In Wild and Crazy Guys, author Nick de Semlyen takes a look at several of the comedy mega-stars of the 1980s and the roles they played in both the film and television industry.
Well, we’ve finally made it to the 2020s, which makes 1980 forty years ago. While you sit back and digest that fact, let me just list some about the movie classics that will be hurtling towards middle age in the next decade: Ghostbusters, Blues Brothers, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Beverly Hills Cop, The Jerk, Uncle Buck. That said, despite what that ol’ trickster nostalgia may have you believe, guys like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy were certainly not infallible. Do you remember “Oh, Heavenly Dog”? How about “Nothing But Trouble”? Maybe “The Golden Child”? THOSE movies were both critical and commercial flops.
Nick de Semlyen digs deep to truly expose all aspects of the careers of those mentioned above; warts and all. Having been only six years old by the time 1990 arrived, I only really remember getting caught up in the Ghostbusters hysteria in real-time, so my knowledge of the 80s is somewhat limited. While I would eventually go back and watch a few of the biggest movies of the decade years later as an adult, I was not aware of much of the behind-the-scenes fighting and controversies that made up much of these guys’ careers. Sure, I knew Chevy Chase was an asshole, but that seems to be common knowledge (for more on that, check out Live from New York! An Oral History of Saturday Night Live). Thanks to de Semlyen’s rigorous research coupled with access to many of the subjects in the book itself, I learned so much. For example:
- John Candy’s desire to branch into dramatic acting shortly before his death;
- Just how many iconic roles were written for John Belushi prior to his passing (Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters for one – hard to imagine anyone but Murray in that role);
- Eddie Murphy’s identity crisis where he could not decide if he wanted to be portrayed as either a comedic or a serious dramatic/action star leading to on-set fights with directors.
- Steve Martin’s desire to be accepted critically rather than just commercially leading to feuds with critics like Roger Ebert.
- Bill Murray’s self-imposed sabbatical from Hollywood following the failure of a passion project.
- The reasons behind Rick Moranis leaving Hollywood and the roles he would turn down before exiting.
I could go on and on but I don’t want to ruin the book for potential readers. Even what I list above is only scratching the surface of those subjects. I will say that more than anything, this book made me love John Candy even more than I already do. His story is particularly heartbreaking – he truly seemed like the nicest guy in Hollywood.
For those that lived through the era, you may not learn as much as I did if you were truly plugged in to the pop culture of the time, but it made for a quick read that I squeezed in over the holidays between playing video games and eating my weight in food. I realize that it was not the focus of the book, but I would have enjoyed learning about some of the ladies of comedy during the 80s, but given Hollywood’s sexist views at the time in which women couldn’t carry big budget pictures (and let’s be honest, it hasn’t completely gone away some forty years later), there may not have been much data to mine.