After the success of Penny Marshall’s collaboration with Tom Hanks in 1988 coming-of-age film ‘Big’, the first film directed by a woman to gross in excess of $100 million at the U.S. box office, the pair joined forces again several years later to create one of the most unusual and unique sports movies of all time: A League of Their Own.
Once a sitcom actress, Marshall – then still at the beginning of her directorial career – has directed and produced several influential movies since: Oscar-nominated Awakenings and The Preacher’s Wife, as well as Cinderella Man.
Marshall was inspired by her own love of baseball and initially got the idea when she learned about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from a documentary she caught on PBS. She decided to tell the story of the league which existed between 1943 and 1954 where over 600 women played professional baseball for the first time in history.
You don’t have to be a sports lover to appreciate this movie about extraordinary times when women ruled factory floors and sports fields while their husbands were overseas fighting fascism. In 2012, A League of Their Own was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Here are thirteen behind-the-scenes stories about this unique film.
1. Geena Davis Didn’t Have Much Baseball Training
Geena Davis joined the cast as a last-minute replacement for Debra Winger so unlike other cast members she didn’t go through several months of baseball training that led up to filming.
She proved an incredibly fast learner, though, and she matched or even bettered her peers within weeks of production.
2. The Cast Entertained Unpaid Extras
In order for stadiums not to look empty during the World Series scenes, the stands needed to be packed with volunteer actors who didn’t receive payment. As a way of thanking them, Tom Hanks stepped up to give them a puppet show, while Rosie O’Donnell performed stand-up sets.
Other cast members goofed around for the crowds by lip-syncing to some of co-star Madonna’s hits when she wouldn’t perform them herself.
3. Lori Petty Had To Slow Herself Down
Lori portrayed younger sister Kit who constantly feels overshadowed by Geena’s character, Dottie. That’s why Lori had to run slower than Geena, although in reality she was a much pacier runner.
4. The Bruises Weren’t Makeup
Each and every bruise and scratch were actual injuries obtained during filming.
5. Geena Used A Stunt Double For Her Sliding Splits
Although she was capable of doing the impressive pose seen in the film, Geena couldn’t slide into it as dramatically as needed, so a stunt double was used just for that portion of the scene.
6. A Real Rockford Peach Makes A Cameo
When the team plays in Cooperstown, a woman sitting in the bleachers calls Dottie “the best player in the league”. That woman is none other than Dolores “Pickles” Dries, a former pitcher for the Rockford Peaches from 1952 to ’54 and won the Rookie of the Year Award during her debut season.
7. Penny Marshall’s Brother, Daughter And Niece Are In The Movie
Marshall cast her daughter, Tracy Reiner, in the memorable role of Betty “Spaghetti” Horn, and her brother Garry as Walter Harvey when she couldn’t afford her first choice, Christopher Walken.
Garry’s daughter, Kathleen Marshall, was also cast as outfielder “Mumbles” Brockman.
8. Rosie And Lori Were The Best Players
Lori played on a boys’ little league team as a young girl where she was the only female. Both she and Rosie had no trouble knocking balls all the way into the fences while practicing in between takes.
9. Lori Out-Pitched Most Major Leaguers
Throughout filming, Lori pitched so frequently that she has thrown the ball more times than most real-life pitchers throw during an entire season.
10. There’s More Than One Laverne & Shirley Cameo
Director Penny Marshall breakthrough came with the sitcom Laverne & Shirley that she did between 1976 and 1983, and for this project, she invited some of her co-stars from those days to make guest appearances.
David Lander, who became popular on the series as Squiggy, is perhaps the most noticeable alumnus to show up in the film. He plays an energetic game announcer, but he’s not the only former cast mate Penny slipped in.
She also cast Eddie Mekka, the actor who played Shirley’s on-again-off-again boyfriend Carmine on the TV series, as the soldier who spends an evening dancing with Madonna’s character, Mae.
11. Madonna Didn’t Enjoy The Experience
This is what she wrote in a letter to a friend, photographer Steven Meisel:
”I cannot suffer any more than I have in the past month, learning how to play baseball with a bunch of girls (yuk) in Chicago (double yuk). I have a tan, I’m dirty all day, and I hardly ever wear makeup. Penny Marshall, Lavern (sic), Geena Davis is a Barbie Doll, and when God decided where the beautiful men were going to live in the world, he did not choose Chicago. I have made a few friends but they are athletes, not actresses. They have nothing on the house of extravaganza. I wish I could come to N.Y.”
Funny how someone born in Bay City, Michigan had such things to say about Chicago. Well, we suppose she had to be rude to fit in among native New Yorkers.
12. They Filmed Through A Cow Giving Birth
While Jon Lovitz’ character is at the farm to recruit Dottie and Kit, the actor was so into the scene that he didn’t notice one of the cows birthing its calf off-screen.
The real-life farmers named the calf Penny after the director.
13. ‘A League Of Their Own’ Was Originally Over Four Hours Long
Marshall relented during editing so the movie was shortened in order to make it more watchable, but all of the deleted scenes can be found on the special-edition DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Deleted scenes include Kit having a pitching battle with men in a bar and Dottie discussing her drawn-out relationship with soldier husband Bob.