Violet Ramis Stiel is hoping to provide fans with a more nuanced, holistic portrait of her father.
Stiel is the daughter of the beloved late director and actor Harold Ramis, best known for writing such comedy classics as Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. In May 2010, he contracted an infection that resulted in complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, and in 2014, died of complications from the disease.
Stiel, of course, knew a different side of Ramis than his legion of loyal fans. She grew up with him as a father, confidante, and friend, and losing him dealt a far more personal blow to her than to those who’d long admired his work. It’s why she decided to write Ghostbuster’s Daughter, her upcoming book: to pay tribute to the man, while also offering those who loved him a new way of looking at him.
To write the book, Stiel went through thousands of old photos, many of which she’d never seen before, and letters Ramis wrote, including them in the book for all to see. The more she learned about her father’s life, the more she realized his flaws as well as his virtues: She came away with a better, more complete understanding of the man than when she started the book, and conveys that realization to readers with real intimacy.
Stiel spoke to EW to preview Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis ahead of its release this summer. Read on below for our interview and to check out the book’s cover, and be sure to pre-order here. The book will be published on June 5.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you decide to write this book?
VIOLET RAMIS STIEL: In about 2007, my dad and I had an idea to write a book together on parenting. I had small children at the time and he had two teenagers and so, even though we were very different places, there seemed to be a lot of overlap. My own childhood had been so unusual and I wondered how that affected me as a parent and how it informed his decision to do things differently the second time around. Unfortunately, we never had the chance to write that book, but after he died, I just felt like there was a story to tell there and so much of him as a parent and person that I thought was so great and just wanted to preserve and pay tribute to as much as possible.
Is there anything you learned about your dad as you worked on the book? Did you see him any differently?
I really just started with writing down one-word memories, references to things, and then I would go back and flesh them out a little more, and over time, my timeline developed. We were always so close and he was always very open with me, so I felt like I knew him really well, and I did, but obviously going through, you discover different sides of things or little inconsistencies. Looking at his letters and photos and speeches and trying to synthesize them into my own memories, it definitely raised some questions and made me see a few things in a different way. He wasn’t perfect. Before, I probably would have said, “Well, he wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty darn close,” and now I would say, “Well, no, maybe he didn’t handle that situation very well, and what can I learn from it to avoid making the same mistakes?” Just a deeper understanding.
How did you view your relationship to your dad, growing up with him, and how has that changed?
We were always very close and he was my primary parent throughout my life. Before he died, I identified with him. We really enjoyed each other’s company, we shared a similar sense of humor, sensibility, and it was like a great bonus in life to have a parent that you’re very close to that’s there for you, that cares about you, and that is all of those things to you. But also, he was like that to the world in a lot of ways through this film. I think I wasn’t as aware of his more public life or his public impact. After he died, I really heard from so many people about how much he had meant to them and the things they had learned from him through little interactions and through his work. I just realized, “It wasn’t just with me. He really was this amazing with everybody.”
As far as the private aspect of this: What was it like going through the letters and photos that are included in the book, and reliving those memories?
It was great, actually. Thank God for hoarders, right? My mom was an obsessive photographer when I was young so I went through thousands of snapshots, a lot of which I was familiar with but plenty that I’d never seen. It was exciting to rediscover him and my childhood through those images. The letters were interesting because they gave me a window into his mind, in those very specific times and places that I’d never had before. They offered a new level of insight, and others were more a validation of our family mythology or whatever. But it was fascinating to read things broken down from his perspective in his 20s and 30s and learn about him, from him, in that way.
In terms of providing that portrait of your father as you rediscovered him, how important was it to do a warts-and-all portrait, in as nuanced a way as you could?
It was really important for me to be honest in telling the story. But to be clear: It’s not a biography. There’s no claim to objectivity here; it’s my story of my life with him and the things we went through, the stories he told me from his own childhood and adolescence and early adulthood; The lessons that he taught me and the impact he had on me as a father. I talk about his films because they were a big part of his life and my memories of growing up. I talk about his challenges, the bumps in the road, and my own, because one of the most important things he taught me is that life is messy. Part of living in a conscious and balanced way is acknowledging that and finding a way to embrace it. That’s what I tried to do in this book.
What did you take away from writing this book? Do you hope readers have a similar experience?
I hope that people who were already fans of my dad will enjoy getting to know a much more personal side of him. I hope that people who aren’t really familiar with him will become fans. My dad was a brilliant, hilarious, kind, generous, wonderful, and flawed human being. He lived a full and fascinating life, and it ended way too soon. I know that even with all of my memories and experiences, I’m always wishing there were more of him. I can watch all the movies and read all the interviews, but I still want more. This is my way of sharing what I knew of him with the world. To that end, it’s been a therapeutic process, I guess, but I didn’t intend for it to be therapy. It was great to think about him all the time in a very creative and productive way, instead of just missing him and feeling sad.