Boston Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth made his debut on this day 99 years ago. Ruth earned the victory in a 4-3 triumph over Cleveland, and a legend was born.
Ruth would leave pitching and Boston to become arguably the greatest slugger in baseball history with the Yankees. But did you also know that Ruth became popular on the big screen?
Ruth signed a film contract in 1920 and appeared in nine films, mostly as himself. Also in 1920, Ruth starred in the silent movie “Headin’ Home.” Ruth was a country boy who didn’t quite understand baseball. But after hitting a home run, he begins his path to stardom in the major leagues.
According to the website imdb.com, Ruth received $25,000 for the film, a large amount at the time. Instead of cashing the check, Ruth kept it to show it off to friends. By the time he finally decided to receive his cash, the check bounded due to poor box office results.
In 1927, the same year Ruth was a member of the vaunted “Murderer’s Row” with the Yankees, he appeared in another silent film, “Speedy.” The movie starred famous silent movie actor Harold Lloyd. In the film, Lloyd plays a taxi driver who delivers Ruth to Yankee Stadium and then stays for the game.
But Ruth’s most noted performance came as himself in the 1942 biopic “The Pride of the Yankees.” Gary Cooper starred in the movie about the life story of the “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig. According to Ruth’s biographer Robert Creamer, he had become overweight after retiring in 1935. Ruth had to lose 40 pounds for the part.
In addition, Ruth was the subject of two biopics. “The Babe Ruth Story” was released on Sept. 6, 1948, three weeks after Ruth’s death. William Bendix portrayed Ruth, but I wouldn’t suggest watching it unless you really have nothing to do. Most people would use some words such as fictionalized, over exaggerated and melodramatic to describe the film. That’s how bad it is.
Forty-four years later in 1992, another movie on Ruth’s life was released. “The Babe” starred John Goodman as the Bambino, but the movie was criticized for errors and historical inaccuracies.
I actually enjoyed how director Barry Levinson used a Ruth-like character in the 1984 movie “The Natural.” Actor Joe Don Baker, who bears a striking resemblance to Ruth, portrayed “The Whammer” and appeared to be the most popular player at the time. The movie heroine Roy Hobbs and “The Whammer” are on the same train in the beginning of the movie, and Hobbs strikes him out on three pitches during a stop.
Ruth dominated on the diamond over three decades. Hollywood was smart to bring him onto the silver screen and take advantage of his larger-than-life popularity.