We lose Maurice Bessinger and Harold Ramis on the same day


Which means nothing, of course — I mean, the fact that they died on the same day means nothing; obviously their respective deaths mean a great deal to their families — but it struck me as an odd juxtaposition.

Maurice Bessinger, purveyor of yellow barbecue and “South Will Rise Again” tracts was 83. The man who gave us Egon “Print is Dead” Spengler and Army recruit Russell Ziskey (and as a writer and director, such gems as “Groundhog Day” and “Analyze This”) was only 69. And yes, my very first thought on the latter’s passing was that maybe collecting spores, molds and fungus was not the healthiest hobby. I mean that fondly, and intend no disrespect.

In Maurice’s behalf, I’ll note that his barbecue was my youngest daughter’s favorite. As the baby of the family, she had trouble understanding why the rest of us preferred not to give him our custom while that flag was flying at his restaurants. But now my daughter is off in Thailand with the Peace Corps, so I don’t think her BBQ preference limited her horizons or worldview any.

As for why the juxtaposition is notable, well… Maurice was a man who went out of his way to stand up for outmoded ideas, a man who insisted on pushing a discredited worldview even when it drove customers away. Ramis, on the other hand, was a harbinger of a new ironic meme in our popular culture, the smirking wise guy who poked gentle, mocking fun at our social foibles. One insisted on respect for ideas that had never deserved it; the other urged us not to take ourselves so seriously.

For what that’s worth…

39 thoughts on “We lose Maurice Bessinger and Harold Ramis on the same day

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I was happy to find this link to a story of how “Groundhog Day” found resonance among believers in several religions.

    For my part, I saw the movie after my then-pastor, Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, delivered an entire homily about it. His point in recommending it to us was that it shows a man who can’t escape the things that confine and drag him down until he learns to put others completely at the center of his life, rather than his own desires. Which is kind of what Christianity is about. And since it also intersects Jewish and Buddhist belief, maybe that one Hollywood comedy gave us a slice of ultimate truth…

  2. bud

    maybe that one Hollywood comedy gave us a slice of ultimate truth…

    Or maybe it was just a fun movie.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    I believe that people who think they aren’t putting themselves first are just deluded about how manipulative they are….

  4. Bryan Caskey

    Once a week, without even knowing it, I probably randomly quote something that Ramis wrote. The man had an enormous amount of funny in him. When “Stripes” is the fifth or sixth funniest movie you wrote, you’re a genius.

    Bessinger…meh. Leaving his politics aside, I’m not that fond of his BBQ sauce. I’m a pepper vinegar guy.

      1. Barry

        I liked Maurice’s BBQ plenty. He also made some really good hamburgers- freshly ground each day. Liked thiri fries too.

      2. Silence

        I grew up as a Memphis-style BBQ fan, and it’s still my all-time favorite. Maurice’s is the best in Columbia, though. Yummy, yummy for my tummy. Piggie Park’s bugers and chicken tenders are fantastic as well. My condolences to the Bessenger family on their loss.

        1. Doug Ross

          Maurice’s was the first BBQ I had when we moved to Columbia in 1990. Still my favorite even though my family won’t allow me to go there any more.

          It’s always been puzzling to me how they managed to keep the store on Two Notch Road in northeast Columbia open. I never see any cars in the parking lot.

          Also I’m pretty sure II have seen several black employees in his restaurants. Are they self-hating people or might Maurice’s ideas be a little more complex than “he’s a racist”?

          1. Silence

            Maurice’s company has reformed in recent years. They aren’t racists anymore, even if Maurice once was.

    1. JesseS

      It has become so cool to hate mustard based BBQ sauce in SC. I haven’t met anyone in the last 5 years or so who admits they like it. “Carolina Gold” is pretty much a stand in for racism. BBQ Hash gets it even worse. If they want it, they want Brunswick Stew instead. All kinda sad. At least oyster roasts are still cool.

      I may have mentioned it before, but my grandfather was in a bidding war with someone who might or might not have been a local BBQ baron for a product that might or might not be one of his better selling items. I had the chance to spend some time around the kitchen of the butcher’s sister who sold it and get a few glimpses.

      For all of the talk about stuff being passed down from the servants of French kings or whatever, it turns out there was just one ingredient that separated it from all the others. Just a little twist that every lady in a Lutheran church basement could easily guess.

  5. Mab

    “[ A Christian] learns to put others completely at the center of his life, rather than his own desires…”


    I always enjoy hearing a Catholic being tolerant of “others”

    It is truly a reprieve from the other pat [Protestant] script: “Jesus will forgive you for being so messed up.”

  6. CJWatson

    I haven’t had Maurice’s BBQ in many years…perhaps it’s time to return. IMHO, his BBQ is good. His hash is the gold standard of hashes. As for Harold Ramis, he will be greatly missed. Russell Ziskey is now reunited with Dewey Oxburger and SGT Hulka.

  7. Michael

    In the paragraph above regarding your youngest. I thought about the song from South Pacific, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. Our generation has a responsibility to our kids and grands, and sometimes we fail miserably in that responsibility because of we were taught hate. MB grew up in a time of hate and those lessons stuck with him. The cycle of hate continues through each successive generation, but I hope with time those lessons of hate will fade to be replace with understanding and compassion.

    You and John Monk have had some of kindest yet best direct comments about MB.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah… well… I always sort of thought that song, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” propagated something that well-meaning folks of a liberal persuasion believe as an axiom, but which isn’t true…

      Racial prejudice — which can in some cases reach the point of being “hatred,” but most situations we talk about seem to fall far short of that most extreme emotion — seems to me more instinctive in the human animal. I suspect that we have to learn NOT to have a strong aversion to people who strike us immediately as being different. It goes back to the dawn of time — it was a survival instinct to be wary of those who are obviously not of one’s tribe. To become cosmopolitan, to become someone who takes different skin colors and clothing and accents and cultural practices as a matter of course, and isn’t alarmed by them, you have to have experiences that get you past that instinctive reflex to shy away from the different.

      Anyone else think this makes sense?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Another point about that overused word, “hate.” In my experience, the way that racial or cultural alienation tends to manifest itself in public life today doesn’t come close to “hatred.” People tend to use that word to demonize others, and it should be used less.

        What I tend to see, instead of hatred, is indifference — people of one group just really not giving a damn about what concerns people of other groups. This has manifested itself in our politics in large part because of race-based districting. Elected representatives tend to represent people who look like them, and just really don’t have any political motivation to care about things that are important to people of other groups.

        Among whites or other majority groups, this indifference can be pretty vehement, and can become quite angry. I’m thinking of someone who says, or thinks, “I’m sick and tired of THOSE PEOPLE always going on about X or Y…”

        But usually the relevant term is indifference, frequently paired with resentment — but not hatred.

      2. Phillip

        But it depends entirely in what way “difference” is perceived. I’ve noticed this very closely in my own son, who in all discussions about other kids in his preschool and then later in kindergarten and first grade, described all kinds of differences he perceived in other kids (vis-a-vis himself) but none of which had to do with skin color. When he was finally given lots of info in school (this month especially, a little bit last year too) about Black History Month, then he did finally look around and these were the first times in his life he ever made reference to somebody being “brown” or “white.”

        When he was 2, 3, 4…every time I put a tie on to go teach at the university, my son would point at me. laugh, and say, “Obama! Obama!” For him, Obama was the guy he saw on TV wearing a tie. So I was Obama. He didn’t point at African-American men on the street and say “Obama.” That one man has brown skin and one white skin was no different to him than that one person had blond hair and somebody else was bald or had black hair, etc.

        So when you speak of an instinctive “aversion” or even uncomfortableness around those who are “different,” I’m not sure I buy that because the field in which “difference” is defined is somehow inevitably taught. That’s not just by parents of course, it’s the whole culture, society, the burdens and echoes of history.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I suggest your son was exposed to integrated groups, in which no notice was taken of skin color, before he was old enough to think about differences.

          If he had been in whites-only situations, the first time he encountered a black person, he’d have noticed. The human brain is just wired to do that. It sees novelties as Virtual Front Page news stories — “This just in — I’ve never seen skin that color before…”

          It’s about expectations.

          For instance, when I see tall women — 5’9″ or 5’10” — I’m sometimes surprised to stand next to them and realize that they’re still shorter than I am. I see them as towering because they exceed the height I expect to see in women. “Tall,” in my mind, is taller than I am… I experience a moment of confusion, which is silly. But our brains are always running these little algorithms built on preconceived notions, even when they’ve been often disproved…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            No, that makes sense. You’re starting to get into the idea of the ways that our brain works. It kind of goes into “autopilot” on some things that we’re used to, and we can perform many tasks without thinking about them — until something different comes along — and then it’s a shock to the system.

            Example: There are tons of car accidents with motorcycles because the driver never “sees” the motorcycle, and just turns right into the motorcycle’s path. It’s not that the car driver didn’t actually see the motorcyclist. They probably did. It’s just that we’re not really used to looking for motorcycles. We’re used to looking for big, easy-to-see cars, and motorcycles don’t fit into that category.

            It’s the brain’s way of processing a complicated task that we do everyday, and if you just allow your subconscious to go along, you’ll miss a motorcycle. That’s why you have to really focus.

      3. Doug Ross

        And then there’s this from the Howard Jackson press conference today:

        Chris Winston ‏@ChrisatTheState 2h
        Jackson: After deputy director left post, Jackson found candidate and made offer. Was asked by board what color candidate was.

          1. Barry

            Doesn’t matter. Nothing will change in Richland County because folks like Sen Jackson don’t want things to change-

            and apparently no one really cares either.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Probably not — unless there was some context for the remark that is missing here.

            Of course, nothing will change, because the normal dynamics for keeping public officials in line don’t apply to the election commission — this person doesn’t answer to voters, or to anyone elected by voters. So… no consequences…

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            It’s amazing, in this day and age, how many people think a remark like that is called for.

            It’s shocking when you run into it.

            I remember an incident a few years ago… let me see if I can describe this without giving away who it was… at the newspaper… An editor came into a room with people from various other departments in the building, and announced joyfully that “We’ve hired a (blank) editorI” (I don’t remember the exact position.)

            Our HR director said, “Wonderful! Tell us about this person…”

            The editor said, “Well, she’s an African-American woman!” And after several seconds, it became painfully clear that THAT was all the editor had to say about this new hire. Eventually, the HR director said, “I meant, um, you know, like name and where from and background and experience and qualifications and accomplishments…”

            Unembarrassed, the editor said Oh, sure, and rattled off some info about the candidate that told us a little bit about her as a professional.

            Now… you might be inclined to condemn that editor for superficiality, but let me say in her defense that it is very hard to identify and recruit good minority candidates. So when you overcome that, you can feel a certain triumph.

            But it was still a weird scene…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I don’t know, but I need to write a post, when I get time, about that great scene in “House of Cards” when Frank is confronted by a Confederate re-enactor who is portraying — you might even say “channeling” — Frank’s great-great-great grandfather…

      That impressed me more than anything else I’ve seen in that show… It really freaked out Francis, who thinks himself far to modern to think about things like that…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I liked that scene, but I’m still not sure what Underwood meant to convey by burying his Citadel ring. Was that as a tribute to his ancestor? If so, it seems an odd one. He did it semi-secretly, or at least he didn’t make a public show of it. It was a private moment that only we (as the viewer) saw.

        I’m just not sure what the gesture means to Underwood.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yes! I said the same on another thread

          Was he EMBRACING tradition and heritage by burying the ring, or REJECTING them? The encounter with his “ancestor” had freaked him out, but I’m not sure why it would have caused him to bury the ring.

          I also had a practical objection to it: That ring isn’t going to remain in the ground there. This was a ground-breaking. It will either be dug right back up by someone who will pocket it (or return it, if it’s engraved with personal info), or will be hauled off with construction debris. It’s not going to lie there in the soil with his great-great-great granddaddy.

          I immediately wondered whether that very ring wasn’t going to crop up later.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I was also thrown a bit by it being his great-great-GREAT grandfather.

            Isn’t Frank about my age? And it was my great-great (only two greats, not three) grandfathers who served in the war.

            No way am I a full generation older than he is…

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            But generations get compressed in some families and extended in others. My father was an uncle when he was born. My first cousin’s grandchildren are about my age.

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    You know, after I posted this, I got to thinking it would be cool to have a daily “compare and contrast” feature on the blog every day, in tribute to all those blue books we filled up back in college (plying the Golden Shovel!)

    It would be an interesting exercise. Or at least, it conceivably COULD be…

Comments are closed.