The Real Inglorious Bastards

2014 December 9
by Pat DiGeorge
Fred Mayer being interviewed for this documentary, the story of the harrowing OSS mission Operation Greenup

Fred Mayer being interviewed for this documentary, the story of the harrowing OSS mission Operation Greenup. (

(2012) Two Jewish refugees who enlist in the U.S. Army are soon recruited by the Office of Strategic Services for a dangerous mission code name “Operation Greenup” into Nazi occupied Austria. Fred Mayer and Hans Wijnberg go through elaborate training and planning. Then they are joined up with a German POW, former Wehrmacht officer Franz Weber, a conscientious deserter.

The story moves along with dramatic reconstructed scenes, archival footage, and interviews with both Fred Mayer and Hans Wijnberg.  Patrick K. O’Donnell, who wrote a best-selling book on this same mission, They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany also offers commentary.

The mission was successful although harrowing along the way. Mayer was captured and tortured for three days but never gave away the identifies of his accomplices.

I have watched the two previous “Inglorious” movies … Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) which I loved and the 1978 The Inglorious Bastards, which I did not.

This one, the “real” story was the best of all.  You can follow news about screenings of The Real Inglorious Bastards on their Facebook page.or on their official site

Today Fred Mayer lives in West Virginia.  Hans Wijnberg passed away the day after his interview for this film.  We can never thank our veterans enough.

The Real Inglorious Bastards at






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Shot Down

2014 October 26
by Pat DiGeorge

Shot-Down,-WWII-Book(2014) Shot Down by Steve Snyder is the true story of the Susan Ruth, a B-17 shot down over Belgium on February 8, 1944. Steve’s Dad, Howard Snyder, was the pilot and on this fateful day, as the burning plane began to fall apart, each crew member suffered a distinctly different fate.

I wrote about the Susan Ruth a couple of years ago, and it was then that I met Steve Snyder. Our Dads had been at Thurleigh at about the same time, and we were both attending reunions of their bomb group, the 306th BG out of Thurleigh airfield near Bedford, England.

Steve has done a great job of following the footsteps of his Dad beginning with his training to become a pilot, life at Thurleigh through all the harrowing experiences after their plane literally crashed and burned.   I anxiously awaited the fate of each airman.

What was especially endearing to me was the love story. Howard and Ruth married shortly before he went to war. Susan Ruth was their baby daughter, and of course there was no other name considered for his new flying fortress than hers. Steve is fortunate to have every letter that his Dad wrote home. I enjoyed reading about all his crew members’ hijinks while Howard was writing to Ruth about how much he missed her and their daughter. He wasn’t interested in anything but her.

Shot Down takes us from England to the skies over occupied Europe to the underground resistance in Belgium and in France. These young men were struggling to stay two steps ahead of the Gestapo while the brave citizens of the small villages risked their lives to help them.

Years later, the families of these citizens are still remembering with gratitude the young men who lived and died among them.

We can never thank our veterans enough.

SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth


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Albert N. McMahan

2014 October 5
by Pat DiGeorge
I was thrilled to see Albert McMahan again at the Atlanta Warbird Weekend.

I was thrilled to see Albert McMahan again at the Atlanta Warbird Weekend.

Albert McMahan flew B-17s both as tail gunner and ball turret gunner. I originally contacted Albert in 2009. He was the first person to personally tell me about life with the 306th Bomb Group at Thurleigh where both he and my Dad flew combat missions during World War II.

After high school Albert attended Auburn University for one year. He couldn’t afford to continue on, and jobs were scarce. Albert had always been interested in electricity and radio, so he enlisted in the Army Tank Corps. They had a highly rated communication school, and he figured that would give him the skills to work in the radio field.

The day he enlisted was 12 July 1940. After he was sworn in, he was instead assigned to the Army Air Corps. When he objected the recruiter explained that everyone who had college training went into the Air Corps, and that was that. So off to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama he went.

The next couple years were spent in mechanics and instruments training. In August of 1942 Albert was assigned to the 369th Bomb Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group as an Instrument Specialist. He was going to work on B-17 Flying Fortresses.

When he got to Thurleigh in September of 1942 the first flight crews had just arrived.  He wasn’t there long before he decided that he really wanted to join a combat crew. Since there were no replacement personnel in the pipeline yet, he was sent for aerial gunnery training.

Albert joined a crew that had just lost two tail gunners from combat injuries. The pilot was Lt. Robert Riordan, and his B-17 was Wahoo.  The nose art was a painting on the right side of an Indian “Wahoo” and scalping Hitler.

After his first mission Albert smoked his very first cigarette and went to a pub in Bedford for a couple glasses of ale!

Albert McMahon was the 18th enlisted crewman to complete a 25 mission tour with the 306th BG. Albert admits that he endured periods of sheet terror but he was able to answer with confidence the question, “Do I have what it takes to fly combat?”  Yes!

In June of 1943 Albert sailed back to the United States on the Queen Elizabeth. He was sent to Dyersburg Army Air Base in Halls, Tennessee, a B-17 combat crew training base, hoping that he would be used to train combat crews.

Even though most of the combat crew instructors had zero combat experience, the base commander assigned him to be crew chief of a B-26.

A few days later Albert was washing the tail of a B-17 when a jeep drove by. A loud voice yelled, “Red (his nickname), what the X&%*# are you doing washing the tail of a B-17?”  It was General Frank A. Armstrong who had been CO of the 306th BG while Albert was there and had even awards him an Air Medal.

(General Armstrong was the inspiration for the movie Twelve O’Clock High.)

The base commander was in the jeep with the General, and before you know it, Albert had a new assignment. He was on the Board responsible for insuring that all instructors were qualified.  It was a job he was well qualified to do!

Albert was discharged from the Army on 2 September 1945. After a 2nd year at Auburn, he rejoined the Air Force in 1947, retiring finally in 1963.

Following that Albert enjoyed a variety of careers.  He says he retired three times! For a while he worked for a major computer manufacture. Then he was with the Civil Service at the Pentagon. He taught school for twelve years and even moved to Alaska before his final retirement to Norcross, GA.

For many years Albert was an officer of the 306th Bomb Group Historical Association. Even though Albert McMahan is 94 years old he is still active with veteran groups.  And as you can see from the photograph taken just a week ago he looks fabulous.

We can never thank our veterans enough.


Earlier this year Albert rode the B-17 Memphis Belle at Peachtree-DeKalb airport.

Videos on GPB Media of Albert McMahan telling about his combat experiences.

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The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

2014 September 24
by Pat DiGeorge

The Roosevelts-an Intimate History(2014) This PBS six part series is a fascinating history of the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the best known members of the most influential family of the 20th century. It was directed and produced by Ken Burns, also famous for The War (2007) which I have watched, read and listened to several times. I must also give credit to Geoffrey Ward who co-wrote The War script and wrote this one about the Roosevelt family.

Narrated by Peter Coyote whose voice you will instantly recognize. Meryl Streep is the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Edward Herrman the voice of Franklin Roosevelt. These are only three of the many well known voices you will hear.

For five more days you can watch the entire series on PBS. After that, you’ll have to buy the DVD. It will be well worth it.

So far I’m half way through the 3rd episode.

Episode #1:  Get Action (1858-1901) … The 1st episode begins with the birth of Theodore Roosevelt and takes us up to 1901 when he was elected President of the United States. Theodore’s older brother was an alcoholic who died young and left a daughter named Eleanor. Theodore used action to combat his demons, the worst of which occurred the one day that both his mother and his adored first wife died. How do you recover from something like that?  Theodore became a cowboy in North Dakota.

Episode #2: In The Arena (1901–1910) …  The 2nd episode covers Theodore’s Presidency. Known as “T.R.” he ushered in the 20th century and accomplished so much.  In an attempt to help the common man, he filed suit against more than 40 trusts, to ensure that ”the rich man is held to the same accountability as the poor man.” He paved the way for construction of the Panama Canal. He was the first American ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace agreement between Russia and Japan. He was the first president to invite a black man, Booker T. Washington, to dine in the White House. Unfortunately there was so much protest that although he remained friends with Booker T., he never again invited him to dinner. There was much more …

Franklin and Eleanor marry, even though his mother (and she was the most important woman in his life) never gave her full approval to the match.

Episode #3: The Fire of Life (1910-1919) I’ll add notes after I finish this and the rest of the episodes.

I have read so many books about Franklin and Eleanor … FDRFranklin & LucyNo Ordinary TimeFranklin and Winston to name a few.  With its vintage videos, photographs along with the very words the characters spoke, this PBS series is giving a significant historical timeline of the first half of the 20th century.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History at


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Torkel Tistrand

2014 September 16
by Pat DiGeorge

Torkel-Tistrand-telegramTorkel Tistrand was a Swedish officer, a captain in the Swedish Army Maintenance Corps. During World War II he served on the Gripsholm, one of the two Swedish ships used for prisoner of war exchanges and repatriation voyages. The gold and blue colors of the Swedish flag were painted on her side as well as, in huge letters, the word DIPLOMAT.

The Gripsholm was actually chartered to the United States and operated under the protection of the Red Cross. The ship carried diplomats, journalists, nurses, missionaries as well as prisoners of war being sent home from all parts of the world.

You can read all about these voyages on the website.  There is also a page dedicated to Torkel Tistrand. Captain Tistrand passed away in 1999.

Herman F. Allen (my Dad’s) connection to Captain Tistrand came about because in 1944 Tistrand was appointed to be commander of the American airmen internment camp at Rättvik, Sweden.  My Dad had left Rättvik by then and was working in Stockholm in the Military Air Attaché’s office. Since one of his responsibilities was to take care of the American internees, he and Captain Tistrand worked together and became friends.

The American internees were very fond of their Swedish “boss,” and after the war wrote fondly of the man they called “Jimmy.”

When my parents married on January 18, 1945 in Stockholm, they received a telegram from T.E. Tistrand wishing them all the best.  ”You both got caught by the midnight sun … the very best and lots of fun.”

If you are interested in the American Internees in World War II Sweden, please join our Facebook group.


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Anatoli Granovsky

2014 August 12
by Pat DiGeorge

I Was an NKVD AgentAnatoli Granovsky authored the 1962 book I Was an NKVD Agent. It is the story of his life growing up in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Born in 1922, Granovsky’s family led a privileged life, primarily in Moscow.  His father built and managed factories. They vacationed in resorts alongside legendary Soviet leaders. and all was well until 1937. That year his father was arrested as an enemy of the state and sent to prison. According to Granovsky, a teenager at the time, the charges were totally unfounded and due to Stalin’s purge of current leadership.

So why on earth am I so interested in a Soviet spy? About a month ago I happened to be reading an online paper: Excerpts from McKay’s Notes on The Case of Raoul Wallenberg by C.G McKay. This historian wrote a book that has been important in my research: From Information to Intrigue: Studies in Secret Service Based on the Swedish Experience 1939-1945. McKay focuses on the Swedes and the Germans during WWII Sweden.

Toward the end of his Wallenberg notes McKay brings up Anatoli Granovsky and writes about his meetings in Stockholm with a Captain Robb, assistant military air attache. It was right after the war, and the Soviet spy was trying to defect to the Allies. Wait a minute!  Captain Robb was my Dad’s best friend in Stockholm! (Since I wrote about Robb in 2010 I have found his daughter. On Facebook! I immediately emailed her what I had discovered.)

Granovsky’s book is an amazing story of how a Soviet spy was created. The young man was first recruited to report on his peers who were also children of “enemies of the state” and who might not have appropriately renounced their fathers. Then he went to a Special School for Spies and Saboteurs. A man named called Rasputin (no relation to that Rasputin I am sure) taught him how to sexually satisfy a woman, so much so that she would do anything for him. Women in the West, Rasputin explained, had much influence on national affairs. They couldn’t be tempted by money, parties or gifts but “a young, ardent and skilled lover is no ordinary gift.” Granovsky had no problem putting theory to practice.

There were so many fascinating chapters. The Poles who had relatives in the U.S. or Canada were forced to resettle there, leaving their families behind (as insurance) and become Soviet moles. The whole idea was to infiltrate the West for the future. Who cared that we were all on the same side? I could go on and on.

Captain Robert L. Robb
So where did Captain Robb come in? Granovsky got sick of a life over which he had no control. He yearned for freedom and to make a long story short, jumped ship when he happened to be in Stockholm. He asked a policeman on the street where he could find the Americans, and he was given the address of Captain Robb.

His book ends as Granovsky is leaving Sweden as a free man, thanks primarily to King Gustaf V. His first important destination was Berlin where he worked with the Americans and taught them about the Soviet operations there and in the surrounding countries. In 1950 at least one article about him was published in U.S. newspapers.

So what happened to Anatoli Granovsky? Did he gain the life of freedom that he wanted so badly? I found a blogpost about Granovsky, and the writer was wondering the same thing.  Someone commented and said that he had met Granovsky in the late 60s in Washington, D.C. In my Googling I found indications that he had lived in New York and Rio de Janeiro.

If what he wrote was true, I can hardly believe that he anywhere lived for long under his true identity. The Soviet Secret Police never would have allowed it.

In the front of his book he gives credit to more than half a page of people including John Edgar Hoover (FBI), Allen W. Dulles (CIA), Douglas MacArthur, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. I’d like to think that after his book came out he was working with U.S. intelligence and finally given an identity that really was secret.

I hope so.

I Was an Nkvd Agent: A Top Soviet Spy Tells His Story at

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Hedy Lamarr

2014 July 4
by Pat DiGeorge

Hedy Lamarr … a publicity photo taken in the 1930s

The actress Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) has always intrigued me.  Her name was the same as my mother’s.  Hedy, derived from either Hedwig or Hedvig was a name rarely given to babies born in the United States. The name peaked in the 1940′s, I’ll bet because of Ms. Lamarr.

I imagine that Hedy Lamarr’s fame somehow gave a boost to Hedy Johnson and her uncommon name. Not only that, we kids thought they looked very much alike. Perhaps that was a boost to us too.

What I didn’t realize until a few years ago was Hedy Lamarr’s World War II connection.  Recently I saw that Extraordinary Women: Hedy Lamarr was scheduled to air on our PBS station.

Of course I had to watch it. The other Hedy.

Born in Vienna in 1913, Ms. Lamarr was named Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler by her Jewish parents.

Hedvig E. Johnson

Hedy Johnson, @1940

My mother was born Hedvig (the Scandinavian version of the name) Elizabeth Johnson in 1921. She always liked to say that she was named after a Queen of Sweden.

Hedy Kiesler began her acting career in Europe as a teenager. She went to Berlin in 1931 and the next year was cast in the controversial Czech film Ecstasy. The movie is remembered for Hedy’s brief nude scenes and the one in which she has an orgasm. Only her face is shown but that was shocking to the audiences of the day. Ecstasy was banned in Germany and, of course, in America.

In 1933 she married Austrian Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy armaments dealer and prominent fascist. He forbade his trophy bride to return to acting. At their mansion guests included such dignitaries as Sigmund Freud and Benito Mussolini.  The more Hitler’s oppressive policies increased, the more Hedy hated  her husband’s dealings with him and his cronies.  In the summer of 1937 she fled to London taking with her the valuable jewels Mandl had given her.

Once in London Hedy learned that MGM head Louis B. Mayer was scouting for top European actors who had fled from Germany. She met him and managed to get aboard the ocean liner he was taking to return to New York. During the voyage Mayer agreed to give Hedy a contract, but she had to change her German Jewish name to something more suitable, more “Hollywood.” Thus, Hedy Lamarr.

In spite of immediate stardom in her new home country, Ms. Lamarr was unable to fully enjoy her success knowing what was happening to fellow Austrians, her Jewish neighbors and family. Once the U.S. was officially at war, she jumped right in to help the government sell war bonds. She also served food and danced with the troops at the Hollywood Canteen.

Then, distressed by the reports of the German U-boats sinking Allied ships and prevented critical supplies from getting to Europe, Hedy teamed up with a talented musical composer, George Antheil, to develop a radio-controlled communication system which would allow Allied submarines to accurately guide their torpedoes toward the enemy submarines.  What? No one in Hollywood realized that Hedy Lamarr was an intellectual! During her marriage to Mandl she was in a position to sit back during gatherings at the mansion and absorb the technical conversations of some of the brightest minds of the day, those who were associated with her husband’s armaments’ firm.

Their invention received a patent in 1942 but was rejected by the U.S. government. Hedy Lamarr returned to her film career. The decade of the ’40s was her heyday!  The glamorous brunette known as “The Most Beautiful Woman in Film,” starred alongside Hollywood’s leading actors … Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, John Garfield, Victor Mature.

By the time the ’40s were over, Hedy had been married and divorced three times. Her beauty was fading, and so were her acting opportunities. Hollywood was leaning toward ravishing blonde bombshells, a la Marilyn Monroe, rather than exotic brunettes.

The rest of Hedy Lamarr’s life is told is several books. Six marriages in all, none of them lasting long. Botched plastic surgeries. Even an arrest for shoplifting. No money, poor health.

Then in the 1990s mobile phone developers needed a way for their wireless phones to communicate with each other without jamming. An updated version of Hedy and George Antheil’s patented invention became the basis for much of our wireless technology today!

Amazingly, once again, Hedy Lamarr was rich and famous.  Not for her looks but for her genius.


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Jimmy Doolittle’s Granddaughter

2014 June 11
by Pat DiGeorge
Janna Doolittle Hoppes on Memorial Day 2014, Roswell, GA. Photo by Bobbie Daniels

Janna Doolittle Hoppes on Memorial Day 2014, Roswell, GA. Photo by Bobbie Daniels

Janna Doolittle Hoppes just happens to be the granddaughter of General James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle. She has forged an impressive career as an author, educator and speaker.   This past month Janna was the featured speaker at the Roswell, GA “Roswell Remembers” Memorial Day Ceremony.

Her message resonated with me: If we don’t record our stories, they will be lost. We must teach our young people about the sacrifices made on their behalf.

Janna told us a lot about her grandfather, a “daredevil pilot” best known for the daring raid on Tokyo shortly after the beginning of the war. He didn’t consider it to be a suicide mission but a calculated risk, she explained. When it was over, Doolittle thought that he had failed. What he didn’t realize that day was that “The Doolittle Raid” would be a major morale builder for the United States, and just the opposite for the Japanese.

General Doolittle (he was promoted the day after the Raid) went on to be commander of the 12th Air Force, then the 15th Air Force, then in January of 1944, commander of the 8th Air Force.  It was then that he changed the focus of the fighters from defense to offense, a major factor in achieving air supremacy over Europe. The 8th Air Force was never turned back by the enemy, but the cost was high.

Janna’s book, Calculated Risk: The Extraordinary Life of Jimmy Doolittle, Aviation Pioneer and World War II Hero, tells the story of both her grandparents, drawing from the stories she heard while growing up. This is the first book that tells the story of her “Granny.” She married Jimmy in 1917 despite the fact that he boxed for spending money and was such a risk-taker.

Her Gramps became the master of the calculated risk, but her Granny Joe took enough risks of her own. She followed Jimmy all over the country with the patience of a saint.  She was the glue of the Doolittle family and obviously the idol of her granddaughter.


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Roswell Remembers Memorial Day 2014

2014 May 27
by Pat DiGeorge

This is the seventeenth year that Roswell Rotary and the City of Roswell, my hometown, have jointly sponsored Roswell Remembers, a tribute to all our veterans and the men and women who are serving in our military today. Thousands of people come from all over the state to honor those who have served and to remember our fallen heroes.

It was a thrill to see that several of the World War II veterans who accompanied Roswell Rotary on the recent Honor Air trip to Washington DC were there.

Gold Star Families
In his opening remarks U.S. Congressman Tom Price reminded us of the Gold Star given by Congress since 1947 to families of members of the Armed Forces who have lost their lives serving our country. Before there were pins, if a family lost a loved one during war they would hang a gold star in their front window. 

From the Heart

Lindy Fancher's son thanks his Dad for his service to our country ... from the heart.

Lindy Fancher’s son thanks his Dad for his service to our country … from the heart.

One of the most anticipated segments of the program is the open mike when the podium is open to veterans and their families for tributes and reflections.  This year’s speakers included an Air Force pilot who served in Vietnam. 40% of his unit was killed. Another was a young Marine who lamented that his fallen comrades would never get to know their children.

Then Frank “Lindy” Fancher and his son came to the podium area. Lindy just turned 95. He was at Omaha Beach, D-Day + 4, and fought in the horrific Battle of the Bulge.

My ears perked up when I heard his son mention that Lindy published a book in 2005! WWII: Through These Eyes is the story of Fancher’s years in the Army. You can read an excellent bio written by Carl Danbury, Jr. at the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge site.

After Lindy spoke for a few minutes his son Jim thanked his Dad for his service to our country.

That’s what the day was all about. We can never thank our veterans enough.

Related Posts

Roswell Remembers
Memorial Day 2010


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The “Real” League of Their Own

2014 May 1
by Pat DiGeorge

Last year I wrote about the Penny Marshall movie A League of Their Own.  It featured the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League organized in 1942 when it was feared that the men’s major league would be cancelled due to the war.

A few months afterward I was thrilled to receive an  email from Kelly Candaele:  “Hello Pat, I know you have written about A League of Their Own so I wanted to let you know about my doc “A League of Their Own” from years ago (which caught the attention of Penny Marshall.)  Perhaps your readers would like to see the documentary that led to the Columbia Pictures movie.  The real players are even more interesting than the movie ones.”

Kelly gave me permission to use parts of his story, published in the New York Times June 7, 1992.

Kelly's Mom is in the front row – glove at fee and ready to play!

Kelly’s Mom. Helen Callaghan, is in the front row – glove at feet and ready to play!

Mom Was in a League of Her Own
“Why didn’t I get her swing?” This is a question I ask myself whenever I look at that old black and white picture of my mother at the plate in 1945. If I had had a choice of any physical attribute my parents were able to pass on to me, I would definitely have taken her swing.

From that single photo I understand how for five years, my mother made her living playing professional baseball in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league, started in 1943 by the owner of the Chicago Cubs, Phillip K. Wrigley, lasted 10 years. My mom and her sister Margaret were recruited to the league from Canada by one of Branch Rickey’s scouts. While it lasted, millions of fans came out to watch the Fort Wayne Daisies, the Rockford Peaches and eight other teams show what they had. For uniforms, they wore tunic dresses to keep, as Wrigley insisted, “the feminine angle.”

Big Stuff in Little Leagues
I grew up in Lompoc, Calif., with something that no other kid in school had: a mother who played professional baseball. In Little League I would gleefully await the annual “powder-puff” game dreamed up by the city fathers. It was a midseason game in which the kids’ mothers took the field to, it was hoped, look silly and make fools of themselves by “playing like girls.”

My mother would always put on a display of hitting, throwing, running and catching that made me proud. She was clearly better than any of the men who crowded around to laugh. Kids and their parents would gather round and ask in amazement the same question every year. “Where did your mom learn to play?” I always answered quickly. “She played professional baseball in the 1940′s.” “You mean softball,” they’d say. “No, I mean hardball, overhand, stealing, sliding, real baseball.”

And now she and her teammates and the real baseball they played are the focus of a new movie, “A League of Their Own,” starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna, to be released on July 1.

‘Try Bunting’
And there was always specific advice. Whenever I was in a hitting slump, which in my case was much of the time, she was there with a suggestion. “Try bunting,” she would say with conviction. “When I was in a slump, I always bunted.”

I was taught, in high school in the late 60′s, that women were only then entering forcefully into athletics for “the first time.” It was considered a major advance when girls’ softball was established on a competitive basis. This “great advance” seemed rather quizzical to me, given my mother’s experience. My friend Kim Wilson and I wanted to set history straight. In 1988 after an evening reminiscing with my mother, we decided to make a film documenting the women’s pro league.

Our greatest joy in producing our film came at the beginning. We discovered a gold mine of old 16mm film the ex-ballplayers had stashed away in basements and garages.

We shot most of the documentary film at a reunion of the league in Fort Wayne, Ind. My mom played for the Daisies in 1945, ’46 and ’48, winning the batting crown in 1945 with a solid .299 average. The reporters of her day called her the “feminine Ted Williams.”

One More Hit
The highlight of the reunion was the old-timers game in which my mom took the field once again. For five innings I watched her. The snap in the wrists was still there. She still got great jumps on balls hit to the outfield. She made a final lunge while crossing first base to beat out an infield hit. The fire was still there.

Shortly after the documentary, also called “A League of Their Own,” aired nationwide on PBS, Kim and I were summoned to the home of the director, Penny Marshall, to talk about a possible feature film based around the league.

In talking with Penny, we knew she understood how important the game and the league were to the women who played. Penny found out later from the players that the women shared a cherished common experience that forever tied them one to another. The men had World War II; these women had the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.

In Hollywood, no baseball movie is really “about baseball.” If you want to see just baseball, the producers’ logic goes, go to a Dodger game. You can get a bleacher seat for six bucks and Strawberry just might hit one out. So the rule is, you must say the movie is “really about a man’s search for meaning,” or “two sisters’ enduring love for one another.” That kind of thing.

So there had to be a story that could sustain the film for two hours in between the hitting, sliding and flailing skirts. A story meeting was set up with scriptwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Ganz and Mandel are baseball nuts, the kind of guys who know that the 1930-32 Yankees went 308 games without being shut out.

Ideas Strike Out
I sat on the couch between Ganz and Mandel and listened as the writers literally shouted potential story lines at Marshall on the other side of the room. Nothing seemed to be exciting Marshall, so after about 20 minutes I suggested that perhaps there should be a “big game” toward the end of the movie that resolves some central conflict. It was not for nothing that I’ve watched 20 years of Hollywood movies. There was dead silence. This was clearly Ganz and Mandel’s meeting.

Later, Kim and I worked up a story line that is, I’m happy to say, very close to the end product. It’s about, well, two sisters’ enduring love for one another.

I’ve seen the film, and it has got just the right mixture of laughs, tears and darn good baseball.

Casey’s Astro teammates kid him all the time now that the film is almost out. My mom used a bigger bat than he does. She stole 114 bases in one season, more than he has in his career. It’s lighthearted stuff you say only to someone you respect. But the best incident was when a young would-be starlet accosted him in a St. Louis hotel lounge in a futile attempt to get a tryout for the role that Madonna was eventually picked for. Casey suggested that the place to be discovered was at the corner of Sunset and Vine, not at Busch Stadium.

When the film opens on July 1, I’ll be at the Lompoc Theater with my mom. We’ll sit in the middle row with a big bag of popcorn, no butter. I’ll have one eye on the screen and the other on my mom, just to see if Penny got it right. I’ll also be wondering if my mom ever regretted not having a girl, a girl she could have raised to do “girl” things. I doubt it. I think that if my mother had had a girl, she would have wanted her to have had the thrills she had. The kind of high that only comes from getting a great jump on a slow-witted pitcher or cutting down a cocky base runner trying to stretch it to second on a base hit to right.

Kelly Candaele is a writer living in Los Angeles.  His work has appeared frequently in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. The documentary was awarded an Emmy as part of a public television series.

Thanks, Kelly, for a great story. I highly recommend the movie and the documentary… it’s a rare tidbit of World War II era history!

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