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Pride of the Yankees (seeknaY?)
February 5, 2013 12:12 AM   Subscribe

In the classic baseball movie The Pride of the Yankees, Gary Cooper played lefty icon Lou Gehrig--but Cooper was a righty. To cover this up, legend has it the filmmakers made a Yankees uniform for him with the print reversed, had him run to third base rather than first, etc, then flipped the shots after filming. But is it true?

Baseball Researcher Tom Shieber offers a meticulous investigation.
posted by LobsterMitten (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
TLDR:

In summary, as far as the final cut of "The Pride of the Yankees" goes, Gary Cooper never wore a backwards Yankees uniform of any sort. He never batted right-handed or ran to third base after swinging. He did indeed learn to bat left-handed. And only in a handful of shots during a brief sequence portraying Gehrig's days at Hartford did the movie-makers resort to flipping footage in order to make Cooper appear to be a natural left-hander.

posted by Drinky Die at 12:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyway, added to the Netflix queue. No idea why I haven't gotten around to watching this yet.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:42 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting. Reminds me of the controversy over snooker legend Ronnie O'Sullivan playing left-handed for fun.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:56 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, that was fascinating. Thanks.

and, Drinky Die... a spoiler alert would be nice... glad I didn't read your comment before I read the article...sheesh
posted by HuronBob at 1:27 AM on February 5, 2013


QFT: It's not often that one gets the chance to do baseball research by taking a close look at Lou Gehrig's crotch, but here's an opportunity.
posted by chavenet at 3:03 AM on February 5, 2013


What a neat bit of detective work. It must have taken hours to put that together, but one must occupy oneself somehow between seasons. Spring training starts this month!
posted by exogenous at 3:37 AM on February 5, 2013


I'm curious how this story ever got started. Surely the people you couldn't teach to bat or throw with their non-dominant hand are atrocious at batting and throwing with their dominant hand.

However, this guy is basing his analysis of the costumes based on which way round the buttons and fly are as if this is a universal across clothing. Don't women's shirts and trousers traditionally have opposite buttons and flies to men's clothing? It's not like a tailor in 1941 or 1942 wouldn't have known how to make a 'backwards' uniform. I've not missed something--reversing the 'handedness' of the shirt and trousers would destroy the things he's calling giveaways, right?
posted by hoyland at 5:25 AM on February 5, 2013


All that work over such a terrible movie (said as both a baseball and movie fan) But, I'd always heard this particular legend repeated over-and-over, and it never seemed out-of-bounds for Hollywood productions of that era.

A good deal of his supposed proof, though, seems to fall on little details (the logo on the bat, the buttons and placket on shirts, the fly on the pants, signage, etc.) that he seems to think no one would have addressed when creating reversed clothing and props. In fact, these little details are exactly the sort of thing studio craftspeople would get right, in order to get the illusion right on film. We're talking about a studio system that custom-made smaller cigarettes to make some leading-men's hands look larger, after all.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:29 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


hoyland, from the article:

Having the wardrobe department go to the trouble of fashioning a backwards-buttoning jersey would have been wasted effort. With limited viewings, movie-goers simply would never notice or care about the subtlety. Still think that might have happened? If so, they'd have also had to create a special, backwards-buttoning jacket and vest for Walter Brennan (at far left in the background). Nope. It just didn't happen.
posted by Pendragon at 5:32 AM on February 5, 2013


hoyland: "I'm curious how this story ever got started."

As mentioned in the link, there was an article about it in the Washington Post:
In the "Pride of the Yankees" you'll see Cooper as a left-hander, wearing the first baseman's mitt on his right hand, taking throws pretty well and throwing the ball left-handed. But, chums, it will be an illusion. Everything you see Cooper doing left-handed in the picture, he's actually doing right-handed.

The camera men finally took charge of the job of converting Cooper into a left-hander. They had the valuable assistance of the wardrobe department. The first move was to rip the letters off the Yankee uniform of the cinema Gehrig and sew them on again, this time exactly as they would appear in a mirror-backward.

Then, to complete the illusion, they stationed Cooper not at first base for the fielding shots, but at third base. They let him throw right-handed and take all balls right-handed. Then they reversed all of the negatives, and the effect was complete. The word "SEEKNAY" was transformed into "YANKEES" across the chest of Cooper and his right-handed actions became left-handed in the reversed negatives, and everything worked out beautifully.
This Post article had some factual issues, not least because, as pointed out in the link, the uniforms in the movie said NEW YORK, not YANKEES. It's a neat story, though.
posted by exogenous at 5:37 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the end of the article, he shows shots that he does believe are reversed and the buttons do indeed go the 'wrong' way - the wardrobe did get it wrong.
posted by YAMWAK at 5:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, regarding the orientation of the "Powerized" trademark on the baseball bats:

Anyone out there think that the movie-makers had Hillerich & Bradsby manufacture backwards-branded bats? Well, if they had gone to all that trouble, you'd think they might have gone to the trouble of finding out that the "Powerized" logo wasn't even introduced on bats until 1931, years after the scene was supposed to have taken place. Nope. It just didn't happen.

This and the reversed clothing plackets in the flipped footage as YAWAK mentioned indicate that the filmmakers weren't interested in such fleeting, tiny details. This stuff can be seen in a frame-by-frame review, not in a movie theater. Unlike a cigarette, they're not prominent in a lingering close-up.
posted by exogenous at 5:46 AM on February 5, 2013


hoyland, from the article:

Having the wardrobe department go to the trouble of fashioning a backwards-buttoning jersey would have been wasted effort. With limited viewings, movie-goers simply would never notice or care about the subtlety. Still think that might have happened? If so, they'd have also had to create a special, backwards-buttoning jacket and vest for Walter Brennan (at far left in the background). Nope. It just didn't happen.


My point is that I don't think this is a particularly compelling argument. If you're going to go to the effort to stitch the letters on backwards, a the 'trouble of fashioning a backwards-buttoning jersey' probably isn't that much more, considering people made shirts oriented that way all the time. There is a gaping hole in my logic here, which is that they probably didn't make the uniforms themselves, only sew the letters on--they presumably bought them from Uniforms R Us. But even then, reversing the buttons on a shirt is not hard. A fly is obviously harder to reverse (though maybe you could if you made a horizontal cut at the bottom?).
posted by hoyland at 6:01 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


In that case, how would you explain the reversed placket on the Hartford jersey - that they forgot about it (despite being prominently featured) yet got all the tiny minor details right elsewhere?
posted by exogenous at 6:11 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


There were many other details that would have had to have been "reversed" if the popular mythology were true, hoyland. The plackets were only part of it. The "powerized" logo, the orientation of the ramps at Wrigley Field, the plackets not only on Cooper's jersey but on those of other players in the frame -- his point is that there's no way, in a world where seeing a film more than twice was highly unlikely (forget about the pausing/zooming we can do today) -- no way the production would have gone to the lengths required to fake all that.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:16 AM on February 5, 2013


I love stuff like this, except I know that someone is going to bring up this myth as fact at some point, and because I hate to be the Snopes Debunker Nerd Guy, I"m going to keep my mouth shut and get all twisted up inside. I hate that.

Also, the ur-text of this legend, the Washington Post story, was written by Shirley Povich, the sportswriting legend. His son, Maury, maintains the family legacy but more in the "meet your baby daddy" genre.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:22 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gary Cooper: I admit it, you are better than I am.
Man in Black: Then why are you smiling?
Gary Cooper: Because I know something you don't know.
Man in Black: And what is that?
Gary Cooper: I... am not left-handed.
posted by dabug at 7:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just spent the weekend in Cooperstown, checking on the Hall of Fame. This would make a very neat and fun little exhibit there.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:50 AM on February 5, 2013


In that case, how would you explain the reversed placket on the Hartford jersey - that they forgot about it (despite being prominently featured) yet got all the tiny minor details right elsewhere?

I'm not arguing the film was reversed. I'm saying his focus on the uniforms as conclusive is a bit weird, particularly when looking at the background (which he does) is much more compelling because that's much more laborious to reverse.
posted by hoyland at 8:32 AM on February 5, 2013


Reminds me of the controversy over snooker legend Ronnie O'Sullivan playing left-handed for fun

I think it was Dennis Taylor that once called him the greatest right-handed left-handed player ever.
posted by TwoWordReview at 8:43 AM on February 5, 2013


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