In the early forties, Gary Cooper seemed to have a corner on the market for squeaky-clean, All-American biographies. After playing Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Alvin York, he would go on to play Yankee legend Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees. While the latter movie was a shallow, deeply clichéd bit of treacle, Howard Hawks‘ Sergeant York manages to get under the skin of the pious country boy who managed to single-handedly take out a German machine gun nest and take 138 prisoners with only seven men.
On July 4, 1939, it seemed like all of New York City plus most of baseball paused between games of a doubleheader to say good-bye to the career of Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” who had played 2,130 consecutive games before the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ended his playing days. His farewell speech, beginning with the sentence “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” remains one of the most moving moments in sports history.
Just over a year after his death in June, 1941, Hollywood had a movie version of Gehrig’s life in the theaters. While it was well received at the time and garnered a whole rack of Academy Award nominations, time has not been kind to this shallow look at the baseball legend’s private life.