof on "Jaws," with the Baby Ruth bar playing the role of shark. In 2001, Murray Bros. "Caddyshack" theme restaurants started opening in places like St. Augustine, Fla. and Myrtle Beach, S.C. At those eateries, you might be tempted by the Baby Ruth cheesecake.

In Reel Life: Dr. Beeper (Dan Resin) has, well, a beeper, and it goes off in several scenes.
In Real Life: Al Gross invented the beeper in 1949, but it didn't catch on for a while -- most doctors thought it would interrupt their golf games, and might also disturb patients. In 1974, Motorola introduced its Pageboy I, and this time, the idea stuck: 3.2 million pagers were in use by 1980.

Bill Murray, Chevy Chase
There's a good reason Bill Murray and Chevy Chase weren't in too many scenes together.
In Reel Life: Ty, playing a night round, sends a ball flying into Carl's pad. He asks if he can play through, and Carl says sure.
In Real Life: A little history: When Chevy Chase left "Saturday Night Live," he was replaced by Murray. Later, when Chase made a guest appearance on the show, the two had a run-in. They didn't like each other much when the film was made. They were together on the set for only one day, and laid out the rough outlines of the entire scene while eating lunch, then filmed it right after.

In Reel Life: While Spackler practices his swing on some tulips, he fantasizes about winning The Masters: "What an incredible Cinderella story, this unknown comes outta no where to lead the pack, at Augusta. He's on his final hole, he's about 455 yards away -- he's gonna hit about a 2-iron, I think. Oh he got all of that one! ... This crowd has gone deathly silent, the Cinderella story, outta nowhere, a former greenskeeper now -- about to become The Masters champion. It looks like a mirac -- It's in the hole!"
In Real Life: This scene was improvised. Writes Murray, "The Cinderella Story was a spur-of-the-moment idea. 'Get me some flowers,' I said. 'Four rows of mums.'" He did the scene in one take.

In Reel Life: Ty and Lacey go skinny-dipping.
In Real Life: Morgan did the scene topless, not completely nude. Chase implies as much, saying in "The 19th Hole" that the key to that scene was to "keep the water moving." Morgan also appears half-nude in the bedroom scenes with Chase and O'Keefe. She says that a Playboy photographer was allowed on the set for the pool scene, but she got rid of him because she had a lot of Proctor & Gamble commercials on the air and couldn't risk tarnishing her image.

Bill Murray
Bill Murray's one take of Carl Spackler's golf fantasy was no Cinderella Story.
In Reel Life: Ty is in bed with Lacey, giving her a massage. He pours an enormous quantity of oil on her back. She turns around and says, "You're crazy." Ty replies, " That's what they said about Son of Sam."
In Real Life: That scene, like about 90 percent of the movie, was completely improvised. Morgan, in an interview posted at, says, "The camera rolls, and he starts doing a scene that was news to me. When I turn around and say 'you're crazy', I wasn't acting. I didn't know what the hell was going on. But luckily, I had some improv training, and I was damn well determined to stay in the scene. So I played along."

David Berkowitz, a k a "Son of Sam," murdered six people in New York City and wounded seven others between July 1976 and August 1977. He claimed, in letters he started sending in January 1977, that he received commands to kill from a neighbor, Sam, who channeled the commands through the family dog, a Labrador named Harvey. After Berkowitz was caught, defense psychiatrists argued, based on his story about Harvey and other evidence, that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, But Berkowitz was found fit to stand trial. He pleaded guilty and is now serving a 365-year sentence.

In Reel Life: Carl molds squirrels, rabbits, and gophers out of plastic explosive.
In Real Life: There's nothing new or exotic about plastic explosives. Semtex, which is easy to mold and difficult to detect, was invented by Czech Stanislav Brebera in 1966. According to the FBI, it's easily obtainable on the black market.

In Reel Life: While making his explosives, Carl sings, "Silver wings upon their chest, these are men, America's best."
In Real Life: He's singing "Ballad Of the Green Berets," written by one of the elite Special Forces soldiers, Sgt. Barry Sadler. The single topped the charts for five weeks in 1966. The full chorus goes:

    Silver wings upon their chest
    These are men, America's best
    One hundred men will test today
    But only three win the Green Beret

In Reel Life: In the final scene, Carl destroys the golf course, blowing it up in order to save it from the gopher.
In Real Life: That explosion wasn't created on a model set or a computer screen -- it was the real thing. One pilot, on his approach to the nearby Fort Lauderdale Airport, saw the explosion and reported it, thinking a plane had crashed.

In Reel Life: In the film's final scene, Danny putts for $80,000. He just misses -- the ball is maybe an inch from the cup. Then comes Carl's massive explosion. The earth rumbles, and after what seems like a long time, the ball falls into the cup.
In Real Life: Danny's ball comes to a stop for 12 seconds before the first explosion goes off, and it takes 54 seconds for the series of explosions to send the ball into the cup. According to Jeff Hall of the USGA, "In all likelihood, (rule) 16-2 kicks in." If so, Danny could be due a penalty stroke, and his side loses. But Lou, the caddy master, has been agreed upon as the referee, and his ruling is accepted by both sides. So the good guys do win.



Jeff Merron Archive

Reel Life: 'Jerry Maguire'

Reel Life: 'Raging Bull'

Reel Life: 'The Hustler'

Reel Life: 'Rocky'

Reel Life: "Slap Shot"

Closer Look: Lost in a 'Field' of imagination

Closer Look: 'The Rookie' in reel life

Reel Life: "Bull Durham"

Reel Life: "Hoosiers"

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