My editor said, "they're making a movie based on your Babe Ruth book. Take a look at it being made and write something about it. Could be fun."
Maybe, I thought. It could also be confusing because, as it developed, there were two Babe Ruth movies being made at the same time. One was for television this fall (NBC, Sunday, Oct. 6, 9 p.m. EDT), and the other for movie theaters next spring. Mine was the TV version.
Various filmmakers have suggested doing a movie based on my book (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life) since it was published 17 years ago, but nothing had ever happened. When I learned a while ago that a Hollywood producer named Larry Lyttle wanted to do a film based on Babe, I assumed it was just one more case of wishful thinking.
This time it turned out to be different. The project started when Lyttle and Brandon Tartikoff, a very big cheese in show business who was then head of NBC Entertainment and is now in charge of Paramount Pictures, were relaxing next to a pool in Hollywood, talking baseball. Everybody in Hollywood relaxes next to a pool, but not everyone talks baseball. These two were talking baseball because they had just finished playing Softball. One thing led to another, and Lyttle said: You know what I'd like to do?—I'd like to do a television movie on Babe Ruth. They talked idly about who might play the Babe. Then, seriously, Tartikoff said, "Get John Goodman, and we'll do it on NBC."
Not one to sit around a pool for long, Lyttle moved quickly and "got" Goodman, or so he thought. NBC gave Lyttle the go-ahead. With NBC and Goodman in hand, Lyttle obtained the rights to Babe and was ready to roll.
I still didn't believe it would happen. Too many earlier efforts had fizzled out. Then items started appearing in newspaper gossip columns. One said, "Producer Larry Lyttle tells me his Warner Bros, project, based on the book Babe by Robert Creamer, will be made as an NBC-TV movie. Shooting will start when John Goodman finishes this season of Roseanne." Another item a few weeks later said, "Lyttle and Goodman will be doing the project for NBC with a script by current Emmy nominee Michael de Guzman.... Goodman has given his definite 'yes' to the project...."
Wow, I thought, maybe it will happen. Similar items kept popping up in the papers. Geez, I thought, John Goodman.
I had mixed feelings about Goodman. I was delighted that someone was going ahead with a movie on the Babe and that a big name was starring in it, but John Goodman? Trust Hollywood to cast a great big fat guy as Babe Ruth. Cliché heaven. Probably have hot dogs draped all over him. I mean, the Babe was overweight, but he wasn't all that fat. You don't bat .341 at the age of 37 and score 120 runs if you're built like a Duroc sow.
Still, Goodman was a big name, and he was set to go. Filming was supposed to start in the spring of 1991, and sure enough, when spring came around I had a phone call from a man named Bob Markowitz, who was to direct the film. Markowitz said there were a couple of things about the Babe that he wanted to go over with me, and we had a long, pleasant conversation. Toward the end I said I was glad that Goodman was playing Ruth, although, I said, "John Goodman is probably the only actor who has to go on a crash diet to get down to Babe Ruth's weight." I chuckled at my keen wit.
Markowitz didn't laugh. "We don't have Goodman," he said.