What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Second Spencer Tracy Katherine Hepburn Blog-A-Thon being hosted In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters To Old Hollywood.
You can see all the contributions to this blog-a-thon here:
Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin (who were personal friends of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn), “Pat and Mike” centers on the exploits of Pat Pemberton (played by Katharine Hepburn). Pemberton just so happens to be the world’s pre-eminent female athlete of her day, particularity when it comes to golf and tennis. A cavalcade of championships seem to be at her fingertips, but it is soon clear to the first-time viewer that her charming but overbearing fiancé Collier (played by William Ching) is more hindrance than help.
Not only is she flustered by his presence at her competitions, he openly wants her to surrender her dreams in order to marry him. Not only does she refuse to do so, , but Pat does not give up on herself that easily. She enlists the help of a slightly shady sports promoter named Mike Conovan (played by Spencer Tracy).
From here, this film becomes a delightful bit of light comedy through various sporting endeavors…matching golf strokes with real athletes like Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Betty Hicks, along with trading forehands and volleys with Alice Marble, Don Budge, and Gussie Moran. As a sensational all-round athlete, Pemberton shows herself to to have all the qualities to be a first-rate professional.
Woven throughout Pemberton’s athletic exploits are the predictable-from-the-outset burgeonings of a romance between her and Conovan. While one can see the romance coming, at least it isn’t predictably linear in getting there,. Along the way we are treated to a jealous rival in a heavyweight boxer (played by Aldo Ray) managed by Conovan, and a racehorse he also manages which serves as a rival for his attention. We are also treated to Pemberton putting on a judo display to flatten two mobbed-up gorillas.
All tolled, “Pat and Mike” is an easy romp combining the writing styles of Gordon and Kanin, with subtle notes of Damon Runyan thrown in. It’s also not hard to feel reminiscent of “Woman of the Year” with an oddly theatrical flourish. More importantly, Hepburn pulls off the side-by-side with professional athletes in a far more credible manner than say Anthony Perkins in “Fear Strikes Out” or William Bendix in “The Babe Ruth Story.”
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Todays’s hidden sports analogy is clearly the least hidden of all the ones I’ve done; Hepburn’s “Pat Pemberton” is clearly modeled after Babe Didrikson-Zaharias…so much so the real Didrickson-Zaharias appears in this film. In the movie, Pemberton’s athletic prowess is limited to golf and tennis, but in reality Didrickson-Zaharias was easily the greatest female athlete the world has ever seen.
She originally achieved fame in Amateur Athletic Association (AAU) basketball in 1931. By 1932, Didrikson-Zaharias competed in eight of ten AAU events. She won five of them outright, and tying for the top spot in a sixth. Her performance was so dominant she won the team championship despite being literally a one-woman team.
1932 was also an Olympic year, and Didrikson-Zaharias subsequently put on a show at the Los Angeles games. In the 80-meter hurdles, she equaled the world record of 11.8 seconds in her opening heat. In the final, she broke the record with by posting a time of 11.7 seconds. Her next record-setting performance came in the javelin, where she bested the Olympic record with a 43.69 meter-throw. She had to settle for silver in the high jump, with a jump of 1.657 meters. Even though it was a world-record tying jump, the judges denied her a third gold medal after they ruled she had used an improper technique.
By the close of the 1932 Olympiad, Didrickson-Zaharias had set four world records and won two gold and one silver medal. To this day, she remains the only track and field athlete, male or female, to win individual Olympic medals in a running, throwing, and jumping event.
Following the Olympics, Didrickson-Zaharias took her talents on the road, barn-storming “Harlem Globetrotter” style with squads like Didrikson’s All-Americans Basketball Team.
She also tried her hand at exhibition baseball. In Spring Training in 1934, she took the mound to pitch an inning for the Philadelphia Athletics against the Brooklyn Dodgers. She gave up one walk and no hits. Two days later, she pitched the first inning for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Boston Red Sox. She received some tips from baseball Hall-of-Famers Burleigh Grimes and Dizzy Dean and by all accounts could throw a respectable curve-ball. A few days later, she again took to the diamond, this time for the minor-league New Orleans Pelicans in a spring tilt against the Cleveland Indians. She tossed two scoreless innings and smacked a line-drive…albeit for an out in her only plate appearance.
All tolled, Didrickson-Zaharias left her mark not only in track and field, basketball, and baseball, she was know to have played softball, competitive pocket billiards, bowling, roller-skating, and diving. She even dabbled in a few Vaudeville appearances.
But it was golf where she really came to the fore-front of American sports. By 1935, she was most-assuredly a late-comer to the game, but within three years, she was competing in the Los Angeles Open, a Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) event. In other words, in less than three years since taking up golf, she was competing in men’s events almost sixty years before Annika Sorenstam was credited for begin the first to do so. Didrickson-Zaharias went on to play in several men’s events during her career; she was the first…and remains the only woman to make the cut in a men’s event when she did so at the Los Angeles Open in 1945. Despite all that, her 1948 application to become the first woman to quality for the U.S. Open was denied by the the United States Golf Association.
Despite that, Didrickson-Zaharias had her career year in 1950 when she completed the Grand Slam of the three women’s majors of the day; the U.S. Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the Women’s Western Open. Not only did that make her the money leader on the women’s tour; it helped her to reach 10 wins faster than any other LPGA golfer. She hit that milestone in 1 year and 20 days, which is a record that still stands. She repeated as the leading money-winner again in 1951, became the fastest player to reach 20 wins, doing so in 2 years and 4 months…another mark which is still standing.
More importantly, Didrickson-Zaharias changed women’s golf by being the first to blast the ball off the tee. She was quoted as saying “It’s not enough just to swing at the ball, you’ve got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it.” As such, she brought the “grip it and rip it” approach to the women’s game with an elegantly-measured, yet demonstrably violent swing very reminiscent of that of PGA Hall-of-Famer Lee Trevino. In fact, she hit the ball so far off the tee that the legendary Byron Nelson said there were only a handful of men who could out-drive her.
The real measure of what a tremendous athlete Babe Didrikson-Zaharias was can’t be found in her accomplishments; the best assessment comes from sportswriter Grantland Rice.
She is beyond all belief until you see her perform…Then you finally understand that you are looking at the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination, the world of sport has ever seen.
The Moral of The Story:
Was Babe Didrikson-Zaharias the greatest female athlete the world has ever seen? The argument starts with three Olympic medals and four world records. Was Katharine Hepburn the greatest actress Hollywood has ever known? That argument starts with four Academy Awards for Best Actress. Discuss amongst yourselves.
FUN FACT: When Didrikson competed in the 1935 Los Angeles Open, she was teamed with a professional wrestler named George Zaharias. They would be married 11 months later. Forty years later, Susan Clark won an Emmy for portraying Didrikson-Zaharias in an ABC made-for-TV bio-pic titled “Babe.” Ex-NFL star Alex Karras was cast as George Zaharias. Clark and Karras were married soon after.
Also, this is not the first time Alex Karras has been mentioned in this series…
BONUS FUN FACT: Before the aforementioned Lee Trevino was known as a PGA legend and Hall-of-Famer, he was known as United States Marine Lee Trevino. So if you enjoy taking part in blog-a-thons like this, there’s still plenty of time to enlist in the “Send In The Marines” blog-a-thon being co-hosted by Gill at RealWeegieMidgetReviews and yours truly at Dubsism.
We’ve already got a wide range of participants and topics, but there’s still plenty left for you! If you are more of a reader than a participant, be sure to check back when this event goes live because there’s going to be a ton of great material!
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