SOLVING THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING GIPPER SCENES
One of Ronald Reagan's most memorable movie roles was his portrayal of George Gipp, the doomed Notre Dame halfback, in the 1940 Warner Brothers picture, Knute Rockne—All American. Mystifyingly, in 1956, when the pre-1948 Warner film library was sold for television distribution, 14 minutes of the 98-minute film, including some of the most famous sports-movie scenes ever shot, were cut from all circulating prints. In one deleted scene a dying Gipp importunes Rockne, played by Pat O'Brien, to ask some future Irish team to "win just one for the Gipper." In a following scene, also excised, the famed coach recounts Gipp's entreaty to "win just one for the Gipper" to a locker room full of choked-up Notre Dame players, one of whom shouts, "Well, what are we waiting for?"
Despite their disappearance, those two scenes have remained firmly embedded in the public consciousness. After all, moviegoers did see them during the 1940s and well into the '50s. Further, bootleg and collectors' prints of the uncut version of the film have survived; thus, the director of a 1971 documentary about Richard Nixon, Millhouse, was able to find footage of O'Brien's locker-room exhortation, which he juxtaposed with footage showing Nixon urging the 1968 G.O.P. convention to "win this one for Ike." The business about the Gipper has also been kept alive by O'Brien, who includes the locker-room plea in the Rockne impersonation he has performed endlessly on the banquet circuit and TV. Thanks in no small part to O'Brien and Knute Rockne—All American, winning one for the Gipper has become one of the hoariest of sporting clichès.
Given all this, it's hardly surprising that a howl of protest ensues whenever the abridged version of Knute Rockne—All American runs on the TV late show. There has been much misguided speculation about the reasons for the deletions, including suggestions that the film was simply poorly edited for TV, or that it was cut because of legal objections raised by Rockne's heirs, a teammate of Gipp's or a sportswriter portrayed in the film. It has also been whispered that Reagan contrived to have the scenes excised for political reasons. But Reagan's political career didn't begin until the '60s, long after the cuts were made. In point of fact, Reagan eagerly sought the Gipp part, called it his favorite role and was said to be distressed when the edited version of Knute Rockne—All American appeared on TV in the late '50s without his big deathbed scene.
January 12, 1981
Another explanation offered for the cuts is that they were made because of legal action brought by Gipp's descendants. Gipp and his family were Protestants, and a brother, Alexander Gipp, did indeed threaten to sue in 1940 because of the presence of a priest in the newly released movie's deathbed scene, which he felt implied that Gipp had converted to Catholicism. But nothing came of the threat. And the cuts, remember, weren't made until 16 years later.
So why were they made? The answer can be found in the Warner Brothers archives. Papers relating to the film confirm other evidence that while the real-life Rockne did implore his players to win a game for the Gipper, he did so on his own and not because of any deathbed instructions from Gipp. Warner Brothers, in fact, lifted part of the deathbed scene and other material from a radio drama about Rockne that was broadcast on Dec. 5, 1938 on the DuPont-sponsored The Cavalcade of America. The studio paid $300 to the radio author, a young ad agency writer named John H. Driscoll, but mistakenly used material from his script not covered by the purchase. After the movie's release, Driscoll complained and was paid an additional $5,000. In striking this deal, Driscoll's lawyer apparently reserved certain radio rights for his client. Warner Brothers must have felt Driscoll also retained television rights because before it sold the film for TV in 1956, its lawyers ordered the now famous cuts "to eliminate any possible infringement of the Driscoll script."
The company that bought Knute Rockne—All American in 1956, Associated Artists Productions, was absorbed in 1958 by United Artists, which has never given any public indication that it knows exactly why the scenes were omitted, much less that it might care to restore them. However, with the man who played the Gipper about to be sworn in as President, the potential commercial value of the intact film may now, at last, make restoration worthwhile. Besides locating the missing footage, this would involve determining whether Driscoll still has any claim to TV rights. Driscoll is now 67 and works as story editor at RKO Pictures in New York. Reached last week by SI, he said, astonishingly, that he'd always assumed the movie scenes had been deleted because of legal trouble with Gipp's heirs. Told they had actually been removed out of respect for his own long-ago arrangement with Warner Brothers, he seemed amenable to removing whatever legal roadblocks remain, saying, "I'd love to see those scenes back in." Mawkish and not wholly accurate though the scenes may be, movie buffs, sports trivia-ists and the President-elect would all surely agree.
THE CASE FOR ANARCHY
Georgia's 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl pretty much settles things as far as this season's national championship in college football is concerned. But what of the controversy that so often has attended the question in other seasons? This magazine recently ran a polemic by Arnold Schechter in favor of a postseason playoff system for determining the champ (VIEWPOINT, Dec. 22-29), a call echoed last week by New York Times columnist Dave Anderson, who warned that until a playoff system is adopted, the scramble for the top spot in the sport will continue to produce "conjecture and confusion."
Well, it so happens that in addition to the bowls, which have a vested interest in preserving the status quo, some people actually prefer conjecture and confusion. One such anarchist is Washington State Coach Jim Walden, whose views are presented here in the interest of equal time: "There's always going to be an argument for a national playoff, but I think the healthiest thing we have going for us in college football is that there is no conclusive winner. I think it's beautiful that folks in the Pac-10 scream that Southern Cal is best, and other people scream that Alabama is best, that Ohio State is best or that nobody is better than Texas. We go through the winter arguing among ourselves. Look at college basketball. After the NCAA final, O.K., so everybody says, 'Ho-hum, Michigan State won,' or, last year, 'Louisville won.' It's cut and dried, and then there's no more interest in college basketball until December of the next season. And I say, 'God, why do we want to do that to ourselves?' I hope we never solve the argument."
BUT THEY CAN COUNT TO NO. 1
That Georgia championship notwithstanding, certain Georgia Tech fans continue to look upon their intrastate rivals as so many hopeless rubes. This may account for the joke making the rounds about a talking computer in an Atlanta bank that asks anybody cashing a check to provide occupation and I.Q. If the customer is a brainy lawyer, the computer might process the check-cashing request while rattling off a summary of the latest Supreme Court decisions. In the case of a stockbroker, it might provide the latest Dow Jones quotations. And so on. Well, one day an unkempt fellow ambled up to the computer to cash a check and was asked his occupation and I.Q.
"Unemployed and 46," the man haltingly replied.
And the computer said, "How 'bout them Dawgs?"
BETTER SIGN UP, SAM
Seattle SuperSonic owner Sam Schulman has received a timely invitation from Dun & Bradstreet. Schulman is embroiled in a contract dispute with Gus Williams, the Sonics' scoring leader the past three years, that has kept the star guard on the sidelines so far this season. What's more, Schulman suffered a setback last week when Special Master Telford Taylor ruled that, because of a management blunder, Williams could become a free agent after this season and the Sonics would not be entitled to compensation should he sign with another team. The invitation from Dun & Bradstreet reads: "Acquire the skills you need to get your way—more often. Dun & Bradstreet presents a one-day seminar—Developing Effective Negotiating Skills."
SEPARATE AND MORE THAN EQUAL
Efforts are afoot to establish a Negro Baseball Hall of History in Ashland, Ky. Though there'll be no inductees, the proposed museum would contain memorabilia, films and oral histories documenting the lore and achievements of players in the old Negro leagues. The project is supported by Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown and the State of Kentucky, which has donated a suitable building. The Greater Ashland Foundation, a nonprofit organization, is soliciting $3 million to create a perpetual trust.
Is it outrageous that the stars of the Negro leagues, who were separate in real life, should now be confined to a separate museum? Well, in 1971 those long-neglected players became eligible for election to the Hall of Fame, but only nine have so far been inducted: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Monte Irvin, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Martin Dihigo and John Henry Lloyd. And at present Cooperstown devotes only a single display case to Negro baseball memorabilia. Cooperstown probably could have done more, but be that as it may, the Ashland museum seems the only means by which such obscure but gifted performers as Leon Day, Biz Mackey and Willie Wells will receive substantial recognition. Lest there be any doubt that such recognition is deserved, consider the evidence marshaled by John Holway, author of Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues. Holway unearthed records of 445 exhibition games between black teams and major league clubs from 1886 to 1948 and found that the black teams won more than 60% of them.
PICKING A LOCK
During the 1972 football season, a couple of Boston handicappers, Bob Dunbar and Bill Hilton, touted Boston College over Holy Cross, designating the selection, in a promotional fillip, as the "lock of the year." The gimmick proved so irresistible that other handicappers soon began picking their locks of the year, not to mention locks of the week, bowl locks, Thanksgiving locks, playoff locks—everything but bagels and locks. As Dunbar recently told the Washington Post's Andrew Beyer, "It's becoming ridiculous. Pretty soon you're going to see advertisements for a Mother's Day Lock."
Despite all the imitators, Dunbar and Hilton, who call their service SCORE, have had the most luck with locks. Boston College, a 10-point favorite in '72, won 41-11, and SCORE claims in its ads that it also came up a winner on its next seven locks of the year. Rival handicappers point out that however its locks have done, SCORE has also had its share of losers. Regardless, when SCORE settled on Michigan over Washington in the Rose Bowl as this season's lock of the year, some bookmakers were sufficiently impressed to take the game off the board, and the Las Vegas line favoring Michigan briefly jumped from seven to 12 points before dropping back to eight. And since Michigan won, 23-6, the action figures to be even more torrid when next season's lock of the year is announced.
THEY SAID IT
•Ron Meyer, SMU coach, on the four touchdowns scored this past season by Mustang Defensive Back John Simmons: "I played 12 years on offense and didn't score as many points. I didn't score that many points in basketball."
•Bobby Bowden, Florida State football coach, after losing in the Orange Bowl to Oklahoma 18-17 on a Sooner touchdown and two-point conversion with 1:27 to play: "The one thing you can't say about us is that we didn't blow it at the end."