[Dixielandjazz] " A League of their Own"

JimDBB at aol.com JimDBB at aol.com
Wed Mar 5 19:13:28 PST 2003

                                                    " A League of Their Own"
                                                       'Making movies in 

                                                                by Jim Beebe

In 1992 the movie "A league of Their Own" was released and it quickly became 
a big hit. It was highly entertaining and was based on a unique period in 
American history.  

It was in 1990 that I got a call from a woman who said that she was with 
Columbia pictures. She said that they were making a movie that would be 
filmed mostly in Chicago. She went on and said that the movie was about the 
Women's Baseball League that was formed in 1943 to fill in the gap left as so 
many men in professional baseball went off to fight in World War II.  The 
cast of this movie would feature such big names as Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, 
Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell and would be directed by Penny Marshall.  The story 
would center around the Rockford Peaches and the Racine Belles, two of the 
prominent Women's League teams and would be titled, " A League of Their Own."

This woman from Columbia Pictures went on to explain that they had leased 
Fitzgerald's Club, located just west of Chicago in Berwyn and they were going 
to film some night club scenes in it. One scene would feature Tom Hanks and 
Madonna in some hot jitterbug dancing and they wanted an authentic jazz band 
on the bandstand while this was going on. She said that the music had been 
recorded and the band in the film would be sidelining. 'Sidelining' is the 
common practice in the movie business where for a music scene the music is 
prerecorded and actual musicians are used miming along with the recorded 
music on camera so that it looks real or authentic.

The Columbia woman said that my band had been recommended to them and she 
asked if I would be interested in this. I replied that I would.  She said 
that the filming would commence in about a month and that they wanted to come 
now to see my band to consider us for their nightclub scene.  I told her 
where we were working and she elected to come and see us at Dick's Last 
resort in Chicago where we were in residence three nights a week.  I 
hesitated about Dick's Last Resort as Dick's was a noisy place with contrived 
rowdiness as its ambience and hot jazz groups as its backdrop.  It was not a 
choice place to check out a band with the din that prevailed and with waiters 
and waitresses periodically blowing up condoms.

A few nights later at Dick's Last Resort two young women and a young man came 
forward to the bandstand and told me that they were from Columbia and they 
really liked our group. It was hard to talk with the ongoing din in Dicks' 
but I was encouraged with what they said. They were bright and enthusiastic 
and had the appearance of college graduate students.  The next day I got a 
call from one of the young women and she said, " We love your band but we 
cannot use it in this picture." I was stunned at this and puzzled.  She went 
on to explain, " The band for this scene in the movie because of the period 
has to be either all white or all black. That is the way it was in the 40s. 
Your band is mixed and it just won't work for this movie.  I saw my chance at 
eternal movie fame fleeting by and it seemed there was nothing I could do to 
save it.  The Columbia woman effused as to how sorry they were that they 
couldn't use us and then she rang off.

A couple of weeks later I heard that the Columbia movie people had engaged 
Lester Stephens for the Nightclub scene.  Lester Stephens was a long time 
jazz drummer and his band, Lester Stephens Modern-Traditional Jazz Band, had 
been a vital part of the Chicago Jazz scene for some years.  The guys in 
Lester's band were seasoned veterans from the Afro-American tradition in 
Chicago Jazz and they had been active on the scene for many years.  I had to 
concede that Columbia Pictures made the right choice.  Lester was a friend of 
mine and he would often come to where my band was working and would sit in on 
drums with us and at times I would go and sit in with his group.  I was happy 
for him.

A month passed by when I suddenly got a call from Columbia pictures again. 
The same woman said that they were going to do another night club scene and 
that they wanted me to have an all white band and asked if I would do it. I 
agreed before I was given the conditions and this turned out to be a bit of a 
mistake. These movie people were always rushed and in a hurry. The woman said 
that we would be on stage with Madonna, who would be singing an old tune, 
"Daddy."  I was told that they would be filming this the following Monday at 
Fitzgeralds and that I would have to get my group to their building on South 
Michigan Avenue in Chicago by Friday to be fitted out with clothes. I could 
only have one young guy in the band as in the period of this movie most of 
the young men were off to war.  I was told no beards and no pony tails as we 
had to look reasonably authentic.  As soon as I hung up the phone I started 
making calls and this turned into a nerve-racking endeavor that involved 
dozens of phone calls.  I couldn't use most of my regular guys. Three of them 
were the 'wrong' color and one had a beard. In my zeal for fame and riches I 
overlooked that fact that my regular musicians were going to be affronted at 
being left out of this. As I called other guys that I had worked with they 
were all tied up in one way or another and were not available for the 
following Monday when we were scheduled to started filming our scene, early 
in the morning

Columbia Fed-Exed me a tape of the recording that we were to 'sideline' to 
and the music for it. This old tune, "Daddy" was done in a small band swing 
style and had been arranged by Dick Marx. I later discovered that a number of 
Chicago jazz greats including Bobby Lewis, Cy Touff, Eric Schneider, Ed 
Peterson and others were on this recording to be used on the movie 
soundtrack. I started making copies for the band. Judi K who sang with my 
band was delighted to hear about the movie even though there was no place for 
her in it.  Judi's cousin, Lou 'Erickson' Sauer had been one of the  Rockford 
Peaches and Judi has Lou's picture in her Peaches uniform hanging on her 
kitchen wall. After a full day of phone calls, I lined up a group of 
musicians that I rarely worked with and at least one of them I had never met. 
 We met at the building on So. Michigan Ave. that Columbia had leased. There 
were a number of rooms that the cast used to rehearse their scenes and we 
were amazed to find a huge room full of clothes from the 40s.  These were 
authentic clothes and shoes from the 40s and not reproductions. Curiously, we 
were fitted with an outfit that I thought was wrong for a nightclub band in 
that era but I thought it best that I didn't say anything. I gave each guy a 
copy of the tape and the music that they were to play at home to get familiar 
with.  They would have to mime along with the recording with the right fi
ngering and positions on their instruments so that they would look authentic 
in the film. And they were to wait for the call from me on Sunday night.

Columbia was going to call me Sunday night to tell us what time to come in on 
Monday and the guys all had to be at home to get my call.  Well, that Sunday 
night began a nightmare of phone calls and delays that to this day still 
rankles me. Sunday night I got a hurried call, " keep your band on hold for 
in the morning, we are behind schedule…I will call you in the morning."  
Morning came and the nightmare of phone calls continued…" we are behind 
schedule, keep the band on hold."  This went on through the morning into the 
afternoon and evening.  The band guys were getting ready to strangle me.  
Finally that night a hurried call came,  " We are going to cancel this 
nightclub scene, we are way behind schedule and we have to go to Indiana to 
film some outdoor baseball stuff.  Thanks for your help."  And that was it.  
Then it dawned on me that I never had a contract or anything. Everything was 
so rushed and I assumed that we would get paid whatever the union agreement 
was and as this was a famous movie company there wouldn't be any problem.  I 
made a quick call back to the Columbia person and asked about payment.  I was 
abruptly told that since we weren't used in the film they couldn't pay us but 
they would send me $200 for my efforts and my phone bills. And she rang off.  
My subsequent calls never got through.  They were gone that day. I decided 
that it would be prudent for me to visit relatives in Wisconsin as I knew 
that the musicians I had engaged for movie fame would be coming with  
baseball bats to 'sideline' me to Wrigley Field. 

The movie was an enormous hit and Lester Stephens and his band were just 
right for the jitterbug scene.  Lester told me that Penny Marshall was great 
to work with and that she really liked his band. When they finished filming 
their scene the band gave the cast a swinging "When the Saints go Marching 
In.' Lester and some of his band have passed on now.  They were a vibrant 
part of Chicago Jazz history. Their music represented a special niche in 
Chicago Jazz as it embraced a wide palette of styles, just as their name, the 
Lester Stephens Modern-Traditional Jazz band, implied.  The Rockford Peaches 
and the Racine Belles reclaimed their place in Baseball history memory. All 
of the women involved in the Women's Baseball League are now in the Baseball 
Hall of Fame and will forever be in the American consciousness.

'And now you know the rest of the story' to "A League of Their Own."

By Jim Beebe


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