“As an Actor? Well—”

23 Dec

The Indianapolis News said

“Mike Donlin is in the city again and he is a real actor this time.  Two years ago Mike paid Indianapolis a visit, or rather he trailed behind his wife, who theatrically, is Mabel Hite and who at the time was the leading woman in the musical comedy, “A Knight for a Day.”  On that occasion Mike remained behind the wings out of sight of the audience or put in the time while waiting for the performance to end talking baseball or otherwise entertaining friends in the lobby…But all is different now.  Mike is a real actor this time and he trails after his wife’s skirts no longer.”

Michael Joseph “Turkey Mike” Donlin had just arrived in Indianapolis in February of 1909 while touring with his one-act play “Stealing Home,” in which Hite also appeared.  His made his previous visit while sitting out the 1907 season after a contract dispute with new York Giants owner John T. Brush and traveling the country with Hite.

He returned to the Giants in 1908 and hit .334, finishing second to Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner (.354).  But Donlin caught the acting bug while traveling with Hite, and upon embarking on the national tour in October of 1908 he told reporters:

“There is something about the footlights that always appealed to me.  I like this show game mighty well and baseball won’t keep me forever.”

Donlin received mixed reviews throughout the tour, but it was successful enough to keep him on the road and  away from baseball until 1911.

Cartoon of Donlin and Mabel Hite, 1909

Cartoon of Donlin and Mabel Hite, 1909

The following day, after his Indianapolis debut was completed, The News provided probably the most colorful review of his show—likely more colorful than the show itself:

“Once upon a time a certain walloper of the sphere had a hunch to go forth into the provinces and connect with the long green.

“And this man was Mique and he was of the tribe of Donlin.

“And it was that Mique had a helpmate, indeed, and her name was Mabel, and she was of the tribe of Hite.

“Her patience was that of Job and she taught Mike to make a few steps, how to face the multitudes and to say ‘Back to the bush leagues for you.’

“Then, lo and behold, he was of the clan of Irving, Mansfield, Mantell and ‘Bertha the Sewing Machine Girl.’

“Many persons were injured in the rush to see him and the dough came in so rapidly that the calf that tried to swallow it choked to death.

“Then, indeed, did Mique rejoice and his cup of happiness was filled to overflowing.  Even more so than on the day he socked the horse hide far beyond the reach of the hated cub in left-field and loped home to receive a box of Flora De Tar Ropes, a big bouquet and an order for a ten-pound box of dog leg.

“And now, flushed with triumph, the hero of many rag-chewing matches with the umpire and scorched by the spotlight in which he shines so brightly, Mique is in our midst.

“Even so.

“And the other half of the sketch is here, too, and she sings…very prettily and dances gracefully.  Mique also dances, but his movements are not what might be termed poetry in motion.

“Great is Mique.

“As a ball player?  Yes.

“As an actor? Well—

“Curtain.

“’Stealing Home,’ the Donlin skit has to do with the national game, of course.  Donlin is supposed to be putting it all over the Pittsburgers, but is put out of the game for ragging with the umpire.  His wife learns of it when she calls up to get the score.  A moment later he enters the room and then there is ball talk galore during which she chides him for getting no hits, while Hans Wagner gets five.  Donlin shows her how he called the umpire down and the sketch ends, following Mrs. Donlin’s song, with a few dancing steps in which she is assisted by Donlin.”

"Sliding Home" advertisement. Grand Theater, Indianapolis.

“Sliding Home” advertisement. Grand Theater, Indianapolis.

By the spring of 1911 “Stealing Home had run it’s course.  Donlin, in need of money and with no acting prospects, returned to baseball; he played with the  Giants, Boston Rustlers and Pittsburgh Pirates in 1911 and ’12 (retired again in 1913) and returned to the Giants for 1914.

Twenty-nine-year-old Mabel Hite died of cancer in 1912.

When Donlin retired again, for good this time, he returned to the stage, then the screen–with the help of his friend, actor John Barrymore.  He appeared in more than 50 films, mostly in smaller roles.  Donlin married actress Rita Ross in 1914, and died in 1933.

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4 Responses to ““As an Actor? Well—””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “What Right has Hanlon to Show me How to Hit?” | Baseball History Daily - June 23, 2014

    […] and Mike Donlin, two of the greatest hitters in the world, are what are called vicious swingers.  Bresnahan has […]

  2. “Monte’s Baseball Religion” | Baseball History Daily - June 27, 2014

    […] a starter!’ cried Cross. ‘Now watch me.’ But Cross aired to (Mike) Donlin.  Then the next man […]

  3. Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #11 | Baseball History Daily - September 22, 2014

    […] “John T. Brush—The smartest man in baseball, but vindictive. […]

  4. “Age is a Hard Master” | Baseball History Daily - September 21, 2015

    […] “Turkey Mike” Donlin spent his later years trying to earn a living as an actor; his limited success on the stage and screen forced him to accept several baseball jobs as well.  In 1922, he was hired as a scout by the Boston Red Sox—it was his most active season in the game since his final game with the New York Giants in 1914. […]

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