Corbin Bernsen on Stepping Up to the Plate in ‘Major League’

Major League Corbin Bernsen

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written back in 2012.

Corbin Bernsen’s role as Cleveland Indians third baseman Roger Dorn in “Major League” marked a big breakthrough for the actor who at that point was best known for playing divorce lawyer Arnie Becker on “L.A. Law.” The actor was one of the guests who attended a reunion screening of “Major League” at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica which brought out fans who were excited to see it on the big screen.

“Major League’s” writer and director David S. Ward talked said he only casted people who could play baseball, and he talked about how Bernsen had been a ballplayer for a long time. Bernsen played with the Hollywood Stars baseball league, and he also played in many MTV celebrity “Rock N’ Jock” softball games as well.

The movie was shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one day had the filmmakers inviting 27,000 residents to portray Indians fans at the baseball stadium there. Grant Moninger, programmer for American Cinematheque and moderator of the “Major League” Q&A, asked Bernsen what it was like to play baseball in front of all those people.

Corbin Bernsen: The night that all those people were there was just one of the most exciting times in my life. You’re wearing the real uniform on a real field, and you’re playing it. I was a pretty good fielder in my day but I wasn’t much of a hitter. That last setup where I get the single and then Dennis (Haysbert) comes in and hits the home run to get me on base, I remember David saying, “I need you to hit the ball somewhere in left field preferably between shortstop and 2nd base.” And I’m thinking, you’re gonna be lucky if I just hit the ball man! I’m not a hitter. But he wants it directly there and it’s got to be a line drive at a certain height and all that. I kept thinking he’s going to fire me because I can’t do this, and the balls are coming in and I kept swinging and missing and swinging and missing and I finally, with all these people there, connect with one and the ball takes off and this fucker is flying to the wall! I’m standing there and I see David and he’s saying “RUN! RUN! RUN!”

Bernsen went on to say he still sees a lot of stuff on the internet about “Major League” which say “great movie, one of the best baseball movies, but Corbin Bernsen sucks and he can’t play baseball.” He ended up getting a hold of some guy from Philadelphia who had been dissing him and told the guy, “Hey! I’m not supposed to be able to play baseball in the movie you a-hole!” From there, Bernsen even challenged him to a throw off from centerfield every year and told the guy, “I will stand in Philadelphia on your field on the warning track and I will throw a fucking line drive to second base a-hole and then you shut up!” That guy from Philadelphia never took Bernsen up on this challenge.

To our surprise, it turns out Bernsen was actually not the original choice to play Roger Dorn in “Major League,” and he only got the part after the actor cast before him, whose name he couldn’t remember, ended up dropping out. Getting cast, Bernsen said, was one of the luckiest things which ever happened to him, and he was thrilled to be in it. He also made clear why he feels the movie holds up so well, and it is because of Ward’s excellent script.

CB: When you read a solid script, that’s like a blueprint that’s just gold. I would urge everyone, if you’re interested in film, to read the script for “Major League.” Everything that’s supposed to happen in a story happens on the exact page it’s supposed to happen on. Yeah, it’s a funny little comedy baseball movie, but I just think it’s one of the most solid scripts that I have ever read. Clean, lean and to the point. That’s all David Ward.

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Tom Berenger Reflects on the Making of ‘Major League’

Major League Tom Berenger

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2012 when this screening took place.

Among the guests at a recent reunion screening of “Major League” at the Aero Theatre was actor Tom Berenger who played veteran baseball catcher Jake Taylor. It is still one of Berenger’s best known roles as we watch his character go through another baseball season which may very well be his last while trying to win back his ex-girlfriend Lynn Wells (Renee Russo in her film debut). And like his fellow co-stars, Berenger proved to the filmmakers he could play baseball.

Berenger did have some experience playing little league when he was growing up, and he played some more ball after that but never professionally. “Major League’s” writer and director, David S. Ward, also said “you could watch Tom swing a bat and you could tell he could play baseball.” Berenger said he played on third base and left field, but “Major League” had him taking the catcher position for the first time ever. What made the difference in preparing for this role was who he had to work with.

Tom Berenger: I had a great teacher which was (Steve) Yeager who had been a catcher for the Dodgers. Besides being a great player, he was also a great teacher which is important, and he worked with Charlie (Sheen) and I and we started probably six weeks before the other guys came in.

Berenger even talked about how he got Yeager and some of the cast to come back to his hometown in South Carolina so they could practice there. His thought was that practicing at Pepperdine University near Malibu with the “dry air” and “breeze coming off of the ocean” was “a little deceiving” as real ballplayers deal with more humid conditions.

TB: We raised a little team so we could do infield practice and drills and things like that, and it was all these guys who were on softball leagues that had once played baseball. They loved it. It was great. I had a friend that was head of maintenance for the public schools, and he got us a field at one of the high schools that was totally blocked off. It was just screened by Palmetto trees, Live Oaks and stuff. He gave us the key to the gate to get in and he brought all his equipment out there and he recut the field, he redid the mound, he gave us a pitching machine so I could practice pop-ups and we could do batting practice.

Berenger said this worked out great for everyone there because they all were forced to deal with humidity, and it was this same humidity which the cast and crew faced in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where “Major League” was filmed. The movie was shot in 1988 during the hottest summer in Wisconsin since 1938, and he remembered it being brutal to work during the day as a result. While the training done in South Carolina certainly prepared many for day shooting, Berenger looked more forward to working nights when it was cooler.

Watching the movie again had Berenger getting nostalgic for the old Cleveland as it appears in the movie’s opening credits, and it is one of the few parts of the movie which was actually shot there.

TB: I’m looking at it and I’m going wow, look at that industrial town. That’s what we used to be. And that makes me a little sad, you know? Chicago and Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Bethlehem and Allentown; all those towns were like that and they’re not there anymore, and I find that really sad because I think they were the backbone of this country.

“Major League” still holds a place in all our hearts thanks to its humor and deeply felt moments which have stayed with us long after the end credits are done. Even Berenger admitted the movie still has a profound effect on him more than 20 years after its release.

TB: I have to say that I just love this film. I cry at the end every time I watch it. It’s a comedy but it’s got so much heart and great writing and direction.

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Pet Sematary’ (1989)

While I am not the biggest fan of the 1989 cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel “Pet Sematary,” never will I forget the first time I watched its trailer. Me and my friend Tim were at Crow Canyon Cinemas to watch “Fletch Lives,” a sequel I couldn’t wait to see. There were a number of trailers which preceded it, but then came the one for “Pet Sematary,” and it was a red band trailer. You know, the kind of trailers meant for “restricted audiences only.” Typically, they are attached to an R-rated movie, but for some odd reason, this particular red band trailer was shown ahead of the PG-rated “Fletch Lives.” I told people about this later, and they told me no one is allowed to place a red band trailer before a PG rated movie, but I remember exactly what I saw.

Back in 1989, I was not all that crazy about horror movies. Over the years I have come to love this genre, but even the tamest of horror scary flick would unnerve me to no end back when I was a kid. As soon as the trailer took us to the pet cemetery of the movie’s title, all the little hairs on my body went straight up as I found myself looking away from the silver screen at times.

20 years later, this trailer for “Pet Sematary” stands out among so many others as it proved to be almost as terrifying as the one Stanley Kubrick did for “The Shining.” The build up from a seemingly normal family living in a town far away from the big city hustle to an unveiling of a sinister secret the people of Ludlow, Maine will have wished they kept hidden was handled brilliantly, and it scared me so much to where I didn’t see the movie until about five or six years after its release. This ended up being one of the few King novels I read before I saw the movie, and this is saying quite a bit.

The very scary cat with the glowing dead eyes, the precious child who somehow got hold of a shiny scalpel, and the presence of Fred Gwynne, perfectly cast as Jud Crandall, made for a trailer which looked far more effective than the average King cinematic adaptation, and the original “Pet Sematary” was released back in a time when King movies were both plentiful and critically maligned. Not even the welcome presence of Denise Crosby, who I was heartbroken to see leave “Star Trek: The Next Generation” during its first season, was enough to soothe my shattered nerves. Thankfully, Chevy Chase’s return to his best role as Irwin M. Fletcher helped to calm me down even if “Fletch Lives” was nowhere as good as “Fletch.”

For me, this trailer peaks right where it should as Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) takes a phone call from his undead son, Gage (Miko Hughes). The framing of this shot is perfect as it shows Louis isolated in what should be the safety of his own home as he yells into the telephone, “WHAT DID YOU DO???!!!” After the movie’s title appeared onscreen, we were left with the sound of Gage telling his daddy “now I’m gonna come play with you,” and the laugh he gave following that was simply blood curdling. This was the icing on the cake as few trailers could ever prove to be as scary as this one was back then. No wonder this proved to be one of the more commercially successful King movies from the 1980’s.

If you haven’t already, please check out the 1989 trailer above. I really want to thank “Horrorama – Classic Horror Movie Trailers & More” for finding this trailer including it on their YouTube channel as I have been looking for this one for ages. I feel like I looked everywhere on the internet and thought I would never find it. Thank goodness I was wrong.

Pet Sematary 1989 poster

30 Years Later, ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is Still a Wonderful Delight

When Harry Met Sally movie poster

In today’s episode of “man, do I feel old,” we revisit “When Harry Met Sally” which has now reached its 30th anniversary. Yes, this romantic comedy is that old, but in many ways, it hasn’t aged a day. The life challenges its main characters face are no different from what men and women face today, and the only thing missing is an overabundance of cell phones.

“When Harry Met Sally” is an especially unusual love story in regards to how it starts and progresses throughout. We first meet Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright right after they graduate from college. They end up taking a long car ride from Chicago to New York where the real world awaits them whether they are ready for it or not, and from the outset they cannot stand each other to save their lives. Harry is convinced men and women can never be friends because, as he puts it, “the sex part always gets in the way.” Sally tries to rebuff Harry’s advances and sexist comments by attempting to be more open-minded, but this motivates Harry even more determined to prove his point. When they finally reach New York, they part ways and go their separate paths, thinking they will never see each other again. But we know this will not be the case.

Five years later, we catch up with Harry and Sally as they bump into each other on a flight going to Chicago for business purposes. Things have definitely changed for the two as Sally is involved in a serious relationship with a lawyer named Joe, and Harry is now engaged to be married. The relationship between these two has not changed much, and Sally is still turned off by Harry’s cavalier attitude towards the opposite sex, even when it seems like he really has found true love. They finally part ways at the airport, thinking they won’t bump into each other ever again…

This brings me to the point the movie’s screenwriter, Nora Ephron, made about these two characters; they keep meeting up with each other at the wrong times in their lives. The first time when they were on the road and leaving college was the wrong time, and bumping into each other at the airport was also the wrong time. But the third time, which comprises the bulk of the movie, is definitely the most wrong time at all. Sally has recently broken up with Joe and declares to all who listen that she is “over him,” and Harry is going through a painful breakup which he did not see coming. These two at this point have no business being in any relationship as they are in a mourning period, but this time a strong friendship blossoms between the two as they go from fighting to challenging each other to see if men and women can really remain friends even after the sex part gets in the way.

“When Harry Met Sally” was made back in Rob Reiner’s golden age in which he gave us such cinematic gems as “This is Spinal Tap,” “The Princess Bride,” “Stand by Me” and “The Sure Thing.” His direction here is flawless as he brings us right up close and into the two lives of people who couldn’t be more different from one another. Their progression throughout the movie is very believable and feels almost effortless thanks to the truly inspired performances of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, and the screenplay by Nora Ephron is far and away one of her best. Even when it looks like the movie might get a little too broad for its own good, Reiner manages to keep everything together and mines the material for all the humor and heart it has to offer. He also populates the movies with short vignettes of absolutely true stories involving how people found love in the most unexpected ways, and I came out of it believing how love is possible even for those who foolishly believe they are unlovable.

Billy Crystal typically comes across as just Billy Crystal in many of the movies he stars in, but he can be a very good actor when he is given the right role. His performance as Harry starts off in a seemingly broad manner, but he goes from being a confident man in love to a man whose pride looks to be broken forever in a way which he conveys perfectly. The pain in his face when he sees his ex-wife with another man while he and Sally are doing karaoke at the Sharper Image store really hit me hard, and his acting is strong as he makes Harry’s anger raw to where anyone is a target for his upset feelings. This character remains one of Crystal’s best roles to date.

Meg Ryan became a star with this movie and rightly so. No one else could have played the role of Sally Albright better than her, and she is utterly lovable even when she gives the waiter instructions of how she wants her food which would make any food server go insane. You also have to give her almost all the credit for the diner scene, which became one of the all-time great comedy moments in film history as she was the one who came up with faking an orgasm. Ryan shows a lot of range in the movie as she takes Sally from being serious to giddy to heartbroken at a moment’s notice. Granted, this movie pretty much got her stuck in romantic comedies for a long period than she wanted, but that’s because we came to love her so much.

But let’s not forget the great supporting cast here who prove to be every bit as good. The late Carrie Fisher reminded us there was more to her than “Star Wars” and writing screenplays as she steals one scene after another as Sally’s best friend, Marie. Carrie’s character has a thing for married men which never seems to deter her from pursuing them. Then you have the late Bruno Kirby (he is still missed) who plays Harry’s best friend, Jess. When Jess and Marie get together, it is a comedy high point as they ditch their friends for a night alone. Things never do go as planned, do they?

What makes “When Harry Met Sally” so enjoyable is how examines the question of if men and women can truly be friends, and in the answers it comes up with. This is one of those romantic comedies which is meant for both men and women, and remains a gem in a genre I typically want nothing to do with. It broke through the perception we had of these kinds of movies at the time, and of how the audience for them was bigger than we bothered to realize. It also stands as a testament to how unrequited love can be requited and in a way which is absolutely believable. We should all be so lucky.

Thirty years after its release, “When Harry Met Sally” more than deserves its place as one of the best romantic comedies ever made. It’s still a great movie after all these years, and one that is impossible to forget. And by that, I don’t just mean the diner scene. Few romantic comedies these days can match its laughter and sincerity, and I’m not sure we see one like this again for a long time. Of course, filmmakers out there are more than welcome to prove me wrong.

* * * * out of * * * *

Jeremiah S. Chechik Looks Back at Making ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’

christmas-vacation-movie-poster

Jeremiah S. Chechik was the special guest at Arclight Studios in Hollywood a few years ago when they hosted a screening of his directorial debut, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” The third and most beloved in the “Vacation” franchise has long since become a holiday classic, and it is the Christmas film many families watch during the holiday season instead of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” After the movie was over and the end credits were all done, Chechik came up quickly to the front of the audience before anyone could introduce him and said, ”I haven’t seen it since the day it opened!”

The screenplay was written by the late John Hughes and was inspired by an article Hughes wrote for the National Lampoon called “Christmas ’59.” Chechik tipped his hand to Hughes’ wonderful writing and went on to say it was originally written as a stand-alone movie. Warner Brothers, however, read it and immediately wanted to integrate it into the “Vacation” franchise.

When asked how he got the job to direct, Chechik explained he was directing what he called “high profile” commercials back in a time when it was unusual to go from doing commercials to directing feature films. His work eventually got him discovered by Steven Spielberg who ended up giving him an office at Amblin Entertainment. This brought a lot of awareness to his visual style, and both Chase and Hughes soon became adamant he be the next one to direct the next “Vacation” movie.

With this being his first film, Chechik said he was determined not to back down on actors who wanted to exert their power over him. While it’s tempting to think he and Chase didn’t get along as Chase’s reputation for being hard to work will never disappear, Chechik said they actually had a great working relationship on set. This came after he admitted to not being a big fan of Chase’s comedy as he described it as being “very broad.” Chechik described Chase as having a very strong point of view, a very clear intention of what the movie is about, and they worked together to find things which worked.

Chechik, however, did say he and Beverly D’Angelo had many arguments, some of which he described as being “very heated,” on set. Still, he said all the bad blood between them is now water under the bridge.

“Christmas Vacation’s” budget was $27 million, and its shooting schedule lasted for 60 days. Much of the movie was shot in Breckinridge, Colorado while other scenes were shot the following summer at Warner Brothers in Burbank, California. Chechik was happy to say Hughes had his back throughout the whole production. When the movie went through previews, the studio heads pressured him to cut the scene where the cat got electrocuted. Chechik claimed he resisted the pressure and kept it in because he thought it was funny (and it was) and that he was more of a dog person anyway. The test audiences also loved the scene, and the studio heads didn’t bother keeping the moment out of the movie’s trailer.

Chechik said “Christmas Vacation” worked so well because we truly cared about Clark Griswold and what he went through. The mood of certain scenes was very important to him, especially the one with Chase in the attic where he watched home movies of past Christmases with tears filling his eyes. Looking at this made Chechik point out the way comedy should be done in movies:

“Funny beats funny,” he said. “If everyone thought the set pieces were funny but they didn’t care about the main character, then the movie won’t work.”

With the squirrel scene, he said a trained squirrel was brought onto the set and there was also a trainer there for the dog featured in it as well. Chechik said the filmmakers “storyboarded the hell out of it” and were eager to start filming it, but when he arrived on set that day he was confronted with the grim faces of the trainers and line producers. After shuffling around for a bit, they informed him the squirrel had died. The squirrel trainer went on to say they don’t live for very long anyway as if that could have possibly softened the blow.

So, they went out and got another squirrel for the scene which they ended up drawing out onto the set with food. From this, Jeremiah said he learned how to roll with things and to use improvisation. About every scene in “Christmas Vacation” had a certain amount of improvisation in it, he pointed out.

As for the most difficult scene to shoot, Chechik said it was the dinner table scene where the whole family begins their Christmas Eve celebration. He did not hesitate in telling everyone having 9 to 11 actors in a scene is a really bad idea. The blocking proved to be very complicated, and it became such a nightmare for him as it took days and days for him to get the scene right.

Here are some other “Christmas Vacation” trivia Chechik let us know about:

  • In the scene with the two granddads snoring in front of the television, the actors playing those roles really were fast asleep.
  • Mae Questal, who played Aunt Bethany, was the voice of Betty Boop.
  • Chevy’s angry rant on his boss was done exactly as it was written by Hughes.

It was really nice of Chechik to come out and talk with us about “Christmas Vacation,” a movie he succeeded in making a timeless classic and, as he put it, “very postcardy.” When asked why he hasn’t seen the film since it first came out, he said he just wanted to let it go and let it live. It certainly has had a long life since 1989, and the series continued on with “Vegas Vacation” and “Vacation” which starred Ed Helms and Christina Applegate. In response to one audience member who said his family watches it every year, Chechik replied, “I like your family!”

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