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This month Hyena salutes comic actor Bill Murray whose latest film, BROKEN FLOWERS debuted at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews. 

My first memory of Bill Murray was watching him on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  Back in the summer of 1976, I spent a lot of time at my best friend, Rachel Anderson's house.  Going to Rachel's was a magical escape where I could goof around with my friend, watch T.V. and stay up really late. When SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE debuted, Rachel and I became instant fans. Lines from the show became part of our own dialogues: “Jane you ignorant slut!” / “Baseball been beddy beddy good to me” / “But Noooooo!”  We waited excitedly each week to see what the cast would do next. 

We hated to see the credits roll, signaling another weeklong wait for the next installment.  I remember thinking New York City would be a fun place to live.  The show felt like a giant party and I wanted to go.

When Bill Murray joined the show he felt familiar to our Midwestern eyes and ears.  His Chicago accent made me wonder if being from Chicago makes you funny.  We howled watching Bill as “Nick” singing lyrics to the Star Wars theme in a tacky lounge.  (Who knew that the genius wearing giant shades playing the piano in the background was Paul Shaffer?)  And we would say “Cheeseboogie” to each other, mimicking Bill in the Greek diner sketch.  Or from Weekend Update, holding up a pair of earrings and deadpanning, “Jane, you left these at my place.” 

One sketch that truly plucked the strings of our adolescent world was “The Nerds,” where Bill played “Todd” – the affectionate nerd who gave noogies to Gilda Radner's “Lisa Lubner.”  Imagine my delight at age 30, when I got to meet and work for one the people responsible for that sketch.  Anne Beatts is an Emmy award-winning writer and she gave me the low down the early days of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and some of her memories of working with Bill.  

Back in 1973, after dropping out of RegisCollege, Bill was recruited by his older brother, comic Brian Doyle Murray, to join Chicago's famous “Second City.” This was a great time for Bill who honed his comic chops and met and performed with John Belushi, among others. 

In 1975, Belushi and the Murray brothers moved to New York where they joined the comedy show NATIONAL LAMPOON'S RADIO HOUR.  It was during this period that Bill created his famous “Honker” character who spoke out of the side of his mouth.  It was also during this time that Bill met and performed with Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd. 

With all this talent in one place, it seems almost fated that everyone was headed for success on a new variety show for NBC called SATURDAY NIGHT.  Brother Brian was hired with others to write on the show. Gilda, Dan, Belsuhi and Chevy Chase were recruited for the cast.  Bill Murray was left behind.

Not all was lost.  While Bill's Lampoon cast mates were busy becoming comedy superstars, Bill was cast in a different television series for ABC called SATURDAY NIGHT LIVEWITH HOWARD COSELL. (Which was why NBC initially had to eliminate the word “Live” from the name of their show.)  The cast members on the Cosell show were billed as “The Prime Time Players.”  This prompted SATURDAY NIGHT head writer, Herb Sargent, to name the NBC cast “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” 

Before long, ABC's show was cancelled, whereupon NBC changed the name of their show to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  And when a slot opened up, Bill was immediately added to the cast.  But it wasn't instant success for Bill.  SATURDAY NIGHT fans who loved and missed Chevy Chase, who had left the show, took their time warming up to Bill who made light of this in one of the first sketches he did called “The New Guy.”  Over time, things got better.  Anne Beatts recalls that audience appeal took a big step forward with “The Shower Mic” sketch.  By the fall of 1977, Bill started to hit his groove, especially with the introduction of “The Nerds.”

According to Beatts who wrote the sketches with Rosie Shuster, John Belushi was cast as “Todd” and Bill was cast as “the D.J.” Belushi, however, refused to play a nerd and Bill, who had done a D.J. type character for National Lampoon, didn't want to play the D.J. So, Beatts and Shuster recast the roles with Bill playing Todd and Dan Aykroyd as the D.J. character (and later as the refrigerator repair man).

The sketch became a recurring classic, and they even did a Nerd sketch during the holidays where Todd and Lisa performed a Christmas pageant. As Beatts recalls, the NBC censors sent a last-minute note objecting to the holiday Nerd sketch's irreverent content.  “The Virgin Mary can't receive noogies!” Show producer, Lorne Michaels, refused to accept the network's demands for changes, and a crisis ensued.  At 11:30 PM, with the show in progress, NBC censors held desperate backstage negotiations with the writers, and Beatts and Shuster came out of the meeting with a ton of changes.  With the broadcast in progress, there was no time for the cast to hear all the changes so Bill and Gilda performed for a nationwide audience relying solely on cue cards.

Bill when he got off stage he yelled at Beatts and Shuster “Don't you ever do that again!”  He thought the writers had arbitrarily changed lines at the last minute, but cooled off when they explained the changes had been forced upon them only minutes earlier by NBC's censors.

According to a friend who worked on the film GHOSTBUSTERS, Bill had a tendency to get bored between scenes and wander off.  A production assistant was given the assignment of following Bill to keep the crew apprised of his whereabouts.  One day, Bill found a very heavy rock and picked it up.  He turned the PA and said “Hey man, can you hold this for a
second?"  The PA took the heavy rock from Bill, who slipped around the corner and out of sight.

As many fans know, Bill was David Letterman's very first guest.  He danced and sang “Let's Get Physical” and who better to christen the one of the best shows in television history.

Now at age 54, Bill has a total of six children and is married to make-up artist, Jennifer Butler.  He is notoriously choosy about the films he makes at this point in his life.   

He's won a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA, and was nominated for an Oscar for LOST IN TRANSLATION.  And he's written a book about his adventures in golf, CINDERELLA STORY.  Pretty good for a guy who doesn't have a publicist.  When he's not working, Bill lives on a farm with his family in Upstate New York.

--by Ann Slichter

Here's how it unfolded as we grew up with Bill Murray…

Meatballs (1979) Tripper Harrison
Caddyshack (1980) Carl Spackler
Stripes (1981) John Winger 
Tootsie (1982) Jeff Slater
Ghost Busters (1984) Dr. Peter Venkman 
The Razor's Edge (1984) Larry Darrell
Little Shop of Horrors (1986) Arthur Denton
Scrooged (1988) Francis Xavier Cross
Ghostbusters II (1989) Dr. Peter Venkman
Quick Change (1990) Grimm
What About Bob? (1991) Bob 'Bobby' Wiley
Groundhog Day (1993) Phil Connors
Mad Dog and Glory (1993) Frank Milo
Ed Wood (1994) Bunny Breckinridge
Kingpin (1996) Ernie McCracken
Rushmore (1998) Herman Blume
Hamlet (2000/I) Polonius
Charlie's Angels (2000) John Bosley
Osmosis Jones (2001) Frank Detomello 
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Raleigh St. Clair 
Lost in Translation (2003) Bob Harris 
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) Bill Murray 
Garfield (2004) (voice) Garfield
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
    Steve Zissou 
Broken Flowers (2005) Don Johnston 

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