When Penny Marshall passed away in 2018, she left an incredible legacy behind. As a writer, director, and actress, she was beloved. One of her most memorable movies was A League of Their Own. The comedy is a retelling of the real-life story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Marshall filled the movie's dugout with stars. From Tom Hanks to Geena Davis to pop icon Madonna, even the smallest roles in the classic film went to big celebs. The movie isn't about the actors, though. It's about the amazing women who played baseball at a time they were supposed to be stay at home moms. This is the story of A League of Their Own.
Starting In Television
Before directing A League of Their Own, Penny Marshall was known as Laverne in Laverne and Shirley. The television comedy paired her with Cindy Williams, playing working class women in Wisconsin. Airing a show about working women in the '70s was groundbreaking at the time.
The role of Laverne earned Marshall three Golden Globe Awards. Near the end of the show's run, she began directing episodes and found a new love working behind the camera. When the show ended, Marshall worked quickly to make her first movie, Jumping Jack Flash.
Race To $100 Million
Jumping Jack Flash was a critical failure but a commercial success when it was released in 1986. Two years later, Marshall hit her sophomore effort out of the park with Big. Starring Tom Hanks, the movie about a 12-year-old boy who wakes up one day as a 30-year-old man was massive.
By the end of it's run, Big made over $100 million. This made Penny Marshall the first woman to ever direct a film that reached the century mark. It would not be the last record she broke.
"There's No Crying In Baseball!"
In 1992, four years after Big came out, Penny Marshall directed A League of Their Own. Another critical and commercial darling, the film has stood the test of time. But what makes it so special? For starters, it put a large cast of women in front of the camera.
Most movies see male characters far outnumber the female characters. Not A League of Their Own. One look at the cast list makes it clear that this is a movie made by a strong woman about strong women.
It All Started With World War II
The story behind A League of Their Own was actually born out of male fear. During World War II, MLB stars were enlisting in the army. Rich businessmen feared the sport would go bankrupt until Walter Harvey came up with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Havery hired Ira Lowenstein to run the league and Ernie Capadino to look for players. In 1943, the league began its first season. The movie follows the story of the World Series winning Peaches, coached by Jimmy Dugan.
Diving Into The Past
A League of Their Own begins in 1988 at the opening of an exhibit about the women's baseball league in Cooperstown. Marshall follows Dottie Henson, one of the faces of the league, as she reunites with old friends and teammates.
As the women reminisce about the good times, Marshall goes back in time 45 years... back to where it all began. With the stage set and the audience settled into their seats, the movie begins, and a story for the ages is told.
Several Scenes Had To Be Cut
When Penny Marshall finished her first "cut" of A League of Their Own it was four hours long. Knowing the studio would never release a four hour sports comedy, she was forced to make heavy edits to final film.
One of the biggest edits Marshall made was to remove a conversation between Dottie and Kit about Dottie's relationship with her husband. Another heartbreaker for Marshall to lose was a scene where Walter Harvey reveals a secret bar in his office wall. Marshall set up the scene just to show off the bar.
Fox's Big Mistake
The first movie studio Marshall contacted about A League of Their Own was Fox, who turned her away. After Fox made the mistake of saying no to Marshall, she took the script to Sony. Fox's rival studio jumped on the chance to work with the director and make the film.
Penny Marshall was inspired to make A League of Their Own after watching the documentary A League of Its Own. Before that moment, she didn't even know an all-women's baseball league ever existed.
Stiff Competition At The Box Office
A League of Their Own was released in theaters on July 1, 1992. In its opening weekend it faced stiff competition against Batman Returns. Taking in $13.2 million wasn't enough to take down the bat, but Marshall's movie more than held its own.
The second weekend for the movie was nearly identical to the first. It made $11.5 million. The strong second weekend hold pushed it above Tim Burton's Gothic superhero film and into first place. By the end of its incredible run, A League of Their Own grossed $107 million.
A TV Spinoff Failed
The surprise hit of the summer, it didn't come as a shock when a television spinoff of A League of Their Own was developed. The show debuted on CBS in 1993, with the pilot directed by Penny Marshall. It was a ratings failure.
CBS aired one more episode before putting the show on hiatus. Later in the year, the network aired two more episodes, then pulled the plug. Not even having Tom Hanks direct an episode helped the struggling show find its footing.
"All The Way" Mae's Nickname
Pop superstar Madonna played the character "All The Way" Mae. In another scene that was edited out, the nickname "All The Way" was explored. In the cut clip, Dottie tells Kit not to hang around Mae because she's not quite sure just how far "All The Way" was willing to go.
She's forced to explain to her sister that she doesn't know being that free is something married women "have to" or "get to" do. At the end of the shoot, the scene didn't contribute to the overall story.
Casting The Players Was Intense
Casting for the film took place in Southern California and proved to be very intense. Over 2,000 women showed up for the audition, but before they could perform a scene for Marshall they needed to prove they could play baseball.
The only actress kept out of the crowd was Geena Davis. She was given a private audition with Marshall at the director's home. She was less than impressive during that first meeting, but did enough to be cast as one of the film's leads.
Walter Harvey Was Played By Penny's Brother
The actor who played Walter Harvey is Gary Marshall. An accomplished director himself, Marshall took the role after the actor that was cast dropped out at the last minute. Spending most of his career behind the camera, stepping in front of it was a change of pace.
In 2016, Gary Marshall passed away, leaving behind a laundry list of classic movies. One of his most successful films was Pretty Woman, which introduced the world to Julia Roberts. The last movie he directed was Mother's Day.
It Hurt To Film
During filming of A League of Their Own, most of the female cast suffered minor to serious injuries. Anne Ramsey, who played Helen Haley, was trying to catch a ball when it hit off her glove and broke her nose. Renee Coleman's character has a visible leg bruise throughout the film from sliding.
In 2013, 21 years after the movie came out, Geena Davis sat down with Bob Costas and talked about how dangerous filming ending up being. She revealed, "Some of our real cast, from sliding into home, had skin ripped from their legs. It was nutty."
Geena Davis Was Not Marshall's First Pick For Dottie
Geena Davis might have shown just just enough in her first meeting with Penny Marshall to get the role of Dottie, but that doesn't mean she was the director's first choice. Far from it. Before settling on Davis, Marshall tried to get Debra Winger to accept the role.
When Winger said no, Marshall went after Laura Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and finally Demi Moore. No one knows for sure why Winger said no, but rumors persist that it was because Madonna was cast in the movie without her consent.
Bill Pullman Makes A Cameo
In a blink and you'll miss it moment, Independence Day and Big Love star Bill Pullman appears in A League of Their Own as an extra. Do you remember when Dottie looks at a picture of her husband? The actor in the photo is Pullman.
Pullman also gets a few minutes of screen time, too, but not much more. For most of the movie his character is overseas fighting in the great war. Or, in the real world, just filming another movie. He appeared in five films in 1992!
There Was One Slide Geena Davis Wasn't Allowed To Do
One of the hardest parts of filming the movie was the physicality of it. Wearing six inch skirts didn't help either. Still, almost every slide was performed by the actresses themselves. Only one slide was done by a stunt double.
For a particularly complicated slide, Penny Marshall benched Geena Davis, preferring to have a trained professional put her body on the line. The decision had nothing to do with Davis' lack of athleticism either. The slide was shot near the end of filming when the actress played baseball like a seasoned pro.
Madonna Was A Real-Life Diva
True to her diva persona, Madonna proved incredibly difficult and selfish to work with on set. She wanted the entire production to be focused on her and would grow upset when Penny Marshall was paying attention to other actors and actresses.
She was also rude to the nearly 1,700 extras on set each day. Tom Hanks, Rosie O'Donnell, and her other co-stars made it a regular habit to interact with them and sign autographs. Hanks even put on puppet shows for their entertainment. Madonna actively avoided them.
Rosie O'Donnell's Role Was Created For Her
Rosie O'Donnell originally auditioned for the role of Marla. She was almost cast as the character too until Megan Cavanagh auditioned and hit a home run. But Penny Marshall wasn't about to let O'Donnell get away and created the role of Doris just for her.
The new role worked out perfectly. O'Donnell's on-screen chemistry with Madonna is undeniable. It's just too bad they didn't work together more. Imagine a buddy cop comedy starring Madonna as the straight woman and O'Donnell rookie wildcard!
Jimmy And Dottie Almost Got Together
In one version of the script, Jimmy Dugan and Dottie ended up together. The pairing was ultimately rejected, and a scene was cut just so the audience wouldn't get any ideas. We're not sure what the motivation for the change was, but we know exactly what happened in the missing scene.
During the lost moment, Dottie is watching Jimmy take night time batting practice. He admits to her that he loves watching her play. She tells him she loves baseball, then kisses him and runs away.
The Actresses At The Hall Of Fame Are Real Players
Part of the reason A League of Their Own starts in 1988 is to pay tribute to the original players of the All-American Girls Professionals Baseball League. While Dottie and the other Peaches are actresses, the actresses wandering the exhibit were real-life players.
Started in 1943, the AAGPBL played its last season in 1954. It went forgotten for nearly 30 years, when June Peppas held a league reunion in 1982. In 1986, an official players union was formed, and one year later, the documentary that made Penny Marshall make A League of Their Own came out.
What The AAGPBL Founder Really Sold
In the film, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League founder was Walter Harvey, who was played by Penny Marhsall's brother, director Garry Marshall. The Harvey character was a candy magnate whose fortune came from chocolate bars, but in real life this wasn't the case.
The AAGPBL was really started by Philip K. Wrigley, the same guy whose name is on the Cubs' Wrigley Field and the same guy of chewing gum fame. We can't say for sure why the change was made for such a small detail, but at least there's a distinction between the the movie and real life.
Madonna Had To Switch Positions
Each actress in the movie had to prove their skills as baseball players, which meant many of the catches and slides they performed were their own. Even Madonna, who was infamously a diva on set, did enough to show she could work as hard as everyone else.
Unfortunately, that didn't mean she was any good at the game. Her character was originally at third base, but Madonna struggled to field any ground balls. Marshall did what she had to do and moved Madonna to the outfield to hide her lack of defensive baseball skills.
The Uniforms Were Authentic
The cast had both a "clean" and a "dirty" version of their uniforms depending on what scene they were shooting. If they needed to get their uniforms dirtier, all they needed to do was roll around on the base paths a little. But if they had to reshoot a scene where their outfit needed to be clean, that's where the second uniform came in.
Marshall made sure that the uniforms and the un-webbed mitts were made exactly like they were back in the day for authenticity. This also meant that playing the game was that much more dangerous.
Rosie O'Donnell Really Learned How To Do This
You might have seen Rosie O'Donnell's character throw two balls to two catchers at once. But this is no Hollywood trickery. O'Donnell actually knows how to throw two balls at once.
In fact, this was a trick she learned from one of the original members of the AAGPBL! Geena Davis also catches a pop up behind her back in the film. While something like that is usually done by a stunt double, Davis actually performed the stunt herself! She was supposed to have a double perform that scene for her, but when the double couldn't do it, Davis decided she could.
Ballpark Attendance Was Dying Due To WWII
With World War II in full force by 1942, professional baseball players were leaving the game to join the armed services. Major League Baseball parks across the country were at risk of losing money as a result.
Philip K. Wrigley, of chewing gum fame, inherited the Chicago Cubs' franchise from his father and was worried about its future. He enlisted the Cubs’ assistant to the General Manager, Ken Sells, to help him come up with a solution. Sells and his committee proposed a girls’ softball league to maintain attendance at parks across the country. The All-American Girls Softball League was founded as a non-profit organization in Spring of 1943.
The First Professional Girls' League Went Through Several Name Changes
Midway through the first season, the league was changed to the All-American Girls' Baseball League (AAGBL). This distinguished the professional league from existing softball leagues, especially for the fact that the AAGBL rules were the same as Major League Baseball (MLB).
At the end of the first season, the AAGBL was renamed the All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL) over controversy caused due to the adoption of shorter infield lines and underhand pitching. It kept this name until 1945, after which it would again be known as the AAGBL until 1950. During this five-year period, overhand pitching and smaller balls were adopted.
North American Women Clamored To Join In
Women from all over the United States and Canada were invited to major cities to try out for the professional teams. 280 women were invited to the final try-outs in Chicago, where 60 players were selected as the first professional female baseball players.
The Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches, and South Bend Blue Sox were the first four official teams in the AAGBL. They represented cities that were in close proximity to the league's headquarters in Chicago. Each team had 15 players, a manager, business manager, and a woman chaperone who was there to make sure the girls followed a strict set of rules.
Young Women Proved Themselves As Excellent Ball Players
As Spring Training began in 1943, the players had a lot to prove. Their abilities to play their field position were tested, as well as their throwing, catching, running, sliding, and hitting skills.
The players signed contracts agreeing not to take up any other form of employment throughout their season. This was a huge opportunity for many of these women who were as young as 15 and were now making more than their parents. Making the team came at a price, however, and the girls' athletic abilities weren’t the only things that were closely monitored.
If They Wanted To Play, There Were Certain Rules They Had To Follow
The players were held to high standards and had to follow particular rules as a part of their contracts. Despite the fact that they were playing sports, the women were expected to maintain a certain standard of femininity.
After a long day on the field during spring training, women were required to attend charm school. Helena Rubenstein's Beauty Salon was contracted to meet with the girls every evening. They provided lessons on etiquette, makeup application, personal hygiene, mannerisms, and dress code. The players were expected to maintain these standards any time they were not playing on the field.
They Had To Play Like Men, But Always Look Like Women
Each player was given a charm school guide that listed very detailed instructions on how to look and behave your best on and off the field. The guide came with a kit that included a cleansing cream, lipstick, hair remover, and other feminine products.
"It is most desirable in your own interests, that of your teammates and fellow players, as well as from the standpoint of the public relations of the league, that each girl be at all times presentable and attractive, whether on the playing field or at leisure," the guide states. The AAGPBL's were so strict, it was as if the chaperones were their babysitters.
Their Uniforms Were For Looks, Not Protection
The uniforms were designed to maintain the players' femininity on the field, rather than protect them from occupational hazards. The players were subject to serious scrapes and other injuries, especially as a result of sliding onto the bases.
Underneath a one-piece tunic with a short skirt, the players wore satin shorts, knee-high baseball socks, and a cap. The uniforms were inspired by figure skating, field hockey, and tennis outfits of that era. The uniforms were the same across the league but differed in color and each team sported its own patch that was based on its respective city seal.
The League Controlled Every Aspect Of Their Social Lives
It makes a little sense that the league would want to control how the players portrayed themselves on the field, but the league's control also extended to life off the field as well.
The chaperone even had to approve of potential social engagements that the girls were interested in, as well as living arrangements and eating places. They were also prohibited from drinking and smoking in public. Still, maintaining their feminine image was of the utmost importance. Their rules stated: "ALWAYS appear in feminine attire when not actively engaged in practice or playing ball."
The Chaperones Were Pretty Much Babysitters
The team chaperones were there to monitor the girls' behavior while acting as a go-to person for guidance in anything the girls might need.
According to the AAGPBL charm school guide, "Your chaperone is your friend, your counselor, and guide… She has a direct responsibility to you, to your family, to the club which employs her and to the League which she represents. Adhere to the rules and regulations in a manner that will not reflect upon her. Feel free to go to her with any of your personal problems and you will all derive a greater enjoyment and a finer benefit from your association."
You Could Get Cut From The Team If You Cut Your Hair
It was crucial to follow the rules; otherwise, there were consequences. First offenses prompted a fine of five dollars, ten for the second and if there was a third, the player was suspended. Sometimes, the league just went ahead and fired a player.
Such is the case for Josephine "JoJo" D'Angelo, an outfielder for the South Bend Blue Sox, who was fired after her hair was cut too short. Baseball historians believe that the reason for all the strict rules and control over the girls’ appearance was to prevent audiences from thinking the players were lesbians — but many of them were, according to a report by Narratively.
Actual MLB Players Became The Managers Of These Teams
Professional ballplayers from the MLB signed on to manage many of the AAGBPL teams. Professionals were hired with the hope that people would be interested in coming out to see the women play.
In this picture, Martin McManus, a former infielder, and manager for the Boston Red Sox helps Dottie Kamenshek with her hitting during spring training of 1944. Other former MLB players who signed on as AAGBPL managers included Bert Neihoff, Josh Billings, Eddie Stumpf, and Bill Allington, who never had a losing season while managing the Rockford Peaches and the Fort Wayne Daisies.
The On-Going War Went Hand In Hand With The AAGPBL
The AAGPBL saw a successful first season with over 175,000 fans in attendance and the following year was just as hopeful. Patriotism felt as a result of the on-going war encouraged attendance, and many spectators were impressed by the girls' athletic abilities.
Much of the players’ time off the field was spent supporting the war. Exhibition games were held at army camps and veteran hospitals. The players would visit wounded soldiers before and after games. Of course, many of the players had brothers, husbands, or other relatives who had gone off to war. Next, let’s take a look at some of the most memorable female baseball players!
Dottie Kamenshek Would Serve As A Huge Inspiration
Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek played for the Rockford Peaches for most of the AAGPBL's existence. She was just 17 years old when she was scouted to try out for the league in its early years.
Kamenshek started in the outfield but was soon moved to play first base. She was widely regarded as one of the greatest female athletes of the 20th century, with a career batting average of .292. In over 3,700 at-bats, Kamenshek only struck out 81 times. The seven-time All-Star was known for her double-play combination with this next player.
Snookie Harrell Was Essential To The Rockford Peaches
Dorothy "Snookie" Harrell was a shortstop for the Rockford Peaches for eight seasons — five of which she was an All-Star team member. Harrell threw and batted right-handed with a lifetime batting average of .228.
Harrell's career was at its height in 1947 when she was first elected to the All-Star team. From that year on, she led the Rockford Peaches in runs batted in over four consecutive seasons. Throughout her career, she had 306 RBIs, 229 stolen bases, and only struck out 95 times out of almost 3,000 at-bats. Harrell helped her team make it to six playoffs and win four championships.
Audrey Wagner Could Pitch And Hit
Audrey Wagner (far right) was one of the original 60 players in the AAGPBL. She joined the Kenosha Comets as a pitcher but was eventually made into an outfielder for her outstanding batting skills.
In 1948, Wagner won the Player of the Year Award and was the only player to hit a .300 average that season. She was also elected to the All-Star team for the second time, having been tied for fourth in home runs and tied for eighth in RBIs. After her career with the AAGPBL, she spent a few years with the short-lived National Girls Baseball League (NGBL).
Helen Nicol Could Strike Almost Anyone Out
Helen Nicol (first woman on the left) was one of the greatest pitchers in the AAGPBL. She would pitch for nearly ten years with both the Kenosha Comets and the Rockford Peaches, a career in which she averaged a 1.97 ERA.
Sometimes also credited as Helen Fox, Nicol had to adjust every time the AAGPBL enacted new rules. The AAGPBL used to require underhand pitching, much like in softball. But because the rules were changed to closely reflect baseball, sidearm and overhand pitching were required. It took more than a season for Nicol to get it down, after which she went on to win all four playoff games that she pitched.