After years of rumors and false starts, a Del Close movie is finally heading to the screen. Mike Myers will portray the Chicago-based comedy legend, who was a guru to generations of improv stars, from John Belushi to Chris Farley to Tina Fey, in a film directed by Betty Thomas (Private Parts).
Myers and Thomas both knew Close personally from their tenures at Second City, so it’s difficult to argue with the pairing. But it’s also tempting to imagine a different cast and production, especially since the late Harold Ramis, who also fine-tuned his comedy under Close, was developing a Close movie about 10 years ago. “Del was the ultimate rebel,” Ramis told EW in 2010, four years before the Ghostbuster’s death. “He was an icon of the ’60s, breaking all the rules, challenging all the assumptions.”
Close, who movie fans might best remember as the excruciatingly dull English teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, was an eccentric whose teaching methods could often be harsh. “He would do something really crazy or offensive, as a teaching, for the students to figure out — that’s how Del was,” Ramis recalled, before sharing a favorite story that Jim Belushi liked to tell. “Jim was now coming into his own at Second City and I guess Del was the director. Jim went up to Del and said, ‘Del, I just want you to know that I really trust you.’ And Del said, ‘You trust me?’ And then he kneed him in the balls really hard, and said, ‘Do you still trust me?’ There’s obviously a lesson there. That’s how Del taught.”
Ramis toyed with a Close script for several years around 2006, but the project stalled. It’s no shock who he hoped to wrangle as its star: “I think Bill is the only one who I can imagine playing Del.”
Bill Murray had worshipped Close at Second City — and arguably, had absorbed many of his lessons. “He taught people to commit,” Murray told Esquire in 2012. “Like: ‘Don’t walk out there with one hand in your pocket unless there’s somethin’ in there you’re going to bring out.’ You gotta commit. You’ve gotta go out there and improvise and you’ve gotta be completely unafraid to die.”
Of course, Ramis and Murray had collaborated together on their best comedies, including Stripes and Caddyshack, before a falling out following Groundhog Day. They hadn’t made up when Ramis was lobbing Murray’s name around to play Close, and the star was never attached. Yet Ramis’s Close biopic remains a tantalizing what-if, one whose failure to launch almost feels like, at least to devoted fans of all three men, a knee in the balls.