Suppose you're a movie star high atop Hollywood's A-list and you're looking for just the right person to direct your next comedy blockbuster. Who you gonna call? Ivan Reitman.
The Czech-born director/producer, who immigrated to Canada in 1950 at the age of four, has reigned as Hollywood's king of comedy for nearly 25 years. He's counted alongside Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis as a member of Variety magazine's tiny coterie of box-office magicians known as the "Billion Dollar Directors" club.
Reitman launched his career while attending Hamilton's McMaster University, directing several short films for television. His first full-length project was a live TV series called Greed, emceed by a newcomer named Dan Aykroyd.
In 1969, Reitman made an unexpected splash with his initial foray into feature-film production. The movie, based on the somewhat risqué Victorian novel My Secret Life, was The Columbus Of Sex.
Soon after it was completed, Reitman and his business partner, Dan Goldberg, were arrested and, despite loud protests from the arts community, became the first Canadians convicted under this country's decency laws. They were fined $300 and given a year's probation. Unabashed, Reitman has continued to push the boundaries of comedy films ever since.During their trial, Reitman and Goldberg were offered $175,000 by MGM to make the comedy Foxy Lady, which marked Reitman's directorial debut. After directing another low-budget comedy, Cannibal Girls, he achieved significant success as a stage director and producer. His show Spellbound evolved into the Broadway smash The Magic Show, starring Doug Henning, his off-Broadway production of The National Lampoon Show was a big hit, and he earned a Tony nomination for his direction of the Broadway musical Merlin.
Soon, however, Reitman was back in Canada and back in the film business. He teamed with young screenwriter-director David Cronenberg to produce his first two mainstream horror movies, Shivers and Rabid.
Eager to return to comedy, Reitman next produced what would turn out to be one of the most popular films of all time, National Lampoon's Animal House, the ribald comedy that introduced movie audiences to John Belushi.
Animal House ignited a string of Reitman hits that has continued, almost unabated, to this day. His enviable list of credits includes Stripes, Meatballs, Dave, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Space Jam, Beethoven, Howard Stern's Private Parts, Road Trip, Six Days, Seven Nights and the 1984 mega-hit Ghostbusters.
Besides playing instrumental roles in launching the film careers of Aykroyd, Belushi, Bill Murray and Tom Green, Reitman has proven himself particularly adept at luring fine comedic performances from actors better known for their dramatic work, including Robert Redford (Legal Eagles), Sigourney Weaver (Dave) and Emma Thompson (Junior). At the top of the list is Arnold Schwarzenegger, transformed by Reitman from seemingly immutable action hero to capable comedian in Twins, Kindergarten Cop, and Junior.
The father of two college-aged children, Ivan Reitman has sustained a 30-year career by sticking to a formula that others would be wise to emulate: He makes movies to attract audiences, not Oscars.
Still, the last three decades have not been void of accolades. Twice honoured with the People's Choice Award, he was also named director of the year by the National Association of Theater Owners, in 1984, and received a special achievement award at the Genies the following year.
When asked during an online interview with The Onion to explain the enduring popularity of Animal House, Ghostbusters, and so many of his other films, Reitman said: "I've always believed in populating my films with characters who we like, who we have some warmth for, who have warmth for each other, who we would like to hang out with, who we emulate in one way or another. It's not that they all get along, or that they aren't bad people or people we make fun of. But at the core, there's a kind of sweetness."