An acclaimed southpaw pitcher for the Boston Red Sox came to New York and launched the modern era of the Grand Old Game. George Herman "Babe" Ruth was larger than life. His home run totals were unprecedented. He could also hit for average, run and field.
The Great Bambino was not far behind heavyweight champion prizefighter, Jack Dempsey in terms of popularity and charisma when moviemakers first approached the 24-year-old phenom with offers of silent screen stardom.
Movie moguls came beckoning hot on the heels of the Babe's socko 1919 season. During which the Bambino had set the season home run mark with an incredible 29 for the Boston's Red Sox. Ruth's agent booked him on a nationwide personal appearance tour to capitalize on the achievement.
Reaching Hollywood, movie offers poured in. The slugger was offered several shorts including Home Sweet Home, Touch All Bases, and even a comedy version of the classic, Oliver Twist. Although none of these projects materialized, the idea of earning big bucks for play-acting appealed to the young ball player.
Ruth was quickly approached to debut in a feature film for a promised $50,000 fee. Such a mega-movie offer was too tempting to pass since it represented an amount several times his annual baseball salary.
"They said they were going to make me a millionaire," Ruth affirmed.
Titled Headin' Home, the Babe played a good-natured, bumbling iceman. Between deliveries this country bumpkin whittles a homemade bat with a hatchet. The title refers to the Babe coming' home to his mother and sister rich and famous after hitting home runs to win the World Series.
This film was made in the east during his playing season. Ruth filmed in the mornings and returned to the Polo Grounds for afternoon games. Scenes were filmed at Fort Lee, NJ, and up the Hudson River in Haverstraw, NY
In August, Babe spent a lot of time driving to and from the shooting locations. When he would return for batting practice still wearing his white chalky makeup, his teammates would give him the business. One day during shooting a wasp stung him on the right forearm. The wound became infected and had to be lanced. Ruth sat out six games nursing the injury.
Headin' Home debuted at New York's Madison Square Garden in mid-September while the Bambino was concluding another monster season. This time out he piled up 54 round trippers. Ruth was accompanied by His teammates to the premier.
Babe played light comedy stone-fingered, but the world loved the colorful Bambino and tolerated his thinly veiled screen character. Variety praised the Babe's acting, and the New York Times called it entertaining. The silent feature's subtitles by sports writer Arthur Bugs Baer was humorous and self-deprecating to the sports celebrity.
Headin' Home's plot ended happily for everybody but Ruth, personally.
The film "played to a lot of empty seats," he admitted. The production company went broke and Ruth received only $15,000 of his promised $50,000 salary. Reportedly, he carried a bounced check for the remainder around with him for years as a scintillating barroom conversation piece.
Ruth enjoyed the acting, but had no illusions about his performance. He characterized the plot as "a story about a farm kid who crashed into the big leagues with a lot of home runs and fell for a blonde." Said Ruth of his effort: "There never was a movie quite like Headin' Home. Thank God."
Several years ago a set of eight lobby cards from Headin' Home brought $20,700 at auction.
But collectors of more modest means can still find memorabilia from Ruth's maiden screen venture. The August 28, 1950 issue of Life magazine has proven very popular with sports collectors. It's not because of General Douglas MacArthur on its cover either, but because the magazine reproduced 21 frames of the movie inside its pages. The magazine brings about $25.