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David O. Stewart is President of the Washington Independent Review of Books – a nonprofit website dedicated to book reviews and writing about the world of books. I’ve had the privilege of writing articles and reviews for WIROBooks and I’m delighted to have David on the blog with a post on his novel The Babe Ruth Deception. Thanks for being here, David.
Babe Ruth’s Movie Came First! – By David O. Stewart
Most historical novels get written because the author is dissatisfied with the standard historical accounts of a time, or an episode, or a person.
Sometimes the author thinks that history got it wrong. That’s the message in Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, which proclaims King Richard III entirely innocent of killing the little princes in the Tower of London. It’s also the reason I wrote my first historical mystery, The Lincoln Deception, about the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy.
Sometimes the author thinks that history swept past something really interesting that warrants a close look. That’s the genesis of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, which places the spotlight squarely on a single regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg (the 20th Maine) and the experience of the private soldiers in that regiment.
That second reason gave rise to my most recent novel, The Babe Ruth Deception, which considers the Babe’s first two years with the New York Yankees, a time when Ruth reinvented baseball by hitting home runs at a rate no one thought possible.
I came to Babe Ruth because I knew that the third novel in my series should be set in the early 1920s, since the last one (The Wilson Deception) was set in 1919. The era seemed a natural: Prohibition, bootlegging, votes for women, radical terrorism and the usual backlash, rising hemlines and drooping moral standards!
I swiftly decided that the Babe was the perfect avatar of the era. He changed baseball forever, charming the nation while indulging heroic appetites for liquor, food, and female companionship. And in the process he created an American culture of celebrity that still infects us. Perfect.
But, wait, what was the story?
That was when I found the movie. While poking around on the Internet, I stumbled upon an hourlong silent feature that the Babe filmed in the summer of 1920, his first season in New York with the Yankees. He “acted” in the mornings then hustled to the ballpark in time to take the field for the 3 p.m. starting times.
The film – called Headin’ Home, which you can watch here – was pretty forgettable, except for the chance to see the young Babe. So many of our impressions of him come from clips of the potbellied middle-aged Babe Ruth, pigeon-toeing his way around the bases in the last years of his career. But Headin’ Home showed the young, vital guy who changed the world of sports and celebrity.
So I kept poking around, looking for more, and came upon something amazing. The principal financier of Headin’ Home was Abe Attell, who coughed up $50,000 for a film that bombed across America. In the old Hollywood phrase, people stayed away in droves.
Who was Abe Attell? Only the former featherweight champion of the world, whose second career was. . . . gangster and racketeer.
Be still my heart.
The more I dug into Attell, the better it got. He was the righthand man to America’s leading gambler, Arnold Rothstein. Fans of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire know that Rothstein was the Man Who Fixed The 1919 World Series, the infamous “Black Sox” scandal that almost ruined baseball.
But wait! There’s more! Not only did Rothstein bribe eight players on the Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series, but he used Abe Attell to deliver the cash. Attell got indicted in Chicago in September 1920 along with the White Sox ballplayers, but in the way that things sometimes happened in Chicago, his indictment was dismissed.
So at the same time that Attell was bankrolling Babe Ruth’s movie debut, he was hip deep in baseball’s biggest scandal ever.
Babe Ruth. Arnold Rothstein. Abe Attell.
Now that could make a story.
Many thanks for sharing the story behind the story, David. I know a friend of mine who would love your novel! And it’s truly intriguing to hear another author’s process of inspiration.
The Babe Ruth Deception – Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, is having a record-breaking season in his first year as a New York Yankee. Larger than life on the field and off, Ruth is about to discover what the Chicago White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series are learning—baseball heroes are not invulnerable to scandal. With suspicion in the air, Ruth’s 1918 World Series win for the Boston Red Sox is now being questioned. Under scrutiny by the new baseball commissioner and enmeshed with gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein, Ruth turns for help to Speed Cook—a former professional ballplayer himself before the game was segregated and now a promoter of Negro baseball—who’s familiar with the dirty underside of the sport.
Cook in turn enlists the help of Dr. Jamie Fraser, whose wife Eliza is coproducing a silent film starring the Yankee outfielder. Restraint does not come easily to the reckless Ruth, but the Frasers try to keep him in line while Cook digs around. As all this plays out, Cook’s son Joshua and Fraser’s daughter Violet are brought together by a shocking tragedy. But an interracial relationship in 1920 feels as dangerous as a public scandal—even more so because Joshua is heavily involved in bootlegging. Trying to protect Ruth and their own children, Fraser and Cook find themselves playing a dangerous game . . .
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.