In 1987, a short documentary about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL; 1943-1954) aired on television, catching the attention of producer and director Penny Marshall. The documentary inspired the making of the feature film A League of Their Own, which became a commercial and critical hit when it was released in 1992.
Behind the scenes, the cast members trained hard to convincingly portray baseball players, even suffering real injuries in the process. Many of the details in the film, such as the players being sent to charm school, having chaperones, and being forced to play in skirts, are based on the real experiences of the AAGPBL athletes.
While the film project hit some stumbling blocks along the way - the original studio placed it in turnaround and several of the actors originally cast dropped out or were replaced - the final film remains one of the most entertaining and inspirational sports movies in Hollywood history. In 2012, it was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry. And in 2020, Amazon announced it had picked up a TV series version of the film; the show will follow a new set of characters as they attempt to become professional baseball players.
In the film, Tom Hanks's character memorably claimed, "There's no crying in baseball!" That may or may not be true, but what is true is that the making of A League of Their Own sounds as fun as the finished movie.
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
In 2012, Penny Marshall told an audience at the Hudson Union Society that Tom Hanks asked to play the part of Jimmy Dugan, the heavy-drinking former MLB star turned reluctant manager of the Rockford Peaches. At the time, Hanks was coming off of two flop films, The 'Burbs and Joe Versus the Volcano.
Dugan was originally supposed to be a man in his 50s, but Hanks reportedly talked Marshall into making the character younger. The director was worried that a younger Dugan would be too appealing to the audience, so as a compromise Hanks packed on about 30 pounds to make the character more slovenly. "I had to get fat. I had to gain some weight," the actor told Entertainment Tonight in 1992. "I had BBQ pork ribs and enjoyed the desserts of America."
The Film Was Once Meant To Be Produced By 20th Century Fox, With David Anspaugh As The Director
Marshall had a deal with 20th Century Fox to develop A League of Their Own, but when Joe Roth was named the head of the studio, he asked Marshall to give up the baseball project.
"That was my fatal error," Roth admitted to the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “Penny was working on Awakenings at the time and, in my haste to get some movies going, I took the project away. I loved the material, but I soon lost confidence in David Anspaugh [Hoosiers], who I’d brought on to direct."
Unhappy with his choice of director and frustrated about not finding the right actor for the project, Roth ended up putting A League of Their Own into turnaround, allowing Columbia to pick up the project for Marshall to direct when she left Fox for Columbia in 1990.
Demi Moore And Debra Winger Were Both In The Running To Play Dottie
A League of Their Own could have ended up with a much different cast. When the film was still in development at Fox, Jim Belushi was in line to play the part of Jimmy Dugan. In her memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, Marshall claims the film's original director, David Anspaugh, wanted Sean Young to play Dottie. Marshall's first choice to play Dottie was Demi Moore, but she dropped out of consideration due to her pregnancy.
With Moore unavailable, Columbia Pictures was eager for Debra Winger and Madonna to play the roles of Dottie and Kit, respectively. In her memoir, Marshall claims that Winger dropped out of the film because she didn't want to work with the famous singer. Moira Kelly actually got cast as Kit, but had to drop out after she was injured while filming The Cutting Edge.
Anne Ramsay, who ended up playing the role of Rockford first baseman Helen Haley, originally auditioned for the film when Anspaugh was still attached to direct. As Ramsay told ESPNW in 2017, she auditioned again years later, after Marshall had been reunited with the project:
I did well in my audition with Penny, but she could not place me. And she just couldn't figure out how to fit me in for one of the roles that were already in the scripts. And I mean, she had me come in at least five times. One time she goes, "Wash off all of your makeup." I walk to the bathroom in the middle of the audition. She was trying to see me differently, fit me somewhere. I could tell she liked me but couldn't figure it out! Then I get a call from the casting department saying that Penny loved me but couldn't figure out where to put me. Then the casting agent says, "Penny is going to write a role so that you can be in the film."
While Lori Petty ended up winning the role of Kit, Schram was one of the other actors to audition for that part. "I sat there thinking, 'I'm not right for this,'" she told ESPNW. "But I read for it and wasn't very good. So they then say, 'Hey, we'll have you read for this other role.' And that was for Evelyn, the one that cried. Then I did it, and I knew I nailed it. In my heart and mind, I was like, 'I'm going to get this role.'" Schram was right; she was cast as right fielder Evelyn Gardner.
Like Anne Ramsay, Megan Cavanagh originally auditioned for the film when Fox was still the studio involved and Anspaugh was set to direct. The actor, who ended up playing the role of second baseman Marla Hooch, described the unusual callback she was part of after Marshall returned to the project:
They asked all the actresses to be prepared to read other roles; it was a group audition. At this time, Debra Winger was the part of Dottie - not Geena Davis. So it was Debra and Lori Petty. I got invited to this audition with women who had already been cast in the movie, so that was pretty exciting... As I was leaving the audition, Rosie O'Donnell [who was already cast for the role of Doris Murphy] followed me out and said, "Listen, you're the best Marla we've seen so far."
O’Donnell herself read for multiple roles before being cast as third baseman Doris Murphy.
No, Tom Hanks's Long Bathroom Break Wasn't RealPhoto: Columbia Pictures
The scene where a drunken Dugan stumbles into the locker room and proceeds to take a long pee lasts approximately 53 seconds. But Hanks wasn't really taking a leak.
Instead, Marshall stood just out of camera range with a hose and a bucket to simulate the sound of the action.