In my latest “Conversations with Clayton,” I chat with author, baseball historian, and sportscaster Dan Taylor. Taylor’s latest book, Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball will be released on March 10th. The book examines the Hollywood Stars’ run in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) between the late 1930s and the late 1950s.
The Stars were the most glamorous franchise in the PCL, the west coast’s answer to the Major Leagues. Owned by the Brown Derby’s Bob Cobb, the club cultivated support from some of Hollywood’s best known names, including Jimmy Stewart and Humphrey Bogart.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Dan and I talk about his new book, Home Run Derby, and the waning days of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
Clayton Trutor (CT): What was so special about the Pacific Coast League?
Dan Taylor (DT): Before the arrival of the Dodgers in 1958, the Pacific Coast League WAS big league baseball to thousands if not millions on the west coast. There was no big league club west of the Mississippi at that time. Clubs were made up of former big leaguers and future big leaguers with a smattering of career minor leaguers. Because there was no connection to the big names in the majors, kids made PCL players their heroes. PCL players worked off-season jobs in the communities and there were bonds with the fans.
CT: What drew you to the story of the Hollywood Stars?
DT: In 2010, I was very fortunate to be asked to author the autobiography of the legendary scout, George Genovese. A great friendship ensued. We spent a lot of time together. George played shortstop for Hollywood in 1949 and 1951. He enjoyed talking about those days. He made connections to things taking place in games to the Hollywood Stars. It sparked my research interest and I became quite amazed to learn how many things that are commonplace in baseball today actually came from the Hollywood Stars.
CT: When preparing to write the book, what surprised you the most in your research?
DT: That the movie stars were as big of fans of the Hollywood Stars players as the players were of the movie stars. The actress Virginia Mayo and her husband Michael O’Shea, Jimmy Stewart and his wife, and many others regularly had Stars players into their home for dinner. Also, the actors were very much involved in promotions staged by the Stars. Can you imagine being a kid, going to the ballpark for bat day and being handed your souvenir bat by Bing Crosby? It happened.
CT: Describe your writing process.
DT: It all begins with the idea and initial information. From there its full-on research. You pour through every article you can find. With that information and background you move into interviewing. Getting together with former Stars players and the children of former Stars players and managers was fun. Everyone seemed so excited that the story was going to be told. They provided details and context. Each was a tremendous help. The worst part of this entire project was getting to know so many of them and during the process experiencing the grief of their passing. We lost Irv Noren, Paul Pettit and so many more during the process. Each was very excited about this project and I am forever grateful for their help and contribution. The research then turns to sifting and theme generation, breaking down your chapter topics and the writing process begins.
CT: Why were so many film stars drawn to this team?
DT: First off, because baseball truly was America’s pastime. In Los Angeles, baseball, horse racing, and college football seemed to pull the movie stars. Second, the principal of the Stars, Bob Cobb who owned the famous Brown Derby restaurant and invented the Cobb salad, catered to celebrity. He knew from his restaurant business that they wanted high quality amenities. He put in a VIP lounge, constructed the box seats to have a level of privacy, made sure the food was of high quality. Third, through the 30s and 40s remember we didn’t have television. It was an experimental thing in the early 40s and its development was put on hold by World War II. But even after television grew in the 50s and the Stars aired a lot of games on TV, the celebrities continued to come out.
CT: The original Home Run Derby with Mark Scott is probably my favorite TV show of all time. What’s your most interesting story about the famed Hollywood Stars’ announcer?
DT: I’ve been very fortunate to become friends through this project with his daughter, Mary Jane. She is married to the actor, Michael Dante. They were introduced by Chuck Connors. I love the story of how Mark got the Hollywood job. He was vacationing with his family in Havana. He heard the publisher of The Sporting News paged at the hotel. Mark approached the man, introduced himself and explained his career ambitions. The man told him Hollywood was looking for a radio broadcaster. Mark initiated contact and was flown to LA for an interview. He wrote at the time that he couldn’t believe he, a Midwest kid, was seated in a booth in The Brown Derby with Bob Cobb and Bing Crosby! Cobb and Crosby excused themselves to go to Cobb’s office and listen to Mark’s tape. Crosby came out a short time later, winked and said, “don’t worry kid, you’re in!”
CT: What are the worst seats you’ve ever had at a sporting event?
DT: Ha, ha! Fun question. Might be at Olympic Stadium in Montreal for an Expos game. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Montreal, loved the Expos and always enjoyed that stadium. But this was in one of the teams latter years. The stadium was showing it’s age and on this night I felt the brunt of it. It was raining outside, the fabric roof leaked and I was seated where the leak drained!!!! Right onto the back of my neck for nine innings. Also, being a Californian and a Giants fan, I can say any seat in Candlestick Park during a night game! Brrrrrrrrr.
CT: What advice would you give to someone trying to write and research a book?
DT: Pursue something that sparks your passion, that you are enthusiastic about. Any project will bring challenges and frustration. But passion carries you through.
CT: When you think of Cincinnati, you think of ______________
DT: Skyline Chili and my friend Jim Maloney.
Follow Dan Taylor on Twitter: @writinguy
Pre-Order Lights, Camera, Fastball: How the Hollywood Stars Changed Baseball immediately