‘Caddyshack’ Unites Bill Murray and Chevy Chase After ‘SNL’ Fight
Caddyshack is the ultimate sports comedy, and the disparateness of its cast collage — including The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Ted Knight, stand-up comedy giant Rodney Dangerfield (in his first major film role) and character actor Michael O'Keefe — is tied to essential to its madcap charm.
In fact, one of the 1980 movie's significant moments is a casting anecdote: Co-stars Chevy Chase and Bill Murray share only one scene, a heavily improvised take that helped squash a longstanding beef dating back to their famous fight at Saturday Night Live.
Even though they technically appeared together in a couple SNL episodes (via a Chase cameo), the duo wasn't part of the same cast. Chase, one of show's original writers and performers, exited in Season Two, with Murray brought on as a replacement in January 1977.
According to Chris Nashawaty's 2018 book Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story, tensions exploded the following February when Chase returned to guest-host an episode.
At one point, Murray reportedly came into the office of writers Al Franken and Tom Davis to question Chase about some unflattering rumors he'd heard. Chase told off Murray, and the confrontation picked up after dress rehearsal as Murray, from a nearby makeup chair, alluded to gossip about Chase's marital issues. "Go fuck your wife," he supposedly said. "She needs it!" Chase fired back by insulting Murray's acne scars. Then, five minutes before the episode aired, a physical confrontation erupted, with Chase shouting profanity and Murray calling the guest host "medium talent."
The comedians managed to bury the hatchet — sort of — through an act of simulated fellatio. While both were attending a swanky Hollywood party, Chase decided to make light of their awkwardness, Nick de Semlyen described in his 2019 book, Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the '80s Changed Hollywood Forever.
“Chase put down his drink and marched toward Murray, a furious glare on his face," de Semlyen writes. "Murray tensed up. But just as he reached him, Chase dropped to his knees and began to unzip Murray’s pants, miming preparation for a blow job. Murray cracked a smile at Chase’s sophomoric bit, then both of them started to laugh.”
So by fall 1979, when Caddyshack started production at the Rolling Hills Golf Club in Davie, Fla., a semiprivate course roughly 30 minutes north of Miami, the two stars weren't at each other's throats — but it helped they didn't share a single scene together. Granted, Murray's character, a demented, gopher-hunting groundskeeper named Carl Spackler, was barely featured in the original script, but the filmmakers expanded his role to further spotlight the comedian, then a major star on SNL.
Watch 'Caddyshack' Trailer
Which leads us to the classic Chase-Murray scene. Once executive producer Jon Peters realized the two marquee talents didn't exchange a crumb of dialogue, he requested that director Harold Ramis remedy that.
Ramis, Murray and Chase brainstormed the idea over lunch one day with the film's co-writers, Douglas Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill's older brother). The resulting scene finds Chase's character, the philosophical, charismatic scratch golfer Ty Webb, hitting a stray golf ball into Spackler's shack, where they wind up sharing a joint. It's completely unnecessary to the plot, but it's still hilarious — and not a distraction in a movie where randomness (the "Baby Ruth in the pool" scene, Spackler's endless gopher battles) is the entire point. (However, we can't grant that same flattery to the cringe-worthy deleted scene between the two where Spackler demonstrates his definition of a perfect golf swing.)
Murray and Chase bonded during the two or three takes they filmed in one night, improvising and refining dialogue until they landed on the perfect feel.
"I’d never really done anything with Chevy," Murray told Nashawaty. "We’d always had sort of a ... funny relationship. But it was like, ‘Okay, I liked that when you did that. Let’s just keep going.’ We kept going, and it was funny because Ty Webb’s not far from who Chevy is. So he was pretty comfortable in his space. And I was comfortable as Carl."
Chase noted that Murray was "fucking hilarious" in the scene, adding that they "got over everything" on a personal level. “The tension was short-lived," he said. "I have nothing but admiration and affection for Bill. He still can be a surly character, to say the least. But ultimately he’s a good guy. Even though I’m the number-one star in the movie under the title, I’ll always think of Caddyshack as Billy’s movie.”
Watch Chevy Chase and Bill Murray's 'Caddyshack' Scene
The two stars never shared another movie scene. But they've united several other times over the years — sharing some laughs during a painfully awkward Caddyshack press junket interview and crooning the blues together onstage in 2019 with Martin Short. ("I don't think you can talk about the blues unless you talk about someone who's really, really miserable," Murray said to introduce Chase, earning a massive laugh from Short.)
And in February 1980, five months before Caddyshack hit theaters, Chase and Murray teamed up at the original site of their bitterness, the SNL stage, to perform a lighthearted musical duet.
"Over the years since I left, a lot of people have asked whether I’ve had any regrets about leaving," Chase, the episode's host, told the audience in his opening monologue. "Actually there are a couple. ... Of course, I feel bad that I left the show too early to be able to really loosen up a bit and work with one of the few talented men I know. ... Last time I was here, there were some rumors about a couple of us not getting along too well. Of course, that kind of stuff, well, it makes headlines. In fact, I’d love nothing better than to bat around a couple of songs back and forth with this man. He’s quite a friend. What do you say? Let’s do it." And so they did, playfully harmonizing a medley that included Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" and the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus."
"Totally unrehearsed, totally unrehearsed," Chase added with a wink. But that improvisational charm, on full display in Caddyshack, was part of the duo's shared brilliance.