Pride of the Yankees, The (1942)

 RKO Radio (Samuel Goldwyn Productions)

Sam Wood’s biopic is a nostalgic, straightforward tale of the rise and fall of Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Man” first baseman of the New York Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s.

As a boy in New York, Lou Gehrig dreams of becoming a big league baseball player, although his parents (well played by Ludwig Stossel and Elsa Janssen) hope he would become an engineer.  “Mom” Gehrig, a cook at a Columbia University frat house, sees Lou through school and into Columbia, where he works his way up as a waiter at the frat house.  Admiring his prowess in sports, his mates pledge Lou to membership, but he clashes with some snobbish fellows.

Turning point occurs, when sports writer Sam Blake recommends him to the New York Yankees. When Lou learns that his mother requires a costly operation, he signs with the Yankees to obtain the necessary funds.  “Mom” believes her son to be at Harvard when Lou is farmed out for experience to the minors; later on, she discovers that he’s a baseball player.  As a genre, it belongs to real-life tales of simple ordinary folks who go on to become famous and extraordinary.

As first baseman, he becomes an associate of such greats as Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Mark Koenig, and Bob Meusel (some of whom make a cameo appearance in the movie).

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His love interest is played by Teresa Wright, as Eleanor Twitchell from Chicago, who at first teases him for awkwardly tripping over a pile of bats.  Courtship begins, and after the Yankees win the World Series, Lou proposes to her and they get married.

Lou rises steadily to become the baseball hero of America. When he plays his 2000th consecutive game, the whole world honors him.  Unfortunately, soon afterwards, however, he goes into a mysterious slump, and is diagnosed with amytropic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disease similar to multiple sclerosis.  He reluctantly quits the game on July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium, before 62,000 saddened fans.

His dramatic farewell at the Yankee Stadium is one of the most touching and famous scenes in sports biopics.  Standing at home plate, he states: “Some people say I’ve had a bad break, but I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

After his death, Lou Gehrig became a mythical figure and a cherished idol for many American schoolboys.

Oscar Nominations: 11

Picture, produced by Samuel Goldwyn

Actor: Gary Cooper

Actress: Teresa Wright

Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz and Jo Swerling

Story (Original): Paul Gallico

Cinematography (b/w):  Rudolph Mate

Interior Decoration (b/w): Perry Ferguson, art direction; Howard Bristol, set decoration

Film Editing:  Daniel Mandell

Score (Dramatic or Comedy): Leigh Harline

Sound Recording:  Thomas Moulton

Special Effects: Jack Cosgrove and Ray Binger, photographic; Thomas Moulton, sound

Oscar Awards: 1

Film Editing

 

Oscar Context

Made in the tradition of MGM’s glossy pictures, this noble film describes a middle-class English family during WWII.  A strong moral booster and reaffirmation of the ideals of human suffering and fortitude in times of crisis, it was Hollywood’s version of an “ordinary” family. Easily one of the worst films to have ever won the Best Picture Oscar.  In 1942, “Mrs. Miniver” competed against “The Invaders,” “Kings Row,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Pied Piper,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Random Harvest,” “The Talk of the Town,” “Wake Island,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” 

Most of these films were patriotic flag-wavers, reflecting the surrounding reality of the U.S. 1941 entry into WWII.  Next to “Mrs. Miniver,” the Gary Cooper sports biopic “The Pride of the Yankees,” was the most nominated (11) picture, though it won only one Oscar, for Daniel Mandell’s editing.

“Mrs. Miniver” is one of the few films that have garnered nominations in all four acting categories: Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress; in fact, there were two women in the supporting league alone.  Teresa Wright joined a small group of Academy actors, have who received lead and supporting nomination in the same year; Wright was also nominated for “Pride of the Yankees.”                                                        

The winner of the Best Actor was James Cagney for “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”  The Special Effects Oscar went to Cecil B. DeMille’s “Reap the Wild Wind.”

Credits

Director: Sam Wood.

Producer: Samuel Goldwyn.

Scenarists: Jo Swerling, Herman J. Mankiewicz, from an original story by Paul Gallico.

Camera: Rudolph Mate.

Producer Designer: William Cameron Menzies.

Musical Score: Leigh Harline.

Art Director: Perry Ferguson.

Associate Art Director: McClure Capps.

Set Director: Howard Bristol.

Costumer: Rene Hubert.

Editor: Daniel Mandell.

Assistant Director: John Sherwood.

Sound Recorder: Frank Maker.

Special Photographic Effects: Jack Cosgrove.

Special Sound Effects: Ray Binger.

Song: “Always” by Irving Berlin.

Produced with the assistance of Mrs. Lou Gehrig by arrangement with Christy Walsh.

Black-and-white

Running time: 127 Minutes

Cast

Gary Cooper (Lou Gehrig)

Teresa Wright (Eleanor Gehrig)

Walter Brennan (Sam Blake)

Dan Duryea (Hank Hanneman)

Babe Ruth (Himself)

Elsa Janssen (Mom Gehrig)

Ludwig Stossel (Pop Gehrig)

Virginia Gilmore (Myra)

Bill Dickey (Himself)

Ernie Adams (Miller Huggins)

Pierre Watkin (Mr. Twitchell)

Harry Harvey (Joe McCarthy)

Robert W. Meusel, Mark Koenig, Bill Stern (Themselves)

Addison Richards (Coach)

Hardie Albright (Van Tuyl)

Edward Fielding (Clinic Doctor)

George Lessey (Mayor of New Rochelle)

Vaughan Glaser (Doctor in Gehrig Home)

Douglas Croft (Lou Gehrig as a boy)

Veloz & Yolanda

Ray Noble & his Orchestra

Frank Faylen (3rd Base Coach)

Lane Chandler (Player in Locker Room)

Edgar Barrier (Hospital Doctor)

Gene Collins (Billy, age 8)

David Holt (Billy, age 17)

George Offerman, Jr. (Freshman)

David Manley (Major La Guardia)

Anita Bolster (Sasha’s Mother)

Jimmy Valentine (Sasha)

Spencer Charters (Mr. Larsen)

Sarah Padden (Mrs. Roberts)

Bernard Zanville (later Dane Clark)

Tom Neal (Fraternity Boys)

Lorna Dunn (Nurse in Clinic)

Emory Parnell (Cop)

Dorothy Vaughan (Landlady)

Patsy O’Byrne (Scrub Woman)

Matt McHugh (Strength Machine Operator)

William Chaney (Newsboy)

Pat Flaherty (Baseball Player)

Mary Gordon (Maid)

Francis Sayles (Cab Driver)

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