Pinstripes: Teresa Wright

by Marty Appel

Any Yankee fan worth his (or her) salt who hasn’t seen Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees at least 15 times, hasn’t really passed the test of true belief. Sure the dialogue seems primitive, and yes, it doesn’t run on TV that much anymore, but you still weep when Coop does his Lou Gehrig farewell speech, and you still feel good for the big lug when he finds romance with a fast Chicago girl named Eleanor Twitchell.

When Eleanor was still coming to Yankee Stadium regularly and I was the team’s PR Director, I would call her to arrange for a car service. And sometimes I’d tease her, saying “I saw your movie last night on Channel 9!”

And she’d giggle and say, “oh, if only I really looked like that Teresa Wright.”

A lot of people had a thing for Teresa Wright. It made her one of the most popular Hollywood actresses in the ‘40s, and an Oscar winner as Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver in 1942, the same year in which she was also nominated as Best Actress for her role as Eleanor Gehrig in Pride. But her wholesome picture on the Pride of the Yankees movie poster (it was presented as the great American love story), and her loving portrayal of the woman who stole Lou’s heart, made her, for baseball people, a part of our world.

Current PR-director Rick Cerrone was slick enough to rediscover the 79-year old Ms. Wright in Connecticut in 1978, and to invite her to throw out a first pitch. It turned out that getting a phone call from the Yankees was the last thing she ever expected in her life. Not only was she no baseball fan, she did no publicity with the team for the movie’s release, and simply went on her way to other films after wrapping up production.

But the simple first pitch ceremony lit a fire in her. Or maybe it was the kiss and the flowers from Tino Martinez on the day of her big pitch.. In any case, she was a Yankee fan waiting to happen. Now retired from movies (her last was 1997’s The Rainmaker), she occupies much of her time by avidly following the Yankees, making up for the six decades between the movie and today, when she paid no attention at all, managing to miss two dozen pennants in the process.

“I think it’s the best theater I’ve ever seen,” she told the Stamford Advocate recently. “A baseball game starts off with fans enjoying themselves and you never know where the players are going to take things next.”

Looking back to Game 7 of last year’s World Series, she says, “If you wrote it in a script, nobody would believe it.”

Pride of the Yankees featured Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, as themselves, but Teresa, just beginning her great career, was not that interested in the celebrated ballplayers. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “I don’t remember whether I was on the set the day their parts were shot. I guess I knew who Babe Ruth was, but surely not Bill Dickey.”

Now, she can tell you David Wells’ stats (she claims to have cried when he was traded) and all about Bernie Williams, who “has a presence,” she says. This from a woman who co-starred with Gary Cooper and Matt Damon. Nice compliment, Bernie.

Sharp of mind and full of strong political thoughts, the slight woman has the same pretty face that captivated movie goers but now finds great joy following her Yankees. When she calls Cerrone now to talk about a recent game or concluding home stand, he can’t help but think that after all this time, the team has a fan with a special tie to the team that it can be proud of. Sort of the Pride of the Yankees, all over again.