In honor of the birth of our great nation, this week for beauty in the movies I bring you A League of Their Own.
You’ve all seen this right? I mean it’s probably the most successful female-centered film of the 90’s (seriously, what is up with all the lady flicks from 1990-1993? It’s great—but did we progress and then regress?).
The quote “There’s no crying in baseball!” is in the top one hundred movie quotes of all time. This is one of those films that actually broke into the mainstream as a huge commercial success. Is it because Madonna is in it? Or because guys like baseball so more of them would see it? Maybe it’s because it can in no way be labeled a romantic comedy, or because while there are emotional moments in the movie it avoids being overly saccharine or serious. For whatever reason, this movie side-stepped the “chick flick” label, and has become an American classic.
Here’s a little back story; in 1943 Philip K. Wrigley founded the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League as a way to keep America’s interest in baseball alive (and make money) whist the men folk were away during WWII. Though the league was an eventual success, poor management and the introduction of televised major league games in the 1950s lead to the end of the league in 1954. The film A League of Their Own, is a fictionalized account of two sisters who play on the Rockford Peaches, an actual team that played in Rockford Illinois during the eleven years the league existed.
The movie starts in the 1990’s with Dottie (Geena Davis) as an older woman, packing up to go to what we later learn is a reunion held at The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York where an exhibit on the AAGPBL is opening. In a flashback we get to see her story.
In 1943 Dottie Hinson is recruited after scout Ernie Capadino, (Jon Lovitz) sees her play on her local team in Oregon. Dottie’s husband is away at war, but otherwise she’s happy with her life, so she declines the invitation. Her sister Kit (Lori Petty) however is desperate to go, so Dottie agrees that as long as Kit can come along, she’ll go to the try-out in Chicago. The two sisters both make the league and end up on the Rockford Peaches together. Also on their team is Doris (Rosie O’Donnell), Mae (Madonna) and a bunch of other ladies including star-hitter Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh). Former pro-baseball player, and fall down drunk, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) is signed on to coach the team, but more specifically to come out and wave his hat for the crowd before each game. With the total lack of leadership from their coach, Dottie takes over control of the team. The League isn’t doing so well, and PR manager of the league Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) comes to Dottie and the girls to tell them they need to be spectacular for the press or the league will shut down due to lack of funds. The girls step up to the plate (come on, I had to pun!) and play the game with gusto, grace, and showmanship. Crowds fill the stands, the girls are featured in national newspapers, and the league owner, candy-bar magnate Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall), is delighted.
Unfortunately with the success of the team, the competition is ramped up, and the sibling rivalry between Kit and Dottie reaches its peak when Dottie sends in a relief pitcher to replace Kit during a game. Seeing the tension between the two sisters, Ira Lowenstein has Kit traded to the Racine Belles. Kit blames Dottie for the trade and the two separate bitterly. I’ll end there in case any of you haven’t seen it, which I highly suggest you do, it’s a great summer movie! And also it has a great female director, Penny Marshall, and it’s always good to support films made by other women, because there aren’t enough.
One of the most notable points of the film is the way the women are sexualized and feminized in order to promote the league. Firstly, they try to limit their recruits to attractive girls, then they are sent to charm school, groomed, and put in short-skirted uniforms, which makes everything you do in baseball (like squatting) look all kinds of dirty. Doing some research into the actual AAGPBL, the women had to wear lipstick at all times, could not have short hair, and were given beauty kits with a detailed list of instructions on how to use them. They were also not allowed to smoke or drink in public, breaking any of these rules could mean a $10 fine or suspension.
This movie has a lot of great moments, many of them between the women who come to act as a family. Probably one of the sweetest mini-story lines is that of Marla Hooch, a sheltered girl raised by her father who is almost passed over by the league because while she is an astounding talent (she’s a switch hitter!), she isn’t deemed attractive enough. On their way to the try-outs in Chicago Ernie Capadino stops in with Dottie and Kit to see if Marla is any good, and when he won’t take her, Dottie and Kit drop their suitcases and refuse to leave. When Marla’s father is talking to Ernie he tells him “A coach from the American legion team said if she was a boy he would’ve taken her to the state tournament, and I said, if she was a boy I’d be in New York talkin’ to the Yankees” I’ll add that if she was a boy nobody would be thinking twice about her appearance either.
I like Marla’s storyline because it also shows us what women can do for each other. Here is a girl raised without any other female influence, but once she finally gets to be around other girls she blossoms, comes out of her shell, falls in love, and finds happiness.
Hanging over the film is the constant threat of WWII, most specifically the death of the player’s husbands. It makes for a compelling backdrop to a story about female achievement and sisterhood, and draws fuller attention the the fact that these women are just replacements for men who should be there. Much like Rosie the Riveter, the AAGPBL showed that women could take on the same challenges as men and be successful at them. Unfortunately as soon as the war had ended, the same women were expected to revert back to their former selves. The 1950’s marked a progression backward for women, as men returned to their old positions and women were left in the kitchen to forget all they had achieved. It was a sad moment in feminist history, and an important one to remember.
It’s interesting that despite the success of the league, and the film as well, women’s baseball has never been brought back in any real way. It’s unfortunate, because if their were such amazing female players then, there must be some great ones out there now who never get the opportunity to play.
I don’t think the attractiveness of these women is what made the AAGPBL popular, I think people just love baseball, no matter who is playing it, which is why it would be great to see another all American woman’s baseball team turn up one day, I hope we’ll all be around to see it when it happens.
Have a great holiday weekend everybody! Eat some BBQ and pie, see some fireworks, hang out with family and friends, and celebrate being free and being American!
I’ll see you back here on Tuesday, I’m taking Monday off for the holiday. Go have some fun, and thanks for reading—tell your friends!
Oh, and here’s the shopping list if you want to get the look:
6 GBP – johnlewis.com
More John Lewis Women hats »
8 GBP – m-butterfly.co.uk
More hats »
$12 – modcloth.com
59 CAD – gravitypope.com
$28 – endless.com