Babe Ruth Kinogram (?)
This may or may not actually qualify as a Century Film, but it seemed pointless to wait until one could be certain before reviewing it. It is a light-hearted piece of “human interest” from a newsreel starring a famous figure.
The opening intertitle establishes that the audience can expect a “surprise,” but the film imagery begins with a prosaic view of an experienced potter at his wheel. As the clay spins, it takes on new forms under his skilled hands. The apparent ease with which he transforms it seems to recall thousands of years of the development of his trade. After only a few seconds of this, the “surprise” is announced: “Who should drop in by Mr. & Mrs. BABE RUTH.” They stand behind the potter and watch him at work on a smaller pot, both appearing completely absorbed in watching his hands at their work. Babe removes a glove and touches the potter’s shoulder and a new intertitle says that he “turns from swatter to potter.” The final image shows Babe working on a very simple pot with both his hands, while his foot pumps away to keep the wheel turning. He looks up at the camera and the scene ends.
Babe Ruth was married to Helen Woodford, who appears to be the woman in this movie, from 1914 until her death in 1929, but the couple were separated after 1925. His major league baseball career began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox, although he achieved greater fame on the New York Yankees after 1920. He did pitch in the World Series for the Red Sox in both 1916 and 1918, however, so he would have had national fame by 1918 at the latest. I’ve been unable to find a definite date for “Kinogram” newsreels, although most of the ones I see referenced are from 1926 or later. It’s hard to judge Ruth’s age, because he always had a heavy-set, craggy face, but he would have turned 20 in 1915, meaning he would be rather young if this movie is really 100 years old.
Apart from the mystery of “when was this shot?” this movie is mostly interesting as a document of the movies’ ongoing fascination with celebrity, even in a “news” setting. There’s nothing intrinsically interesting about a sports figure going to watch a potter at work or even taking a lesson in pottery, but audiences wanted to see Ruth, and this is what they got. It’s hard to tell how much of this was set up in advance, or whether someone just happened to have a camera on hand when Babe Ruth walked in. The intensity of Ruth’s attention to the potter and his own work suggests that he was “playing for the camera,” aware of his image and using the opportunity for publicity. That this movie exists is a measure of his fame and his intelligent use of the media to build his legend.
Starring: Babe Ruth, Helen Ruth
Run Time: 1min
You can watch the first half for free: here. (I have not found the entire film available online).