Neglected baseball comedy reminds viewers that the American pastime was also the African American pastime.
Major League Baseball is known as America's pastime. But for decades it was really only the pastime for whites, due to the fact that black participation was banned by every team, and black spectatorship was limited by apartheid laws. But during that time African Americans formed their own leagues, and those teams and players are part of wider baseball lore. As far as we know The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, which is set in 1939, is the only major movie about black baseballers during the pre-integration era. That alone makes it worth a gander. James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams in the starring roles are bonuses. The plot involves various Negro League athletes who band together and barnstorm around the U.S. They're trying to get out from under bad contracts with their original teams, or bad jobs in mundane professions, but of course this break toward freedom leads to trouble.
The film benefits from excellent exterior location work. Director John Badham makes use of the old sharecropper cabins, winding rural roads, and rickety wooden stadiums of the American countryside. These would have existed in abundance when the film was made in the mid-1970s, requiring little in the way of set design. The authenticity is palpable. In other areas the film misses the mark, particularly in the tone of the performances, which are Vaudevillian and over-vernacularized. Butone aspect of the film hits a bullseye. James Earl Jones expresses it succinctly when he hears that the Major Leagues are scouting black players: “So the white man is finally moving in,” he says, as if speaking about the mafia. He goes on to predict the death of Negro League Baseball. Jones's point is crystalline: the Major Leagues broke the color line not out of altruism or justice, but in order to protect its product.
The oldest Negro League team had been around since 1885. By the 1940s Negro League players had competed against white players and proved to be capable, and in some instances, superior. MLB had a legitimacy problem. It couldn't truly claim to contain all the best baseball players. People were growing more interested in black baseball. Money was being made on the sport beyond the confines of MLB. A lot of money. Breaking the color line cemented the legitimacy of MLB's talent claims, and it obliterated competition from Negro League baseball, which died on the vine. Today black ownership in Major League Baseball is basically 0%. Only the Miami Marlins, with Derek Jeter possessing 4% of the club, can claim—and just barely—to have minority ownership. But a merger of Negro teams into the league rather than a raid of players might well have led to a different story. MLB integrated the field, but ensured future segregation of the owner's box.
Though the color line for players was broken all the way back in 1947, today MLB has another legitimacy problem. Black participation has declined over the decades. Organized baseball requires fields, equipment, sponsorship, and other elements that are scarce in poor communities. Of course, they've always been scarce, but as public money dries up and individual wages stagnate, community support for baseball and family income allowing for participation in it are lacking. African American rostering on Major League Baseball squads is at 1956 levels. Many consider that a travesty; but America being America, many don't. MLB's front office just lately has made some minimal efforts to address the problem. It will be interesting to see how those go. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings premiered in the U.S. today in 1976.
Tonight they're gonna party like it's 1955.
Questions abound on this cover of Inside Story, but for each one there's an answer. What did Prince Rainier not tell Grace Kelly? That the palace in Monaco was cold and drafty, and she couldn't sleep in the nude anymore because the premises were open to the public from 9 to 5. What was the amazing Frank Sinatra hoax? His studio Carlyle Productions started a whisper campaign that he was such a dedicated actor that he actually used heroin while filming the heroin drama The Man with the Golden Arm. What is the secret fear that haunts Perry Como? That his family might be kidnapped.
All of these pieces are fascinating, but since it's baseball season and people are high on the front-running New York Yankees right now, we'll point to the story, “The Real Reason the Yankees Lost!” What they lost was the 1955 World Series, and it happened—according to Inside Story—because they were partying too hard. They were ensconced at the Concourse Hotel for the Series, a hole-up made possible by the fact that their opponents were the Brooklyn Dodgers. So with both the home and away games taking place in New York City, and the players barred from sleeping in their own houses to avoid family distractions, the superstar Yanks did some major league carousing.
Inside Story scribe Manuel Shaw describes an allegedly typical scene: “Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, and several other Yankees were sitting around the lobby of the hotel when three lovelies from a nearby night spot showed up. Since the cuties were entertainers familiar to one or two of the players, and were rabid Yankees boosters, it was not remarkable that they were soon in animated conversation with the group, which shortly adjourned from the lobby to an upstairs suite.”
Then he moves into this bit: “A beauteous brunette [was in the hall] clad only in a negligee. The two players wanted to spend some time with her, and they agreed that they would rather do it separately, but she insisted it would be more fun if they both stayed, and after a while she persuaded both of them to come back with her to her room. Soon a real party was underway, joined by many other Yankees, and several doting females who lived at the hotel.”
Well, what good is being a member of the famed Yankees if you can't do some Yankee doodle diddling? Most guys we know can't resist a free beer, let alone a woman in lingerie. A little later in the story, after the question of whether professional gamblers employed the party girls to distract the Yanks, we get this: “If true, this parallels the persistent story in gambling and diamond circles that the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe was introduced to Yankee star Joe DiMaggio just in order to take his attention off the Yankee pennant drive of a few years back.”
Did Inside Story really just say Marilyn Monroe was a mafia Trojan horse? Yup. They did. No ambiguity there. The magazine does not go so far as to say Monroe was aware of the set-up, so perhaps it was a matter of maneuvering her into the same space as DiMaggio at the same time and letting nature take its course. There are worse ways for a man to fall from the sporting mountaintop. And talk about a soft landing. We doubt the story, but you never know. There are far crazier tales starring Monroe. We have about thirty-five scans below, and more tabloids coming soon.
The boys of summer headline autumn’s biggest event.
The Los Angeles Dodgers board a United Airlines DC-7 charter plane headed to Chicago, where they would battle the Chicago White Sox in the 1959 World Series. Pictured are Sandy Koufax, Don Zimmer, Pee Wee Reese, and other stars. The Dodgers won the series four games to two. The three games played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum drew huge crowds, with game five’s attendance of 92,706 remaining a World Series record to this day. The photo was made today in 1959.
Who, this jerk? I just work with him.
This awesome August 1953 National Police Gazette featuring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby cut-and-pasted into baseball uniforms came from the website Ephemera Forever, which we had no idea existed until today. It’s a nice spot, and claims to have more than 22,000 rare items. The prices? Well, those are high. But you can always browse, at least. As far as the Hope/Crosby feud mentioned on the cover, different sources make claims of everything from full blown mutual hatred to the two using rumors of discord as a publicity stunt. However Hope did once reveal that Crosby never once invited him and his wife over for dinner, which seems like a pretty strong clue. See much more from Police Gazette in our tabloid index.
If I can’t have you, nobody else can.
The above photo shows Ruth Ann Steinhagen in Chicago’s Cook County Jail, where she was being held after shooting Chicago Cubs baseball player Eddie Waitkus at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Steinhagen had invited Waitkus to her hotel room after a Cubs game, first via a note telling him she had an urgent matter to discuss with him, and later by phone. When he finally went to her room she told him (though accounts vary), “If I can’t have you nobody else can,” and shot him in the chest with a .22 rifle she had grabbed from a closet. Steinhagen was an early example of a new breed of psycho—the celebrity stalker. The story of Waitkus’s shooting would later be used by author Bernard Malamud for his 1952 novel The Natural, which was in turn made into a truly excellent 1984 movie with Robert Redford. The jail photo was made today in 1949, and the shooting had happened two days earlier.
The National Police Gazette packs a bigger punch than its size would suggest.
This April 1944 National Police Gazette totals a mere sixteen pages, including both covers. During the early 1950s the page count would rise, pretty much doubling and remaining that way for most of the next three decades. But small though this issue may be, it still contains some interesting items, such as blurbs on singer Frank Sinatra and baseballer Bob Feller, as well as an attractive cover featuring Betty Duval, and interior photos of other beauty queens. The most notable item is probably the centerfold, which is reserved for Marjorie Tallchief, a full-blooded scion of the Osage Nation who as a ballerina rose to the lofty position of première danseuse étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet. Some online sources say Marjorie Tallchief was aka Maria Tallchief, while others say the two were sisters. It’s the latter group that have it correct—Marjorie and Maria were separate people, and both were acclaimed ballerinas. They were also part of a generation of Native American ballet dancers—including Yvonne Chouteau and Rosella Hightower—to achieve widespread fame around the same time. Scans below.
What happens if you stand in the way of progress? You get run over.
The above photo shows the groundbreaking today in 1959 for Dodger Stadium, a venue that would become the home of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers. In a mostly Latino barrio of Los Angeles known as Chavez Ravine, a long process of buying land from willing sellers, forcing land sales via eminent domain laws, and finally sending in cops to forcibly evict the remaining homeowners resulted in clearing a site about 350 acres in size. The land had originally been slated for public housing, and most of the purchases and eminent domain sales had occurred between 1950 and 1953 for that purpose. But the 1953 election of conservative mayor Norris Poulson halted those plans, because he opposed public housing as “communist” in nature. The land sat idle for five years, but when the parcel was given to the Dodgers in 1958, the remaining occupants had to go. They were smeared in the press in order to turn public opinion against them, and were then evicted, resulting in ugly scenes of families being dragged from their homes. Sulfur and Cemetery Ravines were filled in and the entire site was graded. An elementary school was simply buried whole. A total of eight million cubic yards of earth were moved. Today, Dodger Stadium is considered one of Major League Baseball’s crown jewels.
First time we’ve seen it, but hopefully not the last.
Above is the cover of an issue of Final, a publication we had never heard of before, but which is certainly big budget and hit the streets this month in 1950 courtesy of Gambit Publishing out of New York City. The cover star is model Joy Niven, who we also had never heard of, but who was photographed by famed Marilyn Monroe lensman Earl Leaf. This Final has taken a bit of wear over the last six decades, but kudos to the Denver Book Fair for acquiring it, sealing it so its deterioration stopped, and selling it to us cheap. Now we’ve carried it across an ocean, opened it, and exposed it to the elements, but all in an effort to scan it for posterity. For as we discussed before, if it isn’t digital and accessible to the masses, does it really exist at all?
Final is basically a tabloid, with a bit of crime, a bit of politics, a bit of sports, and a lot of celebrity dish. There are quite a few interesting items inside. In the Picture of the Month you see Canadian actor Rod Cameron with Portuguese model Angela Alves-Lico. They had just met earlier on the beach and, according to Final, she was driving home, and Cameronwas following in his car, when she had an auto accident. Our first thought, because they’d just met and “following her home” sounds a bit stalkerish to us, is that maybe she crashed because she was trying to get away from him. But perhaps not—Cameron and Alves-Lico soon married each other.
Later on you get an investigative report from inside Major League Baseball. What’s being investigated? Whether baseball is still prejudiced against Negroes. Short answer—yes. The reason Final was asking was because Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and others had been playing in the Majors for a few years, prompting certain elements of the punditry to pronounce prejudice in baseball beaten. Of course that was ludicrous to even suggest, and Final’s report singles out the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cubs as clubs that would not under any circumstances employ a black baseballer. Of those, the Phillies held out longest, employing their first African American baseball player a full ten years after Jackie Robinson had arrived with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Probably the highlight of the issue, for us at least, is an article asking nineteen prominent ministers if they think the use of a nuclear bomb by the U.S. in Korea could be justified. Of the nineteen, only three unambiguously say it would be wrong. Most of the others echo theopinion of the compassionate Rev. B. W. Hancock: “If our military feels that it would establish peace, then I would favor it.” Truly, Hancock must have spent a lot of time with his cock in his han to come up with that one. It makes us think of the famous Tacitus quote: “Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” Or, “And where they make a desert, they call it peace.” Yes! Three years of high school Latin and we finally worked that shit into a post. Nice! Anyway, for various reasons, the U.S. never nuked Korea, so we hope the ministers weren’t too disappointed.
Elsewhere in Final you get Australian nudists, Parisian white slavers, professional seers, forced sterilization, Ava Gardner in the Mediterranean, Patrice Wymore and more. We don’t know if we’ll ever run across another issue of Final, but we will certainly be looking. And in the meantime this one will go back in its plastic and—who knows?—with a little luck, it might survive another sixty years. More scans below.
Update: Pamela writes in and says, "The best part about that Rod Cameron/Angela Alves-Lico story is that after ten years of marriage, Cameron divorced her. And married her mother. Yep...the woman on the right in that photo.
It was a year to remember.
Above is a photo of Manhattan, New York City, in the year 1947, looking from Battery Park toward midtown. Here you see everything—the Staten Island Ferry Building at bottom, Wall Street to the right, the 59th Street Bridge crossing Welfare Island at upper right, and in the hazy distance, the Empire State Building—at that time arguably America’s most recognized symbol. In the aftermath of a war that had destroyed Europe’s and Japan’s industrial capacity, the U.S. was the unquestioned power on the planet, with massive economic might, a military that had taken up permanent residence in dozens of countries, and a growing stock of nuclear weapons. Two years later the Soviets would detonate their first nuclear bomb, shaking the American edifice to its core. Meanwhile, all around the world, the seeds of change were taking root. Below is a look at the world as it was in 1947.
Firemen try to extinguish a blaze in Ballantyne’s Department Store in Christchurch, New Zealand.
American singer Lena Horne performs in Paris.
The hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, and the aftermath of the execution of Hisakazu Tanaka, who was the Japanese governor of occupied Hong Kong during World War II.
Sunbathers enjoy Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, and a military procession rumbles along Rua Catumbi.
Assorted Brooklyn Dodgers and manager Leo Durocher (shirtless in the foreground) relax at Havana, Cuba’s Estadio La Tropical, where they were holding spring training that year. Second photo, Cuban players for the Habana Leones celebrate the first home run hit at Havana’s newly built Estadio Latinoamericano.
Thousands of Muslims kneel toward Mecca during prayer time in Karachi, Pakistan.
A snarl of traffic near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The city hall of Cape Town, South Africa is lit up to celebrate the visit of the British Royal Family. Second photo, during the same South African trip, the royals are welcomed to Grahamstown.
A wrecked fighter plane rusts in front of Berlin’s burned and abandoned parliament building, the Reichstag. Second photo, a shot of ruins in Berlin’s Tiergarten quarter, near Rousseau Island.
A crowd in Tel Aviv celebrates a United Nations vote in favor of partitioning Palestine.
Men and bulls run through the streets of Pamplona, Spain during the yearly Festival of San Fermin.
Fog rolls across the Embarcadero in San Francisco; a worker descends from a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Detectives study the body of a woman found murdered in Long Beach, California. Two P-51 Mustang fighters fly above Los Angeles.
Danish women from Snoghøj Gymnastics School practice in Odense.
Tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo demonstrate against the United Nations vote in favor of partitioning Palestine.
A beauty queen draped with a sash that reads “Modern 1947” is lifted high above the boardwalk in Coney Island, New York.
A woman in Barbados holds atop her head a basket filled with fibers meant for burning as fuel.
Mahatma Gandhi, his bald head barely visible at upper center, arrives through a large crowd for a prayer meeting on the Calcutta Maidan, India.
Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson is hounded for autographs in the dugout during a Brooklyn Dodgers game.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
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