Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Homage to Kirk Douglas

I had the temerity to critique the largely enjoyable over-the-top aspects of Kirk Douglas' acting in a blog I wrote on TCM last week concerning the highly entertaining 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). I did not realize until yesterday that I was inadvertently posting my remarks just before the man's 92nd birthday. I'd like to make amends. By way of an apology, I'd like to toss this hilarious video bouquet to the Great Man himself, who has given me more enjoyment with his antics than I can possibly repay. Happy Birthday, Mr. Douglas. These animators, (with glorious help from the late Frank Gorshin), have caught your many faces in one sublime hand-drawn package...(or is it three packages?):


The Christmas Album: The Babe

Day Ten of our Holiday hit parade finds us visiting a dominant figure who straddled the world of sports and entertainment for decades in American society, surpassing all in his and our time: Babe Ruth, seen above as Santa Claus. The place is the Astor Hotel in New York City on the 17th of December, 1947. The occasion is a Christmas party for children with polio given by the Sister Kenny Foundation. That's Jimmy McCall, age three on his lap, and Jane Greenfield hovering at his knee.

Mr. Ruth ceased playing ball in 1935 before these kids were even gleams in their fathers' eyes, but it's likely that the older kids understood that he was something special. Over a three decade career in pro baseball, he had a career batting average of .342, and 714 home runs to his credit, a record that stood for 39 years until shattered by Hank Aaron in 1974. Ruth, who appeared on screen several times, began his crack at the movies with a trifle about lost puppies and little girls with pigtails being saved from cruel fate by the wooden, youthful actor-athlete in Headin' Home (1920), an interesting movie despite its limitations. This silent was allegedly about the saintly cinematic Babe's own life in "rustic" Baltimore, but its actual raison d'être are the redeeming shots of Ruth as a surprisingly tall, slim young athlete at bat, walloping the ball out of the park in a real game.

Other appearances in the flickers tended toward the highly fictionalized and sanitized versions of the George Herman "Babe" Ruth's rambunctious life on and off the field. Only Pride of the Yankees (1942), about the tragic demise of Lou Gehrig, (played effectively if not in an athletically accurate fashion by Gary Cooper), gave a brief nod to Ruth's prodigious appetite for life when it featured a scene set in a restaurant. Spotting a side of beef being roasted on a spit, the Babe, says, "I'll have one of these...". However, in actuality, Ruth and Gehrig barely spoke for several years while both played for the Yankees, but that would not make a feel-good movie, nor would it be entirely true, since Ruth was genuinely saddened by his teammate's illness. A biopic about Ruth starring William Bendix in a putty nose, The Babe Ruth Story (1948), is full of howlers, and a favorite whipping boy of sports fans turned film critics for its many inaccuracies and cast iron sentimentality. Ruth, less than a month before his own death in August, 1948, dragged his cancer-ridden body to the premiere of this film

Despite his roguish, occasionally scandalous and sometimes gross ways off the ball field, his athletic achievements and his considerable charity work, which included the creation of the Babe Ruth Foundation to assist disadvantaged children, were very real. Who knows, after a lifetime in the limelight, maybe The Sultan of Swat whispered his famous aphorism to the kids who sat on Santa's lap that December day: "Don't ever forget two things I'm going to tell you. One, don't believe everything that's written about you. Two, don't pick up too many checks."
Above: Babe Ruth entertains a rambunctious bunch of children at the Mecca Temple in NYC on December 23, 1935. Do you think they are excited?


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