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Lights, Camera . . . Play Ball!

At left, St. Louis Brown second baseman-turned successful actor Johnny Bernardino; at right, the cover of film historian Rob Edelman's latest book, From Spring Training to Screen Test. (Photos courtesy of Rob Edelman)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 5, 2018) — When lecturer of Art History Rob Edelman was conducting interviews for a book on the actor who played the legendary television character Fred Mertz in the series “I Love Lucy,” he was delighted that several reminiscences came from stars of a very different field.

That was because the actor, William Frawley, was an inveterate baseball fan who came to know many pro ballplayers. And baseball lives in a close race with film at the top of Edelman’s passions. For the book Meet the Mertzes, co-authored in 1999 with his wife Audrey Kupferberg, Edelman was in touch with several former major leaguers, including Yogi Berra and Dominic DiMaggio (brother Joe, good friends with Frawley, never responded to Edelman’s interview request).

“I love baseball, and I love film — always have, and always will,” said Edelman.

Which, at the very least, makes his just released book, From Spring Training to Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors, a solid two-base hit on his personal scorecard.

Lou Gehrig, in uniform at the Stadium, poses with the Marx Brothers (in their uniforms)

Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, who played a cowboy in the 1938 movie Rawhide, is shown in an early '30s photo at Yankee Stadium with the Marx Brothers. 

Co-edited by Bill Nowlin, the book compiles 47 individual profiles and nine essays on related topics involving people with connections to both baseball and film. The pieces are written by43 members of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), of whom Edelman is one.

He penned four of the profiles, spanning the eras from Mike Donlin — a star National Leaguer from 1899-1914, an off-season vaudevillian and then a 20-year Hollywood film supporting actor — to Bernie Williams, the New York Yankee All-Star centerfielder from 1991-2006, who became a full-time jazz guitarist, and a bit player in two films.

Edelman authored five of the essays, including ones on Bull Durham writer-director Ron Shelton, De Wolf Hopper and Digby Bell, who were early 20th Century stage stars, pals and fanatical New York Giant fans, and baseball’s decades-long relationship with Coca-Cola.

“I loved working on the entire book, both the chapters I wrote and those I edited,” said Edelman. “It's film, and it's baseball. Nothing can beat that.”

Included are profiles of the elite from Hollywood and the diamond, such as singing cowboy star Gene Autry and slugger Babe Ruth, to the pretty much forgotten. Ruth was no doubt the best player profiled, but he also played in a few silent films while displaying true comic flair. The most prolific actor with a pro baseball (only minor league) background was easily Pat Flaherty, with an even 200 film appearances and four TV acting credits from 1934-55.

The best all-around? Probably Johnny Berardino, a solid pre-World War II middle infielder for the St. Louis Browns who (as John Beradino) played in several films (including Hitchcock’s North by Northwest as Emile Klinger, the Long Island policeman whose name a drunken Cary Grant cannot pronounce), and then worked extensively in television, including 21 years as Dr. Steve Hardy on “General Hospital.”

The new book just extends Edelman’s extensive baseball writing credits, which include authoring both Great Baseball Films and Baseball on the Web plus many contributions to such publications as the Baseball Research Journal and Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.

On the subject of film, he’s offered commentary for WAMC Northeast Public Radio, is a longtime contributing editor to Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide., and co-authored with Kupferberg, in addition to Meet the Mertzes, biographies of Walter Matthau and Angela Lansbury.

Of late, he’s researched and written articles for SABR on his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers, and is developing a lengthy piece on the various aspects of Babe Ruth's movie career.

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