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When A League of Their Own premiered 30 years ago on July 1, 1992, it was not expected to be a hit.
Director Penny Marshall, coming off of Big (1988) and the Oscar-nominated Awakenings (1990), had watched a PBS documentary about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which launched in the 1940s, and sent the doc to Lowell Ganz, co-creator of her sitcom Laverne & Shirley and a baseball fanatic. With a deal at Fox expired, Marshall, who died in 2018 at age 75, made it clear to interested studios that League, focusing on fictionalized AAGPBL players, would be her next picture.
“I don’t know how enthusiastic all the studios were about doing a movie about women’s baseball, but they were very enthusiastic about Penny,” Ganz, who co-wrote the film (not to mention Splash and Parenthood) with Babaloo Mandel, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Geena Davis played league standout Dottie Hinson, catcher for the Rockford Peaches, alongside co-stars including Tom Hanks as manager Jimmy Dugan and Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell as teammates. Lori Petty, who had already filmed her role in the not-yet-released Point Break, was cast as Dottie’s younger sister, Kit, and has fond memories of Hanks.
“His character never plays baseball in the movie, but he was out there hitting us grounders, playing catch every day,” says Petty.
The Columbia Pictures film proved it was Hall of Fame caliber, earning $132.4 million worldwide ($275.8 million adjusted for inflation) and landing a line (“There’s no crying in baseball!”) among AFI’s 100 greatest movie quotes. But debate lingers over a pivotal scene — did Dottie intentionally drop the ball at home plate to let her sister score in the final game? Davis loves the mystery: “I decided I’m never going to tell what I think happened.”
Here, Davis, Petty and Ganz tell THR about the stars who almost made the cut, including Demi Moore and Debra Winger in the Dottie role; the scenes that the studio tried to both add and remove; a mixture of feelings about the forthcoming Amazon series reboot; the sequel movie script that was written but never got made; and why the writers may have since changed their minds on whether Dottie meant to drop the ball at home plate.
LOWELL GANZ, screenwriter Demi Moore played great baseball. She really looked good on the field. She didn’t participate in the mass workout — a few women were big enough stars that they got a private workout. I heard she got pregnant. And Debra Winger was cast in the movie for a while. She wasn’t completely content with some things that were going on that are kind of above my pay level. She had dissatisfactions with some elements of the project.
GEENA DAVIS, Dottie Hinson At the time, I wasn’t aware of any of that. Penny asked that I come and meet her at her house, and my agents had said, “You’re gonna go over there and meet her and talk about the movie. She’s gonna ask you to throw a baseball, and don’t throw a baseball. This is not about auditioning for baseball; it’s about playing the role.” I can follow that direction: Don’t touch a baseball. I get there, and we’re chatting, and it’s all going great. It’s time for me to leave, and Penny says, “Let’s just go outside, and you throw the ball.” I said, “Oh, no. I was told you were gonna ask me that, and I’m sorry. I can’t.” “Well, just one time.” [I’m like,] “You know, I’m gonna hold steady here. No big deal.” Five minutes later, I was in the yard throwing the ball. Just one throw convinced her that I would be able to learn how to play.
GANZ Geena had no confidence that she could play ball. But she’s actually quite athletic, and the coaches worked with her for a day and said, “It’ll be OK.”
LORI PETTY, Kit Keller I was very lucky that I grew up playing ball. We had a month of tryouts, maybe more — playing ball, hitting, running, sliding, catching. Every single actress in America wanted to be in this movie because you weren’t just the girlfriend or just the wife or just the neighbor. This was a movie about women. I mean, [Donald Trump’s then-partner] Marla Maples auditioned — I saw her at batting practice.
GANZ Our script was too long. I take some of the responsibility, but also Penny added a lot — some of which stayed in the movie, some of which didn’t. There was a four-hour cut, and the problem is you panic, and we wound up cutting things that were really good that came back in the movie six, seven screenings down. The whole scene of the dad saying goodbye to Marla at the train station — we cut that immediately. So we said, “It’s a four-hour cut. We can’t have this in.” We finally got the movie down to its right time, and Penny said, “Let’s put back the train station scene and see how that plays.” It hadn’t been in the movie in months. We put it back, and it plays fantastic, and to me, it’s one of the highlights of the movie. It’s a process.
PETTY Penny told me, “You’re gonna share a makeup trailer with Madonna.” This is when Madonna was at the height of her Madonna-ness. I said, “Penny, what the fuck? Why?” She goes, “You can handle her.” I thought that was so funny. It was just me and a mostly naked Madonna every day for months in the makeup truck. She was really nice, and nobody works harder than Madonna. She would run six miles before work.
DAVIS There was a scene that got cut that we shot where Tom’s character and I have a private conversation at night on the pitcher’s mound and then end up kissing at the end of it. I believe that the movie was tested with that scene in it and that audiences really didn’t like that that happened.
GANZ That’s a sore point because we didn’t like that idea, particularly. It was the studio that said, “Wait a minute, you have these two very attractive movie stars. The audience is waiting for sparks.” Babaloo and I are good soldiers, and Penny’s a good soldier, too, and we said, “Well, they may be right.” Late [in the process], we wrote in a couple of scenes that would explore that, and we filmed them, and we ran them for an audience. And we really didn’t like it at all. Nothing against Geena and Tom — they were excellent — but we just thought, “Boy, this just really feels like we’re trying too hard,” and also the movie was too long. She was never unfaithful to her husband. But she and Jimmy had grown so close that they were alone one night, and he kissed her, and she kissed back for a second until she pulled back and was furious with him. Then there were a few scenes afterward where he was apologetic.
DAVIS I also heard that the original players, many of whom were involved with the movie as advisors, felt that that was just not right: “No way should you say that we were sleeping with coaches because that was not the case.”
GANZ The whole movie had better pace without it. You couldn’t just do it and then say it didn’t happen. When she left to go back with her husband, and Jimmy abraded her for being a quitter for walking out on the team, it wasn’t as good because it was polluted with what had gone on between them. We were just so relieved to get it out of there.
PETTY This movie was a dream come true, and I just loved every second of it. Even the wig, wool hat, wool socks. The mitt had no webbing between the fingers, so a billion girls broke their noses.
DAVIS There’s a scene where a girl shows an enormous bruise on her thigh from sliding into home, and that was real. Penny decided we have to actually get a shot of this because it was unbelievable. It was enormous and purple, and it lasted forever. It was so bad.
GANZ The studio wanted us to cut the whole Hall of Fame [flash-forward] thing at the end of the movie. They just wanted to end with Dottie getting on the bus and the bus driving away after the last game. And Penny was determined to put in the Hall of Fame thing. They screened it for an audience without the ending, and if the scores had been higher than for the version with the Hall of Fame, I think Penny would’ve given in. But they weren’t higher, and so she kept it, and we wrote a new opening scene and did a re-film of older Dottie and her daughter leaving for Cooperstown, so that there would be better context for it.
PETTY [on debate over Dottie dropping the ball] I mowed her over! Are you kidding? I took it. There’s no way that she would have given up the World Series for her sister. But it’s cool that it’s left open.
GANZ Babaloo and I never for a moment thought that Dottie dropped the ball on purpose. We never thought that, but after enough people said it (laughs), we said, “Maybe we don’t know our own character as well as we thought we did. Maybe we’re wrong.”
DAVIS I know what I think happened. I had to decide for my character, but I’ve never told anybody what I think it was. It’s fun that people constantly still are talking about that and having heated conversations over whether you think she dropped it on purpose or not. I decided I’m never gonna tell what I think happened.
GANZ [on the “crying” line’s legacy] We always thought it was a fun line. I was there the day they shot, and I was thrilled the way Tom and Bitty pSchram, as Evelyn] put it over. (Laughs.) You went, “Whatever this line is, he got it to 11.” He more than fulfilled my expectation of what it would be, but that’s all I felt about it, was that writer’s feeling of, “It went perfectly.” Not to the extent that, “This is like, ‘I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.'” We just thought it was a good, smart, funny line because, to us, it perfectly summed up Jimmy’s distance from what he was watching and experiencing, trying to coach women.
DAVIS The [Amazon series’] producers reached out to me way in the beginning to just connect with me and let me know that it was happening. I told them I was very excited about it. I can’t wait.
GANZ [on whether it’s a weird feeling to have the series coming out] Yes. Yes! I’m not speaking from a place of resentment. I’m just speaking from a place of, I doubt that I will watch it because it will feel too strange to me. I can’t imagine that I will enjoy the experience. I didn’t watch the Parenthood series either, and I’m sure it was very good because everybody said it was very good. But [to me,] those characters are mine.
PETTY I did reach out to them and offer any help I could give them. They really wanted to make their own thing, which is great. And I hope it’s a huge hit.
GANZ [on the movie sequel attempted in the 1990s, shortly after the original’s success] We actually wanted to do a prequel sequel — we wanted to do a movie about Jimmy. It was going to talk about his career before he got involved with the women’s baseball league, and then it would sort of skip over that, and the last act was going to be his career afterward, where he got a job managing a men’s baseball team and actually did a favor for an older Black player that he had met in the prequel part, to give him one last shot. This would be a year or two after Jackie Robinson. Tom was interested, and we couldn’t get Columbia to say yes to it.
DAVIS I heard about that, but that sequel was not going to include the women.
GANZ We wrote it — they paid us to write a script. As Tom put it, it was when he was still young enough to be believable as a ballplayer. As I recall, Columbia wanted us to do another movie about, as they said, “the girls.” We had nothing else to say about that because we felt like another movie about them would be The Bad News Bears Go to Japan. We were not seeing eye-to-eye with the Columbia people. They wanted Tom, of course. But they wanted all the ladies as well in a story about what they went on to do, I guess. I don’t know what story they thought we could write about them at that point. But Babaloo and I, and Penny, couldn’t think of one. So it just fell apart.
DAVIS I came up with an idea for a sequel, and I wish it could still happen someday — we might be getting too old — but it would be called Little League of Their Own. The player that my character was based on, I believe, had sons who became Major League ballplayers. The idea would be that she has sons who are in the Little League team, and then they won’t let a girl join, and [I’m like,] “Oh, boy, I better get back involved with all this.”
Interviews edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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