Play Ball! (or Revenge of the Character Actors)

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moira finnie
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Play Ball! (or Revenge of the Character Actors)

Post by moira finnie »

Play Ball! (or Revenge of the Character Actors)

The Scene:

Interior: A doctor's office, decorated with the usual diplomas, bland landscapes, a diagram of the brain, a photo of Sigmund Freud, dusty Sansevieria plants and well used leather furniture, including a couch. On the couch is Dean Moira Finnie. In an overstuffed chair with pen and notebook in hand and a concerned look on his face, is one Dr. Carl Jung, (picture Otto Kruger, only smarter), who raises his eyebrow, and presses a button on the discreetly placed tape recorder on the table in front of him as Finnie starts to speak:

"Well, Doc, having fallen asleep during the recent trouncing of the Yankees by the Red Sox on the boob tube, I had the strangest dream...(...cue harp music, and watery dissolve...)...surely my dream couldn't have been caused by that liverwurst and onion on pumpernickel sandwich that I washed down with some Rolling Rock, could it?

All of sudden, I seemed to be transported to the loveliest field of drea--er, I mean field of green, with a dream-team composed of some truly heavenly and nightmarish players. My memories are a little hazy, but I seem to remember a few of the figures I found there:

There was William Bendix, who seemed to be someone important. But how could that be? Bill never played anyone important, except, of course in that one terrible movie he made about Babe Ruth--gosh, maybe that's why he kept looking at me, and pointing into the hazy middle distance, while he adopted a batting stance.

And warming up while swinging three bats over his head in a threatening manner was none other than Bendix's spiritual brother who excelled in playing supernumeraries with style, George Tobias. Except George wasn't his usual genial self, but someone who said his name was 'Abner, dang it', and he kept mumbling something about teaching 'Gladys' a lesson about being such a window monitor. 'Yeah', he said, 'I'll knock a baseball right through the Kravitz picture window--that'll teach that snoop. Maybe she'll let me finish reading a paragraph in my paper after this'.

I was pretty taken aback by this until Charlie Bickford siddled over to me nudging me with his elbow and told me not to pay Tobias any mind. Seems that Bickford, who insisted that his name was 'Pop Warner', explained that he was the coach of this team as well as the football team in this upside down world where character actors rule. Charlie Bickford thought that Tobias couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, but needed to let off steam on occasion, and playing ball as aggressively as Barry Bonds on Red Bull was intended to help Bendix, Tobias and all the players and coaches on this baseball team to cope with their frustrations in movie heaven.

Taking me aside, Pop Bickford introduced me to the rest of his team's lineup, most of whom seemed to be pretty stoked for a chance to get at bat and hold the main attention of a crowd--for once! There was granite jawed Charles McGraw, looking like he could chew nails and spit rust, but who flinched when I heard someone in the stands who looked alot like Kirk Douglas call out 'You're in the soup, now, Charlie!'. And then there were some other players waiting for their moment to bat, most of whom I can only dimly recall--though most of 'em seemed a little long in the tooth to be playing pro ball.

Among them were Alan Hale, Sr., yukking it up as usual, and Eugene Pallette, looking like he couldn't run around the bases to save his life, and calling up into the stands at someone to 'take your hands off my daughter'. Most game of all the players seemed to be Harry "Grandpa" Davenport, who was doing nip-ups and pacing back and forth in the dugout babbling that 'if you wet the flour before you throw it, it makes it harder for the victim to remove it.' When I turned to Bickford for an explanation of this baseball strategy, he just shrugged and smiled, kind of like a cheshire cat. 'Just wait', he whispered, 'he knows what he's doing and has since the 19th century'. The only player who looked like he might have some pepper on the ball field was none other than Noah Beery, Jr., who acknowledged my wave with that cute little shrug and aw-shucks grin of his while nervously fingering his ball cap.

Just then, I managed to focus long enough to notice the stands full of such pretty boys as Kevin Costner, Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Anthony Perkins, Ronald Reagan, Dan Dailey and even Tab Hunter, all hovering around a scantily clad Gwen Verdon on the arm of a devilish looking Ray Walston. Gwen seemed to be leading the lads in some kind of cheer about someone named 'Lola' while Walston whistled 'You've gotta have heart...'.

But the sight of the first base coach caught my eye just then as well, for there, leaning on a bat, while humming something about "Try a little tenderness" to the first baseman, was the the great Schnozzola himself, Jimmy Durante, as usual looking like a manic unmade bed. Then I noticed the first baseman, who, of all people, was H.B. Warner, solemn and cadaverous as ever, who bore the constant spiel of negative advice from Durante with 'Christ-like' forbearance.

Over on second base, I noticed that Sam Jaffe, swathed in a diaper and and looking like a human Q-tip, was eagerly dancing back and forth around the base, constantly mumbling a refrain to the pitcher about 'though I've belted you and flayed you / By the living God that made you / You're a better man than I am...'

That's when I noticed the pitcher, who was going into an elaborate wind-up
while talking trash to the batter, Bendix. Though his small stature, wiry frame and seemingly ancient face weren't exactly standard pitcher material, Eduardo Ciannelli really knew how to psych out a batter. Not only did he give Bendix the evil eye, but he kept repeating some wild mantra to the effect that he was mumbling something about being 'Mad? Mad. Hannibal was mad, Caesar was mad, and Napoleon surely was the maddest of the lot. Ever since time began, they've called mad all the great soldiers in this world. Mad? We shall see what wisdom lies within my madness. For this is but the spring that precedes the flood. From here we roll on. From village to town. From town to mighty city. Ever mounting, ever widening, until at last my wave engulfs all of baseball!'

Man, even Pop Bickford took a beat when he heard that stuff, though Bill Bendix just looked as though steam could've come out of his ears, as he murmured, "What would Cary do, what would Cary do?" over and over.

I edged behind Bendix and Bickford as Ciannelli pitched his first ball, which was a pop fly, caught right on the noggin by the third baseman, who was another guy who never caught a break, careerwise, Abner Biberman.

Apparently, all those years playing those thankless parts like 'third gunman', 'wounded Indian' 'dead gunsel' or even 'Chota, son of the Guru' had ill prepared Abner for his big moment in the sun on the ball field and he was soon taken off the field and replaced nicely by one Elia Kazan, who eagerly told everyone within earshot that he'd soon be running this game and rewriting the rules while he was at it.

Then--and this is the scariest part of the dream, Doc--there were the umpires. Behind home plate was a sweating hulk who never seemed to stop fidgeting, except when he got this ugly smirk on his face when he called someone out, none other than Wally Beery, in all his slovenly glory.

Maybe Beery was nervous at the thought of his nephew coming up to bat in this inning, or maybe it was the fact that the third base ump was none other than Marjorie Main, wearing her usual bedraggled old hat and a saggy cotton house dress instead of the regulation umpire outfit, and boy, did she keep sending dagger eyes toward Wally about something.

On first base, there was Henry Daniell, looking quite natty in his dark umpire garb, examining his nails for grit while sneering superciliously at the game, the players and, and--well, life itself.

Just as I tried to focus on what looked like a pair of Baseball officials in the stands, one of whom I thought might be the commissioner of baseball himself, that sometime prince of darkness, Montagu Love, some fan in the stands pitched a brewsky at my foot, and I awoke with a start and the sensation of cold wetness on my toe on the footstool--only to discover my dog Bunky examining my foot for any traces of fallen liverwurst with his cold, wet nose.

So, Doc, what do you think all this mean?'

The camera pulls back, and we see a ruminating Dr. Jung stroking his chin and tapping his forehead with his pencil as Finnie cranes around from her position on the couch to get a look at him. "Mean, mean? Dean Finnie, it means that you must do two things, come back next week for another session, and quit eating liverwurst after 9pm. Except of course, if you want to know how Bendix did at the plate."
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Bickford Boasts As Biberman Bumped by Bendix Ball
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