Take me out to the ball game: Athlete Biopics

Biographical films have been a popular film genre since the 1920s. There are films about actors that you may have never heard of, scientists who did great things and musicians who died young.

It is no secret Hollywood took creative liberties with the lives of famous people in their films. To quote George M. Cohen after seeing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942), “It was a good movie. Who was it about?”

Life stories were changed to make a most interesting film, but also to protect individuals who were still living when the film was made.

Along with the fabricated biographical information, I have also wondered how similar actor and the person they are portraying look alike.

I am starting a series of posts that will compare the appearances of the actor and the role they are playing. I thought it would be fun and interesting.

I’ll be dividing these up by categories (i.e. presidents, actors, writers), making athletes my first one.

Baseball:

Babe Ruth and William Benedix

The Babe Ruth Story (1948): I haven’t seen this movie, but I have heard it’s not very good. William Benedix plays Babe Ruth. Benedix is great as a comedian or a bad guy, but I have a hard time picturing him in a biography. Appearance: They both have that “big oaf” look, but don’t look very much alike.

Lou Gehrig and Gary Cooper

“Pride of the Yankees” (1942):  This is one of my all time favorite movies. I love Teresa Wright, who plays Gehrig’s wife, and Gary Cooper does a wonderful job in the film. Very touching and sweet. Appearance: Cooper looks fairly similar to Gehrig. This is probably one of the best “look-a-likes” as far as biopics go.

Monty Stratton and James Stewart

“The Stratton Story” (1949): This film stars June Allyson and James Stewart as a husband and wife. Stewart is baseball player Monty Stratton who loses his leg during a hunting accident.  The film follows his struggle to attempt to play baseball again with his prosthetic leg. Appearance: Other than the fact that both men are skinny, I don’t think they look very much alike.

Jim Piersall and Anthony Perkins

“Fear Strikes Out” (1957): Perkins plays Jim Piersall (still living) who has a nervous breakdown while trying to please his father (Karl Malden). I don’t think these two look alike at all. Appearance: Piersall is the attractive, fresh all-American guy while Perkins is much more dark and brooding.

Grover Cleveland Alexander and Ronald Reagan

“The Winning Team” (1952): The film starts off happy as Aimee (Doris Day) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (Ronald Reagan) get married.   Just as Grover is rising to the top as a pitcher, he suffers an eye injury which impairs his vision. Grover is bitter and turns to alcohol which makes him unreliable.  Appearance: I don’t think  Alexander and Reagan look anything alike. Alexander has harsh, rough features and you can tell he went through a tough time. Reagan has clean looks. I think Grover Cleveland looks more like Harry Carey, Sr.

**I know I left out “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), but he played himself so no look-a-like comparison.

Football:

Knute Rockne and Pat O’Brien

“Knute Rockne: All American” (1940): My family isn’t fans of Notre Dame football. But Knute Rockne is the only reason I might be, because I really like this movie. The film covers the life of the football player and coach. Rockne is known as “America’s most renowned football coach” and also popularized the forward pass.  However, it drives me crazy when they pronounce his name as ‘K-nute’ in the movie instead of ‘Newt.’ Appearance: Along with Gehrig and Cooper, Rockne and O’Brien look very similar as well. Rockne has a rougher look, but they have similar facial features. It appears O’Brien was given a false nose for the role.

George Gipp and Ronald Reagan

“Knute Rockne: All American” (1940): Also from “Knute Rockne,” Ronald Reagan plays George “Gipper” Gipp. Gipp is known today as one of the most versatile athletes playing halfback, quarterback and punter.  Gipp died at age 25 in 1920 of either pneumonia or strep throat (the cause is debated).  His death spawned the famous quote by Knute Rockne, “Win just one for the Gipper.” Appearance: Ronald Reagan does a great job in the film, but looks nothing like the Gipper. Gipp was much bigger and had very broad features. I can’t think of a 1940s actor that he looked like.

Jim Thorpe and Burt Lancaster

“Jim Thorpe-All American” (1951): Burt Lancaster plays Jim Thorpe, early 1900s football player of American Indian ancestry. Thorpe was All-American in 1911 and 1912 at Carlisle University. He was in the 1912 Olympics for decathlon and pentathlon and was awarded two gold medals that were taken away. Appearance: Thorpe and Lancaster don’t really look alike, but they have similar facial shapes. Thorpe is bigger while Lancaster is thinner and most likely shorter.

Boxing:

“Gentleman” James J. Corbett and Errol Flynn

“Gentleman Jim” (1942): This is an overlooked film of Errol Flynn’s which I think is quite good. Flynn plays James Corbett who is a crude, bare knuckled boxer in San Francisco.  In the late 1800s, boxing isn’t considered a “gentlemanly” sport so the gentlemen of the area sponsor Corbett at an exclusive sports club to change the sport’s image. Corbett is best known for defeating John L. Sullivan (played by Ward Bond).  In between the fancy footwork, Corbett finds time to romance Alexis Smith (who plays Victoria Ware) and make wise cracks with Jack Carson (playing Walter Lowrie). Appearance: Corbett and Flynn look nothing alike. Flynn is thinner and has a more debonair look. Corbett is handsome, but in a rugged sort of way.

John L. Sullivan and Greg McClure” 

“The Great John L.” (1945): I’ve never seen this movie, but I couldn’t talk about boxing films and not mention John L. Sullivan.  Sullivan is one of the most famous boxers and was the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing in 1881 and 1882. The film about his life stars Greg McClure in the title role, Linda Darnell and Otto Kruger. Appearance: These two men couldn’t look any different. Sullivan looks gruff, mean and like someone I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.  I think McClure looks more like boxer Jack Dempsey, heavy weight champion of the world in 1919 and 1926.

Rocky Graziano and Paul Newman

“Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956): I’m not much for dark, angsty, brooding 1950s films, but I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Instead of being a downer, it ended up being rather uplifting. Newman plays Graziano who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Constantly arrested and goes AWOL from the Army. He meets his wife Norma, played by Pier Angeli, and starts his career boxing which helps straighten out his life. Appearance: Graziano and Newman don’t look much alike. Graziano has a much thinner face while Newman’s is more chiseled.

That’s all for sports! Stay tuned for more biopic comparisons!

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Classic Movies in Music Videos: Thriller by Michael Jackson

We have another installment of music videos that feature either classic movie stars, movies or reference classic movies.

I’m not sure how during I forgot about “Thriller” relating to classic film.  This one is so obvious and I forgot about it until my sister and I were listening to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits in the car.

Vincent Price, known for his horror roles in the 1960s, talks in the middle of the song around 6:30 in the video.

You can see Vincent Price’s name on the movie marque and movie posters of his films around the movie theater at the beginning of the video.

Vincent Price in the horror film "The Bat" (1959)

Price started in Hollywood in the late 1930s and can be seen in “Elizabeth and Essex” (1939) and “Song of Bernadette” (1943). Audiences started to notice him more in film noir movies like “Laura” (1944) and “His Kind of Woman” (1951) as the suspicious man who started out likable but ends up being bad.

But Price made his mark when he starred in “The House of Wax” (1953) and “House on Haunted Hill” (1959). Price found his niche in horror movies and continued to capitalize off of creepy characters until his last on screen film appearance in “Edward Scissor Hand” (1991).

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You can’t get a role with a gun: the story behind “Annie Get Your Gun”

I had always read that “Annie Get Your Gun” was a horrible experience for Betty Hutton.

Actors and stage workers were cold towards her, she wasn’t invited to the movie premiere and MGM wasn’t the warm home she found at Paramount.

For years, I read this treatment was attributed to the fact that Betty Hutton quickly stepped in to the role when Judy Garland was unable to make the film. MGM workers resented that someone was kicking their Judy out of a highly coveted musical biography about the sharp shooter Annie Oakley.

Howard Keel, Betty Hutton, Louis Calhern and Keenan Wynn singing “No Business Like Show Business.”

About a month ago, I read and reviewed Betty Hutton’s autobiography “Backstage, You Can Have.” I found that the story about “Annie Get Your Gun” wasn’t as cut and dry as “Judy was kicked out, they were mean to Betty.”  Betty Hutton might have also helped a little in digging her grave.

When the Irving Berlin musical first hit Broadway stages in 1946, Betty knew she wanted to play the part.

 “In May (of 1946), the same month we were finishing up work on “The Perils Of Pauline,” a new musical opened…The show was called “Annie Get Your Gun” and it starred Ethel Merman in the title role. I went to New York to see it, and fell deeply in love with the role of Annie Oakley. This was a part I just had to play in the hotly anticipated movie version” (Hutton 209).

 Betty begged Paramount to buy film rights. Paramount was giving her weak films like “Dream Girl” and she felt that Annie Oakley would have helped bolster her career. However, Arthur Freed at MGM paid Irving Berlin $650,000 for the play and planned on MGM’s top star Judy Garland to play the role.

Judy Garland dressed for the “I’m an Indian Too” number.

“I was heartbroken,” Hutton said. Besides Hutton, Ginger Rogers also campaigned for the role and was told Annie Oakley doesn’t wear silk stockings and high heels.

 However, when MGM began filming “Annie Get Your Gun” it was full of disasters:

•New star Howard Keel fell of his horse and broke his ankle.

•Frank Morgan, playing Colonel Buffalo Bill, had a heart attack and died and was replaced by Louis Calhern

•Busby Berkley started out being the director and was fired and replaced by Charles Walters who was then replaced by George Sidney

•Judy Garland didn’t want to do the movie at all.

 Garland felt that she wasn’t right for the role. The video below shows Judy Garland in a few shots they filmed with her as Annie. She looks unsure and not very well. Judy started not showing up to the set, her contract was suspended.

 Garland was not unhappy that Betty Hutton took her place; in fact she later told Betty Hutton that she did a good job and was pleased that Hutton got the part.

 “Years, later while we (Judy and Betty) were both working in Las Vegas, Judy and I became very good friends. She told me then she had never wanted the picture and it wasn’t right for her. She admitted the part was right for me, and after all was said and done, she was happy I got it” (Hutton 229).

 The problem was how Hutton handled getting the part. She let everyone know how much she had wanted it.

Hutton told the Associated Press, “I’m so excited I can’t sleep. For four years I’ve been trying to do Annie. I haven’t been happy with the pictures I’ve had since Buddy DeSylva left Paramount and I pleaded them to buy it. I really bawled them out when they let MGM get it.”

 Not only did this comment not make Hutton very endearing to MGM players, but also didn’t help her floundering relationship with Paramount. Hutton was already at odds with Paramount as she let fame go to her head. In her autobiography Hutton said she wasn’t as uncaring as the comment made her sound, she was just excited (228).

 After reading Betty Hutton’s autobiography, comments like these are what helped end her career. Hutton said herself that she couldn’t shut up and always put her foot in her mouth with the press. This was certainly one of those times.

 It was difficult for Hutton to come into an unfamiliar studio. She had found a family at Paramount and described MGM as much more formal-cast members addressed her as Miss Hutton rather than Betty.  While Betty may have found this off-puting, I believe this was simply out of respect for her.

Betty Hutton is hilarious in her version of “I’m an Indian Too”

Though MGM was unfamiliar, it didn’t stop Betty from trying to work under her terms.

 Betty admits that it was “probably too much Hutton, too fast.”  She wanted to be applauded when she did something good like she was at Paramount and insisted on having air conditioning on the set (231 Hutton).  I personally, think these are mighty large demands to make for a studio that isn’t your own. I would have been peeved too if I was part of the cast.

 Betty was a force of nature and gave her all in performances. Louis Calhern, who played Colonel Buffalo Bill, told Keel, “She’s upstaging the hell out of you.” Keel brushed it off saying he was new and that the camera would come around to him once in a while, according to Howard Keel’s book “Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business (119). At one point, Betty got upset because she said Keel was upstaging her and they redid the scene 35 times until it was how she liked it.

 Regardless though, Howard Keel said he thought Betty Hutton was sweet and they got along okay. He admitted however, that the rest of the cast wasn’t happy with her.

 However, Hutton apparently thought differently and was also sort of bratty in her recount of the situation:

 “Here he was in his very first film role. Was this greenhorn attempting to call the shots? ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ is Annie’s story, not that of Howard Keel’s character, Frank Butler. If the story had been reversed, I would have gladly handed Howard the burdensome responsibility of carrying the film as I had. Keel Proved to be my primary adversary during the shooting of the film. There was much bad blood between us” (Hutton 232).

 It’s funny that Hutton’s most memorable role was one of her unhappiest experiences as a film star. Though, as much as I love her, I think some of the unhappiness was caused by Betty.

 After “Annie Get Your Gun,” Hutton made three more feature films and a handful of television appearances. Her difficult behavior and use of pills ended her career.

 It’s almost ironic how Hutton’s career ended for one of the main reasons Judy Garland was fired from the film: pills. Unfortunately, while Judy was still revered and loved at the time of her death in 1968, Hutton was largely forgotten by the early 1960s.

Sources:

“Backstage, You Can Have: My Own Story” by Betty Hutton

“Only Make Believe: My Life in Show Business” by Howard Keel

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Actress Beauty Tip #15: Bette Davis Eyes

Young Bette Davis

This is the fifteenth installment of our monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

Bette Davis is known for her eyes. There is a cheesy song that emulates them, people reference them all the time.

I came across a beauty regiment of Bette’s that I’ve always wanted to try that Miss Davis used to keep her eyes striking and bright.

I think we’ve all seen advertisements, television shows or movies where people lie around with cucumber slices on their eyes. I have always wondered, “What does this do? Is there any purpose?”

Bette Davis would put cucumber slices on her eyes at night and would sleep with petroleum jelly under her eyes. This was to help reduce swelling and dark circles under the eyes.

I have relaxed for 10 minutes before bed over the past week with cucumbers on my eyes.  I made sure I had washed off my make up before I did this so the cucumber would touch clean skin.

It gives sort of an odd sensation. The cucumber gave a cool and fresh sensation.

It is very relaxing sitting with your eyes closed for a few minutes. The skin around my eyes felt softer, but I’m not sure if it actually reduced puffiness or dark circles.

10 minutes with the cucumbers. Watch out for your pets!

I’ve been sleeping with petroleum jelly under my eyes for about a month and could tell a slight difference. Under my eyes seemed a little clearer.

To review: I could tell a small difference from the cucumbers but not large enough to do it every night.  Honestly, I think the only real way to get rid of dark circles is getting sleep.  However, if you are looking for a good way to relax this is perfect.

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