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The Untold Truth Of Ivan Reitman

For many hardcore film fans, there are few names as iconic and important as Ivan Reitman. This status is well earned, as many of Reitman's films are considered to be comedy classics of their respective subgenres. With his unique blend of irreverent humor and grand set pieces, Reitman possessed a truly unique voice as a director, writer, and producer.

With such films as "National Lampoon's Animal House," "Ghostbusters," "Stripes," and "Kindergarten Cop" on his resume he definitely left a significant mark on pop culture. With his recent passing at the age of 75, many have been speaking out about his body of work and influence. Given his artistic contributions and the plethora of laughs he's provided the world with, his passing truly marks the end of an era. Ivan Reitman's rise to prominence was one packed to the brim with setbacks, unique friendships and an unyielding dedication to his craft. With that in mind, let's take a look at the untold truth of Ivan Reitman and learn some interesting facts about one of cinema's finest and funniest minds.

His parents are Holocaust survivors

We're starting off on a somber note, but most definitely a necessary element in Ivan Reitman's upbringing and development. While Reitman's Jewish heritage wasn't represented through the themes and settings of his films, it was extremely evident through his work ethic. His family's trials and tribulations would serve as the foundation for his sense of humor and the dedication to his chosen craft. Born in Slovakia (in the town of Komarno) in 1946, Reitman was the son of Klara and Ladislav Reitman, both of whom dealt with horrific circumstances. His parents were both Holocaust survivors: his mother had lived through Auschwitz and his father had served as a fighter in the Czech anti-Nazi underground. His family would escape Europe and, after a strenuous journey, finally settle in Canada at the beginning of the 1950s.

It was his father who encouraged him to pursue a career in entertainment as opposed to a standard nine-to-five job. Reitman would of course go on to have a very successful career — due in no small part to the sacrifices made by his mother and father.

He began directing in college

Many of cinema's most noteworthy directors have shown an early proclivity for storytelling that carried into their formative years. Ivan Reitman is no exception to this, having begun his journey in show business back during his tenure at McMaster University. Reitman went to McMaster in order to study music and drama, but would also dabble in filmmaking and would direct several short films. This time in academia would also serve as the partial basis for one of Reitman's future cinematic successes, "National Lampoon's Animal House." 

In an interview with CBC, Reitman clarified that McMasters wasn't the entire basis for the film. He explained that the film "...was a real mix of all of our university experiences," made with the intent of truly capturing the language of youth. Following the success of "Animal House" the studio would ask Reitman to call them if he had any other ideas for movies. Reitman called up his friends Dan Goldberg and Len Blum — two McMaster alumni — and began crafting "Meatballs." It's fair to say that Reitman's time at McMaster University played a vital role in his future cinematic success.

His first job introduced him to Dan Aykroyd

It helps to have friends, even more so when you can help each other out on the way up the professional ladder, and Ivan Reitman has been associated with many prominent names throughout his career. CITY-TV — born in Toronto — was a station that became known for its programming specifically targeted at younger viewers. This station would serve as the first stop for a very young and very broke Ivan Reitman en route to his future successes. It was during his brief tenure at CITY-TV that Reitman met and befriended another burgeoning young talent, Dan Aykroyd. Much like Reitman, the future writer and comedic actor would find early work at the station as an announcer.

Unfortunately, Reitman's time at the station would be short-lived, as he was fired by co-founder Moses Znaimer only six months after starting. This early affiliation would later manifest in a longtime friendship and many professional collaborations, most notably "Ghostbusters." Following his passing, Aykroyd offered public condolences to Reitman's family and expressed his own sadness regarding his good friend's passing.

Reitman was nearly incarcerated for his filmmaking

Filmmaking is always a gamble, very often a financial one, but very rarely is it ever a legal one. It's not uncommon for filmmakers to have occasional run-ins with the law, but this is a truly comical example. While studying at McMaster University, Reitman took over his school's film club and found a way to make some money from it. He took one of his short films, "Orientation," made for the school's student council, and sold it off for distribution through 20th Century Fox. Following this, Reitman invested the money from the sale into producing a full-length feature titled "The Columbus of Sex."

Released in 1969, the film was a softcore pornographic adaptation of the 19th century novel "My Secret Life." It was only screened twice for McMaster students and a few staff, but it was during the second screening that things went sideways. Police raided the film's second screening, not only confiscating the projection equipment but arresting Reitman as well. After being held for seven months, Reitman was convicted on an obscenity charge and fined $300. This only served as a temporary speed bump for Reitman, who would go on to craft a cavalcade of lewd cinematic comedy.

His first commercial ventures were with David Cronenberg

Ivan Reitman's rise to prominence was given a definite boost through two early collaborations with another Canadian export, director David Cronenberg. The legendary filmmaker is best known for titles such as the 1986 remake of "The Fly" and "A History of Violence," but over his long career Cronenberg has specialized in the horrors of the human body and mind, showcasing both in disturbing detail. Back in the '70s, Cronenberg saw great success with two films — "Shivers" in 1975 and "Rabid" in 1977. Both films are similar in that each was an early foray for Cronenberg into body horror, something he would later become renowned for.

However, the other commonality between both films was the presence of a young up-and-comer named Ivan Reitman, who produced "Shivers" and was an executive producer on "Rabid." This would serve as Reitman's true proving ground in terms of working behind the scenes on legitimate theatrical releases. His big break with the likes of "Animal House" and "Meatballs" would follow soon after, solidifying Reitman's climb to cinematic success.

Reitman had a very successful stint in theater

Ivan Reitman has seen success in other creative mediums besides cinema, most notably the world of theater. This was quite natural, with Reitman having gone to McMaster University to study the fields of music and drama. In 1973, Reitman produced a stage show titled "Spellbound," with a book written by David Cronenberg and music composed by Howard Shore. It was a one-act musical heavily predicated on the illusions of Doug Henning, a former collegiate friend of Reitman's.

After a successful stint at the Royal Alexandra Theater, the play received attention from New York producers. This would result in the play being moved to the bright lights of Broadway — retooled and renamed as "The Magic Show." This new version, complete with a new book and songs, would run for four years and receive several award nominations. This included being nominated for Best Featured Actor and Best Direction in the musical category at the 1975 Tony Awards.

He launched Bill Murray's career

After hitting it big by producing "Animal House" in 1978, Ivan Reitman was approached by major studios for more projects. His next venture, a summer camp movie titled "Meatballs," would see Reitman graduate from being a producer to the director's chair. The film would serve not just as the launching pad for Reitman's run as a Hollywood director but for the cinematic career of one Bill Murray.

While Reitman was interested in Murray for the lead, it was Harold Ramis who played the biggest role in getting him in the door. The two had already worked together previously on the irreverent but widely popular "National Lampoon Radio Hour." Despite being cast for the part, Murray kept them guessing as to the legitimacy of his confirmation until the first day of shooting. Murray brought his now-trademark laid-back and often dry sense of humor to the role, which resulted in big laughs. The film was a huge hit, which ensured future directorial work for Reitman and increasingly bigger roles for Murray. Reitman and Murray would collaborate on many projects after this — including "Stripes" and both "Ghostbusters" movies.

He almost directed a Batman movie

The world of comic book movies has always been an ever-changing and ever-evolving beast, with many possibilities on the table. There have been countless projects, proposed sequels and ambitious adaptations that for various reasons never made it out of development. One such project was a live action "Batman" movie that would have been helmed by none other than Ivan Reitman. It was noted in Tim Burton's book, "Burton on Burton," that before he signed on, both Reitman and Joe Dante were approached to direct "Batman."

The screenplay that was predominately used as a guiding force during this phase of development was written by Tom Mankiewicz. This early version was more in line with the then-public perception of the Dark Knight as a much sillier character. Due to that now defunct perception, it wasn't such a stretch to imagine a comedic director like Reitman behind the camera. Additionally, had Reitman stayed on the project it would have been Bill Murray putting on the cowl of the Caped Crusader. Obviously these plans never came to fruition and Tim Burton would go onto direct the 1989 box office smash.

Reitman's son is also a director

It might be a cliched sentiment but it most definitely applies here –- like father, like son. Following in his father's footsteps, Jason Reitman is also an accomplished writer and director in his own right. Jason was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1977 to his father Ivan and his mother Geneviève Robert. The young lad had an eccentric childhood to say the least, being taken to set even as an infant. As he told the WTF Podcast, Jason — much like his dad — started off making short films during his time at USC.

Jason wouldn't hit the big time until 2005 with his directorial debut, "Thank You For Smoking." His second film, "Juno" –- the story of a girl's teenage pregnancy –- would prove to be an even bigger hit. Through watching his filmography it's very clear that while his dad is an immense influence, Jason has his own unique style. Recently Jason tackled a project very close to home by sitting in the director's chair for "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." It's fitting that Ivan would pass the torch to his own son, as the themes of family and legacy are quite prevalent throughout the film.

His daughter works in television

It would appear lightning has definitely struck more than once in terms of media success for the Reitman children. Catherine Reitman was born in Los Angeles, California in 1981 — four years after her brother Jason — as the second addition to the Reitman family. Much like her father and brother, Catherine would pursue a career in media and entertainment where she's seen much success. She cut her teeth by serving as an occasional co-host for Kevin Smith's "Hollywood Babble-On" podcast whenever Ralph Garman was unavailable. Catherine has also seen some mild success as an actor, having bit parts in films like "Knocked Up" and television shows like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

She would gain further momentum by forming Wolf & Rabbit Entertainment ULC in 2016 with her husband, actor and producer Philip Sternberg. From this would emerge the sitcom "Workin' Moms," which stars Catherine, Jessalyn Wanlim, Dani Kind and Juno Rinaldi. The sitcom has seen much success, receiving many awards and lasting for five seasons, with a sixth slated for this year. Much like her father and her brother, Catherine has also left a definite mark on the ever-changing pop cultural landscape.

He helped fund the Bell Lightbox

It's always great to give back in some way, especially when it supports an art form you've found much success with. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is one of the world's most noteworthy and well-attended film festivals. The event was formed with the mission statement to "transform the way people see the world through film." Many award-winning films, such as "Slumdog Millionaire" and "12 Years a Slave," have garnered early buzz through the festival's People's Choice Awards.

Ivan Reitman definitely understood the importance of the festival, especially considering the significant help he provided it with back in 2007. This contribution came in the form of land that he and his family owned, which would become the TIFF Bell Lightbox theater. The Lightbox has served as the headquarters for the festival since its opening in 2010 and we have Ivan Reitman to thank for it. This not only showed the love that Reitman had for Toronto, but the respect he had for filmmaking as well.