Sylvester Stallone was on the phone with Eddie Murphy, and the “Rocky” superstar was angry enough to demolish a side of beef.
“You f–ked my wife!” he screamed at Murphy.
“Down, brother!” Murphy replied. “I didn’t f–k your wife!”
But despite Murphy’s protests, as Nick de Semlyen writes in his new book about film comedies — “Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ’80s Changed Hollywood Forever” (Crown Archetype, out May 28) — the damage had been done.
Hollywood A-listers Stallone and Murphy had been great friends, even writing a pitch together for a third “Godfather” film that would have co-starred them with Al Pacino.
But after Murphy hired Stallone’s then-wife, Brigitte Nielsen, to play the villain in 1987’s “Beverly Hills Cop II,” a rumor started that Murphy and Nielsen had been more than just castmates. Murphy denied it and there was no evidence that it was true, but Stallone believed it. The friendship was over.
Eddie Murphy’s dark side
While that particular feud was not his doing, Murphy caused plenty of drama, according to de Semlyen.
His much-loved “Coming to America” (1988), which is getting a sequel in 2020, starred Murphy as an African prince who comes to America to find his queen.
The biggest star in Hollywood at the time, he chose his “Trading Places” (1983) director, John Landis, to helm the movie.
But the joy we see on screen was not replicated on the troubled set.
“Eddie was such a monster star now, and it was different,” Landis says in the book. “He had lost the sparkle. He could summon it forth and still be incredibly creative and brilliant, but he was dark on that movie.”
The schedule for the filming was shorter than what Landis felt was needed — a dance-off on a New York street involving Murphy, Michael Jackson and Prince was scrapped.
But the bigger issue was that the star and director clashed at every turn.
Murphy was irritated that Landis wouldn’t let him watch the dailies, a blanket rule the director applied to everyone. And Landis was increasingly put off by Murphy’s ever-present posse, even laughing out loud while filming in Madison Square Garden when he saw “Murphy and a dozen burly companions tiptoeing along a slim plank across the ice. Murphy caught his eye, unamused,” de Semlyen writes.
But when Murphy heard that Landis and his wife were bad-mouthing him behind his back, “the atmosphere turned poisonous. It felt like the two men … were heading toward an almighty clash.”
Soon after, Murphy later said, he heard that Landis was talking negatively to crew members about aspects of his business. “So he walked up behind the director,” de Semlyen, writes, “grabbed him around the throat in a strong-arm grip, and said to his hulking friend Fruitie, ‘What happens when people put my business in the street?’
Fruitie replied, ‘They get f–ked up.’ ”
Landis, thinking it was a joke, tried to hit back toward Murphy’s groin. The star responded by “putting pressure on his windpipe, choking the director.”
They were separated, and “the final stretch of the shoot was about as tense as any shoot has ever been.”
Finding Bill Murray
De Semlyen makes clear that few of the beloved comedies of the era had an easy path to the screen.
Dan Aykroyd wrote “Ghost Smashers,” a film set in the future on a distant planet, to star him and his best friend and collaborator, John Belushi.
Sometime after Belushi’s March 1982 death, either Aykroyd or eventual director Ivan Reitman relocated the story to present-day New York City. Now christened “Ghostbusters,” the film was set to star Aykroyd and co-writer Harold Ramis. John Candy turned down the role of Louis Tully, which was given to Rick Moranis. Sigourney Weaver, cast as Dana, inspired a key scene in the 1984 film “after getting down on all fours and barking like a dog during her audition.”
For the lead role of Peter Venkman, originally written for Belushi, Aykroyd knew it had to be his old “SNL” castmate Bill Murray.
Unfortunately, Murray had been on a mission to ditch comedy for more serious roles, and was desperately trying to convince a studio to let him make the World War I drama “The Razor’s Edge,” also released in 1984.
But Murray had realized at Belushi’s funeral how much he missed the camaraderie of his old comedy friends.
After several phone calls, Aykroyd advised Murray to “tell the studio he’d star in their big comedy if they green-lit his passion project.”
Murray took the advice, and with one phone call to a Columbia Pictures executive he got “The Razor’s Edge” greenlighted, and also secured his role as Peter Venkman.
Still, as many directors have learned since, Murray agreeing to a project gave no indication of when he’d show up to the set.
The infamously hard-to-reach Murray — he has no manager or publicist, so the only way to reach him, even for A-list directors and studio execs, is an 800 number that few people have — was wrapping up “The Razor’s Edge” shoot at the Taj Mahal, and was due on the “Ghostbusters” set on Sept. 25, 1983.
But instead, after completing the drama, Murray flew to Delhi for four days of sleeping and reading, then to London to watch an early cut of the film.
When he finally arrived in New York on Oct. 18, Aykroyd and Ramis were already in costume and Reitman was checking cameras as Murray’s limo pulled up. He still had not read the script.
None of it mattered. Murray showed up, got into costume, and created a classic.
Good friends Murray and Ramis, who had also co-starred in 1981’s “Stripes,” would team up again on another comedy classic, “Groundhog Day.” As with “Coming to America,” the joy we see on screen was the opposite of the mood on set, as their friendship would not survive the filming.
Given Murray’s ways, when Ramis sent him the script in 1991, he expected not to hear back for some time. But Murray immediately accepted the role of weatherman Phil Connors, which had been passed on by Chevy Chase and Tom Hanks.
The script needed work. The studio removed writer Danny Rubin from the project, and Ramis, with minor assistance from an associate producer, did an extensive rewrite.
Unfortunately, Murray, without informing the studio or Ramis, decided to do the same, and asked Rubin to work with him. They began their own extensive rewrite, meeting every morning in New York to work, and undoing everything Ramis had just done.
“He wouldn’t really talk to me. He would just grunt and pace and smoke cigars and read the newspaper,” Rubin says in the book. “After about an hour of puttering around, he would sit next to me and say something like, ‘OK, if I agree to do this movie … what do you suppose Phil would say here?’ I mean, they were already building sets!”
Ramis, meanwhile, was incensed when he learned about the unauthorized rewrite. He stayed in frequent touch with Rubin, trying to find out where the story was going, but when he asked to speak to Murray, the actor wouldn’t get on the phone.
When Murray arrived on set a week and a half before the start of the shoot, his first meeting with Ramis did not go well.
“It appeared that they each had a different vision for ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” de Semlyen writes. “Ramis wanted the film to be warm and romantic, while Murray was pushing for it to be a little chillier and more existential. The push and pull would continue throughout the shoot.”
Relations between the two now-former friends became so bad that Ramis had to request a go-between, someone to send messages back and forth between the two so they wouldn’t have to speak. Murray picked the assistant.
After a haggard and bitter 45-day shoot, they were ready to film the final scene, which found Murray in bed with co-star Andie MacDowell, having finally escaped from a reoccurring Feb. 2. By that point, it had not been established whether the couple had slept together, leaving the question of whether Murray should be naked or clothed.
By then, Ramis was so at his wit’s end that he couldn’t bear another heated debate. He decided to leave it up to the crew, and so he put it up to a vote of everyone on set.
The vote was headed toward a tie with “one vote outstanding: a lowly assistant set decorator, on her very first movie. Nervously, but with conviction, she piped up: ‘They’re both wearing exactly the clothes they were in the night before. If you do anything different, it’ll ruin the movie.’ ”
“Ramis chuckled. Murray cracked a smile. MacDowell breathed a sigh of relief.
“They shot the scene as instructed.”