What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Fourth Annual Bette Davis Blog-A-Thon, which is being hosted by In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood. She’s a regular in my collection of “bloggy buddies” as Mrs. J-Dub calls them, and if you have even the remotest interest in classic film, or are looking for a good place to start one, that site needs to be in your bookmarks.
This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden in Classic Movies is a bit of a departure from the usual format, because this time I’m not discussing a specific film. Instead, as part of the aforementioned Bette Davis Blog-A-Thon, I need to tell a tale of discovery; one all about an exercise in complete kitsch leading to the discovery of greatness which happened before my time.
In 1981, a 14-year old J-Dub is fascinated by a pop song which dominates the charts done by a whiskey-voiced blond. The fact that it’s a great song accompanied by a wonderfully confusing, non-sensical video…don’t forget, this is the dawn of MTV when it was all about music videos for which there were no rules. This is certainly the case for “Bette Davis Eyes.”
The fact there’s so much stuff in that video that just doesn’t make sense coupled with the fact I’m at the age where I don’t yet understand not everything has to make sense explains why I had “moth to a flame” syndrome for that three-minute 80’s cable TV gem. Once I got past things like “What’s with all the slapping?”, that video then begged the question…just who the hell was Bette Davis?
Obviously, the fact I was asking that question meant I wasn’t a Bette Davis fan from early on, so I don’t understand why this song is speaking of her as if she is some sort of icon. In all honesty, my early appreciation for classic film came from “Movie For a Rained-Out Ball game,” which when watching a baseball team on a TV station both owned by Gene “The Singing Cowboy” Autry meant westerns, westerns, and did I mention westerns?
By the early 1980s, Davis is clearly on the down-slope of her career, which seeing her in anything current for the time means a lot of quasi-crap “made for TV” movies. Even the most ardent Davis-o-phile has to admit that if the only prism through which one had viewed her career was stuff like “A Piano For Mrs. Cimino,” they would understand why I would be wondering “what’s the big deal here?”
Then I saw Jezebel.
Then I saw Dark Victory.
Then I got it.
Those two films broke the ice for a flood of discovery. Making a list of great Bette Davis movies would be an exercise in “coals to Newcastle” as the roster for this blog-a-thon is about as good as that could get. The point is if you are like me and you need a “jumping off place” for a voyage of discovery to appreciate Davis’ status as true Hollywood royalty, either one of those movies is a good place to start.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
A funny thing happens when you become a fan of things which happened before your time; you discover things in reverse chronology. For me, this is one of the connections between the worlds of sports and classic cinema. A great example of this comes from another movie series I do on this blog. A central feature in Classic Movies My Wife Hates is “Reverse Type-Casting.” This happens when you see an actor who played a role in something which became part of this country’s cultural fabric, and even when you see them in something made before their face became associated with an iconic character, that’s all you can see. An example is the first time you watch “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Buddy Ebsen appears on screen. Everybody’s first reaction is “Hey…that’s Jed Clampett!” In other words, “reverse type-casting” is much like first impressions…they aren’t always right.
This is especially true of baseball because just like the movies, baseball is the one of all the major sports which most reveres it’s history and is so deeply woven into American culture. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to know names like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jackie Robinson. For those of you who live only in the world of film, you know all three of those of those names as they have been immortalized on the big screen more than once.
There’s really no debating there’s a link between baseball and the movies, so to understand the analogy between the silver screen’s Bette Davis and the diamond’s Harmon Killebrew, you have to roll the clock back to 1975. This is a time when I’m just discovering baseball, and my hometown team is the aforementioned Autry-owned California Angels. One weekend, the Kansas City Royals are coming to town, and everybody is making a big deal out “this might be the last time we get to see Harmon Killebrew.”
Like Bette Davis in the 80’s, by 1975 Killebrew is also at the end of his career. He’s a balding, pudgy guy nudging 40 hard; he looks more like a middle-school principal than a baseball legend. And again like Bette Davis, I’ve only seen Killebrew’s current incarnation, and I’m not impressed. I simply can’t figure out why this guy is such a “big deal.”
Then I discovered The Baseball Almanac.
Then I discovered what bold-face type in The Baseball Almanac meant.
Then I got it.
1969 was clearly Killebrew’s “Jezebel;” he scored over 100 runs, led the major leagues with 49 home runs and 140 runs driven in, and racked up an on-base percentage of .428. For this, he is named the American League’s Most Valuable player, and this is only the start of the Killebrew collection of bold-face type. “The Killer” led the American League in home runs 6 times, led ll of baseball in dingers three times, drove in over 100 runs nine times with three of those leading the American League. When Killebrew retired, there was only one person in the history of the American League who hit more homers than “The Killer,” a guy you may have heard of named George Herman “Babe” Ruth.
In other words, what do 573 home runs and 10 Academy Award nominations have in common? They will both get you called “royalty.”
P.S. To my knowledge, Bette Davis never played baseball, but Harmon Killebrew certainly made his mark on television.
The Moral of The Story:
Lots of great stuff happened before you were born. Go discover some.
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