sports films are ubiquitous in the movie world today, this wasn’t always the
case. The ability of a sports story to
transcend its roots in a game and become a triumphant story of the human spirit
was arguably first done in the 1942 film The Pride of The Yankees. A new book
about this film came out in June of 2017 from Hachette Books, written by
Richard Sandomir: The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic. This work is an impressive look at not only the making of the
film, but also its cultural impact.
of The Yankees is an ultimate hero story: the immigrant son who has a natural
ability in a truly American past time only to be cut down in his prime by a
fatal disease. It may sound like a natural for the film studios to develop, but
as Sandomir points out in his book, this wasn’t always the case. Sam Goldwyn
had to be convinced to make a movie about baseball. What finally moved the
mogul to go ahead with the project was seeing film of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest
Man” speech on July 4, 1939 in Yankee stadium. The connection was with the
human side of the story, never with the sport.
reading the making of chapters of any book that discusses a film in detail,
it’s always interesting to see who emerges as the main characters in the story
behind the story. Since this film was about Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” ball
player takes center stage. His strong-willed, independent widow Eleanor
Twitchell is just as an important character, if in fact not more so than Gehrig
himself. As the author lays out, it is Eleanor who made sure that Lou’s memory
stayed alive after his death. Another star that emerges behind the scenes is
Paul Gallico. Although Gallico is best known for his later career as the author
of The Poseidon Adventure and other novels, he was a sports writer during the
1930s and as such became a chronicler of Lou Gehrig’s career. His 1941 book
about the athlete, Lou Gehrig: The Pride of The Yankees became the official
source material for the movie.
as the makers of the movie had to deal with the conundrum of trying to figure
out how much actual baseball to have in the film, the author of a book about a
baseball movie has to balance those two seemingly opposite entities. Sandomir
does a good job in striking just such a balance; the book is much more about
the movie and it’s impact than it is about America’s favorite pastime. This is
an impressive accomplishment when one realizes that the author was a sports
reporter for the New York Times for many years and must have had to resist the
impulse to discuss in heavy detail the intricacies of the sport. When reading
the book, one need only have a very basic knowledge of baseball, and even if a
reader doesn’t possess this information, they should take comfort in realizing
that they still probably know more about baseball than Samuel Goldwyn, the
producer of the movie.
Other sections of this book discuss Babe
Ruth’s career on film and playing himself in Pride; whether or not Gary Cooper,
a natural right hander, actually batted left handed in his baseball scenes or
if the filmmakers reversed the negative; the real life friction between
Gehrig’s widow and his mother and how this was tapered down for the film. An interesting later chapter describes Gary
Cooper on a USO tour in late 1943 in the South Pacific and, after a big demand
from the troops, re-created Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man” speech to the best
of his memory.
The Pride of The Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary
Cooper, and The Making of a Classic is an excellent book and a great look at
the making of what may just be the greatest sports movie of all time.
It started with a rather innocuous post on the Cinema Retro Facebook page of the paperback movie tie-in novel for "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" along with a notation that we missed the era in which so many new films spawned the release of these editions. Before you could say "Dr. Zaius", readers from around the globe chimed in with their own memories of reading and collecting these books. Best of all, many of them took us up on the challenge to post any photos they might have from their own personal collections. Before long, there was a plethora of great images posted, bringing back memories of paperbacks based on "Dirty Harry", "Taxi Driver", "Star Wars", "The Mechanic" and so many others. Click here to join the fun and feel free to add your own observations and photos. (Note: to view all the entries, go to the end of the article and click on "View more comments" link.)
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Director Guy Green with stars Elizabeth Hartman and Sidney Poitier on location in Los Angeles for "A Patch of Blue" in 1965. Note that the theater seen in the background is showing a double feature of British oldies-but-goodies: Peter Sellers in "Trial and Error" and Terry-Thomas in "Kill or Cure".