The First Principle
Objects are opportunities.
The greatest misadventure ever involving alcohol and a nontraditional motor vehicle belongs to country-music legend George Jones: When his wife hid his car keys so he wouldn’t drive to the liquor store, he made the eight-mile trip on a John Deere lawnmower. Bill Murray, however, gave the singer a run for his money in August 2007, when he went to the Scandinavian Masters, a golf tournament in Sweden. Late enough on a Sunday night that it was actually Monday morning—around 3:30 A.M.—Murray was spotted in downtown Stockholm, driving a golf cart through the streets. This was a sufficiently unusual mode of transportation that he got stopped by the police on suspicion of drunken driving. (Even if he had wanted to outrun them, he was in a golf cart.)
Apparently the golf cart had been on display all week outside Bill’s hotel—until Bill and some friends commandeered it for a party at the Café Opera nightclub, about a mile away.
The Café Opera manager, Daniel Bodahl, said Bill “was a very good guest.”
The man in charge of the Scandinavian Masters, Fredrik Nilsmark, said, “I don’t hold any grudge against Bill Murray for borrowing our cart for a while.”
Detective-Inspector Christer Holmlund of the Stockholm police force said, “I have done this since ’68 and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Bill’s explanation? He hadn’t personally borrowed the golf cart, he claimed—he had started off as a passenger, being driven to a party. (Which sidestepped the question of whether the people driving him had permission to use that golf cart.) “I was taken to the party by people who did not feel they could drive the golf cart back,” Bill said. “They said, ‘We can’t drive back—we’ll lose our license.’ I said, ‘I won’t lose my license.’ That’s what America used to be famous for: helping out, pitching in.”
So he drove the golf cart through the streets of Stockholm sometime after 3:00 A.M. A “twilight drive,” Bill joked—being so far north, Stockholm has incredibly long days during the summer. He had about six passengers crammed into the back of the cart and he was dropping them off at various destinations, like a bus driver. To complete the surreal scene, two drunk Swedish guys were hanging on to the very back of the cart, singing the 1970 Cat Stevens song “Father and Son.”
The last two people on the cart wanted to be dropped off at a 7-Eleven. “I didn’t know they had 7-Elevens in Stockholm,” Bill commented. In front of the 7-Eleven, the police spotted Bill behind the wheel of the golf cart and called him over, assuming that he must be drunk. Bill’s explanation that he was a golfer proved insufficient.
Holmlund said that when the police officer smelled alcohol, Bill declined to take a Breathalyzer test, “citing American legislation.”
“Or as Bill told the story, he told the police officer, “I’m sorry, but where I come from, you have to act stupid or goofy or hit something or drive erratically or something—you’re just assuming that I’m drunk because I’m driving a golf cart at three-thirty in the morning.”
Holmlund agreed that Bill wasn’t visibly drunk: “There were no obvious signs, like when someone is really tipsy.”
The confrontation migrated to the police station. “They said, ‘We’re going to take your blood now,’ and I said, ‘What if I politely decline?’ ” Then, Bill said, “They introduced me to this guy, Gunther or somebody…who had a smile on his face, but not the smile you want to see.” Bill submitted to Gunther and the police administered a blood test; Bill signed a document conceding that he had been driving under the influence and authorizing a police officer to plead guilty on his behalf if the matter ever came before a judge. Bill was then released and allowed to leave Sweden.
When the blood work ultimately came back, Bill’s blood alcohol content was around 0.03 percent—way below the general American DUI standard of 0.08 percent but above the strict Swedish threshold of 0.02 percent. He had to pay a fine. “For having any amount of alcohol and having a golf cart, you have to pay something,” Bill said. “It’s just a courtesy, I guess.”
Producer Joyce Sloane founded the Second City Touring Company, where the junior performers of Second City would take the group’s Chicago-tested material on the road, with everyone piling into a van. She said that in the early seventies, after the tour hit Notre Dame, one of their performers disappeared for about a week—apparently, Bill Murray had discovered that Saint Mary’s College, a women’s-only college, was next door. Even when Bill stayed with the group, he was a force of chaos.
The troupe did a show at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, which went extremely well: They were even invited to a reception at the president’s home. But as the van pulled away and headed out of town, the entire cast had the giggles. Soon enough, Sloane figured out why: “Bill had taken it upon himself to take the Oriental rug from the president’s home and put it in the back of the van.”
Dan Patrick, revered sportscaster on ESPN and other venues, tells this story: We were doing a pub crawl in New York, an A-to-Z pub crawl. I run into Bill Murray at a place in the Village, and I said, “Billy, we’re going to go on a pub crawl and do you want to go with us?” He said, “Sure.” So we’re walking down the street, there’s Antique Boutique, and he goes, “Hold on.” He runs in and comes out with an orange tie. I said, “What’s this for?” He says, “Didn’t you say on
SportsCenter that the hardest thing about being the coach of Tennessee is trying to find those god-awful orange ties?” He said, “Put it on!” I put it on, we went on the A-to-Z pub crawl, we got to the letter L…and there’s a street cleaner, the street sweeper; the machine is on. And Bill goes, “What are you thinking?” I go, “I don’t know. Am I thinking what you’re thinking?” He said, “Let’s steal this thing.” I wasn’t thinking that. I wasn’t. I was thinking, let’s get to the next bar. I didn’t even know the thing was running, and Billy goes, “Let’s get in it.” So he starts to climb up in the street cleaner. And this guy runs out and he’s like, “What are you doing? I’ll lose my job!” And he sees it’s Bill and I think Bill said, “Don’t worry.” He said, “Can I just take it down the street a little bit?” So we just inched along like a tank down the street.
Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer of Saturday Night Live, analyzed Bill Murray’s location in the comedy firmament: “So much of my generation’s approach to comedy was a reaction against the neediness of performers. When Bill was onstage, he didn’t much care whether they liked him. Because of that, he had enormous integrity.”
Michaels discovered, however, that integrity wasn’t the same thing as reliability. In the summer of 1979, Michaels needed to get his Volkswagen Super Beetle from Los Angeles to New York; the producer had left it behind when he relocated to Manhattan for SNL. Bill volunteered to drive the car across the country—and he did, but on his own timetable. “Remember, I was his boss,” Michaels said. “Occasionally I would hear from Bill on the road. He’d be in Florida, and I’d say, ‘But, Bill—is Florida on the way?’ Or a week later, he’d be in Aspen and I’d say, ‘But, Bill…’ ” Bill may not have treated the driving mission with the focus Michaels expected, but he did ultimately deliver the car, and with a bonus. The car arrived weeks late, and had accumulated hundreds of unexpected miles on the odometer—but Bill had installed a top-notch stereo.
In 1985, Trine Licht was a young Danish woman living in New York City, delighted to have gotten a job as an assistant at Punch Productions, Dustin Hoffman’s personal production company. She worked in the Directors’ Guild building, on 57th Street, helping to find novels and screenplays that Hoffman might want to star in or direct. After she had been on the job for a few months, she had a surprise visitor in her office: Bill Murray poked his head in and said hello. (Hoffman and Murray were friendly, having recently played roommates in Tootsie.) Bill became a semi-regular visitor. Licht said, “He had an office down the hall but was not always there, only between shooting films. I think he read screenplays and novels there; maybe he did other things too. But he did occasionally ask, ‘Have you read this’ or ‘Have you read that,’ and he always looked like he was reading.”
One summer day, Bill dropped by Licht’s office, as was his custom—only this time, he asked, “Want some popcorn?”
When she said that she did, Bill disappeared. He was gone for long enough that Licht assumed he had forgotten about the popcorn. But when he came back, he didn’t just have a bucket of popcorn: He pulled a cart full of warm popcorn into the office. Bill had gone down to the street, negotiated with a popcorn vendor, and bought his whole operation.
Copyright © 2016 by Gavin Edwards. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.