Ivan Reitman’s body of work, which ranged from frathouse antics in Animal House to the supernatural laughs of Ghostbusters, reshaped big screen comedy with a distinctly Canadian inflection, say colleagues and contemporaries.
The Toronto-raised filmmaker and producer’s impact on Canadian entertainment lives on through his philanthropy and the family dynasty he helmed, they say, as well as his lasting influence on the sense of humour of a generation.
Reitman died peacefully in his sleep Saturday night at his home in Montecito, Calif., his family told The Associated Press. He was 75.
News of his death sparked an outpouring of tributes on Monday, including from his son, director Jason Reitman, who mourned the loss of his “hero.”
“All I want is the chance to tell my father one more story,” tweeted the younger Reitman, who inherited his father’s supernatural comedy franchise as the director of 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
“He came from a family of (Holocaust) survivors and turned his legacy into laughter…. Enjoy his movies and remember his storytelling gifts. Nothing would make him happier.”
Born in Slovakia, the elder Reitman and his family came to Canada as refugees in 1950 when he was four. He studied at Hamilton’s McMaster University, where he started directing several short films before moving to Los Angeles.
A director and producer of screen and stage, Reitman first made his mark on the big screen as a producer of two films by Canadian horror master David Cronenberg, 1975’s Shivers and 1977’s Rabid.
But Reitman’s impact was most pronounced in producing Hollywood comedy classics.
He rose to prominence producing 1978’s National Lampoon’s Animal House and then directing a string of other comedies, including Meatballs, Stripes, the first two Ghostbusters films, and Kindergarten Cop.
Elan Mastai vividly recalls watching Ghostbusters for the first time in a Vancouver theatre in 1984 — and then seeing it again every weekend after that for a total of 14 viewings on the big screen that summer.
The This Is Us screenwriter and producer said he’s seen the film many more times in decades since, and to this day, he marvels at how the jokes become funnier with each rewatch.
“He has what we think of today as a very classic directorial style, but that’s because his movies set the template for what we think of as a successful and effective comedy,” said Mastai.
He credited Reitman with mainstreaming a Canadian style of comedy that emphasizes compassion over cruelty while maintaining a “sardonic nonchalance in the face of absurdity.”
“He’s one of those key figures that gave Canadians confidence in the global appeal of our comic sensibility,” said Mastai, adding that Reitman helped carve a path for Canadian creatives who wanted to maintain their connections to their home country while striving for Hollywood success.
Canadian actor and writer Jack Blum, who starred as Spaz in the summer camp comedy Meatballs, remembered Reitman as a consummate collaborator who gave his actors free rein to find the best laugh.
“He was very, very loose — terrific sense of comedy. He gave us a lot of freedom. We would develop the script together,” said Blum, now the executive director of Reel Canada.
“Ivan’s real comfort and ability to let people shine, do what they wanted to do and have fun doing it … is a real warm and nostalgic feeling. And that was also because we were all having the time of our lives, and he filmed it.”
Canadian actor-comedian Dan Aykroyd, one of the original Ghostbusters, called Reitman a “friend, collaborator, champion and one of the last great creative talents of the big screen era.”
“Now on Thursdays who am I gonna call?” Aykroyd said in a statement to The Canadian Press.
Kumail Nanjiani, Mindy Kaling, Rainn Wilson, Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and Ron Howard were among the celebrities who paid their respects on social media, many citing Reitman as a formative influence on their own comedic stylings.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who worked with Reitman on Kindergarten Cop, Twins and Junior, said the director helped him escape being pigeonholed as an action hero by seeing the comedic potential behind his brawny physique.