By Matt Singer
In honor of the start of the 2008 baseball season, IFC.com will be paying tribute to the national pastime’s long relationship with the movies every day this week by giving you everything you’d ever want to know about the odd little quasi-autobiographical ditties in which baseball players have played themselves. Peanuts and crackerjacks not included.
“Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” (1937)
Directed by Charles Reisner
As Himself: Joe DiMaggio
Game Summary: This mostly tepid musical revolves around a bunch of mobsters who take over a record company and then use their muscle to convince a bunch of popular acts to play for them, which precipitates musical performances in the film from Gene Autry, Cab Calloway and Louis Prima, who actually performs on a working merry-go-round planted on the middle of a nightclub dance floor. DiMaggio’s in the wrong place at the wrong time; he shows up late to a radio show and is mistaken for his own replacement (cue the clown hooter). Unable to explain the mix-up to the Italian stereotype who runs the radio show’s orchestra, he reluctantly croons a few lines of “Have You Ever Been In Heaven?” before the mistake is clarified, a few shots of the 1936 World Series flash and DiMaggio makes an early trip to the showers.
On-Field Achievements: The Yankee Clipper is best remembered for his remarkable 56-game hitting streak from May 15 to July 16, 1941. To date, no one’s even come within 10 games of eclipsing the mark. DiMaggio played 13 seasons, all of them as an All Star, took the Yankees to the World Series 10 times and won nine of them.
On-Screen Achievements: …are, in contrast, comparatively mild. I wouldn’t want to hear DiMaggio sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” let alone warble a rendition of a Peter Tinturin and Jack Lawrence ballad. He doesn’t fare much better when he’s not singing either; DiMaggio isn’t even very convincing signing autographs, something he should have been able to do without much direction.
Errors Committed: Only those against better judgment.
Discoveries: DiMaggio met his first wife, actress Dorothy Arnold, while on the set of “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round.” The marriage was as uneven as DiMaggio’s performance. He’d later go on to marry and then divorce Marilyn Monroe, all in less than a year.
Substitutions: Joltin’ Joe has never gotten his own film, but his likeness appeared on screen throughout the years whenever someone makes a movie about Monroe, such as the Emmy-nominated HBO biopic “Norma Jean & Marilyn” where two different actresses played Monroe, before (Ashley Judd) and after (Mira Sorvino) her rise to stardom. There, DiMaggio is played by Peter Dobson. His most famous on screen appearance so far has been in name only, in the lines of Paul Simon’s song “Mrs. Robinson” from Mike Nichols “The Graduate,” which asks “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? / A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” Perhaps, but when Joe himself sang in “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round,” the only thing he was turning was stomachs in the audience.
Final Score: As performances and movies go, DiMaggio and “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” is a golden sombrero.
[Photo: Poster for “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round,” Republic Pictures, 1937]