The stage for the infamous beef between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase was set with the latter’s rise as the standout performer of the inaugural season of Saturday Night Live in 1975.

Then known simply as Saturday Night, the show began featuring Chase’s signature pratfalls every week, and with his deadpan delivery and good looks, he became the focus of media attention, with New YorkMagazine calling him “the heir apparent to Johnny Carson” in a December cover story.

This sparked resentment among the other “not ready for prime time players,” including John Belushi, another prodigious Saturday Night talent. The situation was compounded by Chase’s prickly personality, his quick putdowns often coming across as mean-spirited and the perception that the rush of fame was going to his head.

Chase was praised for his work on ‘Saturday Night,’ while Murray had to beg the audience for a laugh

After Chase won a pair of Emmys in May 1976, he set about securing a new contract with NBC. He eventually negotiated his way out of Saturday Night altogether, catching executive producer Lorne Michaels by surprise, and returned for a couple of shows in the fall before vanishing for the promise of prime-time specials and the greener pastures of Hollywood.

A few months later, Murray made his Saturday Night debut. Unlike the man he replaced, audiences were cold to his act, particularly after he flubbed a few lines in early appearances. Reportedly in danger of being fired, Murray resorted to an awkward solo sketch in which he made a fundraising-type plea for people to begin laughing at his jokes.

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But the newcomer eventually found his footing, beginning with his goofy Nick the Lounge Singer, and by the third season of the now renamed Saturday Night Live, he was tight with Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radner and the rest of a feisty cast that had proved the show could do just fine without the star power of Chase.

Bill Murray, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Chevy Chase during the "Great Moments of War" skit on 'Saturday Night Live' on February 18, 1978.

(From L) Bill Murray, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Chevy Chase during the “Great Moments of War” skit on ’Saturday Night Live’ on February 18, 1978.
Photo: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Tensions flared after Chase returned to host ‘SNL’ in 1978

In a curious move, Chase was invited back to host the show he left on poor terms in February 1978. According to Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad, the actor quickly realized that he had stepped into an environment that was “poisoned” against him. He did little to rebuild any goodwill, bossing people around and attempting to wrest back his old “Weekend Update” segment from its current host, Jane Curtin. Meanwhile, drug use in the studio was rampant, with Chase admitting he overdid things out of the misery he was enduring.

Murray, who had known Chase since they worked at National Lampoon together a few years earlier, seemed eager to channel the resentment to a climax. Late in the week, he brashly addressed the elephant in the room by telling Chase that everyone hated him. This ignited a shouting match, with the tension continuing through dress rehearsal. Afterward, Murray zeroed in on Chase’s well-known marital discord with Jacqueline Carlin, telling him, “Go f**k your wife, she needs it.” Chase, in turn, noted that Murray’s pock-marked face looked like a landing spot for Neil Armstrong.

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Just before the show was set to air, Chase confronted Murray in Belushi’s dressing room and challenged him to a fight. Murray lunged and Belushi leaped between the two larger men, drawing most of the punishment as the fists were flying.

Almost immediately after they were pulled apart, Chase took the stage to deliver his monologue to the happy, clueless audience. He later claimed he wasn’t rattled by the fight, though his ex-castmates reportedly noticed a clear difference in his normally cocksure demeanor. Regardless, the ratings for SNL that week were the show’s highest to date.

Chase and Murray buried the hatchet while shooting ‘Caddyshack’

A year and a half after their backstage brawl, Chase and Murray were among the cast members summoned to the Rolling Hills golf club in South Florida to begin production on the comedy Caddyshack.

According to Chris Nashawaty’s Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story, the behind-the-scenes action was fueled by the same sort of substance use that filled the SNL studios, only with more of a fun, getaway-with-the-boys sort of vibe. For Chase, dealing with a bitter divorce and still adjusting to the trappings of fame, this atmosphere was particularly refreshing.

Murray showed up later than the others, in part because his role, of groundskeeper Carl Spackler, was still largely undefined in the script. But he did such an impressive job of pulling the disheveled, Dalai Lama-quoting character together, that director Harold Ramis decided to give him additional screen time.

That included a scene with Chase, the same man he had tried to pummel a few years earlier. Murray wasn’t thrilled with this arrangement, but he agreed to fly back down to Florida for a few days so the group could hammer something out that made sense within the context of the film.

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Ultimately, the men were left to ad-lib a scene in which Chase, as charming but flaky tycoon Ty Webb, tries to play his way through Spackler’s quarters in a round of night golf. In their element, the two comedians brought out the best in one another, their hard feelings evaporating through their shared desire to push the limits of their characters and strike comedic gold.

Their efforts worked, as Caddyshack became a box office hit and paved the way for both Chase and Murray to become A-list stars in the decade that followed.

Murray and Chase remain on good terms

Years later, Murray insisted he harbored no ill will toward Chase when reminded of the bad blood that once simmered.

“It was really a Hollywood fight, a ‘Don’t touch my face!’ kind of thing,” he recalled, downplaying their fracas to Empire in 2012. “It was an Oedipal thing, a rupture. Because we all felt mad he had left us, and somehow I was the anointed avenging angel, who had to speak for everyone. But Chevy and I are friends now. It’s all fine.”

And Chase offered similar friendly words for his one-time rival.”We got over everything,” he told Nashawaty. “I have nothing but admiration and affection for Bill. He still can be a surly character, to say the least. But ultimately he’s a good guy. Even though I’m the number one star in the movie under the title, I’ll always think of Caddyshack as Billy’s movie.”