The Pride of the Yankees

The Pride of the Yankees: The Life of Lou Gehrig

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sam Wood
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay by Jo Swerling
Herman J. Mankiewicz
Story by Paul Gallico
Starring Gary Cooper
Teresa Wright
Walter Brennan
Babe Ruth
Dan Duryea
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Edited by Dan Mandell
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • July 14, 1942 (1942-07-14)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2,450,000 (US rentals)[1][2]

The Pride of the Yankees is a 1942 American film directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, and Walter Brennan. It is a tribute to the legendary New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, who died only one year before its release, at age 37, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which later became known to the lay public as "Lou Gehrig's disease".

Though subtitled "The Life of Lou Gehrig", the film is less a sports biography than an homage to a heroic and widely loved sports figure whose tragic and premature death touched the entire nation. It emphasizes Gehrig's relationship with his parents (particularly his strong-willed mother), his friendships with players and journalists, and his storybook romance with the woman who became his "companion for life," Eleanor. Details of his baseball career—which were still fresh in most fans' minds in 1942—are limited to montages of ballparks, pennants, and Cooper swinging bats and running bases, though Gehrig's best-known major league record—2,130 consecutive games played—is prominently cited.

Yankee teammates Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey play themselves, as does sportscaster Bill Stern. The film was adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jo Swerling, and an uncredited Casey Robinson from a story by Paul Gallico, and received 11 Academy Award nominations. Its climax is a re-enactment of Gehrig's poignant 1939 farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. The film's iconic closing line—"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth"—was voted 38th on the American Film Institute's list of 100 greatest movie quotes.[3]


Lou Gehrig is a young Columbia University student whose old-fashioned mother wants him to study hard and become an engineer. But the young man has a gift for baseball. A sportswriter befriends Gehrig and persuades a scout to come see him play. Before long, Gehrig signs with the team he has always revered, the New York Yankees. With the help of his father, he endeavors to keep his career change a secret from his mother.

Gehrig works his way up through the minor leagues and joins the Yankees. His hero, Babe Ruth, is at first condescending and dismissive of the rookie, but his strong, consistent play wins over Ruth and the rest of the team. Gehrig is soon joining teammates in playing pranks on Ruth on the team train.

During a game at Comiskey Park, Gehrig trips over a stack of bats and is teased by a spectator, Eleanor, who laughingly calls him "tanglefoot". Later, they are properly introduced, leading to a relationship, and then an engagement. Gehrig's mother, who still hasn't accepted the fact that her son will not be an engineer, does not take this news initiatively; but Gehrig finally stands up to her and marries Eleanor.

The Yankees become one of the most dominant teams in baseball, and Gehrig becomes a fan favorite. His father and fully converted mother attend games and cheer for him. In a re-creation of a famous (and possibly apocryphal) story, Gehrig visits a crippled boy named Billy in a hospital. He promises to hit two home runs in a single World Series game in the boy's honor—then fulfills his promise.

Gehrig now receives the nickname "Iron Horse", a national hero at the peak of his career with multitudes of fans, many loyal friends, and an adoring wife. Then he begins to notice, with growing alarm, that his strength is slowly fading away. Though he continues to play, and extends his consecutive-game streak to a seemingly insurmountable record, his physical condition continues its inexorable decline. One day, in Detroit, he tells Yankees manager Joe McCarthy that he has become a detriment to the team and benches himself. After an examination, a doctor gives him the awful news: Gehrig has a rare, incurable disease, and only a short time to live.

A year later, at Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium, an older Billy finds Gehrig and shows him that he has made a full recovery, inspired by his hero's example and the two-homer fulfilled promise. Then, as Eleanor weeps softly in the stands, Gehrig addresses the fans: "People all say that I've had a bad break. But today ... today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."


(as per AFI database[4])


Gehrig died on June 2, 1941. The film premiered on July 14, 1942 in New York City at the Astor Theatre, and was shown for one night only at "forty neighborhood theatres." Preceding the film was the premiere of an animated short called "How to Play Baseball," produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios at Samuel Goldwyn's request.[5]


Box office

According to RKO records, the studio took a loss of $213,000 on the film.[6]


Variety magazine called the film a "stirring epitaph" and a "sentimental, romantic saga ... well worth seeing."[7]

Time magazine said the film was a "grade-A love story" done with "taste and distinction" though it was "somewhat overlong, repetitive, undramatic. Baseball fans who hope to see much baseball played in Pride of the Yankees will be disappointed. Babe Ruth is there, playing himself with fidelity and considerable humor; so are Yankees Bill Dickey, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig. But baseball is only incidental. The hero does not hit a home run and win the girl. He is just a hardworking, unassuming, highly talented professional. The picture tells the model story of his model life in the special world of professional ballplayers."[8]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it a "tender, meticulous and explicitly narrative film" that "inclines to monotony" because of its length and devotion to "genial details."[5]

Awards and other recognition

Film Editor Daniel Mandell won an Academy Award for his work on The Pride of the Yankees.[9] The film received ten additional Oscar nominations:[10][11]

The American Film Institute ranked The Pride of the Yankees 22nd on its list of the 100 most inspiring films in American cinema.

In AFI's 2008 "Ten Top Tens"—the top ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—The Pride of the Yankees was ranked third in the sports category.[12][13] Gehrig was named the 25th greatest hero in American cinema by the AFI in 2003.

Inaccuracies/artistic license

Gehrig's farewell speech

There is no known intact film of Gehrig's actual speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939; a small portion of the newsreel footage, incorporating his first and last remarks, is all that survives.[23] For the movie, the speech was not reproduced verbatim; the script condensed and reorganized Gehrig's actual spontaneous and unprepared remarks, and moved the iconic "luckiest man" line from the beginning to the end for heightened dramatic effect. Gehrig's message, however, remained essentially unchanged.

Yankee Stadium Speech
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

"So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."

Film Speech
"I have been walking onto ball fields for sixteen years, and I've never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. I have had the great honor to have played with these great veteran ballplayers on my left - Murderers' Row, our championship team of 1927. I have had the further honor of living with and playing with these men on my right - the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees of today.

"I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box, my friends, the sportswriters. I have worked under the two greatest managers of all time, Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy.

"I have a mother and father who fought to give me health and a solid background in my youth. I have a wife, a companion for life, who has shown me more courage than I ever knew.

"People all say that I've had a bad break. But today ... today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

Adaptations to other media

The Pride of the Yankees was adapted as an hour-long radio play on the October 4, 1943 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Gary Cooper and Virginia Bruce and a September 30, 1949 broadcast of Screen Director's Playhouse starring Gary Cooper and Lurene Tuttle.


  1. "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54
  2. "101 Pix Gross in Millions" Variety 6 Jan 1943 p 58
  3. The Pride of the Yankees at the Internet Movie Database
  4. "The Pride of the Yankees". American Film Institute. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  5. 1 2 Crowther, Bosley. "Pride of the Yankees". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  6. Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
  7. "The Pride of the Yankees". Variety. 1942. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  8. "The New Pictures, Aug. 3, 1942". Time. August 3, 1942. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  9. "Daniel Mandell, Won 3 Film Editing Oscars". The New York Times. June 13, 1987. Retrieved November 22, 2011
  10. "The 15th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  11. "The Pride of the Yankees". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  12. American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  13. "Top 10 Sports". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  14. Robinson, Ray (28 May 2011). "For the Columbia Class of '41 It Is Always the Day After". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  15. Meyers, Jeffrey: Gary Cooper, American Hero. New York, Cooper Square Press, February 27, 2001, pp. 88-91. ISBN 0815411405
  16. Povich, Shirley (July 13, 1942). "Gehrig Tribute to Open Saturday." Washington Post, p. C-1.
  17. Sandomir, Richard (8 February 2013). "Reversing Course on Reports About a Classic". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  18. 1 2 Shieber, Tom (February 3, 2013). The Pride of the Yankees/Seeknay. Baseball Researcher. Retrieved February 5, 2013
  19. "The Pride of the Yankees, Remembered". Columbia Magazine, April/May, 1989, p.18.
  20. Krieger, T. Eleanor Gehrig. Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  21. Letter from Eleanor Gehrig to Dr. Paul O’Leary of the Mayo Clinic, April 9, 1940. In a postscript, Eleanor requested that O’Leary address his response to her with a pseudonym (Mrs. E. G. Barrow). O’Leary complied.
  22. Kaden, S. (2002). "More About His ALS Battle". Retrieved 2008-04-16.
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