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The Babe Goes HOLLYWOOD
Robert W. Creamer
September 30, 1991
The Bambino's biographer visited the set of a television movie to see the legend come to life
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September 30, 1991

The Babe Goes Hollywood

The Bambino's biographer visited the set of a television movie to see the legend come to life

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In the scenes I watched, Lang caught the flavor of the boisterous, flamboyant, sometimes sensitive, sometimes self-pitying man Ruth was. All good actors are mimics, and Lang had spent hours listening to tapes and watching old film clips of Ruth, picking up mannerisms and gestures, catching the rhythms and tones of his speech. Between scenes Lang was loud, lively, funny, a little brash. Perhaps he's that way all the time, or perhaps, like a Method actor, he had immersed himself in the role. He had gone to sec Ruth's birthplace, and he had visited Ruth's grave. He took his 10-year-old daughter, Lucy, and her friend Sarah with him when he visited the grave. "We brought daisies and roses," Lang said. "Someone had already put a peanut on the grave, which seemed right. I sprinkled a little Skoal around, because the Babe liked snuff, and then we sang two choruses of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The girls were crying when we finished, and I was about to."

At one point Mark Tinker, the director, a tall, blond 40-year-old, wondered aloud what Ruth was really like. I was startled when Lang quoted from memory a passage in a letter written by the erudite Waite Hoyt, Ruth's old teammate: "Yet there was buried in Ruth a humanitarianism beyond belief, an intelligence he was never given credit for, a childish desire to be over-virile, living up to credits given his home-run power—and yet a need for intimate affection and respect."

"To me," Lang said, "that's the central thing about Ruth."

Lang is a natural righthander, but he was taught to hit lefthanded by Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was on the set. "I enjoy working with him," Carew said. "He's pretty good." One day they were trying to film a home run. A long fly ball would serve the camera as a homer, but Lang kept hitting hard, flat line drives. Frank Pace, the producer (Lyttle is properly the executive producer, the top dog), was standing with Lyttle behind the camera. After each line drive Tinker would yell, "Cut. Let's try it again." Carew went to the plate after one take and spoke quietly to Lang, moving the actor's hands slightly, adjusting the angle of the bat.

"He hit a fly yesterday that went 350 feet," Lyttle said. "Unbelievable."

Lang whacked another line drive, and Pace said, "He's hitting ropes today."

"But he's supposed to be a home run hitter," Lyttle complained.

"He had more than twice as many singles as he had home runs," Pace said, somehow defending both Lang and Ruth in the one "he."

Then Lang caught hold of one and belted a long fly ball. "He really hit that one!" someone cried, and the extras in the grandstand whooped and hollered just as though the Babe himself had hit the ball. Later, Lang was filmed rounding third and winking at the third base coach. He was filmed crossing home plate, trotting to the dugout, lifting his cap to the roaring crowd. He was filmed trying to stretch a single into a double and then raising hell with an umpire when he was called out.

It was fun to watch. Baseball purists criticize baseball movies for small anachronisms and other deviations from what Mark Twain called the petrified truth, but I don't think that matters nearly as much as getting essential things right—in this case an accurate sense of the Babe and a genuine feeling for the game.

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