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 5th Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blog-A-Thon being hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. She hosted the first blog-a-thon in which I ever participated; you might say she helped create the monster you see now some 90 episodes later. At one time, I wondered why she kept having me in these events; after all, she has to be smarter than that considering she just earned an advanced degree in “filmy stuff.” Then I realized her genius…she has me around as my thick-headed slop makes the other participants look that much better 🙂
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
Have you ever heard the old saying “save the best for last?” No doubt, there are some hardcore Bergman-o-philes who might recoil in horror at what I’m about to suggest, but for my money, Ingrid Bergman’s final performance may very well be one of her best.
For purposes of full disclosure, I’m not the world’s foremost Ingrid Bergman fan. I don’t get far off the “beaten path” when it comes to her work; I couldn’t take a discussion much beyond “Casablanca,” “Gaslight,” or “Notorious.” I could barely tell you if Rossellini is a pasta dish or a director, but I can tell you this. Anybody who does consider themselves a fan of Bergman needs to have this movie in their “watched” folder.
If it weren’t for “Movie for a Rained-Out Ball Game,” I wouldn’t have discovered this gem either. Now, you can’t be a “movie snob” and still appreciate “A Woman Called Golda.” Going in, you have to understand this is a “made for television” effort; it has the inherent flaws of such a movie.
First, it’s pretty clear this movie lacked the luxury of a large budget. Second, having such low overhead is why local television stations had this film in the bank ready for the “rainy day.” Lastly, there’s the issue of casting. Most such films have three core characteristics:
1) A Collection of “That Guy” Actors
This is a tactic shared by disaster movies as I explored in the low-budget Martin Milner 1976 TV epic “Flood!” The difference is the price tags on the cast of familiar faces. “A Woman Called Golda” is no exception. The first-time viewer of a sufficient age is certainly going to recognize some faces of the time. If you were a fan of “The Jeffersons,” you might recognize Franklin “Mr. Willis” Cover playing Senator Hubert Humphery. Fans of the “Star Wars” franchise might recognize this movie’s “Mr. Macy” as General Rieekan from “The Empire Strikes Back;” the guy who looks like he’s wearing throat lozenges on his uniform. Then’s there’s the ever-present Ned “Squeal Like a Pig” Beatty.
That’s just for openers. If for no other reason, you need to watch this movie to spot all the familiar faces. This cast features one Oscar winner and four Oscar nominees in a melange of the recognizable. You can even make a drinking game out of spotting them all.
2) A Television Legend
Arguably the biggest legend to date is television history in William Shatner. But if his first series didn’t become so iconic, Shatner is likely little more than a footnote in the grand scheme of the small screen; he’s forever the guy who sees gremlins on the wing in “The Twilight Zone.”
Let’s be honest, “Star Trek” doesn’t become a staple of television history with out Leonard Nimoy; Shatner lived long and prospered because of “Spock.” In the very same vein as the green-blooded Spock did for Captain Kirk, Nimoy’s presence in this film as Golda Meir’s husband lays the foundation for the capital piece of casting for any film of this ilk…
3) Honest to Goodness Hollywood Royalty (albeit an aging one)
Character actor extraordinaire Robert Loggia’s portrayal of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat offered the opportunity to portray one of the great dynamic characters of all time. Sadat was one of the military officers who staged a coup d’état against King Farouk in 1952. He became prominent in Egyptian politics serving as Vice President and Minister of State under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Sadat succeeded Nasser as President of Egypt in 1970, the year after Golda Meir became the Prime Minister of Israel.
The problem is Loggia was normally known for playing “Mob” type uber-hoodlums and he simply just wasn’t up to the task of playing a statesman like Sadat.
Frankly, there are times when Loggia’s performance borders on the clownish, but putting him in that role was either the definition of “accidentally successful” or pure, unadulterated genius. If an actor capable of exploring the depth of a character like Anwar Sadat had been cast in that role, it very easily could have forced a pivot in perspective of the whole film. If they had been able to put Anthony Quinn in that role, they might as well have re-worked the whole picture to “A Man Called Anwar” rather than “A Woman Called Golda.”
In terms of world history, the tales of Anwar Sadat and Golda Meir are inextricably linked, which makes telling the tale of one without making a co-star of the other intrinsically difficult. Besides, as previously mentioned, Paramount Domestic Television only had budget for one Hollywood monarch, and that was Ingrid Bergman.
Even if they hadn’t re-worked the picture, the Sadat character could have easily stolen the movie. When Sadat comes to power in 1970, he is the leader of a nation orders of magnitude larger and more powerful than Israel. Not only is that nation thirsty for revenge for the loss of the Sinai Peninsula during the 1967 “Six-Day War,” but the Soviet Union is Egypt’s main source of foreign aid and also wouldn’t mind seeing the Jewish state wiped off the map. Sadat know that being hostile to both the United States and Israel was a hindrance to industrialization and modernization of Egypt, but changing those things was not going to be an “overnight” project.
But by 1973, the Arab states, particularly Syria, Jordan, and the Egyptian Army – those who had lost territory to Israel in 1967 – were ready to unleash the dogs of war yet again in a bid to recapture the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the other lands lost in the previously. This leads us to the defining moment of Golda Meir’s life.
“A Woman Called Golda” was a four-hour “made for television” movie originally aired in two-hour halves in 1982. As the aforementioned “Hollywood Royalty,” Bergman’s main role was to lend gravitas to the film. The film opens in 1977; the scene being Golda Meir has returned to her old school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is telling the students the story of her life. Through a series of flashbacks woven together with Bergman’s narrative, the audience is drawn into the story-telling. In one fell swoop, all the problems are solved. The way this movie was made eliminated issues created by the the quirky casting, the also aforementioned “Sadat” problem, and opens the door for Bergman to deliver a tremendous performance for a story which richly deserved it.
Meir was born on May 3, 1898 as Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine). Her father went to find work in America in 1903, and once he had saved enough money, the rest of the family emigrated to Milwaukee in 1906 to escape the ever-present persecution of Jews throughout Europe. Those struggles fed Golda’s dream of an independent Jewish state. In the meantime, she attended college, became a teacher, met and married Morris Meyerson (played by Leonard Nimoy) in 1917.
Morris and Golda moved to the British Mandate of Palestine (land that would eventually become Israel) in 1921 to live and work on a kibbutz. While Golda was not performing her duties of picking almonds, planting trees, tending chickens, and running the kitchen, her leadership abilities were noticed. As a result, the other members of the kibbutz chose her as its representative to the General Federation of Labor known as the Histadrut.
Despite the fact they left the kibbutz in 1924, Golda’s rise in the political world would continue. The couple eventually settled in Jerusalem where they have two children; a son Menachem and a daughter Sarah.
The next step in Golda’s ascension took place in 1928 when she was elected secretary of the Working Women’s Council (Moetzet HaPoalot). This position required her to spend two years as an emissary in the United States. While this was a major step for her, it also marked the beginning of the end of her marriage to Morris. The children went with Golda to America, but Morris remained in Jerusalem. Over the next two decades Morris and Golda grew apart, but never divorced; despite their estrangement, they remained married until his death in 1951. The next two decades saw Golda serve in a variety of roles in service of Israel.
By 1969, Meir was in a state of semi-retirement due to health concerns, but after prime minister Levi Eshkol’s sudden death, Meir was elected as his successor. She took office in March of 1969 and maintained the coalition government between her own Mapai party and two others, the Rafi and Ahdut Ha’Avoda. Eventually, these three would officially merge to form the Israeli Labor Party.
But early in her term as prime minister, Meir eschewed politics to court other world leaders regardless of their ideology with her own vision of peace in the middle east. This included the President of the United States Richard Nixon, Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausesçu, and and Pope Paul VI. In a highly controversial move, Meir even hosted a visit to Israel by West German chancellor Willy Brandt in 1973.
Through Bergman’s portrayal and narration, viewers start to see Meir’s overall strategy of making Israel a sympathetic figure by being the side seeking peace. This is only exacerbated in the wake of the Palestinian terror attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered. This strategy becomes pivotal in Meir’s finest moment.
Early in 1973, Meir cemented her relationship with American President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when she agreed to Kissinger’s peace proposal based on “security versus sovereignty” in which Israel would accept Egyptian sovereignty over all of the Sinai Peninsula, while Egypt would accept Israeli presence in some of the Sinai’s strategic positions. However, this back-fired; in October of 1973 the Arab states began massing troops on the Israeli borders.
This is the moment when Bergman’s portrayal fulfills the “gravitas” role – and then some – because this is the moment where Meir is faced with a decision with the fate of a nation hanging in the balance.
On the eve of the October 1973 “Yom Kippur” war, Israeli intelligence could not conclusively determine that an attack was imminent, but the signs of a heavy troop build-up in the Golan Heights and in the Sinai were clear. Meir was convinced this was a set-up identical to the Six-Day War six years earlier. On one hand, there were advisors telling her an attack was not likely. The Israeli public shared that sentiment, especially given the crushing defeat which was inflicted on the Arab states in 1967. Despite the fact she had complete authority to order a full-scale mobilization for war, Meir did not do so.
But a few days later, it became clear an attack was imminent, and Meir’s delay only allowed the enemy forces to grow in strength. Mere hours before the outbreak of war, Meir met with Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan and Army Chief of Staff General David Elazar. While Dayan continued to argue that war was not likely and felt that only the Israeli Air Force and two Army division needed to be called up, while Elazar felt a full-scale mobilization was necessary along with launch of a devastating preemptive strike on the Syrian and Egyptian forces.
Meir agreed to the complete mobilization of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), but would not order the preemptive attack. Meir told Dayan and Elezar that Israel’s survival would depend on foreign aid. To that end, she believed they were not able to depend on European nations to supply Israel with military equipment, and the only country which would possibly come to Israel’s defense was the United States, but that wouldn’t happen if the Americans felt Israel initiated the hostilities. Meir placed her bet; million of lives including her own and the survival of a notion were at stake.
At 2 p.m. on October 6th, the armies of Syria and Egypt poured into Israel. The IDF launched a series of blocking actions against the Syrians and launched a mostly ineffective counter-offensive against the Egyptians in the Sinai. By October 11th, the invading forces had been pushed back by the IDF, but the Israeli Air Force and Army had suffered massive casualties and had no reserves. If the Arabs counter-attacked at this point, the Israelis could have easily suffered a defeat ensuring the destruction of the entire nation and a blood-bath of unimaginable scale.
But Meir’s gamble paid off. On October 12th, President of the United States Richard Nixon ordered the launch of Operation Nickel Grass, and within 24 hours American military hardware began flooding into Israel. Within days, the re-armed and re-supplied IDF was back on the offensive with forces across the Suez Canal threatening Cairo and breaking out of the Golan Heights on the road to Damascus.
One of the reasons why Meir made the right call on the preemptive strike is she hedged that bet by letting Nixon and Kissinger know her decision and why she made it. After Operation Nickel Grass was launched, Kissinger told Meir that she made the right choice; that if she had ordered the firing of the first shot, he and Nixon “wouldn’t have given Israel so much as a nail.”
Ironically, it was Meir’s triumph in the Yom Kippur war which led to her political downfall. In the aftermath, the Israeli public demanded answers for why the IDF seemed so -ill-prepared for the initial attack which led to it taking such heavy casualties. Both Meir and Chief of Staff Elazar became scapegoats and were forced to resign.
The film ends by coming full circle with Ingrid Bergman bringing the tale of Golda Meir’s life story to a close with the audience of school children. Meir died shortly after this trip to her school; she had been suffering from lymphoma for years. Bergman passed away on her 67th birthday only a few months from the end of filming “A Woman Called Golda.” Like Meir, Bergman was also suffering from cancer.
But despite the ignominious end to her political career, Golda Meir is still a revered figure in Israel. Not only is she on a bank note, she is buried on Mount Herzl, the site of Israel’s national cemetery. The first and only woman to hold the office of Prime Minister in Israeli history to date, and only the fourth woman to be a head of state in the world at the time, Golda Meir was known as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics; this term would later be used to describe Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion called Meir “the best man in the government” and “strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.”
Similar glowing words for Ingrid Bergman came from her daughter Isabella Rossellini after she had seen “A Woman Called Golda.”
She never showed herself like that in life. In life, Mum showed courage. She was always a little vulnerable, courageous, but vulnerable. Mother had a sort of presence, like Golda, I was surprised to see it…When I saw her performance, I saw a mother that I’d never seen before – this woman with balls.
Like I said, if you consider yourself a fan of Ingrid Bergman, and you’ve never seen this film, you need to change that. Even if you already agree with the words of her daughter, once you see “A Woman Called Golda,” you’ll have a whole new appreciation for them.
Look what it did for me…the guy who still thinks Rossellini is something that comes with a red sauce.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Give or take a few years, Golda Meir was born right around the same time as Joan Whitney Payson. They both died within a few years of each other as well. But other than today’s hidden sports analogy, the similarities stop there.
Meir came to America as a penniless immigrant escaping the pogroms of Russia of the turn of the 20th century. Her father was a carpenter who sweated for every cent he ever had. Payson was the essential “trust find baby;” She inherited a trust fund from her grandfather William C. Whitney of the prominent Whitney family and on her father’s death in 1927, she received a large part of the family’s fortune…which goes all the way back to the colonial days. She was “old money” of the first order, was pedigreed at Barnard College, and was known as a businesswoman, philanthropist, patron of the arts and renowned art collector.
But Payson was also a dedicated sports enthusiast who also happened to be a minority shareholder in the old New York Giants baseball club. Albeit on a different scale, post World War II Palestine shares a crucial characteristic with Major League Baseball of the same time; for both this was a time of complete upheaval. The effect of establishing a Jewish state in land held by Muslims since the Crusades speaks for itself. But the 1950s represented an equally tectonic shift in the demographics of the United States…and consequently those of it’s biggest sport at that time.
The 1950s ushered in an era for franchise relocation and expansion for Major League Baseball. By 1957, the lure of new and untapped markets was so strong it reached the de facto capital of baseball, New York City. The “Big Apple” was home three teams; two of them being the biggest franchises in the game. To this day, no team has won more games than the Giants, and no team has won more championships than the New York Yankees. Conversely, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the “red-headed step-child” of New York baseball. The Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley wanted to buy land on which to build a stadium to replace the dilapidated Ebbets Field. For a host of reasons, this proved difficult.
Meanwhile, emissaries from the city of Los Angeles were looking to entice a team to move to California. After the war, the advent of transcontinental airline travel meant the obstacles of slow rail travel and the distance to the west coast were no longer in play. Nobody really thought a team would leave New York; as such the Angelino’s target to move west was the Washington Senators. It was no secret that Senators’ owner Calvin Griffith was open to be courted for a move. But when stories began to appear of O’Malley’s dissatisfaction with New York, the faction from Los Angeles shifted their focus.
In no time, O’Malley and the city of Los Angeles had a deal in place, but there was one snag. Citing travel and scheduling concerns, National League president Warren Giles would not allow O’Malley to move the Dodgers to the West Coast unless he could find another owner also willing to move. O’Malley began to put out feelers, but It was starting to look like Giles’ mandate was going to kill the deal. There were only eight teams in the National League at the time; the process of elimination left O’Malley with what he thought were no “real” options.
August Busch just had the city of St. Louis handed to his Cardinals as their exclusive market when the American League’s St. Louis Browns left to become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, so there was no way he was moving. One of the biggest proponents of westward expansion was the Chicago Cubs’ owner William Wrigley; the Cubs were the first team to move their Spring Training facilities out of Florida, and he already owned the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. But for a host of reason, the idea of the Cubs abandoning Chicago was almost heretical as a team leaving New York. The one team which might have moved west with him was the Boston Braves, but they already made their move when they headed to Milwaukee in 1953.
Just when O’Malley was about to give up on the Los Angeles deal and the Brooklyn fans were beginning to rest assured they weren’t going to lose “dem Bums,” the bombshell hit that both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants were leaving the “Big Apple” for Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively.
What nobody knew that O’Malley discovered was the Giants’ majority owner Horace Stoneham was having similar difficulty finding a replacement for his team’s antiquated home stadium, the Polo Grounds. While all this was going one, the city of Minneapolis was already constructing Metropolitan Stadium in an attempt to lure a baseball team and/or a football team to the upper mid-west. The Minneapolis Millers were the New York Giants top minor-league affiliate at the time and Shoreham was noted to have said “there were not two better major league stadiums.”
That’s when O’Malley put “two and two together” deducing Shoreham was at least entertaining the idea of moving the Giants to the Twin Cities. Being open to leaving New York was the only opening O’Malley needed; he persuaded Shoreham to move the Giants San Francisco, fulfilling Warren Giles’ dictate the Dodgers would have a National League rival closer than St. Louis.
As a minority owner of the the New York Giants, Joan Whitney Payson was staunchly opposed to the move. She knew what this would do to the fans. Baseball fandom in New York in the 1950 enjoyed the same fervor as any religion. It was a major component of your personal identity; race, creed, national origin, and Dodgers, Giants, or Yankees. It was that simple and well-defined, and you couldn’t change any of them.
In one fell swoop, legions of New York National League fans were cast into the baseball desert. Their teams were gone, and there was nothing they could do about. While Dodger and Giants fans enjoy of the great rivalries in all of sports, they do have one unifying factor. They both have an eyeball-splitting hatred of the New York Yankees.
Imagine what would have happened if in 1973 Golda Meir had said something like “In order to escape the never-ending cycle of war, we’re going to move the State of Israel to Utah. It’s just like Palestine; it’s got a big, salty lake and plenty of desert. It’ll be great!” Granted, that comparison leans a smidge to the absurd side, but it makes the point. It also sets the table for something even more absurd which actually happened. Imagine that after Israel made the move to Utah, somebody told the Jews left in Palestine that they could always just convert to Islam.
That’s essentially what National League president Warren Giles told Dodger and Giant fans after their teams were ripped out from underneath them. Giles was a huge proponent of expansion or relocation; anything that would put his league into new markets. During his term as president from 1952 to 1969, the National League broke out of it’s borders not having any teams farther south or west of St. Louis. In much the same way the borders of Israel were redrawn by military conquest, the borders of baseball territory were being redrawn by Warren Giles and his quest to chase the ever-shifting American population demographics.
The first step was the two New York teams heading for California. But it was in the 1960s when the expansion of baseball really took off. At the dawn of the decade, Giles announced plans to add four teams to the National League, with two being added in 1962 and two more in 1969. The plan called for the 1962 expansion to target Texas and the South, while the 1969 additions would focus on the West and possibly even a foray into Canada.
When questioned as to why there was no thought towards establishing a new National League presence in the “Big Apple,” Giles’ notorious reply “Who says you have to have a team in New York?”
Naturally, Giles’ comments didn’t sit well with New Yorkers. But what baseball fans didn’t know was Giles’ visions of expansion were the direct result of the founding of a third Major League. While the Continental League never played a game, the fact that it had investors ready to move big-time baseball into cities where it did not exist yet made both the National and American leagues take notice.
Founded in 1958 by prominent attorney William Shea, the Continental Baseball League (CBL) had prominent prospective franchise owners like Bob Howsam (who would help create the American Football League and become the founder of the Denver Broncos), Wheelock Whitney, Jr. (who was influential in bringing professional sports to Minneapolis and was an owner of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings) and Toronto’s Jack Kent Cooke (who at one time owned the NFL’s Washington Redskins, the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, and the Los Angeles Lakers of the NHL.). That was a formidable line-up, but the CBL acquired its gravitas when Joan Whitney Payson threw open the door of her Fort Knox-ian bank vault to fund the start-up league.
Once she knew she couldn’t stop the Giants from leaving New York, Payson immediately sold her interest and began efforts to get another team in the “Big Apple.” But once she heard Warren Giles’ comments about New York, she knew the National League president did not want to give her an expansion team. But once she heard of the Continental Baseball League, Payson knew one way or another she was going to bring baseball back to Brooklyn and Queens.
When Warren Giles found out that Payson had just been awarded the CBL’s New York franchise, he knew he could not have somebody with her wealth and dedication to New York as a rival in the nation’s largest market. As a result, Warren Giles and the National League awarded an expansion franchise in 1960 for New York City to Joan Whitney Payson. At this point, both her and Shea abandoned the CBL to focus on their new National League franchise. This effectively marked the end of the CBL, which formally disbanded later that year.
Many have speculated over the years that the CBL was simply a canard used by Shea and Payson to illicit an expansion franchise out of Warren Giles. True or not, the fact is they brought the National League back to New York. The rest is history.
The New York Mets took the field for the first time in 1962. They had a record of 40 wins and 120 losses, making them easily the worst team in all of Major League Baseball. The wins and losses didn’t matter; what was important was baseball was back for Brooklyn and Queens. In those boroughs, there was no baseball; the hated Yankees were for Manhattan and the Bronx. Building on that,Payson managed to merge the fan bases of the departed Dodgers and Giants in much the same manner Golda Meir unified three political parties in Israel. The Mets’ uniforms featured both Dodger blue and Giant orange, and for their first two seasons they played their home games in the Giants’ old home, the Polo Grounds.
In 1964, the Mets moved into the newly-constructed William H. Shea Municipal Stadium, or “Shea” for short. Payson insisted the new venue bear Shea’s name in tribute for all he did to bring the Mets to New York. As for Payson, she retained majority ownership of the Mets and functioned as the team president from it’s inception until her death in 1975. But she was no “figurehead” in the corner office. Payson was “hands-on” for the day-to-day operations of the New York Mets every day of her life. She was a fixture in the team’s facilities and was well admired by the team’s personnel and players, and all around baseball as well.
Joan Whitney Payson was the first woman in a major North American sports league found a franchise from the ground up, to buy majority control of a team rather than inheriting it, and as such was the first to have her team capture championship when “Miracle” Mets won the World Series in 1969.
Joan Whitney Payson was there from Day One of the New York Mets, and she gambled hard with her own money to bring the dream of a new franchise in New York to reality. Golda Meir was there from Day One with Israel, and she literally bet her own life to save her dream of an independent Jewish state. As mentioned, Payson and Meir came from very different backgrounds; Payson had money, and Golda Meir ended up on money.
But they both created something which means a great deal to a great many people to this day.
The Moral of the Story:
Even the largest of historical figures can’t make history alone. But Joan Whitney Payson and Golda Meir got pretty damn close.
FUN FACT: There was a television mini-series made in America in 1983 about the life of Anwar Sadat. He was played by Louis Gossett, Jr. and it was banned Egypt.
BONUS FUN FACT: This is not the first time Ingrid Bergman’s portrayal of Golda Meir has been mentioned on Dubsism. She was actually one of our first Sports Doppelgangers.
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