After three decades, “Bull Durham” is so stamped on movie-watchers’ minds that nearly every line is a catchphrase.
But in “The Church of Baseball,” writer-director Ron Shelton unveils the whole ugly process behind his 1988 classic, revealing a long list of betcha-didn’t-know details that will surprise even devoted fans.
Here are a few:
▪ Shelton picked the name for his main character out of a record book for the Carolina League, in which he found that Lawrence “Crash” Davis had knocked 50 doubles in 1948. Shelton decided it was “the best baseball nickname I’d ever heard.”
But while shooting the film, Shelton discovered the real Crash Davis was very much alive, a graduate of Duke University who’d recently retired from Burlington Industries. Lucky for Shelton, Davis was gracious about using his name, asking, “Tell me young man, do I get the girl?”
▪ Raleigh fans especially remember the barroom scenes shot at Mitch’s Tavern, where Nuke LaLoosh is seen dancing like a peacock on drugs. Actor Tim Robbins had a choreographer for that scene: a then-unknown Paula Abdul. She insisted she’d been promised a speaking role. When Shelton meekly offered her a part as a cocktail waitress, she stormed out.
▪ The unlikely marriage between Jimmy, the evangelical infielder, and Millie, the Bulls groupie with a decidedly more relaxed attitude toward intimacy with players, created a problem when it came time to shoot the wedding. For that nighttime scene, no extras had been hired, leaving the stands empty. But luckily, one of the film’s producers knew a sound engineer for Pink Floyd, who happened to be playing a show in Chapel Hill. He arranged for this announcement at intermission: “We’ll be partying at Durham Athletic Park when the concert’s over and there’ll be free beer and T-shirts and the band will show up.”
The band did not grace the Bulls’ stands that night as promised, but if you look closely, the spectators at Jimmy and Millie’s nuptials are wearing Pink Floyd shirts.
▪ During filming, a prospective actor showed up at the casting office wearing a Bulls suit. He not only got hired, he got an extra $50 every time he took a fall.
▪ The Bulls’ radio announcer, shown simulating the crack of the bat with a pair of wood blocks, was actually a retired moonshine revenuer agent named Garland Bunting. Shelton happened to see his appearance on the David Letterman show.
▪ In the original script, Annie Savoy delivers a lengthy monologue in which she describes growing up Baptist, rebelling, running away from home, marrying twice and reconciling with her father only weeks before his death. Shelton describes cutting this scene, his favorite, in a chapter called “Kill Your Darlings.”
▪ Steely Dan guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter composed background music for one of the bus scenes in a single night.
▪ The Crash Davis quote, “Strikeouts are boring. They’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic,” is actually from Bill “Spaceman” Lee, famously eccentric pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
▪ The original script also placed the Bulls in the same cheap hotel as the Ice Capades while traveling for road games, and after they pull their drunken sprinkler stunt to force a rain-out, they chase the ice skaters around their hotel.
Their manager asks, “Are you lovely creatures aware that you are about to compromise yourselves with a buncha bums?”
This story was originally published July 20, 2022 12:53 PM.
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