Lost Pictures–Ty Cobb’s “Outburst of Historic Art”

30 Sep

After the 1916 season, Ty Cobb spent four weeks on Long Island shooting the first feature film starring a major league ballplayer.

The story for “Somewhere in Georgia” was written by Grantland Rice, then of The New York Tribune.

Ty Cobb and leading lady Elsie MacLeod

Ty Cobb and leading lady Elsie MacLeod

Rice said of the film:

“For the matter of twelve years Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the first citizen of Georgia, has proved that when it comes to facing pitchers he has no rival…It may have been that facing such pitchers as (Ed) Walsh, (Walter) Johnson, (Babe) Ruth and others has acclimated Ty to facing anything under the sun, even a moving picture camera.  At any rate, when Director George Ridgewell, of the Sunbeam Motion Picture Company, lined Ty up in various attitudes before the camera he was astounded at the way the star ballplayer handled the job.

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

“These paragraphs should be enough to break the news gently that Cobb, wearying of competition with (Tris) Speaker, (Joe) Jackson and (Eddie) Collins through so many years, has decided to go out and give battle to Douglas Fairbanks and Francis X. Bushman.  Not for any extended campaign, but for just one outburst of historic art.”

Director George Ridgeway said of his star:

“The most noticeable thing about Cobb’s work was this:  I’ve never had to tell him more than once what I wanted done.  I had an idea that I would have to take half my time drilling him for various scenes in regard to expression and position. But, on the contrary, he seemed to have an advance hunch as to what was wanted, and the pictures will show that as a movie star Ty is something more than a .380 hitter.  In addition to this, he is a horse plus and elephant for work. Twelve hours a day is nothing to him, and when the rest of us are pretty well worn out Cobb is ready for the next scene. I believe the fellow could work twenty hours a day for a week and still be ready for overtime.”

Rice noted that Cobb balked at just thing during the filming:

“Ty was willing enough to engage in mortal combat with anywhere from two to ten husky villains.  He was willing enough ti dive headfirst for the plate or to jump through a window, but when it came to one of our best known pastimes, lovemaking, he balked with decided abruptness.

“Despite the attractiveness and personal appeal of the heroine, Miss Elsie MacLeod, Ty was keen enough to figure ahead, not what the spectators might think of it, but what Mrs. Tyrus Raymond Cobb of Augusta think. The love making episode, therefore, while more or less thickly interspersed, had to be handled in precisely the proper way to meet Ty’s bashful approval”

The "bashful" star

The “bashful” star

The New York Tribune claimed that “More than 100 motion picture scenarios” were presented to Cobb before he agreed to appear in Rice’s.  The paper said, “(H)e would not, he emphatically stated, appear in anything that was not compatible with both his dignity and his standing in the baseball world.”

The Ty Cobb character in “Somewhere in Georgia” is a bank clerk who plays ball for the local baseball team—he, along with the bank’s cashier are vying for the love of  the banker’s daughter.  Cobb is scouted and offered a contract by the Detroit Tigers but the banker’s daughter tells him he must choose between baseball and her.  At the same time, the cashier, Cobb’s rival for the banker’s daughter, bets against the home team and plots to have Cobb kidnapped by “a gang of thugs.”

Cobb accosted by thugs

Cobb accosted by thugs

After being held hostage in a cabin, Cobb escapes with the help of “a local farm boy,” and:

”Commandeering a mule team, Ty succeeds in reaching home just in time to make a spectacular play and save the game for his team.  He then turns the tables on the cashier, wins the girl and winds things up in a manner appealing to ball fans and picture fans alike.”

Cobb escaping with the aid of a local farm boy.

Cobb escaping with the aid of a local farm boy.

Billed in advertisements as “A thrilling drama of love and baseball in six innings,” no prints of the six-reel film survive, but Cobb received better reviews than most of his brethren who attempted a film career.

After the film’s release in 1917, The Tribune said:

“(A)s an actor Ty Cobb is a huge success.  In fact, he is so good that he shows all the others (in the cast) up.”

When the film premiered at the Detroit Opera House in August of 1917 The Detroit Free Press said:

Ad for the film in Detroit

Ad for the film in Detroit

“(The film) is not only a most interesting baseball picture, but it gives views of “The Georgia Peach” that one does not see at Navin Filed…One seldom gets a chance to take a peep at Ty in civilian clothes and he shows himself to be as much at home in this story of love and romance into which a few baseball surroundings have been woven as he is on the diamond.  He makes a pleasing film hero, wooing and winning the bank president’s daughter and performing other exploits that one would expect from Douglas Fairbanks and his like.”

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