Monday, April 19, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Play Ball!...with Music

It’s baseball season again! Time to have fun watching America’s favorite pastime. Also, the perfect time for me to talk about one of my favorite baseball films, the musical “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Released in April 1949, it stars Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, and Betty Garrett. Set in early days of baseball, Kelly and Sinatra play two star baseball players (who, during the off-season are vaudeville performers, of course), and Williams plays the new owner and manager of their team. Sinatra, playing the cute and innocent one at the time, falls for Williams, while everyone else is just annoyed a woman is now running the club. However, as Kelly tries to sabotage Williams to give up the team, he falls for her too. Don’t worry about Sinatra though. Wise-cracking, strong-willed Garrett falls for him.

I love baseball, and I think this film is one of the reasons why. I’m not a huge sports person. If someone else is watching a game of some kind, I’ll watch along with them and get into the spirit of the game. But I rarely hunt out games to watch on my own. Going to see a game in person is completely different though. That is so fun to me. And baseball games are my favorite. (College football is a close second, for those who know my family.) It’s the nostalgia of the event that I love so much, something that’s been going on in America for more than a hundred years now. Sitting there watching the game, relaxing while you eat your hotdog (or veggie dog), catching that bag of peanuts being thrown to you over 20 other people. I’m such an old-timey girl that it’s perfect for me. And “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is all about that nostalgia. Gene Kelly actually came up with the storyline himself, along with Stanley Donen, because they wanted to pay tribute to the early days of baseball. Harry Tugend and George Wells then perfected it into a screenplay, and Busby Berkeley directed it to a successful run. (It made $4 million at the box office…in 1949!)

Being a Gene Kelly film, there are of course great numbers throughout the movie, choreographed by Kelly and Donen. One of my favorites is “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg,” sung by Kelly, Sinatra, and Jules Munshin, the trio that would later that year make the classic “On the Town” together. This was the first film to pair the three gentlemen together, and their chemistry was kismet. This was the second film to pair Kelly and Sinatra together though, the first being “Anchors Aweigh” (1945). However, after “On the Town,” Sinatra mainly focused on breaking out of the naive characters he was playing, finally hitting the right mark with “From Here to Eternity” in 1953.

Esther Williams was not the first choice to star in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Originally, Judy Garland was asked, but due to her continuing unreliability resulting from her increasing drug use, she was dropped from the picture. June Allyson was then asked, but she became pregnant, resulting in “lesser-choice” Williams being cast. And it was impossible for Williams to forget that fact. In her autobiography, Williams said that making this movie was “pure misery.” Evidently, both Kelly and Donen treated her horribly, even making jokes at her expense. Being known for her swimming, Busby Berkeley had created a swimming number for Williams and Kelly to do together. But Kelly refused to do it, and instead a number titled “Baby Doll” was written for them. (It was later cut from the final film.)

And even though this movie has a lot of great songs, a soundtrack album was never created for it. Some of the stars did, however, record their own versions of a few of the movie’s tunes. Kelly and Garrett paired up to sing the songs “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Yes, Indeedy.” Garrett, by herself, recorded “It’s Fate Baby, It’s Fate.” And Sinatra recorded the lovely ballad “The Right Girl for Me.” Another song sung by Sinatra that you may recognize, “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” was a song cut from "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."  Written by Rogers and Hammerstein, this ballad was originally supposed to be part of “Oklahoma!” but was cut out of the production. Later, MGM producer Arthur Freed bought it for Judy Garland to sing in “Meet Me in St. Louis” but that idea was scrapped too. Finally, it was decided to add it to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” for Sinatra to sing to Garrett. Even though it was cut from the final film, Sinatra and Garrett did get a chance to shoot the song:



So, if you’re like me and love the classic feel of baseball, or you just want to get into the baseball spirit as you cheer on your favorite team (Go Dodgers!), check out “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It’s available on DVD.

(Post-tidbit: Baseball, of course being an American sport, isn’t that popular in the UK. So figuring the British wouldn’t appreciate the “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” title as much, it was changed in the UK to “Everybody’s Cheering.”)

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