Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unpublished excerpt from "When Baseball Met Hollywood"

Two years ago I worked on a proposed book on the marriage of West Coast baseball and Hollywood. Whether this work will ever see the light of day via the regular publishing process is a mystery. But why let it sit forlornly on my computer. I will run pieces sporadically. Enjoy!

The Bar Sinister

Two famed reporters. Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill, were having dinner one night. While kidding around, they came up with an intriguing idea - the two of them should work together on an article entitled “The Ten Worst Human Beings Who Ever Lived.” An interesting thought, and Newfield suggested that each write down their top three. Let Newfield explain the results. “Each of us wrote down the same three names and the same order: Hitler, Stalin, Walter O’Malley.” It comes as no surprise, then, that Walter O’Malley would fit perfectly in a Branded episode entitled “The Bar Sinister.”

Bullets blazing on the main drag result in our hero, Jason McCord, receiving a gunshot injury. Who should appear to bandage McCord’s damaged right arm, but the man who cut out the hearts of the Brooklyn faithful, Walter O’Malley. (The end credits humorously say “Introducing Walter O’Malley,” as if he is a young star on the rise.) Walter seems like a lovable old country doctor, a giant cheroot dangling from his lips. Until he opens his mouth and then he can’t hide his venomous nature.

As McCord, who killed the man in the opening scene in self-defense, explains that he does not intend to stick around the premises very long, O’Malley lashes out. “Take it easy. I told you this was a bad wound. You almost severed a tendon. I don’t want you to use this for at least two weeks!” he spits. It’s delightful bedside manner, the same care for an injured man that O’Malley showed when Dodger management gave legendary right fielder Carl Furillo his unconditional release while he was suffering from a calf injury (which violated his contract and resulted in a lawsuit).

The Mayor of Sandy Creek is seen seizing his cousin’s son, Jimmy Whitlaw, ripping him from the “squaw” Neela, who has always taken care of the boy. The white couple is outraged that this housekeeper, who they want shipped to the reservation, is the person Jimmy actually prefers. Neela is shocked at McCord’s decency when he insists she sit in the front of the coach with him. McCord tells Neela that Sam Whitlow, Mayor Reymer’s cousin, died a very rich man, richer than he imagined and that his property is vast. The Mayor knows this and wants Jimmy for that reason. If he is guardian, then he’ll get the property. Jimmy knows where he belongs. “This is my home,” he tells the Mayor, and that is where he wants to stay.

“The Bar Sinister” serves as a great parable of the Brooklyn Dodgers story. O’Malley, read the Mayor, is willing to rip the beloved boy, read Dodgers, from its rightful guardian, in this case Neela, in the Dodgers’ case the borough of Brooklyn. Why? To acquire land and riches, alluding to Chavez Ravine and the land around it that Los Angeles willingly gave to entice O’Malley to sunny California. Clear parallels. Perhaps by design, perhaps by accident, but enough to make the casting of Walter O’Malley a perfect fit in this story.

Jimmy begins to turn on Neela. She thinks that he is ashamed of her. It hurts her, more than any one would know, until she reveals that she is Jimmy’s mother. It’s the same way the glamorous Los Angeles Dodgers would always look back on their maternal borough with a mix of love and embarrassment. Jimmy doesn’t know this, about Neela (or the Dodgers). Whitlaw and Neela arranged it so that Jimmy would think his mother had died. Neela has proof of her parentage. The kids call Jimmy names, like “papoose.” At least they don’t call him a “bum,” as they did the Dodgers in Brooklyn. Much anti-Indian sentiment ensues, and when McCord shows the townspeople that Mayor Reymer’s reasons are venal, things heat up. Jimmy does the right thing and sticks up for his mom.

In the perfect world of television, Neela, the rightful “owner” of Jimmy, gets to keep him and the land at the episode’s end. In real life, Brooklyn lost their team, their beloved Dodgers. Those Brooklynites were unable to stop their family from being seized by their own Mayor figure, O’Malley. It’s only more of an insult that earlier in the day that this show was broadcast, Game 4 of the 1965 World Series, a complete game masterpiece tossed by Don Drysdale at Dodger Stadium, pulled the Dodgers into a 2-2 tie with the Minnesota Twins. On their way to their third World Series Championship in southern California, the Dodgers were settling nicely into their new home, life in Brooklyn receding that much further into the past.

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