RKO Radio Pictures’ The Pride of the Yankees ranks as one of Hollywood’s greatest sports movies. Gary Cooper stars as Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankees baseball slugger who died of ALS at age 37. Here are 21 The Pride of the Yankees movie trivia items and fun facts…
1. The Pride of the Yankees is based on the book Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees by Paul Gallico (1897-1976), published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1942. Gallico also authored the novel The Poseidon Adventure (1969), which was turned into a feature length film in 1972.
2. It was Hollywoodstory editor Niven Busch who suggested to RKO producer Sam Goldwyn that Lou Gehrig’s life be turned into a movie.
3. Technical advisors who served on the film were Babe Herman, Lefty O’Doul, Christy Walsh and Pat Flaherty. It was Flaherty, a former minor league baseball player and professional football player for the Chicago Bears, who helped Gary Cooper with his throwing technique. Also working with Cooper was former big leaguer Lefty O’Doul.
4. The real Lou Gehrig was a fearsome left-handed batter while Gary Cooper was neither a good batter or left-handed. That "minor" detail was overcome through special effects, with the movie’s editors flipping the film strip over for production and then reversing it back again when the scenes were stitched together. That meant that Gary Cooper still batted right-handed, with the Yankee logo reversed and on the opposite side of his jersey. Upon hitting a home run, for example, Cooper then ran directly to third base, making his way back to home plate in the opposite direction! Generally credited for coming up with this bit of technical wizardry – from The Poseidon Adventure school of film editing, no doubt – was the picture’s production designer, the renowned William Cameron Menzies. Putting Menzies’ plan into action was film editor Daniel Mandell.
5. The Pride of the Yankees, in production from February to April 1942, was filmed in New York and California. The University of Southern California served as Columbia University, Lou Gehrig’s alma mater. Other filming locations included the Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, New York’s Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. The latter, once located at 42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard but now demolished, had also served as the favored locale for such baseball flicks as It Happens Every Spring (1949), Kill the Umpire (1950), Rhubarb (1951) and The Pride of St. Louis (1952).
6. Teresa Wright plays Eleanor Twitchell Gehrig, Lou’s wife. The real Eleanor Gehrig loaned the production the actual bracelet Lou had given her. Check the scene where Gary Cooper gifts Wright with this special bracelet, which now rests in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Eleanor Twitchell Gehrig, whose cooperation is mentioned at the beginning of the movie, died in New York City at age 79 on March 6, 1984.
7. The late great Babe Ruth appears as himself in The Pride of the Yankees. Other real-life Yankee players on hand include Bill Dickey, Bob Meusel and Mark Koenig. Also making an appearance is noted sportscaster Bill Stern.
8. There’s no mistaking The Pride of the Yankees as a baseball/World War II-era movie. The film opens to a rousing rendition of the Jack Norworth/Albert von Tilzer 1908 standard “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” followed by a Damon Runyon-written eulogy to Lou Gehrig: “This is the story of a hero of the peaceful paths of everyday life…He faced death with that same valor and fortitude that has been displayed by thousands of young Americans on far-flung fields of battle. He left behind him a memory of courage and devotion that will ever be an inspiration to all men. This is the story of Lou Gehrig.”
9. Baseball card collectors rejoice. In an early scene, a young Lou Gehrig (Douglas Croft) shows another kid his collection of Sweet Caporal tobacco cards, including ones for Hans Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Johnny Evers, Christy Mathewson and a Boston Red Sox rookie named Babe Ruth. Young Lou wins his way into a sandlot game only after giving up his prized cards. But one older boy, however, refuses the Ruth card, citing the Babe’s lowly rookie status!
10. Broken windows and baseball. Young Lou hits a ball through the window of Coletti’s store. The cost of the broken window is $18.50, with Mom Gehrig (Elsa Janssen) paying $16.25 of the bill and promising the remainder later. Mom Gehrig works as a cook at New York’s Columbia University.
11. Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig is seen pledging Sigma Alpha Psi at Columbia University. The producers erred: Lou was actually a member of Phi Delta Theta. In fact, Phi Delta Theta later established the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1955.
12. Oops! When Lou reports to the Yankees for his rookie season in 1923, he reverentially strolls through the locker room, coming across the lockers of Mark Koenig, Tony Lazzeri and Bill Dickey. Koenig didn’t become a Yankee until 1925, Lazzeri until 1926 and Dickeyuntil 1928.
13. Oops II! Sportswriter Sam Blake (Walter Brennan) states that Gehrig won the Triple Crown on the same day Lou and Eleanor were married. The Gehrigs were married on September 29, 1933; Lou won the Triple Crown in 1934.
14. Oops III! In the 1928 World Series versus the Cardinals, Lou is seen hitting two home runs in (presumably) Game 3 at St. Louis. Lou’s #4 is clearly visible during those scenes, yet the Yankees would not add numbers to the backs of their uniforms until 1929.
15. In the movie Lou first encounters his future bride Eleanor at a game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox. Rookie Lou comes to the plate, promptly stumbling over a pile of bats, eliciting a derisive call of "tanglefoot" from young Eleanor in the stands. Lou is later introduced to Eleanor at a Chicago restaurant, where she slips on the floor and Lou exacts his revenge, dubbing her "tanglefoot."
16. In the film Lou is subjected to a practical joke. One evening, a dapper Babe Ruth, sporting a brand new straw hat, enters the dining car and hangs up his headwear, telling his teammates that he’ll knock the teeth in of anyone who touches his new attire. As the Babe plays cards, the boys began taking bites out of Ruth’s hat, eventually handing it to the rookie Lou, telling him to take two healthy bites. Wanting to fit in the naive Lou does as he’s told, with the Babe turning around and catching Lou holding his now tattered hat. An infuriated Babe then lunges at the rookie chump and has to be restrained by his laughing teammates.
17. Lou pursues a romance with Eleanor Twitchell, taking her to the Moon Terrace nightclub in Chicago where Ray Noble & His Orchestra are appearing. With Lou and Eleanor seated at a table, Veloz and Yolanda perform their Latin dance routine, followed by a girl singer (Bettye Avery) crooning the Irving Berlin song “Always.”
18. The Pride of the Yankees never mentions Lou Gehrig’s actual diagnosis – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – opting instead to clumsily dance around the issue. ALS – better known today as Lou Gehrig’s disease – would claim the life of the 37-year-old former Yankee slugger on June 2, 1941. The disease would also claim the lives of several other sports figures, most notably Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Bruce Edwards, pro golfer Tom Watson’s longtime caddy.
19. The Pride of the Yankees debuted at New York City’s Astor Theatre on July 15, 1942, right in the smack of baseball season. The movie earned eleven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Actress (Wright), Best Film Editing (won), Best B/W Cinematography, Best Music, Best Original Story, Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Special Effects, Best B/W Art Direction-Interior Decoration.
20. "The Pride of the Yankees" was broadcast as a 60-minute drama via Lux Radio Theatre on October 4, 1943, with Gary Cooper, Virginia Bruce and Edgar Buchanan in the starring roles. "The Lou Gehrig Story," starring Wendell Corey as Lou, Jean Hagen as Eleanor and Harry Carey Jr. as Bill Dickey, was telecast on CBS-TV’s Climax! on April 19, 1956. A made-for-TV movie titled “A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story,” starring Blythe Danner and Edward Hermann and based on Eleanor’s 1976 autobiography My Luke and I, was broadcast on January 15, 1978.
21. Many of the principals associated with The Pride of the Yankees are deceased. They include producer Sam Goldwin (1882-1974), screenwriters Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897-1953) and Jo Swerling (1893-1964), director Sam Wood (1893-1949) and cast members Gary Cooper (1901-1961), Teresa Wright (1918-2005), Babe Ruth (1895-1948), Walter Brennan (1894-1974), and Dan Duryea (1907-1968).
“…People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today…today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” - Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939
- *The Pride of the Yankees (RKO Radio Pictures, 1942)
- *Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankess by Paul Gallico (Grosset & Dunlap, 1942)
- *Internet Movie Database
Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.