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Although he received less personal publicity than his box-office powerhouse contemporaries George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, director-producer Ivan Reitman had a comparable impact on filmmaking trends of the late 1970s and 1980s. In fact, what Lucas and Spielberg did for fantasy adventure, Reitman did for big budget comedies. After producing low-budget horror thrillers with director David Cronenberg, Reitman struck gold when he produced "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978), a huge hit that touched off a rash of imitators for decades and became a cultural landmark. Following successful turns in the director's chair for "Meatballs" (1979) and "Stripes" (1981), Reitman helmed "Ghostbusters" (1984), one of the most successful movies of the decade and perhaps the most influential comedy of its era. Though he was unable to reach such heights again, Reitman nonetheless continued making quality pictures as a director and producer, bringing to the screen such hits as "Twins" (1988), "Kindergarten Cop" (1990) and "Dave" (1993). Though he stumbled as a director later in his career with movies like "Evolution" (2001) and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (2006), Reitman enjoyed Oscar-nominated success as the...
Although he received less personal publicity than his box-office powerhouse contemporaries George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, director-producer Ivan Reitman had a comparable impact on filmmaking trends of the late 1970s and 1980s. In fact, what Lucas and Spielberg did for fantasy adventure, Reitman did for big budget comedies. After producing low-budget horror thrillers with director David Cronenberg, Reitman struck gold when he produced "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978), a huge hit that touched off a rash of imitators for decades and became a cultural landmark. Following successful turns in the director's chair for "Meatballs" (1979) and "Stripes" (1981), Reitman helmed "Ghostbusters" (1984), one of the most successful movies of the decade and perhaps the most influential comedy of its era. Though he was unable to reach such heights again, Reitman nonetheless continued making quality pictures as a director and producer, bringing to the screen such hits as "Twins" (1988), "Kindergarten Cop" (1990) and "Dave" (1993). Though he stumbled as a director later in his career with movies like "Evolution" (2001) and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (2006), Reitman enjoyed Oscar-nominated success as the producer of director son Jason Reitman's exquisite "Up in the Air" (2009), which added considerable heft to his already impactful career.
Born on Oct. 27, 1946 in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, Reitman was raised by his father, Leslie, a Jewish resistance fighter during World War II, and his mother, Klara, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. His parents immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 1951 as refugees from the Stalinization of Eastern Europe, which allowed Reitman the opportunity to grow up in a country free of the Soviet Union's iron grip. Though unable to speak the language when he arrived, Reitman eventually thrived while his parents became successful small business owners He attended the public high school Oakwood Collegiate before becoming a music major at McMaster University. After graduating with his bachelor's in 1969, he turned his career sights toward becoming a stage and television producer. He started out with CITY-TV in Toronto and later produced a Canadian variety show called "Greed," which featured a young Dan Aykroyd as the announcer. Meanwhile, he made his first feature film as a director with "Foxy Lady" (1971), a light-hearted romantic comedy about a nice guy (Alan Gordon) trying to woo the richest woman in the world (Sylvia Feigel).
Reitman followed with the horror spoof, "Cannibal Girls" (1973), which starred future Second City TV stars Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin as an unwitting couple who go away for a romantic vacation, only to find themselves as the main course for a group of human-eating women. Turning back into producer mode, he helped shepherd fellow Canadian David Cronenberg's directorial debut, "Shivers" (1975), to the big screen. After producing the intense revenge thriller, "Death Weekend" (1976), he teamed up with Cronenberg again on "Rabid" (1977), a gruesome horror thriller that starred former porn star Marilyn Chambers as a woman who becomes a guinea pig for a radical skin graft surgery which turns her into a vampire that sucks blood from victims through a phallic stinger that emerges from her armpit. Reitman found his stride with comedy when he hit the big time by producing "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978), a raucous frat-house comedy set in 1962 that launched the careers of all involved - director John Landis, and stars John Belushi, Tom Hulce and Tim Matheson - and became a cultural milestone that remained relevant and popular generations later. Though rude and crude on the outside, what separated "Animal House" from other teen sex comedies was the sly allegory about the Nixon administration, as represented by the ruthless dean (John Vernon) and his two clean-cut, uptight lackies (James Daughton and Mark Metcalf), who seek to destroy the fun-loving kids at Delta House.
The following year, Reitman returned to directing with another lowbrow teen comedy, "Meatballs" (1979), which marked his first collaboration with actor Bill Murray. Set at a low-rent summer camp run by a troublemaking head counselor (Murray), "Meatballs" was a goofy, but sweet slapstick comedy that had plenty of laughs and showed glimpses of what was to come from Reitman. After a failed attempt to recapture the "Animal House" magic with the sitcom "Delta House" (ABC, 1979), Reitman and Murray struck gold with "Stripes" (1981). Starring Murray as an unambitious, but loveable loser who impulsively joins the U.S. Army with his best friend (Harold Ramis), "Stripes" became a second-straight hit for Reitman, though he received some criticism for the movie's juvenile humor. But no such criticisms came his way when he directed "Ghostbusters" (1984), a perfect blend of big special effects with irreverent comedy that became one of the biggest movies of the decade. The film starred Murray - in a role originally slated for John Belushi, who died unexpectedly in 1982 - Ramis and Dan Aykroyd as a trio of paranormal experts who go into business as ghost exterminators. They become celebrities thanks to their high-profile exploits, only to run afoul of an officious city bureaucrat (William Atherton) who manages to shut them down with disastrous results. Funny, irreverent and full of surprisingly good special effects for its time, "Ghostbusters" earned gobs of money at the box office while spawning a hit song, a sequel and two animated television series.
Reitman followed up "Ghostbusters" with "Legal Eagles" (1986), a messy mix of courtroom drama, romantic comedy and mystery starring Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah and Debra Winger. Following a retreat to producing on "Big Shots" (1987) and "Casual Sex?" (1988), Reitman attempted to soften Arnold Schwarzenegger's tough-guy image with "Twins" (1988), a surprisingly amusing comedy in which the future California governor played a mild-mannered man who meets his long-lost twin (Danny DeVito), a lowlife car thief who is in trouble with loan sharks. Though a one-note comedy held up by the running gag of Schwarzenegger and DeVito being twin brothers, the movie nonetheless pleased audiences and became a hit at the box office. Reitman next directed the sequel "Ghostbusters II" (1989), a less-than-inspiring rehash of it predecessor that managed to retain the entire cast, but none of the previous charm or originality. Still, the movie took in over $110 million at the box office. Reuniting with Schwarzenegger, he directed "Kindergarten Cop" (1990), in which the Austrian-born actor played a rough-and-tumble cop trying to ensnare a drug dealer by posing as a kindergarten teacher.
After producing the dreadful "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" (1992) and the surprise hit doggie flick "Beethoven" (1992), Reitman returned to the director's chair for "Dave" (1993), a light-hearted political satire about an everyman (Kevin Kline) who happens to be a dead ringer for the President of the United States (also Kline) and is called upon by administration advisors (Frank Langella and Kevin Dunn) to fill in after the president has a stroke. Reitman took a step back following the well-received "Dave" to direct Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Junior" (1994), a well-meaning, but ultimately sparse comedy that depicted the muscle-bound actor as an earnest medical researcher who becomes pregnant after undergoing an experimental procedure. Despite the comic chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, coupled with the physical comedy of co-star Emma Thompson, neither Reitman nor his stars were able to add weight to the thin material. While trying to capitalize on previous success with the short-lived animated series, "Beethoven" (CBS, 1994), he produced the animation/live action hybrid, "Space Jam" (1996), starring NBA legend Michael Jordan, and "Private Parts" (1997), a rather tame account of radio shock jock Howard Stern's rise from nobody to the King of All Media.
Back to directing, Reitman teamed with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal for the surprisingly disappointing comedy "Father's Day" (1997), which was an Americanized version of a French farce about two men searching for a runaway teen they both think they fathered. He next directed Harrison Ford and Anne Heche in "Six Days, Seven Nights" (1998), a rather forgettable romantic comedy wrapped around an action adventure flick. After producing the lowbrow teen sex comedy "Road Trip" (2000), Reitman continued his woeful string of directing flops with "Evolution" (2001), a decidedly unfunny sci-fi comedy that attempted to resurrect "Ghostbusters" by way of an alien invasion in the Arizona desert, only to falter with critics and at the box office. Reitman retreated to producing duties for the next several years, adding his name to movies like the megahit "Old School" (2003) and "Eurotrip" (2004). He directed yet another misfire, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (2006), which starred Uma Thurman as an overly possessive superhero who is broken up with by her boyfriend (Luke Wilson), before settling back into producing "Disturbia" (2007), "The Uninvited" (2009) and "I Love You, Man" (2009). Reitman had both professional and personal satisfaction when his son, director Jason Reitman, earned numerous awards and nominations, including several Oscar nods, for his adaptation of "Up in the Air" (2009). The elder Reitman served as a producer of the project and earned his first-ever Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
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