Gwen Verdon's dance partner in "Who's Got the Pain?" is none other than Bob Fosse, who was restaging his stage choreography for the film, and took the opportunity to step into the number, which became a rare and treasured opportunity for Broadway fans to see the artist and his muse perform together. Verdon and Fosse married in 1960.
At the end of "Who's Got The Pain?," as Bob Fosse exits the stage into the wings, Tab Hunter congratulates him with an enthusiastic, "Great work, Bobby!" - using Bob Fosse's actual name.
Because so many of the artists associated with the original stage show were recruited for the film version, Damn Yankees (1958) emerged as one of the most faithful movie adaptations of a Broadway musical. With original star Gwen Verdon and choreographer Bob Fosse on hand, the film captures every move of Verdon's legendary Tony Award-winning performance, particularly her signature hip isolations, on spectacular display in her showstopping musical numbers.
In the 1960s, Jean Stapleton reprised her role as Sister Miller in a revival of the stage version of Damn Yankees, and drew the attention of producer Norman Lear, who immediately offered her for the role Edith Bunker in All in the Family (1971).
A musicians' strike forced the performers to sing and dance to a piano and metronome accompaniment. The orchestral arrangements were recorded and looped in post-production.
The musical play "Damn Yankees" opened at the 46th Street Theater in New York City on May 5, 1955, and ran for 1,019 performances. Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston, Russ Brown, Jean Stapleton, Shannon Bolin, Nathaniel Frey, James Komack, Rae Allen, Albert Linville, Elizabeth Howell and Robert Shafer reprise their roles in the movie. The role of Sohovik, played by Eddie Phillips on stage, was portrayed by Bob Fosse on screen.
The stadium used for filming was the old Wrigley Field minor-league park in South Los Angeles. It hosted Major League games for only one season, in 1961, when the new expansion Los Angeles Angels played there. The park was torn down in 1966.
Gwen Verdon won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Ray Walston copped the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Russ Brown won the Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical, and Rae Allen was nominated as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. All four performers reprised their roles in the film version.
Tab Hunter and Gwen Verdon's duet of "Two Lost Souls" was captured live on the set during filming, with the intention of re-recording the vocals in post-production. However, the stars' on-set chemistry was so infectious -- and so in keeping with the freewheeling style of the number -- that director Stanley Donen ultimately decided to leave it as it was, Hunter and Verdon's frequent off-key clunkers notwithstanding.
As Doris Day had remarked one year earlier as the only major cast replacement in The Pajama Game (1957), Tab Hunter recalled feeling woefully inadequate and out of step joining a company that had been playing the material for more than 1,000 performances on stage.
Damn Yankees (1958) is nearly a direct transfer to film of George Abbott's 1955 Broadway musical. The one major exception is Stephen Douglass, who originated the role of Joe Hardy, replaced in the film by Tab Hunter.
In keeping with his tradition of employing a diverse company in his stage shows, co-director George Abbott went against the grain in Hollywood by insisting that the cast of Damn Yankees (1958) include all races and nationalities, especially evident in the "Six Months Out of Every Year" number.
The Washington Nationals major league baseball team in the 2014 and 2015 seasons used footage of ballplayers dancing on top of the dugout from the number "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo" in a video that was shown between innings on the big scoreboard in center field.
Harold Prince, Robert Griffith and Frederick Brisson, who produced the show on Broadway, decided early on that Lola had to be portrayed by a dancer. They offered the role to Mitzi Gaynor and Jeanmaire, both of whom turned it down. Gwen Verdon had received raves for her breakthrough supporting role in the musical "Can-Can." When she was offered Lola, Verdon initially turned it down, feeling she did not possess the sultry physical appearance needed for the role. It was Bob Fosse who urged her to reconsider.
Based on leading man Tab Hunter's limited vocal range, the film version omitted two key ballads from the original score, "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You," both sung by Joe Hardy to express his sorrow that his transformation from middle-aged real estate agent to young baseball star has cost him the love of his wife.
One of the chief flaws in the plotting of Damn Yankees (1958) is the fact that Meg (Shannon Bolin) doesn't recognize her husband as a young man, emphasized further by the movie's ability to show the transformation of Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) into Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter) in one special effect, minus any stage trickery.
Much of the criticism dealt to the film centered on the flat, stage-bound direction; indeed, nearly every musical number was photographed presentationally, with the performers playing directly to the camera as if framed by a theatrical proscenium. This has led historians to suspect that George Abbott helmed much of the film, as co-director Stanley Donen was well-versed in creating musical numbers specifically for the camera, and his touch is nowhere to be seen in the one-dimensional cinematic landscape of Damn Yankees (1958).
During rehearsals on the Warner Bros. lot, the entire cast took to calling Tab Hunter by the name Gwen Verdon had affectionately bestowed on him: 'Tabunter,' spoken with a Brooklynese accent.
Despite rumors that Warner Bros. was considering Cyd Charisse for Lola and Cary Grant for Applegate, it was always the intention of co-directors Stanley Donen and George Abbott to film both The Pajama Game (1957) and Damn Yankees (1958) with their original casts intact, allowing for only one 'movie star' name (Doris Day in the former, Tab Hunter in the latter) for the sake of boosting the box office.
Tab Hunter was the only cast member who was not in the original stage production. According to his autobiography, when filming a particular scene, he suggested doing it in a way that differed from director George Abbott's ideas. When Hunter asked, "Can we just try it?" Abbott apparently said, "No, that's not the way we did it in the stage version!"
Gwen Verdon doesn't make her first appearance as Lola until forty-six minutes into the film.
Lola's surname is Hernando, a nod to the song "Hernando's Hideaway" in the production team's previous Broadway music and film The Pajama Game (1957).
Gwen Verdon was nominated for a BAFTA as best newcomer. Although this was her 14th film (going back to 1936), it was her first starring role in a film.
Just as the film went into rehearsal, a musicians' union strike prevented the company from pre-recording the vocals on the soundstage with the studio orchestra. The RCA Victor cast album from the Broadway production was utilized for rehearsing, while the cast performed to a piano accompaniment for the filming. Once production wrapped, the cast re-recorded their vocal tracks a capella on a soundstage, and these were shipped to Italy with musical director Ray Heindorf, who conducted a symphony orchestra to match the vocal tracks. RCA Victor released the movie soundtrack on LP in conjunction with the film's opening, in mono only although the score was recorded in stereo.
With both of the show's romantic ballads deleted from the film score, it was decided that the character of Meg (Shannon Bolin) would emerge as underdeveloped. Thus, composer Richard Adler supplied a fresh song for her character, "There's Something About an Empty Chair." Adler crafted the mournful beguine by himself, as his collaborator Jerry Ross had passed away in 1955, shortly after "Damn Yankees" opened on Broadway.
The surviving theatrical trailer is of the British release print which was renamed "What Lola Wants!" rather than Damn Yankees (1958) for UK release (although the original name was added parenthetically in smaller letters at the bottom of the screen).
Jack Warner optioned the film rights to both The Pajama Game (1957) and Damn Yankees (1958) with the idea of teaming stage director George Abbott and film director Stanley Donen to ensure both a faithful transfer and a cinematic rendition of the original shows. When Warner insisted on one star to bolster the largely unknown stage cast at the box office, Abbott requested Don Murray for the role of Joe Hardy, but Warner insisted on Tab Hunter, who was already under contract. Abbott relented, largely to secure the services of Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston, reprising their stage roles from the Broadway cast. During filming, Abbott repeatedly implored Warner to replace his leading man because he felt Hunter lacked the necessary masculinity to adequately portray the young athlete.
Five songs from the stage score were deleted from the film version: "The Game," "A Man Doesn't Know," "Near to You," "Not Meg" and "The American League." The latter two songs appeared in the original Broadway production, but were axed shortly after the opening - not at all unusual for George Abbott, who was known to continue perfecting a show's tempo and content months or years into its run. Meanwhile, despite being omitted as a musical number, "The Game" was retained for the familiar opening strain of the film's overture.
The stage musical and movie were based on the novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant", by Douglas Wallopp.