March 29, 2011
Lou Gehrig related items seem to be a popular topic these days. One collector was curious if the various Lou Gehrig jerseys that I have examined and found to be problematic could have been wardrobe products from the film “The Pride of the Yankees” starring Gary Cooper. The short answer is no. I say this based on the nature of the problems and the fact that this is one of my favorite films; one I have looked at countless times. That being said, this does not mean this is not a topic worthy of a little discovery and discussion. With that being said, let’s get started.
While you will find images of Gehrig wearing jerseys with both Raglan and Set-In sleeves throughout his career, in 1939, you will find the Iron Horse wearing the Raglan style at home. What is interesting is that you will not find this as the standard sleeve style for all Yankee home jerseys that year. Another thing to consider is that in 1939, professional baseball clubs (Majors, Minors, & Negro Leagues) wore the Baseball Centennial patch. In the “Pride of the Yankees”, at least for Gehrig since the film does feature a number of actual players, the patch Gary Cooper is wearing is sewn to the shoulder and not the set-in sleeve of his jersey. Small point, but still one worth noting when comparing props and period products.
The NY Logo that appears on two of the three styles of home movie uniforms worn by Cooper is not too bad. The logo’s don’t look all that much out of place until you begin to compare them with actual uniforms from the period. Like I said, not bad but easily noticeable upon comparison. The NY logo can also be used to get an estimate on the number of home jerseys Gary Cooper wore in the film. For home uniforms, I would say 2-3.
This takes us quickly to the point where “Pride of the Yankees” turns into “Shame on You.” What I am referring to is the marketing and sale of jerseys purported to have been worn by Gary Cooper in the film. In 1992, Superior Galleries of Beverly Hills, CA offered as Lot #1156 the jersey they say was the “uniform worn by Cooper when he recited Gehrig’s unforgettable “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech.
In the film, Gary Cooper only appears in one scene wearing a 1939 Yankees home jersey. In comparing images of Lot # 1156 to film actual film footage, I found three distinct and identifiable problematic areas that seem to exclude the offered jersey from being the one Cooper wore as claimed. Specifically:
1. Both the cut and placement of the NY logo on the left breast are not consistent between the offered jersey and the actual uniform in the scene.
2. The location of the 1939 Centennial patch is not consistent between the offered jersey and the actual uniform on film.
3. The numeric font style on the back of the jersey is not consistent between the offered jersey and the actual uniform on film.
As for road uniforms, I have knowledge of only one of these coming to auction. This was in American Memorabilia’s auction of March 2005. For the record, Gary Cooper only appears in a road uniform in three scenes in the movie.
The first of which is on the road in Chicago at the start of his career. This uniform does not feature a number on the back.
The second time Cooper shows up in road jersey is in St. Louis (#4 on the back) when he hits two home runs for the hospital bound youth named Billy.
The 3rd and final time Cooper appears as Gehrig in a road jersey is in Detroit (#4 on the back) as he takes himself out of the lineup.
What is interesting to note is that in all three of these scenes, the cut of letter “W” in NEW YORK on the Cooper/Gehrig jersey is not consistent with that of the one offered by American Memorabilia. Make of this what you will.
The “Pride of the Yankees” hit the big screen via in 1942. It had made its way into peoples home via VHS video in 1990 (Fox Video) and then via DVD release by HBO in 1999. I point this out to highlight that individual/personal level film reference and analysis would have been possible at both times that both of these Cooper/Gehrig jerseys came to auction. Based on what I saw when I looked at the movie, I have to seriously doubt this was done. With nothing offered by either auction house as to their process or methodology, I suspect that attribution was made based on the fact that Gary Cooper was sewn into the tail of each uniform. Maybe it just never occurred to the individual(s) who researched and offered the opinions on these uniforms, that this actor annotation in the tail is not a difficult thing to add to a jersey after the fact. Once again, make of any, all, or none of it as you will.
As an aside, if anyone out there would like a similar run down of “The Babe Ruth Story” (1948 starring William Bendix) please let me know. I truly enjoy watching these films and being able to tell Michelle, “I’d love to dear, but as you can see I’m working here…” Sadly enough, but there appear to be a couple of collectors out there who might be wishing right now that more people who offer opinions on uniforms watched movies, too. Hard to imagine that they now feel like the “luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
For questions and comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at: DaveGrob1@aol.com.