The things you find on YouTube. While surfing through old baseball footage, including footage from the infamous 1919 World Series, I came across a 1938 B Western called “Rawhide” starring Lou Gehrig. I could not imagine Lou Gehrig, the greatest first baseman in baseball history in a western, so I had to watch.
The movie begins with Lou talking to reporters. He has decided to give up baseball, moving out west to join his sister and become a rancher. What I noticed early on, was that he does not sound like Gary Cooper, who played Gehrig in “Pride of the Yankees.” In fact, Lou is much more gregarious and funny than how Cooper portrayed him.
The plot is how the Ranchers Protective Association operates not unlike the mafia, using force to get ranchers to join the association or face the consequences, and charge high fees for profits the ranchers make. There is a hero, dedicated lawyer Larry Kimball played by Smith Ballew, a singing cowboy, no less. There is action besides the singing of our lawyer/hero. A gunfight or two and a saloon fight where Lou gets to throw punches as well as billiard balls at bad guys.
What is ironic is the release date for the movie, April 8, 1938. Lou looks fit in the movie, healthy, active, limber, athletic, no signs of anything wrong. Yet 1938 was the season that would see his play decline, especially in the second half of the season.
It would be only 14 months after the release date that Lou would check into the Mayo Clinic and discover on his 36th birthday that is life was coming to an end with the disease now named after him. He would die in 1941, on June 16th, the very date sixteen years earlier that he replaced Wally Pipp at first base. So much irony.
Lou is a credible actor, more than expected from baseball player with no acting experince. True, he is playing himself, but that is not an easy thing to do. He has charm, charisma, and good timing delivering his lines, even when his lines calls for comedic reading, Lou delivers with perfect timing.
It is bittersweet to watch him in the movie. You get to hear his voice, discover his warm, gregarious, and charming personality; but behind the enjoyment of watching Lou, is knowing what he did not at the time, that despite how he looked, despite how fit and athletic he appears, the disease to which Lou was totally oblivious to at this time, was already at work while he was filming his scenes for the movie. We are watching a great athlete whose muscles will soon betray him. And he has no clue. And there is nothing we can do.
Here is a link to the movie on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhdfVQj27b4