Detective Story

December 4, 2017 · 0 comments

No, not the 1951 feature film starring Kirk Douglas, William Bendix, and Eleanor Parker…

Recently I posted about a scene from The FBI Story, a 1959 flick starring that thespian baseball standout Jimmy Stewart, which depicted a banner headline from the Washington Post announcing a Babe Ruth Home run.

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Jim Meier, the retired librarian for The Sporting News who occasionally does freelance research for authors, really did yeoman’s work in sussing out the details of my query. Here is his report:

Part I
An intriguing question about the Washington Post headline on Babe Ruth in the scene from the 1959 movie The FBI Story.

According to baseball-reference.com, Ruth hit 15 or more home runs every year from 1919 through 1934.  I found a plot summary for The FBI Story on imdb.com that says that the movie “starts off with the 1955 airline bombing by Jack Graham who placed a bomb in his mother’s suitcase so he could collect the insurance and killed 44 people in the process. The story then goes back to 1924 when a dissatisfied Hardesty is thinking of leaving the agency.”  So that narrows our search to 1924-34.

The county library here in St. Louis only has one database with images of the Washington Post for that time period and only for 1924.  Ruth hit his 15th home run that year on June 12.  According to the reference librarian, the Post on the following days did not have this home run as a banner headline.  I’m not convinced he’s looking at the right pages, so I want to investigate further.

In looking at other pages from that year, it appears that the Post was already using photography on its front page.  The paper in the movie does not.  This is not definitive since the Post did not use photos every day.

I have sent you the dates for Ruth’s 15th home run for each year.  Note that for three years, he hit two home runs on the date that he hit his 15th.  I think the Post would have mentioned that in the headline if that is the right year.  Given what I’ve found, I’d say your best bets are 1926 or 1930 if it’s an actual paper.

However, my best hypothesis is that this is a mocked up newspaper made just for the movie.  We were asked to do that same thing for movies and television shows at The Sporting News on occasion.  As to why they would use a mock up, there could be licensing rights, but most likely they couldn’t get a real paper from 1924 thirty-five years later or maybe the real paper’s headline wasn’t as bold or interesting.

Part II
I watched the movie today and agree with the following timeline:

Stewart is in Tennessee in early May 1924, where he marries his wife.
They honeymoon in the rain for a few weeks and board the train to DC on May 28th.
At some date some soon thereafter, Stewart hears the speech from Hoover and decides to remain with the Bureau.  On that same date, he has lunch with his wife.  In the restaurant, he passes a man reading the Washington Post with the headline about Babe Ruth and his 15th home run.  At this same lunch, his wife tells him that she is pregnant.

So I think you can assume that the critical date is in 1924 and not any other year.  As I mentioned earlier, Ruth hit his 15th home run in 1924 on June 12th, so the Post should be from June 13th.

Are we supposed to believe that they were in DC for two weeks before he listens to Hoover’s speech?  That seems a little long to me, but could be possible.

I am still trying to find a copy of the headlines for the Post for that date.  The database I need is the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database, which the St. Louis County library does not have, but Washington University does.  I am hoping that one of the Washington University students I know will be able to get me access.

A different problem is that if our timeline is correct and they are having lunch on June 13th, then it was probably too early for Stewart’s wife to know she was pregnant.  Unless, of course, they had sex before they were married (not something the movie studio would admit to in 1959).  We could decide that this fateful lunch takes place later in June (which screws up our Ruth HR date, but makes her knowledge of the pregnancy more likely).  If we really wanted to keep the paper as the 13th, then I suppose one could say that it was an old edition of the paper being read, but that seems farfetched to me.

Part III
My contacts at Washington University came through.  We accessed the database and looked at the front pages for both the main section and the sports section of the June 13, 1924 Washington Post.  The banner headline on the main section was about the nominees for the GOP presidential ticket that year.  No mention of Ruth at all.  The headline on the sports section was about a golf tournament.  There was an article on the Yankees’ June 12th game and there is a sub-head with “Ruth hits 15th homer.”

I still think the most likely scenario is that the paper is a mock up and made because they could not get a copy of an actual 1924 paper.  And they chose that specific headline because Ruth was such a well-known figure for the time period.  More so than any of the Washington Nationals.

And yes, if I had not gone into librarianship, then movie production design and all of its detail oriented work would have really excited me as an alternative.

By the way, Meier’s favorite Jimmy Stewart movies are After the Thin Man and The Philadelphia Story.

 

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