This is a powerful day in the calendar, the emotional calendar, of Ben Stein. For many years now, Ivan Reitman has been one of the most powerful names in Hollywood. He had all of the Ghostbusters movies, Stripes, Animal House, Meatballs, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Dave, Father’s Day, Space Jam, Beethoven, Road Trip, and many others. He was kind enough to put me in a few of these, in incredibly trivial parts, but still parts.
I mostly knew him because his casting genius — and I do mean “genius” — was my bosom buddy, Michael Chinich, as close a friend as I have in this world.
His “backstory” is the perfect tale of what freedom means. His parents were born in what was then Czechoslovakia. They were Jews. When Hitler seized Czechoslovakia, Ivan’s parents were forced to flee for their lives.
The closest open border was the USSR, so Ivan’s family fled there with the Gestapo right behind him. His parents survived the war. But they wound up under the iron heel of Josef Stalin. Somehow, they managed to escape and make their way to Canada. Despite the obvious truth that English was Ivan’s third language, at least, he became a super successful comedy writer for Canadian humor magazines, then for Canadian humor TV, and then a stupendously successful writer and director and producer for worldwide comedy.
This man, this stupefying brilliant man, would have been just an anonymous ash in a death camp, or a slave laborer if he and his family had not come to the West.
The speakers at the memorial were fantastically rich, successful men and women. They talked about how smart Ivan was. But what no one but his son even mentioned was that the secret sauce in Ivan’s work was freedom. It would not have happened in Bolshevik Eastern Europe. It would not have happened if his country had been under constant bombardment by Putin’s Russia. It could only have happened in the Jeffersonian Republic we are all so blessed to have inherited.
And Ivan made that an even freer republic. There was no PC in his work. There was just freedom and imagination and laughter.
I imagine that in 30 years, by which time I will be long, long dead, there will be no freedom of laughter, freedom to smile, freedom to be amused, in the USA or maybe anywhere on earth.
The memorial was sacred to me for that reason. Ivan was a man who brought happiness because he lived in an era where laughter was still allowed to live.
When I recounted it to my wife last night, we both sobbed.