Every February 2 on Groundhog Day, North Americans wait with bated breath to discover if there will be six more weeks of winter or if there will be an early spring as foretold by Punxsutawney Phil when he emerges from his “den.”
Since 1887 the large terrestrial rodent (as well as his predecessors) has been predicting the weather in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, but if he doesn’t, it means there will be an early spring. Usually the town of Punxsutawney hosts a large celebration, however, due to the global pandemic, the celebration will be virtual.
In 1993 Ghostbusters and Stripes alumnis Bill Murray and Harold Ramis teamed up again to create a whole new movie trope we all commonly refer to as “Groundhog Day”, aptly named after the movie that created its own genre. In this film Bill Murray plays a grumpy and disillusioned weather man who is forced to relive the same day over and over and over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, until he can get the day right and win “the girl” named Rita (Andie MacDowell).
The Groundhog Day time loop trope has been used in many movies such as Happy Death Day (original and sequel), Hulu’s Palm Springs, Edge of Tomorrow, and Marvel’s Dr. Strange. It’s also been featured on many TV shows such as Star Trek (TNG), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone, and Supernatural.
We have all enjoyed the genre over the years, so let’s take a look back on the original with this list of 15 facts you might not have known about the Bill Murray classic, Groundhog Day.
- Groundhog Day was not filmed in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The movie might have been set in Pennsylvania, but it was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, an outer suburb of Chicago, approximately 51 miles outside of the city. Woodstock, Illinois was chosen over the actual town of Punxsutawney because Woodstock has a townsquare that happens to look better on film.
- The movie destroyed Harold Ramis and Bill Murray’s long time friendship. Groundhog Day was the duo’s fifth collaboration following beloved hit comedies such as Caddyshack, Stripes, and Ghostbusters, but the two didn’t always see eye to eye during filming. Murray wanted the film to be more philosophical while writer/director Ramis intended for the film to be humorous. Shortly after the film was released, Murray completely cut ties with Ramis until they were reunited on Harold Ramis’ death bed shortly before his death in 2014.
- The groundhog bit Bill Murray at least 2 times. It has been reported that Scooter the groundhog hated Bill Murray since the start of day one and bit him 2-3 times during the filming of the iconic “don’t drive angry” scene. In a 1993 article, Bill Murray was quoted as saying, “He bit me bad, right on the knuckle, and he bit me again, just about when it was going to heal, in the very same spot!” He then went on to explain “I went to the doc and said, ‘Hey, I got bit by a groundhog, should I get a rabies shot?’ He said, ‘Well, no.’ ‘You mean I’m not going to get it?’ He said, ‘Well, no. See, we don’t know if groundhogs give rabies.’ And I’m like, ‘Because you don’t know, you can’t give me the shot?’ He said, ‘That’s right.’ ‘And what if I get it, then what?’ He said, ‘Then we’ll know. Then we’ll know, then, won’t we?’ “
- Andie MacDowell requested that her character, Rita share her natural South Carolina accent. It was that same accent and her inability to say the word “ruin” to Ramis’ liking that forced them to change a line in the dialogue. Rita was supposed to say, “Oh, let’s not ruin it!” to insurance salesman Ned (Stephen Tobolowsky) when he proposed a three-person celebration. Unfortunately, MacDowell’s South Carolina accent caused her to say “ruin” in a way that Ramis felt would be unclear to some viewers. They settled on having her say “Oh, let’s not spoil it!” instead.
“Let’s not spoil it”
- Bill Murray’s brother had a small role in the movie. Keen-eyed viewers might notice that Bill Murray and the Mayor of Punxsutawney have a family resemblance. Bill Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray was cast in that role. This wasn’t Doyle-Murray’s first film either as he had roles in Caddyshack, Christmas Vacation, and JFK, among many others. He has an extensive work history in both film and television although he’s usually overshadowed by his brother, Bill. Brian Doyle-Murray was also responsible for reuniting Bill Murray with his estranged friend Harold Ramis.
- Writers Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis originally intended for Bill Murray’s character Phil to be stuck in the time loop for 10,000 YEARS. Luckily for Phil, only 38 days were shown throughout the film and while Ramis claimed on the DVD that Phil was trapped for approximately 10 years, Simon Gallagher of Whatculture estimates the number is closer to 10 days shy of 34 years. Phil learned everything there was to learn about the inhabitants of town as well as learning how to play the piano and sculpt ice, which obviously takes years to learn.
- Friedrich Nietzsche inspired Groundhog Day. Storywriters Danny Rubin and Ramis found their inspiration for the plot of Groundhog Day from The Gay Science, a famous work from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In what Nietzsche described as “the most personal of all his books,” he describes a man who lives the same day over and over. In the original script, Phil’s time trap was explained as a curse by an old girlfriend. That was dropped. And good thing it was.
- Andie MacDowell Really slapped Bill Murray 10 times throughout the film and countless more during filming. She told The Wrap, “He asked me to really slap him,” MacDowell said of the multiple times the film features her character Rita striking him, after Murray’s glib Phil Connors attempts to woo her. “It’s hard to hit someone that many times!”
- The extras had to brave high temperatures in the townsquare while bundled up as if it was winter. While Groundhog Day takes place on February 2, it was filmed from March through June, so by the time the shoot wrapped, the temperature routinely hit 80 degrees in Illinois. The crew brought in tons of fake snow to keep up the wintery scene, but actors also had to fake the cold by wearing thick coats in the middle of summer. If you watch the end credits for “EXTRAS CASTING” you will see the publisher of Reel Chicago and Reel 360, Barbara Roche, appear as Holzer Roche & Ridge Casting.
- Bill Murray wasn’t the first choice for the role of Phil. Even though Murray and Ramis had an existing relationship, the role was originally offered to Tom Hanks, who was not available at that time, as well as Michael Keaton, who didn’t 100% understand the concept of the script and turned down the role. Chevy Chase, John Travolta and Steve Martin were also in the running, though director Harold Ramis thought they were “too nice” to pull off the laughably irreverent character. Andie MacDowell’s role as Rita was also almost given to another option. 90’s singer-songwriter sensation Tori Amos was also considered for Rita before it was ultimately awarded to MacDowell.
- Murray and Ramis pay tribute to their wives. Rita’s favorite drink, sweet vermouth on the rocks, with a twist, is the favorite drink of Harold Ramis’ wife. The scene where Phil reads to Rita while she sleeps was taken from Bill Murray’s own life. His wife, who he was divorcing during filming, fell asleep on their wedding night after drinking too much champagne and Bill read to her as she slept.
- An actual resident of Punxsutawney, who usually creates the ice sculptures for the real Groundhog Day celebration, provided the film with his legendary ice sculptures. Randy Rupert, aka The Chainsaw Wizard, made the ice sculptures for the movie. He is a resident of Punxsutawney and makes wood sculptures in the village square every year on Groundhog Day. He has most recently been featured in headlines for his uncanny wood sculpture of disgraced former president Donald Trump.
- Phil alludes to Rasputin… or Ghostbusters II. In the scene when Phil is trying to explain what is happening to him to Rita, he states, “I’ve been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.” Interestingly, these are the same methods that were used by the assassins of Grigory Rasputin, which may be an Easter egg in the film. However, it also might be a reference to Ghostbusters II as it’s said that Vigo the Carpathian may have died after being “poisoned, shot, stabbed, hung, stretched, disemboweled, drawn and quartered.”
- There is a subtle nod to Caddyshack. Murray’s line ‘be the hat’ when he and Rita are playing with the cards is a reference to his previous movie Caddyshack, and its famous line ‘be the ball’.
- You can visit “Ned’s Corner” in Woodstock Illinois. The town of Woodstock, Illinois doubled for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. At the site in Woodstock where Phil keeps stepping into a puddle, there is a plaque that commemorates “Ned’s Corner” dated 1992. Bricks had to be removed to make the infamous puddle come to life. Woodstock later added a plaque that reads, “Bill Murray Stepped Here.”
For what it’s worth, the REAL Puxatawny Phil saw his shadow predicting six more weeks of Winter.
Joia DaVida reports on the entertainment business in both Chicago and Los Angeles.