With the new season of Major League Baseball kicking off this weekend, we thought we’d take a look back at arguably the most famous baseball movie of all time. It’s hard to believe that The Pride of the Yankees will be 75 years old this year, but the tragically inspiring story of baseball great Lou Gehrig is as timeless as America’s Favorite Pastime and cinema themselves. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including “Best Picture” and noms for both of its stars—Gary Cooper (as Gehrig) and Teresa Wright (as his wife, Eleanor)—the film did snare the Oscar for “Best Film Editing.”
The sad irony of Lou "The Iron Horse" Gehrig’s plight was that the athlete who had never missed playing in a game for 14 straight years would contract the fatally incurable ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). First diagnosed in 1939, Gehrig died two years later at the age of 37, one year before The Pride of the Yankees was made. That 14-year consecutive game streak? Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games; a legacy which stood for 56 years before being broken by another baseball Hall of Famer, Cal Ripken Jr., in 1995.
Here are Five Facts about this classic tearjerker:
1. What's Baseball?
Gary Cooper, the man who played one of the greatest baseball players of all time, had no previous interest in the sport. Unlike most kids, he never played during his childhood and had never even seen a game before becoming involved with the film.
2. The Bracelet
Lou Gehrig’s widow, Eleanor, loaned actress Teresa Wright a bracelet that Lou made for her out of his various World Series rings and All-Star emblems to wear in the movie. The bracelet was donated by Eleanor upon her death in 1984 to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In 1942, the widow described the one-of-a-kind piece to the Waterloo Sunday Courier : "It is made up of all the diamond studded rings and pins given to Lou after each successful game. He then had them mounted as a bracelet and presented to me shortly before his death."
3. The Real Babe Ruth
That was no actor playing Gehrig’s more famous teammate and baseball legend Babe Ruth in The Pride of the Yankees. Nope, that was the flamboyant Bambino playing himself. After years of friendship, Ruth and Gehrig had a frosty relationship after a family squabble in 1932 but the ice was melted when the Sultan of Swat embraced his old friend during the tearful "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" on July 4, 1939.
4. The Real Lou Gehrig?
In 1942, Eleanor Gehrig discussed the film and Gary Cooper’s portrayal of her husband with journalist Louella Parsons, saying, "Gary studied every picture of Lou’s. He had every one of his mannerisms down to a science and he is so like my husband in the picture that there were times when I felt I couldn’t bear it. I didn’t ask for one solitary deletion or addition. I accepted the picture exactly as it was made. That’s how good I think it was."
5. Baseball's Gettysburg Address
It was a short, but heartfelt speech that Lou Gehrig made to a packed Yankee Stadium where fans, teammates and opponents gathered to honor the stricken athlete. Known as the "Baseball’s Gettysburg Address," Gehrig’s immortal words of "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth" were used in the film and were voted 38th on the American Film Institute's list of 100 greatest movie quotes. Not bad writing for a ballplayer.
Special Bonus Video
In 2014, on the 75th Anniversary of Gehrig’s famous speech and his last public appearance, Major League Baseball created this video on behalf of the ALS Therapy Development Institute, in which contemporary first basemen (and Gehrig himself) recite the entirety of Gehrig’s address. Enjoy this special tribute.