Category Archives: 1920

Babe Ruth, Actor

 

George Herman “Babe” Ruth acted in a few films over his lifetime, but a majority of these films could and should be considered propaganda films as they were “fictional” films about his life. It’s an interesting footnote in history that these films starred him, playing himself, but actually had no basis in real fact.

The first film was “Heading Home” (1920) and was spearheaded by the Yankees Organization as a PR stunt to present Babe Ruth as their upcoming “Star” player. The Yankees and Jacob Rupert purchased Babe from the Red Sox in 1919 and instantly went into production on the film and the publicity stunt worked.  The Babe is the main contributing factor for the success of the Yankee’s popularity and winning streak in the 20’s and 30’s.  The Yankee ownership and management really knew how to take full advantage of their “Star’s” image and presented a story that was complete hogwash.babe ruth heading home

The real story of his early upbringing is that he was raised on the Baltimore docks where his father ran a waterfront bar where young George was constantly exposed to the rowdy behavior and practices of merchant seamen and dockwallopers.  Inevitably, George became incorrigible as a result and his father was forced to turn him over to St Mary’s Industrial School for Boys there in Baltimore at the age of only 7.  He stayed there till he was 19 when local baseball scouts discovered him. In the film, “Heading Home”, the story is of a country boy who can’t get the hang of playing baseball and is the butt of jokes in his small town. But one day he gets mad and knocks a towering home run. Suddenly he is off and running to fame in the big leagues. When he returns to his home town, everyone sees that he is the same loveable fellow he was before. Hogwash.baberuth

Interesting to note that he had the single season home run record in 1919 at 29 home runs, when he was sold and broke that record the very next year when he hit an amazing 54 home runs the same season his first movie was released.  His next film would come 7 years later called, “Babe Comes Home” (1927) and would be produced after Babe has become a true sports star but before his legend status. It’s a real shame, but there are apparently no surviving copies of this film anywhere and would certainly be worth a mint if one was found, as it was released during his incredible 60 home run year.  No other player before had ever hit 60 home runs in one season, and many people thought it to be impossible. He actually was the only player in history to do so in the original 154 game season because when Roger Maris broke the record in 1961 the baseball season had changed to 162 games so he had 8 more games in which to score 1 more hit than Ruth.babe ruth 60th

As the Babe’s career was winding down in 1932, he managed to perform in a series of 5 short films about himself, again fictional, but very playful and fun.  Most of these featured kids as well.  This was also the year of his most famous hit, the “Called Shot” in the World Series where after 2 strikes he raised his bat to the center field wall and then at the very next pitch proceeded to hit a home run over the very same wall.  No one could say he didn’t know how to entertain a crowd!babe ruth lou gehrig

He retired from baseball in 1935 but goes on to his most famous cameo in “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942), with Gary Cooper staring as Lou Gehrig on a biography of his life. This film was released just 17 days after Lou Gehrig died of ALS.  Babe Ruth missed several days of shooting and filming during the production, because of his own illness. He would die of cancer 6 years later. It’s interesting to note, of course that Gary Cooper does fantastic, but In reality, Gary Cooper was decidedly not a fan of baseball and required extensive coaching in order to look even passable on a baseball diamond. In fact, he had never played the game before, even as a youth, and had never even seen a baseball game in person until he was hired for this film.  It was another Babe that helped him through the film, scenes requiring Cooper to throw a ball as a Yankee were filmed using his stand-in, Babe Herman. Babe Herman also was a technical advisor on the film and consulted with Cooper daily to get him prepared for the film.babe ruth pride of the yankees

Best Stunts of the Year List 1920-1929

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1920-1929 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1920:  The Mark of Zorro

First time on the list for Zorro (not the last), and for Douglas Fairbanks.  The Mark of Zorro represents the first in a line of Adventure films and Douglas Fairbanks was technically the first swashbuckler, an adventure actor that does a lot of the stunts himself.  He was an incredible athlete, by all accounts, and this film showcases that ability very nicely.zorro 2

1921:  Never Weaken

Harvey Parry admitted on his death bed that he doubled Harold Lloyd on some of the stunts in this movie.  This comedy movie would make way for all the dangerous slapstick comedies to come by Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.never tumblr_njqmx6K3Gr1rdfgw4o1_500

1922:  Robin Hood

Great example of Douglas Fairbanks at the top of his game, but in this case he’s helped out by his stunt double, Charles Lewis in several stunts.  This is also the first time Robin Hood makes the list (also, not the last) and it’s interesting to me that several movies hit the list multiple times.  You’d expect that with movie series like James Bond, being highly stunt driven, but still seems like a surprise when it’s just different versions of the same movie, like Robin Hood and Zorro.robin-hood

1923:  Safety Last!

The second half of this film, where he is climbing up each floor of a building is sheer brilliance.  It’s nerve-wracking!  The final few moments hanging from the clock is as iconic a film moment as you get.  It’s a single-solitary slice of film that represents everything that being a stunt performer is all about.  This would be the poster boy for the stunt movement.  In fact, this should be the award they give out at the Academy Awards for Stunts, a Golden Statue of Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock tower.safety last

1924:  Sherlock, Jr.

This is the period where Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton keep out-doing each other every film.  But, I will add, that this particular film is just about my favorite stunt film of all time.  It would definitely be in the top ten for best stunts of all time, it’s that great.  Buster Keaton not only blows your mind with the stunts in this film, but it’s also an incredible film cinematically and some of the techniques he develops with this film are revolutionary.sherlock buster

1925:  The Prince of Pep

This was where Richard Talmadge was trying to be an actor, but he soon found out that his talents lay with Stunt work.  He goes on to be a fantastic Stunt Man and Stunt Coordinator in the years to come. In this one, he has a nifty gag where he jumps from the rooftop of one building through the window of the next building.  He makes it look easy.pep2

1926:  The Devil Horse

Yakima Canutt is generally thought of as the grand-daddy of all stuntmen…not that he actually gave birth to all of them, just that he was a big reason why stunt work has legitimized as much as it is right now. He developed techniques for safety and paved the way for most of the stunt men to work behind the camera as an action director or second unit director and as a stunt coordinator.  In this film he shows his early chops as a rodeo star as he rides the devil horse, Rex.yakima captured

1927:  Wings

This film won the first Academy Award for Best Picture, but thanks to Dick Grace, has some great flying stunts in it as well.  No-one crashed a plane on cue better than he did.

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1928:  Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Another great film from Buster Keaton.  This one is another one of those iconic images that help to propel the whole stunt world forward, an amazing stunt, where Buster just stands in one spot as the whole front of the building falls around him.  Could have easily killed him if he was just a little bit off his mark.  Great stunt.Steamboat bill Jr

1929:  Tarzan the Tiger

Every wonder where Tarzan got his signature yell and signature swing from tree to tree from?  Yep, from this movie.  They used it in every Tarzan movie after that.  Frank Merrill was very athletic and did all his stunts in a skimpy loin-cloth.tarzan07

For more information about these stunt performers and these movies, including a lot of great trivia, please look for their chapters in the new movie stunt book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Douglas Fairbanks and the Mark of Zorro

 

The genesis of the word “swashbuckler” had its start with this movie. Douglas Fairbanks was the original “adventurer”, and he performed most of the stunts in his films himself. He was an excellent athlete and used his physical abilities to his best advantage. However, there were instances when a stuntman was used (as proved by outtakes from The Gaucho (1927)), as these types of stunts were deemed too risky for the star.zorro-still

Fairbanks’ prodigious athletic prowess and tremendous enthusiasm made this movie a great success, leading to a whole series of similar swashbuckler roles for Fairbanks, including The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Fairbanks’ astonishing acrobatics amaze even modern audiences, particularly in the climax of The Mark of Zorro. A sequel, Don Q, Son of Zorro, with Fairbanks reprising his role as Don Diego and also playing Don Diego’s son, Don Cesar de la Vega, was released in 1925.

Interesting to note, Fencing master and graduate of the Military Institute of Physical Education and Fencing (Belgium), Fred Cavens was responsible for bringing style and technique to the duels in Hollywood films. His first work on a Hollywood film was in this movie and he became a Hollywood staple throughout the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. He did a lot of the fighting in this film as well as train Douglas Fairbanks to play Zorro. He also went on to train Guy Williams, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power.zorro 2

The Mark of Zorro was directed by Fred Niblo for Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation, released by United Artists and features Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro. The Zorro costume of black clothes, black mask, and round black hat that audiences know today was introduced in this film rather than in the original short story, and McCulley dressed Zorro in that outfit in his many subsequent Zorro stories in imitation of Fairbanks’ fantastically popular film. Also, Fairbanks’ acting exerted a tremendous influence upon later actor Burt Lancaster, as Lancaster frequently mentioned, and modern audiences can’t help but note this in Fairbanks’ first scene as Zorro, in which a surreally huge smile is accentuated.

I also think it’s very interesting to mention that not only was Douglas Fairbanks the physical basis for both Superman and Batman, this film was also the movie that Bruce Wayne and his parents went to see when they were killed in the alley, as mentioned in comic book history of the Golden Age.mark of zorro1920

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1.  Swashbuckler – Swashbuckler(a.k.a. swasher) is a term that emerged in the 16th centuryand has been used for rough, noisy and boastful swordsmen ever since. A possible explanation for this term is that it derives from a fighting style using a side-sword with a buckler in the off-hand, which was applied with much “swashing and making a noise on the buckler”. Later the name “swashbuckler” (like Gunslinger) became common for an archetype and the accordant special film genre.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM