Today is the birthday of Bill Murray (b. 1950), the Saturday Night Live alumnus whose cinematic career is by far — light years — the most distinguished (unless you want to include some short termers like Ben Stiller or Robert Downey, Jr., but I still would have to rank them behind Murray).
The earliest phase of his career was JUST the sort you would expect from a typical SNL alum: broad cheeky rude comedies on the order of Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1981) and Stripes (1981), in which he did variations of his tv persona. But he considered (considers) himself more than just a comedian — he (like all Second City grads) was trained to be an actor. Just as John Belushi had done with Continental Divide (1981), Murray dropped out for a while and came back with a surprising serious work, an adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge (1984). It was not a success, but his job replacing the late Belushi in Ghostbusters (1984) was the biggest smash ever. So he carved out for himself a third way. It took him a little while to find it. First there were comedies that had slightly more heart, such as Scrooged (1988) and Groundhog Day (1993). And then (because he could afford to), he began to work with independent directors (Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola) and built up a body of serious work and a reputation for integrity, all while continuing to do plenty of shlocky projects for the paychecks. In essence, he gets to have his cake and eat it too and by proving that it can be done he is an inspiration.
To find out more about variety past and present (including television variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc