15 November 2007 | bkoganbing
"Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart"
Damn Yankees was one of two Broadway shows written by the team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the other being The Pajama Game which got made into films almost immediately upon the cessation of the Broadway run. Damn Yankees ran in the 1955-1957 season for 1019 performances and both Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston continued their roles from Broadway.
However the protagonist Joe Boyd/Joe Hardy part, the middle aged real estate salesman who is a fanatic baseball fan of the lowly Washington Senators, was played by Tab Hunter in the Joe Hardy persona. As in that other Broadway film My Fair Lady it was felt that one of the leads should go to a bona fide movie name in that case Audrey Hepburn in this one Tab Hunter.
In his memoirs Hunter said that he was apprehensive about taking over a musical lead because he admitted he was no singer. But the arrangements were certainly done to accommodate his limited range and he acquits himself well. He certainly does look well in the baseball scenes and even keeps up with Gwen Verdon.
Gwen Verdon like Mitzi Gaynor came along in the Fifties just when Hollywood was slowing down with the making of musicals due to the decline of the studio system. Gwen did such other leads on Broadway as Sweet Charity, New Girl in Town, and Redhead, but only with Damn Yankees was she allowed to go to Hollywood and repeat her stage performance. Gwen like Mitzi was a fabulous dancer and in the Thirties and Forties she would have become acclaimed film name.
Ray Walston got his career break in the part of Mr. Applegate the devil's identity for this film. Back when I was a lad and first saw Damn Yankees in the theater, I was enthralled by Walston's performance and became a fan until the day he died. Walston plays the devil like a spoiled child and there might just be some theological justification for that.
The big hit songs from Damn Yankees was Gwen Verdon's seduction number and dance, Whatever Lola Wants. Few people ever on stage and screen could move like her.
The second and even bigger hit was Heart, sung her by Russ Brown and some of the other actors playing hapless Washington Senator players under their eternally optimistic manager Brown. The song was a big million seller for Eddie Fisher who was at the height of his vocal career then.
Damn Yankees the film was released in 1958. In 1960 the original Washington Senators played their last year in Washington, DC. For the poor fans of the Senators it was a double blow. The team was just beginning to jell as a contender and in 1965 they did in fact in their new home in Minneapolis/St.Paul as the Minnesota Twins did win the American League pennant as the Yankee dynasty crumbled at last.
In their place came another new Washington Senator franchise which continued in the second division ways that Washington knew so well and that fans like Joe Boyd were used to. They played their last season in the capital in 1971 and the capital was without Major League baseball until 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved and became the Washington Nationals. I'm afraid we may never see the name Senators attached to a Washington team again. The Texas Rangers have the name copyrighted.
Still the Nationals in the other league are doing their best to hold up the Washington tradition of first in war, first in peace and last in now the National League East. Washington saw three pennants in 1924, 1925, and 1933 and one World Series winner in 1924.
They might just need another Joe Hardy to move the team. Let's hope someone doesn't have to make an arrangement with Mr. Applegate to make it possible to beat those Damn Yankees.