The other evening with our grandsons Robbie and Phil at our house for supper, the conversation suddenly turned to a subject near and dear to my heart.
Robbie, now a junior at Vintage High School, had played Professor Henry Higgins with his best school pal, Nathaniel Richmond, playing Col. Pickering in “Pygmalion.” He asked Grandma and Grandpa about other days and other plays we had seen, enjoyed and remembered from our “courting” days living in “Old” New York.
Without hesitation, Jeanette said, “I’ve never forgotten ‘The Members of the Wedding.’” It’s a play that we enjoyed in the 1950s With the great acting of Ethel Waters, Julie Harris and a kid named Brandon de Wilde, it ran for more than 500 performances on Broadway’s Schubert Alley.
Then it was Grandpa’s turn, and my grandson said, “How about you, Grandpa? Do you second the motion, or did another play stay with you to this very day?”
I said, “As far as I am concerned, it’s ‘Damn Yankees,’ starring Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston back in 1955, and if you have ever rooted for an underdog, this was the play to see.”
The classic ran for 1,019 performances (wow) and in 1956, Tony Awards went to Verdon and Walston for their performances as well as for the play itself.
Set in a time when baseball fans of the Washington Senators could only feel sorrow for their pathetic Senators and prayed for a miracle to happen, one did come along at last.
The Senators had one only one World Series, and that one was more than 30 years before, when the great Walter “The Big Train” Johnson with his fastball blowing opponents away, made Washington fans rejoice — but Johnson was long gone.
By 1955, when the play was set, the Senators had won only one World Series, and that was in 1924 when they beat the New York Giants in a seven-game classic.
But 30 years was a long time to wait for anything, and what really hurt was the fact that those “damn Yankees” over the same time span had made no fewer than 21 trips to the World Series, winning 16 of those classics. No wonder the Senators and their fans hated the haughty Yankees so much.
In the Broadway play and the movie that followed, an old Washington Senators fan sat in his screened porch, his radio on the table, listening once more as his Senators went down in flames, beaten by the likes of a team sporting pinstripes and names from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle down to the “Scooter” Phil Rizzuto, all to become Hall of Famers.
The old Senator fan turns off his radio after his beloved team has been beaten once more, and in a fit of rage shouts out the words, “I’d sell my soul to beat those Yankees!”
Out of nowhere, a puff of smoke and a flash of lightning cracks the air, and out of the noise steps Mr. Applegate ( the devil himself) with an offer the poor Senator fan cannot turn down.
The devil promises him youth and speed once more, and as an added trophy he throws in a vamp named Lola who entices the fan to take the bait. A young fellow again who can hit, run and win, he leads the Senators to a championship; he then turns back into a middle-aged fan who finds his way home content that helped his Senators beat those “Damn Yankees.”
Ev Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org