What the Hell Happened to Ivan Reitman?
Ivan Reitman began humbly, from the very earliest outset. His refugee family moved to Canada, which is where he received a degree in music. Having been introduced to filmmaking in college, he moved to Hollywood, comfortably moving into the director’s chair, where he fairly quickly rose to direct the top comedies being released. He was on top of the comedic world, working with Hollywood’s biggest stars churning out hits one after the other. Very gradually, his career tapered off. Although he still directs, Reitman has now seen his movies dumped into the bleak valleys of the early winter. We must ask:
What the hell happened?
Reitman was born to Jewish parents in Czechoslovakia on October 27th, 1946. Yes, being born into Judaism in Central Europe in the forties made for a rough upbringing. Reitman’s mother survived Auschwitz, while his father was fighting in the resistance. His parents fled as refugees to Canada in 1950, little Ivan was four.
Reitman set out down a musical path at a young age. He was a member of an a cappella quartet in secondary school, and attended Hamilton’s McMaster University, receiving a degree in music in 1969. While at university, Reitman experimented with directing, overseeing a number of student short films.
Reitman began as an assistant producer at a Toronto TV station, but was quickly dismissed. CITY-TV was also the home of Dan Aykroyd’s first job as an announcer. Aykroyd and Reitman both later became Canadian icons in Hollywood (as you are soon to see), and even collaborated.
In 1971, Reitman directed his first feature, the comedy Foxy Lady. Alan Gordon, who would again team up with Reitman in the future, played the lead. The film is aggressively non-notable, aside from being Reitman and Eugene Levy’s first.
Reitman made the jump to Hollywood in 1973. After setting some scores to minor films (putting his degree to use), Reitman made his Hollywood directorial debut with the low-budget horror comedy Cannibal Girls. Though the movie was shot entirely in Canada, the release was officiated by Californian entities. Eugene Levy played the lead. He is a traveling salesman accosted by a town dominated by a cannibalistic cult.
The film had a very minor release, but has enjoyed a (non-cannibalistic) cult following over the years as the stars of the director and lead grew.
After this, Reitman honed his skills as an executive producer and a music supervisor. Though Reitman no longer sets sound to pictures, he is active as a producer, and has been since he hit his stride as a director. In 1978, Reitman acted as producer on the classic buffoonery comedy Animal House.
Reitman originally wanted to direct Animal House himself. But Universal didn’t feel like he had enough experience to direct the picture. They approached Richard Lester and Bob Rafelson before hiring John Landis. Landis had directed two movies at that point; Schlock in 1973 and The Kentucky Fried Movie in 1977. Reitman reclled his frustration:
I had worked on it three years, brought Belushi into it, and ended up producing the film, but my original intention was always to direct it. But because I had really only directed this small $12,000 improvised comedy called Cannibal Girls, the studio wouldn’t let me do it, and so we hired John Landis who did a great job. But I really wanted to direct,
Reitman’s original idea for casting was basically to steal the cast of Saturday Night Live. John Belushi was always intended to play Bluto. But Reitman also wanted Bill Murray for Boone, Chevy Chase for Otter and Dan Aykroyd for D-Day. Director John Landis didn’t like the idea of making Animal House into the de facto SNL movie. So when he met with Chase he subtly persuaded him to turn down the part by appealing to Chase’s ego. The tactic worked. Chase chose to star in Foul Play instead of appear as part of an ensemble in Animal House. With that, the idea of loading the cast with the Not Ready for Primetime Players fell by the wayside.
Reitman has over 60 credits to his name as a producer, but we won’t be covering them all here. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on Reitman’s work as a director.
Reitman produced a TV adaptation of Animal House called Delta House. The show recast some roles while maintaining original cast members Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes and John Vernon. Michelle Pfieffer made an early appearance as a character credited as “The Bombshell.”
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