Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
“Who you gonna call?” If you had shouted that anywhere in the country during the summer of 1984, a multitude of voices would’ve screamed “Ghostbusters!” back at you.
The paranormal comedy starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and directed by Ivan Reitman was an immediate smash with its mix of broad humor and special effects hitting a home run with kids and their parents. You probably remember the giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man that nearly destroys New York, but here are some fun facts that you might not know.
When Aykroyd was originally writing his script for the movie he intended for John Belushi and Eddie Murphy to play Peter Venkman and Winston, the roles that eventually went to Murray and Ernie Hudson. Belushi died while he was still working on the script and the shooting schedule for Beverly Hills Cop forced Murphy to drop out.
John Candy was cast initially in the role of Louis, who becomes possessed by the Keymaster. Candy quit after Reitman wouldn’t let him do the character his way, which included speaking with a German accent. He was replaced by Rick Moranis, who was Candy’s longtime costar on SCTV.
It’s all in the marketing. The initial advertising for the movie was simply posters with the “No Ghost” logo, followed by the Ghostbusters’ car (Ecto-1) being driven around New York City without explanation.
After the movie opened, Reitman created a trailer out of the commercial in the film which gave a working 800 number. The number led to a message of Murray and Aykroyd saying that they were out catching ghosts. It reportedly received an average of 1,000 calls an hour every hour for six weeks.
Stay-Puft Marshmallows is not a real product, but in the movie there’s a pack of them in Sigourney Weaver’s apartment as well as a billboard on the side of a building advertising them.
Rietman was originally planning on doing a film version of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. When the director and his producing partners contacted Aykroyd about being part of the project he instead pitched them his ghost movie.
The famous theme song by Ray Parker Jr. was number one on the Billboard charts for three weeks. Parker has said in interviews that he was inspired to write the song as a jingle in line with the commercial in the film after he saw a TV spot for a local plumber while trying to overcome a bout of writer’s block. Huey Lewis apparently disagreed with that version of events since he sued Parker claiming that the melody plagiarized his song “I Want a New Drug.” The dispute was resolved by an out-of-court settlement.
On the DVD commentary, Rietman confirms that Aykroyd’s original script was set in the future where there were teams of Ghostbusters all over the world, with sci-fi touches like the Ecto-1 flying, and would’ve been too expensive to shoot. Ramis, who co-wrote Animal House and Caddyshack, was brought in to tone down Aykroyd’s vision.
Ramis originally wasn’t going to act in the movie, even though he had previously starred with Murray in Reitman’s Stripes. He joined the cast after he formed a close association with the character while writing the script.
Ramis’ character Dr. Egon Spengler was named after German philosopher Oswald Spengler who wrote The Decline of the West, which argued that all civilizations eventually break down.
Michael Keaton was in discussions for both the Venkman and Louis roles but turned them both down. Chevy Chase was also considered for Venkman, while Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken were among those talked about as possible Egons. Comedian Sandra Bernhard was offered the role of the Ghostbusters secretary that eventually went to Annie Potts, while Michael McKean was one of the other actors considered to replace Candy in the Louis role.
A real jail was used for the scene where the Ghostbusters are locked up, and Aykroyd believed the location to actually be haunted.
The exterior for the Ghostbusters headquarters is the real Hook and Ladder No. 8 Firehouse in the famous Tribeca neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. The location was almost closed as part of the city’s budget cuts in 2011, but was one of 19 firehouses saved in a restructured plan by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The movie was the first to have veteran broadcaster Larry King appear as himself, while porn actor Ron Jeremy and pop songstress Debbie Gibson were both extras during the filming.
The scene where Weaver levitates was done in the same manner as a magician uses in a stage show. Reitman had worked with illusionist Doug Henning on the Broadway show Merlin and was familiar with how the trick was done.
Actor William Atherton, who plays the Ghostbusters’ nemesis Walter Peck, has long claimed in interviews that for years after the movie was released he would have people yelling at him on the street for his treatment of Murray and company. He said that it even led to physical altercations in bars. Atherton went on to play sleazy reporter Richard Thornburg in Die Hard and Die Hard 2.
The ghost that wreaks havoc on the Sedgewick Hotel didn’t have a name in the script. The model that was used on set was nicknamed “Onion Head” because of its smell and Aykroyd joked that it was the ghost of Belushi. Fans of the movie started calling it Slimer and the name stuck, eventually being used in the animated series that the movie spawned.
Unbeknownst to the producers, Filmation had made a short-lived animated series in 1975 called The Ghost Busters. Heading off a potential lawsuit, Columbia paid Filmation a fee for using the name.
Murray agreed to do the movie only if Columbia Pictures would provide the funding for a film version of the W. Somerset Maugham novel The Razor’s Edge that he would star in. Murray’s pet project was released later in 1984 and made $6.6-million at the box office. Ghostbusters grossed more than $238-million in the United States alone.