THE NATURAL is a Tri-Star Picture starring Robert Redford, based on Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Bernard Malamud's first novel. The film is produced by Mark Johnson and directed by Barry Levinson from a screenplay by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry. Also starring is Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky and Richard Farnsworth as "Red." The Executive Producers are Roger Towne and Philip M. Breen. Caleb Deschanel is the Director of Photography and Mel Bourne is Production Designer. The music is by Randy Newman.
THE NATURAL is the story of a boy's dream of greatness, how it was lost and how he comes back as a man to reclaim it. A master at weaving realism and fantasy into a seamless whole, Malamud is concerned as a writer with what critic Ian Hassan has described as "the drama of personality fulfilling itself." In THE NATURAL, he examines what happens to Roy Hobbs, a boy with extraordinary athletic ability who wants to be the best there ever was in the game he loves--baseball--in a country that has a desperate need for heroes and, at the same time, a perverse urge to destroy them. The screenplay preserves the spirit of the novel, but is more optimistic in tone. It also introduces the theme so beautifully expressed by Roger Kahn in his book The Boys of Summer: "The game begins with sons and fathers, fathers and sons ... You play baseball to win and you play baseball with terror, but always against that backdrop, fathers and sons."
THE NATURAL marks Robert Redford's return to the screen after an absence of three years. The role of Hobbs is custom-made for him. Not only is he a skilled athlete who played competitive ball in high school, but also he is an actor publicly committed to doing films "about specifically, intrinsically American guys, with their roots solidly in the American scene or tradition." More importantly, for Redford the movie is "an homage to my father who loves baseball and who taught me to love it as a child. I no longer care that deeply for the game--riding, skiing and tennis are now my sports--but baseball is still 'it' for my father. He played it as a boy and he's thrilled that I'm doing this movie." Baseball was also important to his grandfather. "He was a lot like the old guys in the film," he says, "except that he did not talk much. He was that unheard of thing--a quiet Irishman. He lived in New London, Connecticut. Most afternoons he would walk down to Satti's drugstore where he would meet his cronies, nearly all of whom had been involved in some way or the other with baseball. I remember one of them was a former scout, I believe for the Tigers, but I'm not sure. They would sit there for hours--sometimes talking, sometimes not--but enjoying each other's company. Then at a certain time, they would get up and go their separate ways." There's a challenge implicit in making a movie to pay tribute to a father and a grandfather and Redford is a man who thrives on a call to stretch himself ... to go beyond what he's done in the past.
In THE NATURAL, Robert Duvall brings his granite force to the role of Max Mercy, a gimlet-eyed sports columnist who, on meeting Roy Hobbs, the newly-signed right fielder for the New York Knights, knows that he's seen him before and does not rest until he has ferreted out where and when. He stalks his prey and taunts him, hoping that in an unguarded moment he will reveal something--anything--that will provide the key to the locked door in his memory.
Glenn Close, 1982 Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress for her stunning performance in "The World According to Garp," plays Iris Raines, Roy Hobbs' first love who reenters his life when his hitting brings the New York Knights back into contention for the pennant.
Kim Basinger plays Memo Paris, a sultry temptress who enthralls Roy Hobbs when he joins the New York Knights. The girlfriend of the team's slumping slugger, Bump Bailey, Memo is a woman who likes winners and her interest in Hobbs heightens as his batting record soars.
Wilford Brimley is Pop Fisher, the aging manager of the New York Knights for whom Roy Hobbs represents a last chance of winning the pennant he has craved for 25 years.
Barbara Hershey plays Harriet Bird, a mystery woman Roy Hobbs meets as a young man and whose entrance into his life results in the shattering of his boyhood dream.
A respected stage actor who has appeared in over 130 roles in 22 seasons with the renowned Arena Stage Theater in Washington, D.C. and on Broadway in "Moonchildren," "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," "Arms and the Man" and, most recently, "A View From the Bridge," Robert Prosky plays Judge Banner, the corrupt majority stockholder in the Knights who wants to wrest control of the club away from Pop Fisher and has a scout sign Roy Hobbs to the team only because he believes him to be a joke.
Winner of an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and the National Film Critics Award for his performance in "Comes a Horseman," Richard Farnsworth brings his special grace to the role of Red Blow, coach of the New York Knights--a man who keeps a wary eye on his charges and knows the strengths and weaknesses of every man on his team.
Joe Don Baker is cast as The Whammer, the most powerful home-run hitter who Roy Hobbs bests in a contest of skills as a young man and meets again over a decade later when The Whammer's name has died to the public. Baker won acclaim for his performance in "Walking Tall" and was seen in "Junior Bonner" with the late Steve McQueen. On television he starred in the series "Eischied."
Michael Madsen is Bump Bailey, leading hitter of the New York Knights whose batting slump is the primary cause of the club's low standing in the National League. Bailey is scornful of the newly-signed rookie Roy Hobbs, but fears him as a possible rival. A gifted young actor, Madsen was chosen by Barry Levinson to play "Boogie" in the MGM pilot for CBS of "Diner," based on Levinson's 1982 sleeper success. A native of Chicago, Madsen studied at the Steppenwolf Theater in that city and appeared with the company in their production of "Of Mice and Men." He has been seen on screen in "WarGames," directed by John Badham and in "Racing With The Moon," directed by Richard Benjamin. On TV he has also been seen in the NBC Special "Special Bulletin" and in a recurring role on "St. Elsewhere."
John Finnegan , a skilled character actor who has made his mark on stage, screen and television, plays Sam "Bud" Simpson, now a scout for the Chicago Cubs who sees the young Roy Hobbs playing ball and recognizes a "natural."
Filming on THE NATURAL began on August 1, 1983, but weeks before shooting started, Barry Levinson and key members of his crew were scouting locations. Their primary concern was finding a baseball stadium that looked the way stadiums looked in the '30s. "We quickly determined there were only three appropriate major league parks," says Production Executive Patrick Markey, "but preliminary investigation proved they had such intractable schedules that we realized they would not work. We then started looking for big minor league parks of the right size and period." Early in the search, Markey and Production Designer Mel Bourne were told about a possible stadium in Buffalo. On calling a local newsman they were told that the stadium had been torn down. Having gotten pictures of about 50 stadiums, Markey and Bourne covered the country--Portland, Oregon, Birmingham, Alabama, Albuquerque, New Mexico, the state of Texas, Jamestown, Utica, Rochester, Syracuse, Indianapolis, Jersey City, Louisville, Kentucky. "We even investigated Mexico and Puerto Rico," says Bourne. "Barry told me there was a good stadium in Louisville and I ran down to see it. The stadium was wrong but the people were lovely. I was sitting in the locker room feeling dejected, when an elderly man who had been Satchel Paige's catcher and was now the trainer of the Louisville Red Birds came up to me. 'What's the matter?' he asked. I told him about my search for the right stadium. 'What about Buffalo?' he asked. 'The stadium's been torn down,' I said. 'The hell it is,' he replied, 'we played the Bisons there this year."'
Bourne was off and running. He called the Buffalo Bisons and contacted Mike Billoni, the public relations director, for the team which is owned by Robert Rich Jr. Bourne explained he was the production designer of the movie THE NATURAL and that he was coming to Buffalo to take a look at War Memorial Stadium. Billoni admits that at first he thought the phone call was a prank. "But we thought it best to play it safe," he says. They sent their best limo to pick him up at the airport and then drove him not just to the stadium, but onto the field right up to home plate. "I went out of my mind," says Bourne. "It was so like what I thought the stadium should be. I called Barry and told him he had to see it--there was no question about it--this was our stadium."
Known affectionately to Buffalonians as "the old rockpile," the stadium was built between 1935 and 1937 as a New Deal relief project. Situated on the grounds of an old reservoir, the rockpile arose out of muddy red clay with the help of an army of 1,300 federal workers, whose shanties and work sheds looked like "a town sprung up overnight following the discovery of gold." Estimated at just under $1 million, the stadium ended up costing a little less than $3 million, of which the city grumblingly chipped in about a tenth. On its completion, sports writers hailed it as a great stadium. "I never saw a better one," wrote Charles Dufour of the New Orleans Item Tribune. But Vincent X. Flaherty of the Washington Times-Herald, although acknowledging that it was "one of the finest," pointed out that "it is now equipped to accommodate no more than 38,000 persons, which in Buffalo's case happens to be too many--mostly because Buffalo doesn't have anything to put in it."
He was right. Despite two halcyon periods in the '40s and the '60s, the stadium, whose name was changed four times beginning with Roesch Memorial and ending with War Memorial in 1960, did not find a regular, thriving tenant. When the Bills, members of the fledgling American Football League, ended their agreement with the Rockpile in 1972, the stadium stood empty until 1979. It was written off as officially dead. In Sports Illustrated, Brocks Yates wrote that it was "an arena that looked as if whatever war it was a memorial to had been fought within its confines." Then in 1983, the Rockpile was born anew. Robert Rich, Jr., president of Rich Products, bought the baseball Bisons, helped refurbish the stadium, paid the city of Buffalo $15,000 in rental and pushed attendance to an AA Eastern League leading 122,000. And in the summer of the same year, THE NATURAL chose the rockpile for its fictional Knights park.
War Memorial Stadium was not the only treasure uncovered in Buffalo. Originally the movie company intended to do the baseball sequences on location and the rest of the film in a Hollywood studio. But right across from the Rockpile, Mel Bourne found the Masten Street Armory, a mammoth structure, that not only had office space on the third floor suitable for a production office, but also a space for an editing room, the wardrobe department, the casting department and, on the ground floor, an arena large enough to hold four different sets at the same time. In the Armory, designer Bourne constructed the interiors of the Knight's locker room, the Judge's tower office, Max Mercy's press box and Iris' apartment.
"Buffalo was a city of great wealth in the late '20s and early '30s," says Production Executive Patrick Markey, "and much of its architecture is beautiful. We kept finding places that were perfect for our script." It was soon obvious that the majority of the film would be shot in Buffalo. Levinson and his crew used the main concourse of the city's Central Terminal for the scene in which Ray Hobbs and scout Simpson arrive in Chicago in 1924. When it opened in 1929, Central Terminal was considered the last word in elegance. Designed by architects Fellheimer & Warner of New York, the terminal is an architectural gem. No longer in public use, the concourse is currently privately owned, but is expected to be designated a landmark.
For the hospital scenes in THE NATURAL, Levinson used one of the oldest buildings in the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. The architect was Henry Richardson, generally regarded by architectural historians as the first of the three greatest American architects. The other two are Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Of the original 10 buildings in the complex, three were torn down in 1969 and the remaining seven are not in use. The dignity of the majestic brown sandstones and red brick building was ideal for the film.
The Grand Court of the Elliot Square Office Building in Buffalo was used as a Chicago hotel lobby in the movie. The court, finished in Italian marble, with a mosaic floor, is canopied under a glass roof, 70 x 110 feet. Lit by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, with smoke provided by the special effects men, the lobby had a wonderful look of turn-of-the-century richness. The Parkside Candy Store which began operation in the late '20s and looks today much as it did on the day it opened, was used as the ice cream parlor in which Iris Raines and Roy Hobbs meet after a decade. A store on Allen Street in Buffalo was transformed by Set Decorator Bruce Weintraub and his staff into an Italian restaurant where coach Red Blow takes rookie Roy Hobbs to dinner on first joining the Knights.
On the recommendation of a Location Manager, Patrick Markey visited the town of Stafford, New York about an hour outside of Buffalo and found the farm house of Victor Reamer which served as the Hobbs' family farm. Within a few yards of the Reamer house, he found a suitable building to serve as Iris' home. And, after looking at more than 30 small towns, Markey chose the village of South Dayton as the ideal location for the carnival sequence during which Roy Hobbs strikes out "The Whammer," the American League's leading hitter. Mayor Larry Tollinger, who signed the agreement with the filmmakers, said the coming of THE NATURAL to his community was "absolutely the biggest thing to have happened to South Dayton since the deer jumped through the post office window."
Costume Designer Bernie Pollack was also at work on THE NATURAL well in advance of the onset of filming. "Eight weeks before shooting," he says, "I began heavy research on the baseball uniforms, because they were the toughest problem. I had already amassed a library of books on the period, but for authenticity I sent someone to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and to the Helms Hall of Fame in Los Angeles to take photographs. In addition, I talked to every baseball buff I could find and contacted all the National League teams for details about the old uniforms. In 1933, pictures were in black and white and few of the people I talked with could remember the exact color of stripes or trim. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When the research was completed, I had to search for the fabric. Uniforms in the '30s were made of wool flannel, almost impossible to find nowadays. Uniforms today are made of double knit polyester. Barry Levinson wanted the Knights' uniforms to have a pinstripe like the Yankees but he wanted the stripe narrower. I finally located a solid flannel and was planning to silkscreen the stripe on it, but that proved too expensive. Fortunately, I found a fabric in New York--about 380 yards of cream cotton flannel with a stripe--that the shop had had since 1952. They also had a gray flannel which was right for the travel uniforms. I had everything made there--over 440 uniforms."
That was just the beginning. Pollack had to make caps. In the early days, the caps were a different shape, shallower, "more like a beanie," he says. "I had to buy yards of felt for the letters and the numbers. We also had to make warmup jackets--a melton cloth body with leather sleeves--and we had to make them for various teams. For the Knights, Production Designer Mel Bourne came up with a logo which Levinson approved. The Knights' uniforms are a combination of the old Giants and the Yankees. As far as the numbering system on the back, they are patterned after the Yankees. In addition to the baseball uniforms, Pollack had to find period costumes appropriate to the years 1918 through 1939 for supporting cast members and extras and had to have costumes made for the principals. Robert Redford had about 19 outfits for the film from various time periods, Duvall about 11 and, as is always the case in movies, the majority of the outfits had to be made in duplicate."
Says Pollack, "I brought to Buffalo two tailors and five costumers from Los Angeles and we hired about 10 local people for our department." The baseball uniforms were not finished until after the company's arrival in Buffalo. When they did come in time for the first day's shooting on the diamond, to Barry Levinson's and Pollack's horror, the stripe was the wrong color. "It was more of a royal blue than a navy," says Pollack. "The same thing was true of the caps. Sixteen people with magic markers worked all day to darken the stripes and the scenic designers sprayed the caps. The caps shrank, so we sent them out to be cleaned and reshaped, although we realized that the fabric spray would come out. When we got them back, a crew came in to magic marker them." But after that initial disaster, the costume department settled down to the simple task of outfitting the male principals, all minor characters and 400 dressed extras. Additional extras, often numbering as many as 3,000, needed in the baseball sequences, were told to wear dark skirts or trousers and white, tan or gray blouses or shirts. To give them an authentic flavor, Pollack and his staff came up with the idea of providing a number of the men with straw boaters, standard summer headgear in the '30s. That sounds simple enough. " But," says Pollack, "in the '30s, boaters had about a two-and-a-quarter-inch brim and a lower crown than they do today. We finally located a company in Italy that made the boaters we wanted. When they arrived they were perfect except that the brim was an inch too wide. We then had to search for a place that would sew the brim down an inch and hot glue the pieces together. None of the costume houses in central Los Angeles could do it, but we finally found one company in the Valley that said they could handle it and we got 140 '30s boaters and handed them out."
Property Master Barry Bedig, a veteran of 30 films, including Arthur Penn's "Little Big Man" and "Night Moves" and all of William Friedkin's movies, was also working double time to get ready for the shooting of THE NATURAL. "We had to make all the balls," he says. "They were different in the '30s--the stitching was black and red, now the stitching is all red. The gloves were smaller in the '30s; the bats were bigger." Other period items we had to acquire were newspapers, magazines, books, candy, cigarettes popular at the time, catcher's equipment, umpire's equipment and masks, also coins of the period.
Before filming began in August, not only was $500,000 of renovation work done on War Memorial Stadium (which included building of a scoreboard and repainting of the seats in the stands in the big league shade of the '30s--gray and green), but also another park in Buffalo, All High Stadium, was altered to look like Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Filming in Buffalo was completed in mid-October and then the movie company moved to Laird Studios in Culver City to complete principal photography.