Take 2: Documentary to feature film
Candaele and Wilson's documentary ended up in "ALOTO" director Penny Marshall's hands. Wilson and Candaele were asked to help write the treatment for the scripted film.
Robert Greenhut, producer: I had produced "Big" [in 1988] with Penny. And initially, the idea [for "ALOTO"] was pitched to 20th Century Fox by [Candaele and Wilson] based on their documentary, which was on local television. And Penny says to me, "Hey, watch this documentary." I think it was on, like, [PBS] in New York City or something like that. And it's this half-hour piece about these women [from the AAGPBL] having a reunion. They had the players, pictures of them playing and interviews. It was a sweet and fun thing.
And Penny says to me, "We can do this movie if you want it. There's no script. It would have to be developed. And for some reason, Fox had fallen out of love with it, and Columbia/Sony Pictures would do it, and they would pay for the script and everything."
Penny Marshall, director, as explained during a Hollywood's Master Storytellers panel in 2005: I saw a documentary about this league, and I didn't even know it existed. And if I [didn't] know, that means other people didn't know, and I was going to change that. And, yes, I had a deal with Fox at that time. But then I got signed to Sony from Fox, and they said, "We'll even let you do that girls' movie."
Candaele: All we were trying to do was make a 30-minute documentary honoring these women, and all of a sudden, you're being invited to one of the top Hollywood directors' homes for her birthday party. I describe it as Zen archery: You hit the bull's-eye, and you're not even aiming at the target.
Wilson: The first time we met Penny, we went to her house. It was so strange because when she answered the door, she was wearing a bathrobe with a facial mask on. And because [Candaele] hadn't watched TV growing up, he didn't know who Penny Marshall was. He didn't watch "Happy Days" or "Laverne & Shirley." So, when she answered the door like that and said, "Just go out to the pool. I'll be right with you," then scurried away, he asked, "Is that her?"
Candaele: [Kim and I wrote the treatment and coordinated with scriptwriters] Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. I do remember meeting with them in Penny's office and talking about things -- what they call spitballing, throwing ideas out. It was the beginning of what became a much larger endeavor.
Greenhut: Yeah. We got some money and were able to hire Mandel and Ganz to write it.
Babaloo Mandel, scriptwriter: I asked Lowell, who knows everything about baseball, "Do you know anything about this league?" And he said, "No."
Lowell Ganz, scriptwriter: It was like this complete blank spot. I hadn't heard of it before.
Candaele: [Ganz's and Mandel's script was written with] conflict between two sisters, which ended up being the Dottie character, played by Geena Davis, and Kit Keller, played by Lori Petty. The sisters had different ideas about their directions in life, a sisterly competition growing up and how that played out during the league.
My mother was an outfielder, and my mother's sister was a second baseman. But regarding the storyline and the script, there was more potential for conflict and a dramatic arc by making them a pitcher and a catcher.
Wilson: For us, it was like trying to solve a puzzle. We watched a lot of movies to figure out what that story would be. His mom and her sister played on the same team. They weren't on opposite teams. But for the sake of the movie, we put them as competitors.
Mandel: [Another interesting tidbit is] my mother-in-law lived in Sherman Oaks, California, at the time. And in her building was playwright Neil Simon's mother. One day, my wife and I were going to visit [my wife's] parents, and we ran into her, and she was with Neil Simon's brother, Danny. And she introduced him as, "This is Neil Simon's brother."
Ganz: We actually put that line in the movie. Where Kit says to Dottie, "You ever hear Dad introduce us to people? This is our daughter Dottie, and this is our other daughter, Dottie's sister." It was based on that anecdote. That was the emotional motor of the movie for us.
Candaele: I'm sure my mom and her sister had those kinds of dynamics.
Take 3: Film in motion
Greenhut: The script was good, and Penny was good. She had worked with Tom Hanks in "Big." So it was like, here they come again.
However, this was not the easiest film to make. It was a long process, and I was sort of squeezing this in between two Woody Allen films. Good thing Columbia/Sony Pictures was really into it, so they didn't nag us about cutting scenes or taking out a million dollars or anything like that. Of course, we had to explain what we were doing.
Marshall, as told to an audience at the Hudson Union Society in 2012: Tom asked for the job because he had several flops right before. He did "The 'Burbs" [in 1989] and "Joe Versus the Volcano" [in 1990].
Greenhut: The casting took forever. We were trying to get actresses who actually played baseball, so that narrowed down the field right away. In some cases, it wasn't that crucial because maybe their scenes didn't require that much playing. But for others, they really had to display some sort of athletic prowess. So we all quickly learned how hard it is to throw from first base to third to get somebody out. It looks so easy when you see it on television.
Marshall, as told to The New York Times in 1992: I hadn't worked with so many women before. I thought it was something I should do. But I wasn't doing it just to do a women's picture. The problems as they're presented in the movie apply to both men and women. It's about, "Don't be ashamed of your talents." It's a universal thing.
Candaele: Geena Davis (Dottie) was very clearly a talented athlete. She could throw and swing the bat. Then all of the other women they found to fill out the teams were great athletes. So it just reinforced this idea that there are great women athletes out there that are tremendous baseball players. They brought those skills to the tryouts, then, of course, the movie.
Greenhut: We went through a lot tryouts. We had Demi Moore out there in a batting cage. (Moore eventually couldn't do the film after she became pregnant.) We even had Debra Winger, but that didn't work out. However, I had worked with Geena Davis before [on "Quick Change," which came out in 1990]. And then Madonna came into play. So Columbia/Sony wanted to do this whole package thing, which we could market. And Madonna wanted to do it. She was hot stuff at the time, and she was athletic enough.
Madonna just really wanted to do this film. And I told her, "You know, it's very little money." She explained that she wanted to be diverse in her career. And she took it seriously. She might have come in late a few times, and maybe I had to bring her to the principal's office kind of thing. But ultimately, she was a sweetheart. She was just so enthusiastic about doing a good job.
And a little more background, though it's slightly off-topic ... going back more than 10 years earlier, before Madonna was an established singer, I was production manager on the  musical film version of "Hair," and we wanted to do the film with unknowns. We had open tryouts in New York City. You had to sing and dance. We took over a rehearsal studio in the theater district, and we had announced the tryouts, and people started showing up like two days before. So we put up a sign-up sheet in front of the theater to put some order to who will be allowed in first to audition. There were at least 1,000 names on it. And the very first name was Madonna Ciccone. She had to have gotten there like 40 hours before the audition. That's just a great example of her ambition. I wish I had kept that sign-in sheet.
Anyway, the hardest thing Madonna had to do baseball-wise was sliding into third or home, and that took a while to get right.
Take 4: Production
Geena Davis played catcher Dottie Hinson: I hadn't heard anything about [the movie] until I was offered my role. I had just made "Thelma and Louise" in 1991, and it was such an incredible treat to be in a movie with two strong and important female characters. With ["ALOTO"], I was going to get a chance to be involved in something that was about women who changed the world.
Once I read the script and saw the part I was going to get to play, it was an ABSOLUTELY.
I have always sought characters that got to do interesting things, from a selfish point of view as an actor. I didn't want to just be the girlfriend of the person who is having all the interesting things happen. And this is the ultimate example of that. I bring it up when I give speeches because I say, "I would rather play the baseball player than the girlfriend of the baseball player." And I'm lucky that I've had the opportunity to do that.
“I would rather play the baseball player than the girlfriend of the baseball player.”
Anne Ramsay played first baseman Helen Haley: Initially, I learned about the project when David Anspaugh was still signed on to direct it, and I auditioned. But I guess David wasn't too impressed. I didn't get a callback.
A year or two later, I hear that Penny is at the helm of the project, and she brings me back. This film needed a woman director. And I did well in my audition with Penny, but she could not place me. And she just couldn't figure out how to fit me in for one of the roles that were already in the scripts. And I mean, she had me come in at least five times. One time she goes, "Wash off all of your makeup." I walk to the bathroom in the middle of the audition. She was trying to see me differently, fit me somewhere.
I could tell she liked me but couldn't figure it out! Then I get I call from the casting department saying that Penny loved me but couldn't figure out where to put me. Then the casting agent says, "Penny is going to write a role so that you can be in the film."
I was like, 'Thank GOD!" Penny gave me a chance and launched my career. She gave me wings to fly.
Tracy Reiner played left fielder Betty "Spaghetti" Horn: I was probably the most shocked [to get the role] because I only went to the auditions because my cousin Wendy wanted to go. I had just had my wisdom teeth pulled.
There were about 2,000 girls auditioning at USC with Rod Dedeaux [the former USC baseball coach who died in 2006], and his coaches and trainers were going to evaluate the girls to see if you were trainable. I was somewhat prepared because I played softball on the weekends.
Dedeaux looks at me and says, "That girl has got an arm." I get home after popping stitches in my mouth and spitting blood, then my mom [Penny Marshall, the director] was upset. I thought for sure it was about my teeth. I thought she'd liked that I had tried out [with the casting call group]. She goes, "No! [How'd] you two [end up] testing in the top 20 girls!"
Davis: I came late to the training. My other teammates had been doing it for a while, and a good number of them could actually play baseball -- unlike my situation. I had to work hard, as I was going to play the catcher. I remember working on that, and I soon had all these round bruises on my shins and forearms from not catching the ball. And I remember one of the coaches saying, "Now this is why it's much easier if you CATCH the ball." And I was like, "Good point." One of the highlights of my life was when I'd been training for a couple of weeks, and one of the coaches said, "You have some real, untapped, natural athletic ability." I had always avoided playing sports. I assumed I was uncoordinated. I was always so tall and awkward. That changed my life -- learning how to play a sport.
Greenhut: One of the coaches was also on the road with us for certain periods of time. There were a lot of bumps and bruises plus rolled ankles along the way. But nobody got knocked out. There were no cast insurance issues. We filmed in several locations, including Chicago, Kentucky and Indiana.
Bitty Schram played right fielder Evelyn Gardner: I went in for Lori Petty's role. I sat there thinking, "I'm not right for this." But I read for it and wasn't very good. So they then say, "Hey, we'll have you read for this other role." And that was for Evelyn, the one that cried. Then I did it, and I knew I nailed it. In my heart and mind, I was like, "I'm going to get this role."
After that, I went to baseball training in New York and then to Los Angeles. This was a very long shoot. It was around six months.
Patti Pelton played second baseman Marbleann Wilkenson: I knew had to be in this film, so I ended up crashing the [Chicago] audition. I wouldn't take no for an answer because [growing up] I was the young girl who played on a boys' team.
So when I get there, I had to lie and say I had an agent. This was actually before Penny Marshall took the project on. I got cast in Anspaugh's movie, but it fell apart. So I had to start all over when Penny came on to direct it.
Tom Hanks played team manager Jimmy Dugan; as told to Entertainment Tonight in 1992: I had to get fat. I had to gain some weight. I had BBQ pork ribs and enjoyed the desserts of America to [prepare for the role].
Megan Cavanagh played second baseman Marla Hooch: When I got to the audition, everyone was on the field -- all known actresses at the time. I saw Paula Poundstone, and I think Brooke Shields was there. I played like a dream, but then they ended up shelving the film when it was under Anspaugh. Then I get a call saying Penny Marshall was looking for me.
It was a very unconventional callback. They asked all the actresses to be prepared to read other roles; it was a group audition. At this time, Debra Winger was the part of Dottie -- not Geena Davis. So it was Debra and Lori Petty. I got invited to this audition with women who had already been cast in the movie, so that was pretty exciting. ... As I was leaving the audition, Rosie O'Donnell [who was already cast for the role of Doris Murphy] followed me out and said, "Listen, you're the best Marla we've seen so far."
Speaking of Rosie, she was pretty funny on set. She suggested to the production company that they hire a stand-up comic friend of hers to keep the stands [of extras] happy because there was a lot of downtime. And Rosie would come out and sing Madonna songs. And Madonna [who played Mae, Doris' best friend] would get so mad and swear at her ... and that was part of their friendship. Rosie was not afraid of Madonna. She did what she wanted to do, and I think Madonna loved that. Rosie would sing all of "Holiday," and Madonna would get mad at her and say, "Don't ever sing one of my songs again." And the next day, she'd come out and sing "Vogue." It was so fun to watch her do that.
Rosie O'Donnell played third baseman Doris Murphy; as told to Entertainment Weekly in 1992: I played with my brothers and in little league, [so I had some skill]. And Penny told me to "be funny."
Reiner: My mom started throwing the mic during breaks to Rosie any time we needed to entertain extras.
Cavanagh: [Filming] was an amazing experience. I remember one night, Madonna had a birthday party that we all attended at her house. She made Rice Krispies treats for herself.
Pelton: Another funny thing I remember about filming is that many of us were all sitting around writing our bios during one of the practices, and Tom came in. And he goes, "Oh yeah, I used to do that."
Ganz: [With Tom's signature line, "no crying in baseball,"] we never pitched that. We never said, "And then there will be this great scene where the coach says, 'There's no crying in baseball.'"
Mandel: But we knew [Tom's character] was going to lay into her.
Ganz: The idea was to show the disconnect, that the cultures were completely different. It didn't come from Tom, but in being him as we were writing, it flowed out of his mouth. ... It's a first-draft scene. First-draft dialogue.
Lesko: That was very good, but that was totally Hollywood. Of course, there was some crying in baseball.
Schram: When I had to shoot the scene, I did not know that I was doing it that day. It was out of order. It was just kind of like, "Oh, now you're shooting this scene." That scene took so many takes because of clouds and technical things. It wasn't because of Tom Hanks or because I was bad. But what kind of sucked was that they had to fix my face for the next take because I couldn't look like I'm crying before I'm crying. It was a whole thing.
At the premiere, I didn't watch that scene. It made me nauseous. All I could see is, "Oh, they pick the take where I look like I was crying before" or ''Tom is great, but look at my f---ing double chin." That's all I think about.
Ganz: Tom is a master.
Mandel: We knew we were in good hands from the first day with his urination scene.
Ganz: When he came in the locker room and peed for a minute?
Mandel: Oh, he peed for weeks.
Reiner: I have so many interesting memories from filming. For one, that bruise on Renee Coleman [who played Alice Gaspers] from [sliding into base] -- that was real. That was not one pinch of makeup. She had that bruise for, like, 10 years. Also, when Madonna slid, that was all her, and I caught my pop fly.
Also, [the cast] got to play at Wrigley Field with the Cubs. We even had some of the actual [AAGPBL] players join us.
Cavanaugh: Another thing I remember is that Tom Hanks' character and Geena Davis' character kissed, and they cut that because it was very upsetting to the real women players, apparently. Davis' character was married, and it upset the [former AAGPBL] players that she would kiss another man while her husband was at war.
Lori Petty played pitcher Kit Keller; as told to a Hollywood's Master Storytellers panel in 2005: Penny demanded that you had your s--- together, that you were prepared and ready. She'd have meetings with us, and she'd make sure we [knew our backstories]. She'd say, "Hey, [what's your story?] Do you have kids? Are you married? Do you like to travel? ..." We all had backstories we created on our own. We were so thankful to be great. If you couldn't cut it, you went home.
Davis: I liked all the scenes where we were playing baseball. I really loved those scenes. And we are all so excited for each other and supportive of each other. And I loved the times when I went up to bat. I remember one time I stepped up to home plate, the announcer said, "Mighty Dottie Hinson steps up to the plate!" And I remember trying to imagine that my mere presence was intimidating. I also remember that the girl playing catcher on the other team was pretending to be awestruck and worried.
Ramsay: I broke my nose during practice leading up to filming. It was the first day that we switched from modern-day mitts to authentic, vintage mitts from the '40s. The mitts were restored a little bit, but they were the original deals. We were in Chicago, the coach throws me the ball ... and maybe the fourth time he threw it, it just slips and hits me. It breaks my nose.
We were about two weeks from filming, and my nose was definitely broken. They took me to the hospital, and we had to reset it, and my nose has never been the same. But who cares!
And you know what Penny did? She calls me, and she goes, "Anne, don't worry about your nose. If it doesn't look good, we'll just write it into the script. And it will be good." Luckily, we didn't have to do that. My nose was fine.
Davis: [Speaking of possible danger,] for the scene when my character, Dottie, [catches the ball behind her back,] we used a stunt double. I was standing there watching. I could tell it was hard to do just through observing. I was thinking, this is difficult, but I think I have an idea. And I spoke up about it. And they replied, "Yeah, that would be great if it could be you actually doing it." My thought was if I let the ball come straight toward my head, and I'm looking up at it, and if I duck my head out of the way at the last second, it should fall directly into my glove. I think I'm secretly an engineer -- my dad and my brother are -- and I just figured out the logic of it, how to make it work. That's obviously not a typical baseball catch.
Schram: [But did Dottie drop the ball] on purpose at the end of the movie? If I had to pick, I would say subconsciously yes because she knew how much more it meant to Kit, and she was too good of a player. From what I remember subconsciously, yes.
Davis: I'll say two things about that. No. 1: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And No. 2: No, I'm not going to answer that question.
I never have, and I never will.
Take 5: Impact
Cavanagh: I got to watch this movie during test market. I went in disguise because Penny and all the producers were there. I was pregnant at the time. I wore glasses and an overcoat and went incognito. When I saw myself for the first time on the screen, I gasped because it was just so incredible. It was my first movie, and I was seeing myself for the first time. I had to stifle my reaction, and then when the movie was over, everybody was supposed to hand in their questionnaire sheet, and I didn't want to go by Penny and those guys because I was worried that they were going to recognize me.
Candaele: My mom [who played for the league] was sick [at the film's release], so it was very bittersweet. She had breast cancer and passed not too long after the film opened. She liked the movie, thought it was very realistic and honored the women. I lost her later that year. I'm glad to have honored her life, to have made her a little bit famous during the latter part of her life. She went on television and got to tell her story a little bit.
Wilson: It made me so happy that [Helen Callaghan, a left-handed center fielder for the AAGPBL,] was still alive to see the movie. It was really a way to immortalize her and to pay tribute to her.
Schram: This movie provided me lifelong friendships. What happened behind the scenes was just amazing. This was an unexpected classic.
Davis: When I saw the film, I thought to myself, "That came out well." It was a shock to see just how well it was doing. It's always one of the top sports movies of all time. It's exciting to have been part of something that struck a cultural nerve and lived on in people's minds. It seems like everybody still grows up having seen that movie.
Jessica Mendoza, Olympic softball gold medalist and ESPN MLB analyst: If anyone asked me what was the most influential movie in my life, it's "ALOTO." I had a younger sister who was for sure like the Kit in so many ways. She would call me "nag," and we would go back and forth like they do in the movie. I ended up getting Geena Davis to sign a baseball the first time I met her.
But, I [will say], it clearly seems like [Dottie] dropped the ball on purpose at the end of the movie. That was the only part of the movie where I was like, "Come on, seriously!" I think when it comes to sports and anyone who has ever played competitively -- even with family -- you catch the ball.
“This movie is no different than having young girls watch Venus and Serena Williams play tennis. If they see an image they can relate to, it makes them want to try something.”
Billy Bean, MLB ambassador for inclusion: I was playing in the MLB when I saw the movie, and I didn't even think about it being [specifically for] women -- more so it was about the power of baseball and the healing components that bring people together. One of the things that it captured beautifully was the passion the players had. When you saw how much it mattered to them, it had a real, organic component to it. They didn't have to "play like men" but were great athletes who happened to be female. I just think there was a human element that showed an athlete is an athlete. It will be interesting to see how that is embraced 25 years later.
It's one of those movies for me that if I see it anywhere, I end up stopping and watching it.
Rick Singer, co-creator of "Pitch," which told the fictional story of the first female MLB player: Before this movie, we had never seen women playing baseball on screen. We had never seen women bonding on the athletic field as a team. It came out at a time when all the Title IX women were coming of age. There had been female sports teams and female bonding, but this was the first time that it was really captured on film. I think it served as an inspiration for a lot of those young girls who had come of age after Title IX or who were born in the early '90s.
When we had the chance to do "Pitch" as a series, my co-creators, Kevin Falls [and] Dan Fogelman, and I would use the movie as a reference. The writers would bring up the movie as well. In fact, we had plans and a desire to have the lead character, Ginny, [played by Kylie Bunbury] interact with a couple of the women who are still alive [before the series was canceled].
Bean: This movie is no different than having young girls watch Venus and Serena Williams play tennis. If they see an image they can relate to, it makes them want to try something. To inspire is something to really behold.
Davis: And seeing girls take up not just baseball but other sports because they were inspired by the movie is just amazing. It's hard to even calculate how many women were impacted by this film.
In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, "A League of Their Own" was released on Blu-ray with behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew.
Edited by Ericka N. Goodman-Hughey, with reporting from Katie Barnes, Kate Fagan, Sean Hurd and Katie Richcreek.
Illustration by Josue Evilla