Inside the Making of Groundhog Day: Why It Wasn't Just the Groundhog Who Wanted to Bite Bill Murray

Revisiting the classic 1993 comedy—including a famous rumor started by the late Harold Ramis—on its 25th anniversary

By Rebecca Macatee Feb 12, 2018 11:00 AMTags

If you say something is "like Groundhog Day," most people know what you mean: It feels like the same exact thing is happening over and over again. We owe this now universally recognized turn of phrase to the Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, which premiered 25 years ago today (or 9,125 days ago, if you're counting). 

In the 1993 film, Murray plays Phil Connors, a callous weatherman who, after being dispatched to cover the Feb. 2 festivities in Punxsutawney, Pa., finds himself living the same day over and over again. No one else—including Rita, the producer he's fruitlessly trying to woo played by Andie MacDowell—seems to be experiencing this extreme déjà vu, and not surprisingly, it leads to a heck of a lot of existential angst for Phil.

But after a lot—as in years' worth—of self-reflection, the formerly self-involved Phil has his It's a Wonderful Life-style realization: Putting others before himself is the only way to lead a truly useful life.

Not to mention the only way to get to Feb. 3.

26 Times Bill Murray Was Just the Best

Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays interminably persistent insurance salesman Ned Ryerson in the movie, is convinced this underlying theme has something to do with Groundhog Day's longevity, which includes a Tony-nominated Broadway musical adaptation that premiered last year.

"What Phil does to change his life is that, instead of trying to get what he wants, he tried to be of service to others," Tobolowsky explains to E! News exclusively. "That's the only thing that amuses him—it's not money, it's not women, it's nothing else. It's being of service." 

This message resonates with people of different faiths all around the world, but Groundhog Day producer Trevor Albert tells E! News "there was no specific intent" to include a religious metaphor. 

Tri Star Pictures

"Early on after the movie came out, we started getting letters saying, 'Oh, my gosh, the Buddhist community thanks you for making this movie,'" Albert recalls. "Then you know, a week later, we got mail from a rabbi, saying, 'What a beautiful way to honor the Jewish religion'...and over the years, lots of different spiritual groups have seen it as an example of some form of their teachings, and how could we not love that? You couldn't ask for more, and I'd love to say we intended it, but we didn't."

Albert says he and Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis, who died in 2014, "loved the idea that people brought their own sort of analysis and perspective" to the film. 

Snapped on Set: Movies

"After a movie is made—especially this movie—people have lots of theories and imagine lots of intent behind it," he says. "[They theorize about] how many days it was, what the intention was, was it a religious movie and all that stuff—we just sort of enjoyed sitting back and listening to people, you know, bring their own perspective like that—[like with] a good piece of artwork."

Columbia Pictures Corporation

There is one enduring rumor from the set, though, that's apparently just not true: Murray wasn't bitten by the groundhog during filming, nor did he have to get a rabies shot. 

"Yeah, the biting part, I think, is an urban legend," says Albert. Ramis is the one who told Premiere magazine that the groundhog bit Murray twice; but, as Albert surmises, "[the] difficult relationship with the groundhog and Bill is probably the true description."

Columbia Pictures Corporation

Then again, he clarified laughingly, "I didn't say it didn't try and bite him. I think it wanted to bite him. Lots of people wanted to bite him." 

But not everyone. Some of the film's stars were just eager to prove their mettle while working with a couple of comedy legends. Chris Elliott, who plays cameraman Larry (and Phil's frequent verbal punching bag), tells E! News that filming "was nerve-wracking, because I never thought I was doing a good job. Not [because] of him, just because I wanted so much to impress [Murray] and Harold Ramis."

Columbia Pictures Corporation

At that point, Murray and Ramis had worked together on a number of famous films, including Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. But at some point in the making of Groundhog Day, the longtime friends had a falling out that caused a decades-long rift between them.

"They made up," says Elliott, referring to the once dynamic duo's reconciliation before Ramis' passing, "but it's funny, I was not aware at all [of tension between them on set]. Nobody was talking about that, and people talk on sets...You know, I saw Bill make some snide comments here or there that were funny, but I honestly didn't find that out until many years later that they were having a hard time with each other."

Columbia Pictures

Toblowsky was similarly in the dark. "I was aware, yeah, there was definite tension between Bill and everybody on the set," he says. "I can't think of a film I've ever been on where there wasn't that tension, and I always feel that that kind of tension is a good thing as long as it's professional, and not personal...Now, I had no idea— at least from the stories I've read—that it grew to such an extent that there was a rift between Harold and Bill."

Albert chalks it up to the stress that comes with making a movie. "Like lots of creative endeavors, [it's] a struggle," he says. "When you take a group of people to a distant location and work long hours in cold weather, and you have a concept that you're not sure, 'Is this gonna work or not? Should it go this way, or should it go that way?' I just think it made—you know, you hear about people falling in love on movie sets, and you hear about people getting in horrible fights. The relationship between Harold and Bill was a struggle on the movie, and I think part of it was just because of the heat of battle—the heat of creative battle."

Columbia Pictures Corporation

Regardless, Groundhog Day was a critical and commercial success. In 2006 it was added to the United States National Film Registry as a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" piece of work. And it only burnishes the film's legacy to know that Murray and Ramis made amends before it was too late. 

After Ramis passed away in 2014 Murray issued a brief statement—"He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him," but then he made a point of honoring his pal with an unscripted shout-out at the 2014 Oscars. 

"Oh, we forgot one," Murray said while reading the nominees for Best Cinematography. "Harold Ramis, for Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day."

Sounds as though someone woke up that morning determined to make the day about someone else.