New book details making of ‘Pride of the Yankees’
It was on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, when the Iron Horse uttered the famous words at a home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
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“So Busch had another idea. He got a hold of the newsreel of Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day and he somehow persuaded Goldwyn to sit down in his screening room and watch it. He runs it once and who knows whether Goldwyn was fidgeting in his seat until he got to the end when the speech is made, because there is a lot of ceremonial stuff – the giving of the gifts, the speeches by Farley and La Guardia and Yankees manager Joe McCarthy. Finally he gets to the Gehrig speech. Lights go up after the speech is delivered. Goldwyn is crying. ‘Run it again.’ They run it again. The lights go up. He says to somebody there: ‘Get Mulvey on the phone.’ Jim Mulvey is his chief aid at Goldwyn Pictures. And he said, ‘Find Eleanor Gehrig. We’re going to make an offer.’ At that point nobody else had made a strong offer and Eleanor’s agent, Christy Walsh, was getting frustrated. Finally, Goldwyn comes forward with $30,000. Mind you, this all happens within six weeks of Lou dying. Lou’s dead on June 2, 1941, and the deal is announced on July 15.”
According to Sandomir, the speech didn’t spur Goldwyn; it was Gehrig’s death.
“I think it was the death that made it movie-worthy. It had to be tragic,” Sandomir said. “Because Gehrig on his own was not the most interesting guy. He was a great ballplayer but if Lou Gehrig had lived to be a ripe old age, no movie would be made about him. There would be no ‘Pride of the Yankees.’ What Goldwyn wanted was not baseball. He saw in that newsreel the story of a courageous man. Add that to the love story between Eleanor and Lou and that was the movie. There’s maybe 10 or 12 minutes of baseball action in the movie.”
On Dec. 7, 1939, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted unanimously to suspend the mandated five-year waiting period and elected Gehrig to the Baseball Hall of Fame immediately. Less than two years later, Gehrig died at the age of 37 on June 2, 1941.
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum