Wednesday, April 3, 2019

THE THIRD DORIS DAY BLOGATHON: The Winning Team (1952)


Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is presenting The Third Doris Day Blogathon running from April 3 - 5, 2019. Enjoy all the contributions HERE.


Warner Brothers generally kept their popular leading lady Doris Day busy in musicals, but in 1952 she was cast as the real-life Aimee Alexander, wife of Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in The Winning Team.


Doris had recorded the Inez James and Buddy Pepper song Ol' St. Nicholas in 1949 and it was anachronistically placed it in this film in a Christmas scene set in 1911. Audiences used to having Doris sing in her movies at least would not be disappointed. Baseball fans might find the script a little sticky going, but should enjoy the historical aspects presented.

Grover Cleveland Alexander, mother, and wife

Grover Cleveland Alexander was a dominant pitcher of his era and the sole inductee in the Hall of Fame class of 1938. All you need to know are just a few of his stats including 373 wins, 90 shutouts, an era of 2.56 to understand his importance in the history of the game.

Above, Alexander is pictured in uniform as a Sergeant with the 342nd Field Artillery in France during WWI. There he suffered trauma from the noise and from the German unleashing of mustard gas. The PTSD and physical ill effects which brought on epilepsy, combined with using alcohol to relieve the pain and fear, created problems for "Old Pete", both on and off the field.


The Winning Team screenplay plays fast and loose with the timeline of Alexander's life and relies on the rose-coloured memories of Mrs. Alexander as a consultant. The couple was married twice, first in 1918-1929 and then from 1931-1941. Their bond appears to have been as deep as their troubles.

The Winning Team presents the couple marrying in 1911 and the film climaxes with Alexander's spectacular performance for the St. Louis Cardinals against the New York Yankees in the 1926 World Series. That World Series triumph is a natural conclusion for movies where happy endings can be manipulated.

Dorothy Adams, Doris Day, Ronald Reagan
Mother Alexander, Aimee, Grover

The film follows Alexander from his engagement to Aimee and his vow to buy a farm although his talent and his heart definitely belong to baseball. Eventually, Aimee comes to accept this in her husband and becomes his biggest supporter. The passage of years is presented in Aimee's scrapbooks on her husband's career, but it is just as much fun to follow time through her changing fashions. Doris' sunny screen persona is used to good advantage in the role of number one cheerleader until secrets about Grover's illness and his drinking habit force a separation.

Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander
Life turns down a dark alley.

Director Lewis Seiler (Guadalcanal Diary) doesn't let things drag once we hit the "bigs." Grover Cleveland Alexander, baseball great, hits the skids eventually winding up as a sideshow attraction in a cheap carnival. It is through the help of his determined wife, old friends Rogers Hornsby and battery mate Bill Killefer that he is given the chance to redeem himself.

Frank Lovejoy, Ronald Reagan
Rogers Hornsby, Grover Cleveland Alexander

Many real-life ballplayers are featured in the film and through archival footage used to recreate games. The excitement of the sharing of the World Series over the radio and electric signboards, plus the camaraderie of the crowd is expertly conveyed.

James Millican, Hugh Sanders, Ronald Reagan
Bill Killefer, Joe McCarthy, Grover Cleveland Alexander

None of the lead actors playing actual ballplayers are as young as they ought to be at the beginning of the film since "kid" is the most often used term of address. It is easy to accept that movie reality as the actors grow into their age. Reagan, in particular, looks quite comfortable in the role of an athlete and ably conveys Alexander's confusion and fear when things start to go wrong.

Ronald Reagan, Doris Day
Grover and Aimee

Portrayed as The Winning Team, it is a happy pairing of actors in Ronald Reagan and Doris Day, whose appearance in the previous year's Storm Warning did not have their characters interact. In real life, they had dated briefly, but Fate or Cupid had other plans. Nonetheless, on screen, they exhibit a sense of fun and belonging as the beleaguered pitcher and his wife.

Grover Cleveland Alexander
1887-1950

There's something to be said for being the fellow at the beginning of the alphabet. Check out this 1949 poem by Ogden Nash, Line-Up for Yesterday.


Trivia:


Apparently, in the world of movie baseball, there was only one home plate umpire. When a scene called for one in The Winning Team it was always Bill Klem, a posthumous Hall of Fame inductee known as The Old Arbitrator. At any rate, the casting of this role is a boon to those fans eager for Pat Flaherty sightings.


John Beradino pictured here as Cardinals' pitcher Bill Sherdel was a major league infielder for the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians, and Pittsburgh Pirates until an injury ended his career. Turning to acting, you can spot Beradino in  Seven Men from Now, North by Northwest, Suddenly, Them!, etc. This is years before his three Daytime Emmy nominations as Dr. Steve Hardy on General Hospital, celebrating its 56th anniversary this week.












26 comments:

  1. As a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I have always enjoyed THE WINNING TEAM, even if it plays with the facts. As you wrote, Ronald Reagan and Doris Day made a winning pair on screen and that elevates this solid, if unspectacular, baseball bio.

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    1. It seems to me that Hollywood missed out on some really interesting films by constantly messing with the facts when they chose to do a biography. Name recognition alone seemed to be the deciding factor in a project.

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  2. Great write Up of an almost forgotten film. Day-Reagan really have good chemistry together. Too bad, it didn't work out off-screen. I can just imagine it. Reagan marries Doris, gets her interested in Politics and in 1980 - we get Doris Day as President.

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    1. Haha! I love the idea of Doris Day as President!

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    2. Thanks. I agree with Ruth's chuckle at the thought of Doris Day as President. The world would be a sunnier place and the national anthem switched to Que Sera Sera.

      As I recall from Doris' autobiography (but it's been years since I read it), she thought Ronnie was a nice guy and a good dancer, but then he'd start talking about politics and she'd be bored out of her mind. I can see her doing that cute cross-eyed look.

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  3. I wonder if Doris knew JANE WYMAN(the ex-wife of Reagan) or NANCY(DAVIS)REAGAN. I know Jane and daughter MAUREEN had cameo roles in one of the movies that Doris did early in her career. It co-starred DENNIS MORGAN & JACK CARSON. I cant remember if Doris was in their scene.

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    1. I meant I cant remember if Doris was in the scene with JANE & MAUREEN. I believe the title of the movie is ITS A GREAT FEELING.

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    2. Doris and Jane Wyman were both at Warner Brothers so it is probably that they were acquainted. I believe Nancy Davis was at MGM, and Doris made one movie there, Love Me or Leave Me.

      It's a Great Feeling is a lot of fun with all those cameo appearances.

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  4. Well, here's a baseball movie I've never even heard of, so thanks for the introduction. I have a certain husband who would be very interested in this film, too.

    Also, I like what you said about seeing the passage of time through photos/women's fashions. That is an excellent way to mark time, in my opinion, and gives a gal a chance to do a little window shopping, haha.

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    1. I love the window shopping aspect. The baseball scenes are fun too with the historical names and teams represented. I think there was an honest effort to combine a love story with a baseball story, and if it works, depends on the viewer.

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  5. This film looks absolutely delightful! It is completely new to me and I will try to seek it out for sure. Doris' rendition of "Ol' Saint Nicholas" is one of my favourites and is delightly recorded on her Christmas album. I get the feeling that Doris and Ronald make a convincing couple and as far as I can see, they look pretty great together! :-) Thank you for this very enjoyable read, Paddy!

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    1. Thank you, Erica.

      I enjoy Ol' Saint Nicholas very much. Even though it is not from 1911, for the purpose of movie, it is such a fun and homey scene. I put it alongside Merry Christmas All from On Moonlight Bay as a favourite. They make me wish Doris had some more "Christmas" movies in her collection.

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  6. I had to delete this film off of my DVR a few months ago before I could see it, and I've felt guilty about it ever since. I must admit that I'm not particularly excited by Ronald Reagan's acting (among other things), but you've got me intrigued. And of course, I'd watch anything for Doris!

    Thanks for contributing to my blogathon! It's much appreciated.

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    1. The Winning Team is certainly not an essential movie, but it is interesting and entertaining. It will pop around on the schedule again sometime and at just over an hour and a half, won't take up your whole day.

      It was fun for me to pay homage to Doris. I've been a life-long fan. Thanks for giving us this blogathon.

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  7. Doris got to work with a lot of big name actors-ROCK HUDSON,CLARK GABLE, CARY GRANT, JAMES GARNER, ROD TAYLOR & RICHARD WIDMARK. Even though she did a HITCHCOCK movie with JIMMY STEWART I think it would have been good if they had done a comedy together. I think it would have been great if Doris had done a DISNEY movie-maybe with FRED MACMURRAY. One of my favorite actors(especially in comedies & westerns) is GLENN FORD.Do you think Doris & Glenn would have been a good duo?

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    1. H'm, I'm a fan of both Doris Day and Glenn Ford but never thought of them as a movie team until you brought it up. Most definitely I can see them in a comedy western. What fun that would have been!

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  8. Paddy Lee, good write-up of Doris Day and Ronald Reagan in THE WINNING TEAM. Yes, I think that Doris and Ronnie had good chemistry and I have always enjoyed watching this movie, regardless of the looseness of some of the facts. This is a better baseball movie than you would think, because it does cover very well Alexander's defining moment as star of the 1926 World Series of the Saint Louis Cardinals versus the New York Yankees, which was one of the best World Series' ever. One of the reasons this series was great was because of the greatness of Grover Cleveland Alexander's pitching skills. The movie showed this.

    Regarding Ronald Reagan's performance, I think he was good and entertaining and comes close to the character of the real Alexander in this uplifting story, as only Classic Hollywood could tell it. Doris Day gives us charm and sensitivity in her role as Aimee Alexander. She had the real Aimee Alexander looking over shoulder as a technical advisor and looks like that she got the portrayal of her and her husband that she wanted.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Doris Day 97 years young and still as luminous as ever.


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    1. I appreciate your well-expressed thoughts on The Winning Team. It is definitely the presentation of Alexander's skill and the games that draws me to this movie. It is not that I don't enjoy the chemistry between the leads, and their performances, but the truth in the story would not have detracted from the accomplishment, and it is a shame Hollywood didn't see that.

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  9. JUNE ALLYSON & JIMMY STEWART did a baseball movie, too-THE STRATTON STORY. Caftan Woman, how would you compare JUNE ALLYSONS movie image to the image Doris had? Also could you compare GINGER ROGERS, BETTY GRABLE, & JUNE HAVER to Doris?

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    1. The Stratton story features one of my favourites of June's performances.

      All of these musically talented actresses played to different strengths and received material suited to them from their studios. At one time or another Ginger, Betty, and Doris were at the top of the box office and it was probably due to their personalities and the times.

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  10. Interesting, I had never heard about this movie! As I once wrote, everything I know about baseball, I learned from movies, and I think this one has a little more to teach me. Very nice article!
    Kisses!

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    1. Baseball was made for the movies. Of all the sports, it translates the best to a screen treatment. Comedies, dramas, biographies. And you can't help but pick up a thing or two that makes watching a game even more enjoyable.

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  11. Earlier I wondered if Doris knew Jane Wyman. Later I realized that they worked with some of the same leading men. Doris worked with ROCK HUDSON 3 times and Jane worked with him 2 times. Doris worked with Rod Taylor 2 times and Rod was on FALCON CREST for the last 2 seasons as the long-time friend of Angela(Jane). Later their characters married, making Rod as Frank Agretti the fourth husband of Angela. Have you heard or read much about FALCON CREST? They had some big name HOLLYWOOD stars from the earlier years. KIM NOVAK, JANE GREER, CELESTE HOLM, CESAR ROMERO,& LANA TURNER.

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    1. I didn't watch watched Falcon Crest despite the impressive cast. I just never could get into the nighttime soaps. Daytime is more my thing in that line.

      Although a friend loaned me his DVD set of Peyton Place's first season from back in the 1960s. I was impressed.

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  12. Ive read about PEYTON PLACE. I mentioned ED NELSON on two of your pages, The Twilight Zone one and when I said it was Jane Powells birthday I mentioned Ed and Jane being on the same MURDER, SHE WROTE episode. I remember that you were complimentary about Ed (and CLU GULAGER). Ed guest starred on GUNSMOKE, POLICE WOMAN, DALLAS & many many more. What are some shows you like Ed in best? Also did you ever watch the soap CAPITOL? It had a great cast-besides Ed there were JULIE ADAMS(Eve Simpson from MSW), RORY CALHOUN, RICHARD EGAN, CONSTANCE TOWERS, and MARJ DUSAY who replaced CAROLYN JONES due to illness.

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    1. I watched Capitol sporadically, but wish I could have seen more of it. Great actors and interesting backdrop.

      Watching Ed Nelson on my favourite shows, particularly the westerns was always a treat. I think he was a most intriguing actor, and his appearances on Gunsmoke and Murder, She Wrote gave him the opportunity to show how good he was.

      When my daughter was younger she joined me watching an episode of The Virginian. After the first couple of scenes with Ed Nelson, she looked at meand said "That guy is good." Yes, indeed.

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