Joe E. Brown Was a Baseball Man

Elmer, The Great, 1933.

If you remember comedian Joe E. Brown at all, it’s probably for his role as the lecherous old Osgood Fielding III in the 1959 movie “Some Like It Hot,” starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis, bit the fact is – the rubber-faced widest mouthed comic in Hollywood was out there making comedy films as far back as 1927.

Joe E. Brown was also the consummate baseball fan and not a bad athlete. During the 1930s, he made two baseball movies that were essentially the same movie twice. In both “Elmer, the Great” (1933) and “Alibi Ike” (1935), Brown plays bumpkin “PHE-noms” that come out of the country wood work to star for the Chicago Cubs and lead the WIndy City Boys to world championships. Each movie carries with it a “best girl” to cheer him on to victory, gambler bad guys who get in the way of glory temporarily, and a fairy tale finish that the Cubs could actually win it all in the end.

William Frawley (right) managed Brown in "Alibi Ike" (1935).

In “Elmer, The Great,” Brown was manly a star pitcher. In “Alibi Ike,” the played a slugger whose ability to make excuses for failure almost always exceeded his ability to come through in a pinch – until the foul actions of criminals and threat of losing his girl friend straightened him out. – Is that ploy old, or what? Heck, it was ancient when Brown dug it up for his baseball movies.

Esteemed actress Olivia de Havilland played Brown’s lady-love in “Alibi Ike” (1935). Four years and seventeen movies later, de Havilland was cast as Melanie Hamilton in one of the greatest movies of all time, “Gone With The Wind” (1939). – Joe E. Brown didn’t make t into that one.

"Alibi Ike," (1935).

Back in the early 1950s,  the late Buddy Hancken took over as field manager of the minor league Waco Pirates at the same that Joe E. Brown’s son, Joe Brown, was taking over the same franchise as general manager. The younger Brown was already on his way to becoming the future general manager of the parent Pittsburgh Pirate and to his role as a major front office force in leading the big club to their dramatic 1960 win over the New York Yankees in the World Series.

During the Waco tenure, elder Brown Joe E. came to Waco at the start of the season, suiting up as a Pirate player and taking the field for a little pre-game and shadow ball entertainment play for free before the fans. Buddy says that Joe E. Brown was a delight to be around who just burst with pride over his son’s rising success as a baseball club operator. – It’s no wonder where the younger Brown’s passion for baseball began. How could anyone grow up with a father like Joe E. Brown and not like baseball?

Interesting too is the fact that actor William Frawley of the “Alibi Ike” film, who later played Fred Mertz on the “I Love Lucy” TV show, was also a first class baseball fan and one of the regulars with Joe E. Brown in the annual Hollywood Stars All Star Games that played out every season for several years in the Los Angeles area.

Buddy Hancken used to tell the story of his days in the Pacific Coast League back in the 1940s. His Seattle club was in Hollywood to play the team named the Stars on the day that the movie actor Stars Game was set to be played, but Buddy and Company was unaware of the fact.

“We were in the clubhouse shower,” Hancken said, “when I started up a chorus of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” because, as a kid from Alabama, hymns were the only songs I knew. We no sooner got ‘Just a closer walk with Thee…’ out of our lungs when we all of a sudden heard this great voice pick up on the song just outside the shower.”

“Blessed Jesus – hear my plea!”

We walked outside the shower to take a look and, what do you know. It was Bing Crosby. He had got that early to play in the celebrity game and they had directed him to our dressing room as a place to change. They were going to play the game between the two sets of our doubleheader, as best I remember.

Well, under the circumstances, there wasn’t much else to do that made sense. We kept on singing the rest of the hymn in our birthday suits, but with the help of America’s best singer of his time, Mr. Bing Crosby.

Thanks, Buddy. Lore or fact, it’s still a great story. Things of substance that we love ooze with lore. Things that don’t matter – do not.

And thank you, Joe E. Brown, for loving the game of baseball. Let’s hope the people of Pittsburgh appreciate that little ripple of caring that you cast into the stream of love for the game and what it helped bring to them in such a very big way through his son and others back in 1960.

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4 Responses to “Joe E. Brown Was a Baseball Man”

  1. materene Says:

    I’m getting close to 64 now and remember him well, I think these younger people out there don’t have a clue who he was. Baseball was the number one sport when I was growing up, I worked after school selling paper subscriptions for the Houston Press, my manager that ran our little group was a die hard Colt 45 fan, always had Colt 45 clothes on. Myself and all my school chums played Heights Little League. I guess it’s the same now, just different people with different names. The last time I was home and was on the I-10 going west I would always get a little tear in my eye when i passed the old park on White Oak Bayou, no trees there now to stop a long outfield ball. Looks pretty foreign to me.

  2. Bill Rogers Says:

    It’s a shame that Joe E. Brown was not a Brownie in a movie. We would have loved it. I remember him well. At least Bing Crosby wore a Browns jacket.

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