• Golden Globe Awards

Geena Davis, on Women and Baseball, 1991-1992: Out of the Archives

A League of Their Own will be back as a series on Amazon, starting on August 12. Back in 1992, Geena Davis received one of her four Golden Globe nominations for her work in director Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, co-starring Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna. A year before, in 1991, Davis had been nominated as Best Actress for Thelma & Louise (1991) directed by Ridley Scott and co-starring Susan Sarandon.
When interviewed by the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 1991 and 1992 about those two films, she spoke about women playing baseball and feminism.
Geena Davis clarified how the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League) was founded in 1943 by Philip Wrigley, the chewing gum manufacturer and owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team and remained into existence until 1954.
A League of Their Own is a period movie that takes place in the ‘40s about a women’s baseball league that actually existed in America. After so many of the baseball stars went off to war, they wanted to keep the stadiums open, so Philip Wrigley developed these women’s baseball teams that played aggressively and real hard ball, just like the men. We did a lot of research, there’s a documentary about them, lots of news footage and magazine articles, and it was fascinating, because I had no idea that this existed. “
“It’s so amazing to me that there would be an 11- year period in our history, when women played professional baseball, and that no-one would have heard about it; so I thought it was a fabulous piece of history that people should hear about, and I’m pleased that we can tell that story. You don’t often realize that women were athletic figures, marvelous athletes, very exciting to watch and they evidently were very popular during that time, they had millions of fans and everything. So there’s no reason women shouldn’t be able to play baseball today.”
The actress described her character, Dottie, catcher for the Rockford Peaches team: “I play the best woman baseball player there ever was, like Robert Redford in The Natural (1984), and I can do everything fabulously. I looked at Dottie in A League of Their Own as picking up where Thelma left off in Thelma & Louise, and I don’t mean dead in a canyon, but as a very strong and self-determining woman, centered, talented and capable”
“I like the fact that both movies have very important parts for women, and they will appeal to everybody, but they will make women especially feel good about themselves. It’s important to have movies where women don’t need to be ashamed of the way they’re portrayed. I haven’t played an athlete before, but I’m fairly athletic, I was on the track team in high school and I’ve played sports, although not baseball, so I had to learn baseball. It was challenging and physically demanding, because a lot of people feel that the catcher is the most difficult position; also I’m supposed to be the best player and hit home runs every time I’m up at bat, so I had to have special coaches for all that.”
Davis underlined that the movie is a comedy and made fun of the fact that the girls had to look feminine and wear short skirts, offering no protection for sliding in the dirt as pants do: “That was the actual authentic costume that they wore, which gives us an insight into the sexism of the time. They weren’t willing to rely on the fact that these women were tremendous athletes and could play incredible baseball. They wanted them to be pretty girls, wear make-up and go to charm school; so the movie points out that element and makes fun of it a lot, but, meanwhile, we got hurt because we were wearing the wrong stuff and sliding on the bare skin was really bad.”
Having been directed by men, such as Ridley Scott in Thelma & Louise (1991) and Stephen Frears in Hero (1992), Davis talked about working with a woman director in A League of Their Own: “Penny is the only female director I’ve worked with so far, and she seems absolutely as capable, strong, authoritative, smart and accomplished as the men are, so I didn’t really notice that much of a difference in her style of directing and there wasn’t a different tone or feeling on the set that I could notice.”
“But the subject matter of this film is much more feminist-oriented, it’s about women’s experiences at a particular time in women’s past where they weren’t appreciated as much as they could be; so it makes a lot of sense that a woman would be directing it, because she probably brought a feminist viewpoint to it.”
The actress had an explanation as to why the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was disbanded in 1954: “There was a unique little window of time during World War II, when women were encouraged to be strong, get out there and support the war effort, work in factories, get jobs, and even play baseball. I mean, there were all those posters of women with big muscles. And then, when the men returned from war, there was a backlash against that in the fifties, women were very much encouraged to get out of the factories and get back in the kitchens, the environment of the country at that time couldn’t sustain women being aggressive and athletic.”
In 1992, 20 years after the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s, Geena Davis was proud to call herself a feminist, particularly after working with Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise: “There’s a tendency nowadays to not want to talk about feminism, it has become a word like liberal, that you’re not supposed to say, that you should avoid.”
“But Susan doesn’t, she’s very outspoken and I admire that very much, because that’s not something we should be afraid of. A lot of women are afraid to use the word feminist in this country, and yet they believe in equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunity.”
“I’m very interested in women issues, I’m all for Women’s Liberation and I don’t know who could be against it, I can’t imagine anyone saying they’re not for total equality of women, there’s nothing that women can’t do and that they shouldn’t be allowed to do.”
“After the Women’s Movement, there was a backlash against that, and now I’m hopeful that we’re in a period when there’s an upswing in people being able to accept women’s power and abilities. It’s encouraging, for instance, that my goddaughter plays in Little League baseball now, which is co-ed, and it would be great if we could start a women’s professional baseball league again today. It would be my dream to revive that, because women can certainly play baseball, and I’d like to see the treatment of all sports be fairer between men and women.”