Gary Cooper Did NOT Wear A Backwards Yankee Uniform
In what is easily the best piece of baseball research – and possibly motion picture research – this year, Senior Curator Tom Shieber of the Baseball Hall of Fame dispels one of the most enduring myths of both fields: That the right-handed Gary Cooper donned a backwards-lettered Yankees uniform and ran the wrong way around the bases to enable filmmakers to flip the negative and make him look like the left-handed Lou Gehrig in “The Pride Of The Yankees”:
I’ll let Tom Shieber take you step-by-step, with a kind of gentle meticulousness that even I could understand, through the evidence that:
A) Proves the shot of Cooper above is not a reversed image and he didn’t hit the ball and then run down the third base line;
B) Proves that such movie-making sleight-of-hand would not have been necessary;
C) Proves the one instance – in a pre-Yankee scene from the Gehrig biopic – in which they really did let Cooper do things righty and then flipped the image to make him look lefty;
D) Nails the explanation of how this one instance was blown out of all proportion and turned in to the backward film legend by a very venerated but very overrated sportswriter;
E) Proves the involvement in the making of the film by two of the game’s great characters, Babe Herman and Lefty O’Doul.
F) Notes and explains why the rightfielder in some of the shots appears to be playing about 20 feet behind the first baseman.
It is, as I say, terrific research terrifically explained.
I can add only one detail to it – something that had always bothered me about the ‘then he ran down the third base line’ legend. The human face is not symmetrical. We know this so intuitively that we don’t usually even think about it. But you know when a picture of you has been reversed, or you’re looking in a double mirror.
On the top is Gary Cooper as Gehrig, in a still frame that Shieber has determined is an original, unflipped image. Below is Gary Cooper as Gehrig, in a still frame that Shieber can prove has been flipped. Look carefully at the features of his face – they’re not in the same places in each shot. It takes a little work, but it’s worth it.
This is not as exact a science as Shieber’s analysis of stadium backgrounds and fly buttons and all the rest, but it’s of supportive value. And except in this one scene, Gary Cooper looks like one Gary Cooper all the way through the film. As
‘another’ Gary, Garry Shandling, used to say, ‘no flipping.’
Then in this one scene at first base comes this bizarre image of a guy who looks enough like the Cooper we’ve seen throughout the flick to be his twin – but it is not an exact match. The nose breaks in the opposite direction (just a little bit). The veins on one side of the neck now match the ones on the other side of the neck. It’s all subtle, but it’s all the photographic equivalent of circumstantial evidence.
And it puts a little P.S. on some superb detective work. Bravo, Tom Shieber
The character actor Pat Flaherty was in that movie. He was also in “The Babe Ruth Story,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “The Stratton Story,” “The Jackie Robinson Story,” “Angels in the Outfield,” “The Pride of St. Louis,” “The Winning Team,” and– going back to 1934 from 1942– my favorite, “Death on the Diamond” (Walter Brennan is in that too). Why do I mention this? Because Flaherty actually played for John McGraw’s New York Giants. Character actor Matt McHugh (brother of more famous Frank) looks kind of like Babe Ruth but the best thing about that movie is … Babe Ruth. And the song “Always” by Irving Berlin. It’s nice to know Billy (Gene Collins), the goofy looking kid in the hospital who is promised all those home runs, is still alive (80 years old). I’m actually not a big fan of that movie– I prefer “Django Kill … If You Live, Shoot!” (1968) starring Tomas Milian (with Gene Collins in an uncredited role). Samuel Goldwyn made a baseball movie for people who don’t know much about baseball– which I guess includes most of them, and that’s why I don’t like baseball movies as a rule. Give me “Experiment in Terror” (1962) or “That Touch of Mink”– all with cameos by Giants or Dodgers or Yankees. Also, look for Vin Scully in the Bob Hope/Lana Turner classic “Bachelor in Paradise.”
I read this article from top to bottom and it really blew me away. I was so intrigued by it. It showed some of the wonders of Hollywood, quite ingenious. I would never have expected they would flip part of the film (Hartford scenes). The other reporter, Shirley Povich, may have rushed to meet a deadline and reported inaccurately. This shows that journalism is a very exacting field. If you report it, try making it the truth and add some facts for fun. Nice reinforcement of Tom Sheiber’s excellent investigative article. This was a fun read. I‘ll always enjoy Hollywood’s portrayal of baseball.
Totally (kinda) off the topic, but I noticed the other day that Greg “Goose” Goossen appeared in 15 films that either starred or featured Gene Hackman. If memory serves I believe Casey Stengel once said of the Goose, we got this guy here, this Goossen fella, who is 20 years old, and in ten years has a chance to be 30. Will dig out my well worn Ball Four copy, I think that is where I read that quote. Greg was a Seattle Pilot, and he passed in 2011, RIP.
Genius is the ability to make connections. Yaay!
Powerful evidence that baseball is such a grand metaphor for life! What is real and what is not so real. What seems. The great Lou Gerhig could have run those bases backwards and in high heels! Gary Cooper, not so much…only with the help of Ginger Rogers perhaps. Thanks, Mr. O, for constant illumination. Your love for the intricate and the accurate enlightens both sports and politics for all who read and follow you! Here’s to what’s true! 🙂
I forgot to mention that it is truly difficult to put one’s shoes on backwards. Trust me. I have tried it! 😉
As I said, I’m not a big fan of baseball movies– I like to watch the real thing and then watch a non-baseball movie after Frank sings “New York, New York” or Gary Cohen says “And the ballgame is OV-er!” But I am curious about the movie “The Kid from Cleveland”– not because Lynn Bari is so beautiful (George Brent is handsome too), but because it includes actual Cleveland Indians players from their 1948 team. The great Edward G. Robinson is in a movie called “Big Leaguer” (1953) depicting the Giants’ training camp with a few real players. Their manager Leo Durocher was married to the very beautiful actress Laraine Day. Speaking of Day, one of the few Doris Day movies I don’t own is the aforementioned “The Winning Team” with Ronald Reagan doing a lousy job (what’s new?) depicting Grover Cleveland Alexander. Grover Norquist is more his territory.
Just gotta say am really enjoying all your comments; lots of fun. And Hooray, no trolls. Sweet.
Talking about baseball and old movies– it was fun while it lasted. If this had been a story about baseball cards I wouldn’t have commented. But any time Keith talks about Coop *and* baseball, then he really gets my attention. So here’s another non-baseball movie that has some baseball-related scenes in it– “Love Is Better Than Ever” (1952) with Elizabeth Taylor and the sadly soon-to-be blacklisted Larry Parks (conservative b astards). After watching that lousy infield fly rule call in the Cardinals-Braves playoff game last year, it was amusing to see the infield fly rule explained at length in this 1952 movie, where Liz’s dad (gruff Tom Tully, more famous for the “Caine Mutiny” where Bogie does his best impression of a contemporary paranoid Republican) is a Yankee fan but Larry Parks loves the Giants. The Yanks-Giants rivalry plays a big part in the plot of that movie. But back to Coop– Gary Cooper was not ideal to portray a man with a New York accent, and his simpleton act that he perfected in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and other classics seems like the wrong fit for Lou Gehrig. What’s interesting about the movie “High Noon” (greatest Western of all time) is that conservatives and liberals have used it as a metaphor for their beliefs.