In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movie: Eight Men Out, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and The Right Stuff.
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October 9, 1919. Chicago, Illinois.
We’re at a baseball game.
The crowd seems to be getting ready for the game to start. On the mound for the Chicago White Sox is Lefty Williams. He’s played by James Read in the movie.
<whew> Williams exhales.
There’s text on the screen in the movie saying this is game #8.
Then, Williams winds and offers the first pitch. The batter swings, sending a fly ball into right field. We don’t see how far the ball goes, but what we can see is the reaction from many of the White Sox players who don’t seem happy. Williams returns to the mound with a stern look on his face. He looks into the batter’s box where another hitter steps to the plate.
The camera is just behind the catcher now. We can see Williams wind, and pitch. The batter swings, another hit.
Again, we don’t see where it goes, but we can see a baserunner make it to second base. That must be the guy who got the first hit. Two back-to-back hits, it seems.
In the crowd, Lefty Williams’ wife looks sad.
Back on the mound, Williams is ready for another hitter. He looks at the runner on second. The pitch. Way outside. The catcher has to reach to stop it, but he does. No runners advance. The next pitch.
The batter swings, and Williams’ head snaps around to watch what we can assume is a high fly ball to right field. Again, we can’t see how far it goes, but we can see the catcher throwing his mitt down as a runner crosses the plate to score. The crowd is jeering at Williams, who seems to be starting the game off on a rocky note.
But, the game goes on, and Williams settles in to face the next hitter.
Another high fly ball, this time to left field. It hits the outfield wall, and we can see another runner score as he crosses home plate. Again, the catcher throws his mitt to the ground in disgust. As he does, another runner crosses home plate. Three runs scored so far, and there’s a runner on second.
John Mahoney’s character, Kid Gleason, runs from the White Sox dugout. As he does, he yells, “James, you’re in!”
When he reaches the pitcher’s mound he takes the ball from Williams, ending his day.
The true story behind that scene in the movie Eight Men Out
That sequence comes from the 1988 movie directed by John Sayles called Eight Men Out. The event it’s depicting is the final game of the 16th World Series, which happened this week in history on October 9th, 1919.
The movie is historically accurate to show Lefty Williams starting that day for what was game eight of the Series. And it’s also correct to show him giving up a number of hits, but in the movie it looks like all but one of the hits are going to right field—they weren’t all hit there, but then again we don’t see where the ball goes in the movie. All we can see are the actor’s reactions to the hits, so maybe that’s nitpicking a little too much.
Here’s the true story.
The first hitter to face Lefty Williams in game eight of the 1919 World Series was the Cincinnati Reds’ second baseman, Morrie Rath. He popped out to start the game. The second hitter was the Reds first baseman Jake Daubert. He hit a single to center field. Next up was Heinie Groh, the third baseman. He smacked another single, this one to right field a lot like we see in the movie. It also allowed Daubert to advance from first to second, just like we see in the movie.
Next up for the Reds was their cleanup hitter, the center fielder Edd Roush. He smashed a double to right field, allowing Daubert to score and Groh moved to third base.
I couldn’t find anything in my research to suggest the White Sox catcher got so fed up by the pitcher Williams giving up these hits that he threw his mitt on the ground like we see happening in the movie. But the movie was correct to show that catcher for the White Sox being Ray Schalk. He’s played by Gordon Clapp in the movie.
The next batter for the Reds was their left fielder, Pat Duncan. He hit a double to left field, driving in Groh from third and Roush from second. At this point, the Reds were up 3-0 with one out in the first inning.
The White Sox manager had seen enough. Just like we see him doing in the movie, Kid Gleason took out his starter and put in the right-handed reliever Bill James.
To establish a bit of context that we don’t see in the movie, the 26-year-old Lefty Williams was the White Sox #2 starter. His real name, by the way, is Claude. “Lefty” was just a nickname. And yes, he was a left-handed pitcher.
In 1919, Lefty had a stellar record of 23 wins to 11 losses with an ERA of 2.64. That’s spread across 297 innings. In fact, Williams not only led the White Sox with 125 strikeouts, he led the majors that season with 40 games started and he tied the White Sox #1 starter, Eddie Cicotte, with five shutouts.
So, Williams had a fantastic season in 1919.
His playoff record wasn’t so great, as he went 0-3 giving up 12 earned runs across 16.1 innings pitched for an ERA of 6.61. And while we didn’t talk about what happened the night before the game, there are a lot of people who believe Lefty Williams was given an ultimatum.
What really happened is one of those moments behind closed doors that we’ll just never know for sure.
As the story goes, Williams was visited by an associate of the bookie and gambler who had offered cash to the White Sox players in exchange for them throwing games. That same story suggests this unnamed associate told Williams that either he purposely lose his next start or else his wife and child would pay the consequences.
And so, as we know from what happened publicly, Lefty Williams had a terrible game. He gave up three runs and couldn’t even get through the first inning before being pulled. The Reds would go on to win the game 10-5, and by extension, the World Series overall, five games to three.
The allegations of throwing the Series hit the White Sox almost immediately, earning the team the nickname “Black Sox” for the scandal. It also changed Major League Baseball as the owners gave over control to establish the position of the Commissioner of Baseball, a position that still exists today, in an attempt to give public trust in the sport again. It’d also end up with eight players from the White Sox being permanently banned from Major League Baseball—hence the title of the movie, Eight Men Out.
One of those players who was permanently banned was Lefty Williams.
So, if you’re feeling like a sports movie to watch this week, check out the 1988 film called Eight Men Out! The sequence that happened this week in history, that last game of the 1919 World Series, starts at about an hour and 22 minutes into the movie.
And if you want to learn more about the true story, after you watch the movie we compared that with history back on episode #132 of Based on a True Story. Or, if you want to take a super deep dive, the entire second season of another fantastic podcast called Infamous America is dedicated to the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. You can find a link to that in the show notes for this episode.
October 12, 1492. The Bahamas.
We can see two large ships, one in the foreground and another a little distance away. They’re not moving at all. In fact, the night before in the movie, we saw the anchors land in the water.
Today, we’re seeing smaller boats departing the large ships and heading toward the land we can see in the distance. Lush, green trees and sandy beaches make this scene look like what you’d expect for sailors on ships in the 1400s to be making landfall on an island in the Caribbean.
Because of the camera angles in the movie, it’s hard to see exactly how many boats are leaving the larger ships but I counted at least five in a single frame. Each boat is filled with men, and each boat is carrying flags of orange, yellow, purple, and many bright colors.
The camera focuses on one of the men as he jumps off the boat into the water. The movie goes into slow motion, capturing the moment as he splashes into the waist-deep water. He continues to walk in slow motion, each footstep splashing into the water.
He falls to his knees just beyond the waves in a gesture of appreciation. The camera cuts to other men jumping off the boats now. Some are running onto the land, others are falling onto the sandy beach—overall, it’s a scene that makes it obvious they haven’t seen land for quite some time. Dry land is a welcome sight.
Then, the movie gives us the location and the date. Guanahani Island. 12th of October 1492.
The man who was on his knees gets up now. He’s approached by a colorfully dressed man.
“Don Christopher,” he says, as he unravels a scroll. Christopher signs something on the scroll. Then he speaks, “By the grace of God, in the name of their gracious Majesties of Castilla and Aragon…”
He pauses for a moment to turn around to the men who are all lined up on the beach now.
“…by all the powers vested in me, I claim this island and name it San Salvador.”
Then, the camera backs up to show the line of men as they start walking inland.
The true story behind that scene in the movie 1942: Conquest of Paradise!
That is a sequence from the 1992 movie called 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The event it’s depicting is Christopher Columbus making his first landing after the long trip across the ocean from Europe.
That happened this week in history, on October 12th, 1492, right away let’s clarify the ships themselves. In the sequence we talked about today, we could only see two ships at any one time in the movie. In the true story, Columbus sailed with three ships: Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
That we only saw two in the sequence we talked about today isn’t really a point against the movie for historical accuracy—we do see three ships at different points in the movie. It’s just the sequence for October 12th doesn’t really show all three ships at one time.
With that said, there has been a lot of debate among historians about exactly where Columbus landed.
According to Columbus himself, it was on an island called Guanahani. That’s the name we see mentioned in the movie.
The name, Guanahani, is the Taino name for the island. Just like we see in the movie, Columbus named the island San Salvador upon his arrival. I’m not sure if he did it the moment he landed on the beach like we see in the movie, but then again, Columbus thought he landed in East Asia at first. He didn’t know he actually landed in a chain of islands we now know as the Bahamas.
The name he gave the island is derived from the Spanish “Isla San Salvador” or, in English, “Island of the Holy Savior.”
As a little side note, the name “Guanahani” means “Small Land in the Upper Waters” in the Taino language. The Taino language, in turn, used to be the most popular language in the Caribbean at the time of Columbus’ landing…but that language is extinct now. Also, in the 17th century, the island was called Waitlings Island after an Englishman who landed there. In 1925, the island was officially renamed to San Salvador.
In 1971, Columbus Day became an officially recognized Federal holiday in the United States—but that recognition has changed in recent years. The observance of the holiday doesn’t always land on October 12th, but at least now you know a little more about the history behind the event that happened this week in history.
If you want to dig further into the story, of course you can watch the movie called 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
Even that title is a bit controversial when you consider how Columbus landed on lands owned by people who already lived there and conquered them.
Remember when I mentioned the Taino language is extinct now? Well, that’s just one example of something lost to history since Columbus’ landing. There has been a lot of controversy over his and other colonists’ actions.
As a result, in 1992, Berkeley, California became the first city in the United States to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Cities like Austin, Seattle, and Philadelphia, or states like Maine, South Dakota, and Alaska, among many others have dropped Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Here in Oklahoma where I’m recording this from right now, many here celebrate Native American Day instead.
So, if you’re looking for something to watch this week, the movie we talked about in this segment is called 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The landing sequence happens at about 54 minutes into the movie. If you watch the movie, or even if you just want to dig deeper into the history, scroll back to episode #186 of Based on a True Story where we covered that movie and the true story behind it.
October 14, 1947. California.
A unique-looking orange plane is sitting near a hanger. On its side is the U.S. roundel indicating it’s an American plane. Steam floats lazily into the morning sky from around the airplane as it sits on the tarmac. The camera cuts to a maintenance worker holding a hose up to the airplane. It looks like he’s filling it up with gas, but everything around the hose, nozzle, and airplane there is covered in a thin layer of ice.
Lots of fog dissipates around the plane as whatever he’s putting into the plane is so cold it’s vaporizing as it hits the air. My first thought when I was watching this part of the movie was it must be something like liquid nitrogen, because it’s so cold it’s freezing the area of the airplane near where it’s being pumped into the plane and it’s also vaporizing as soon as it hits the air.
The scene shifts, though, as we see a Jeep driving down the road. Or is that the runway? It’s hard to tell from the camera angle. We can still see vapor, steam, or fog of some sort in the foreground of the shot and there’s a loud hiss, too, suggesting the camera hasn’t moved too far.
As the Jeep gets closer to the camera, we can see there are two people inside. A woman is driving, and a man is in the passenger’s seat. As she parks the car, we can hear her pulling on the brake. The camera cuts to the orange plane again, and we can see someone painting the words “Glamorous Glennis” in red letters on the side.
Another woman greets the two in the Jeep as it stops, and as soon as they get out, he asks for someone named Ridley. At this point, I feel like I should mention their names…the movie doesn’t mention them here, but it doesn’t have to because it’s mentioned their names already. It’s just this segment that doesn’t have them yet.
But we can tell by seeing them that the man in the Jeep is Chuck Yeager because he’s played by Sam Shepard in the movie. The woman is Chuck’s wife, Glennis Yeager, who is played by Barbara Hershey.
The other guy, Ridley, is Jack Ridley. He’s played by Levon Helm in the movie.
Now that we’ve clarified some of the names, if we go back to the movie’s sequence, after Chuck gets out of the Jeep, he tells Jack that he fell off his horse the night before and hurt his ribs. Maybe even broke a couple of them. That might be a problem.
Jack tells Chuck he’ll try to fix a handle.
Then, we see Jack Ridley heading into a nearby building. There’s someone who we can assume is a janitor inside. Ridley calls him Mr. Russell, but the movie doesn’t have anyone credited with that name. Mr. Russell is sweeping up with a broom, which Ridley borrows and saws off the end. Then, he takes the end of the handle and walks off.
In the next shot, we can see the propellers on a massive plane. The movie doesn’t mention this at all here, but I’ll just go ahead and tell you this plane is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
Jack Ridley and Chuck Yeager are in the plane as it lumbers down the runway. As the airplane rumbles down the strip, a closer look reveals something orange on the underside of an otherwise silver airplane. That’s the unique-looking airplane we saw on the runway earlier. And again, the movie doesn’t mention this here but I’ll go ahead and tell you this orange airplane is called the Bell X-1.
This is when we see the text on screen letting us know it’s October 14th, 1947. But, of course, the day has been going on for a little while now. Glennis is standing by the Jeep, waving to her husband as he takes off in the B-29.
After the B-29 is in the air, Chuck makes his way into the X-1 attached beneath the B-29. He takes the broom handle with him and once inside the X-1, Chuck Yeager closes the door and uses the handle to lock it. He puts on his goggles and helmet, then offers the thumbs up to the guy in the B-29 watching. That guy gives a thumbs up back, and heads back up to the cockpit. He passes the thumbs up to the pilot, who gives a thumbs up back. Everything is good to go.
The countdown begins. Ten, nine, eight…seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…drop!
The X-1 falls free from the B-29. After a moment, Chuck Yeager flips up a few controls in the X-1 cockpit and the plane roars to life.
It’s not falling anymore, but the jet engine on the X-1…wait…no, let me correct that right now. This is another detail the movie doesn’t clarify, and it might look like a jet engine as we’re watching it on screen, but it’s actually a rocket engine.
Where were we now? That’s right, the rocket engine on the X-1 kicks in, and Chuck Yeager is zooming along the skies. Each second that passes he’s going higher and faster.
Over the radio, Chuck gives his speed: Mach .91.
He keeps pushing. The camera cuts to someone watching the contrails shoot across the sky from below. Faster. Faster. Over the radio, we can hear the new speed: Mach .92. .93. Faster. The camera cuts between the deafening sound of the rocket engine zooming through the sky and inside the cockpit as Chuck Yeager controls the X-1. He’s at Mach .95 now. Faster. .96. More buffeting. Or, in layman’s terms, the plane is vibrating.
The camera is shaking more violently now as we see Chuck Yeager in the cockpit. He says he’s at .98 now. She’s getting real active!
The movie cuts to people on the ground below. There’s a huge boom. “What’s that sound?” someone says. They look up. What happened? It’s quiet now. More people from the ground are looking up at the empty skies. What happened to Chuck Yeager? What happened to his plane?
Someone off camera says, “He bought the farm,” in a dark moment that we can only assume other people were thinking, too. After a moment, a man in military uniform below looks up with his binoculars. “Wait a minute!”
Then we can see the X-1 shooting through the blue sky. He’s past Mach 1.0 and he’s still going. Someone comments that we finally broke the sound barrier!
The true story behind that scene in the movie The Right Stuff
That segment comes from the 1983 film called The Right Stuff. The event it’s depicting is when Chuck Yeager became the first human being to fly faster than the speed of sound, which happened this week in history on October 14th, 1947. It happened over Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California.
The movie was accurate to show the name “Glamorous Glennis” on the side of the X-1. That was the plane’s nickname because, as I’m sure you can guess, that really was the name of Chuck Yeager’s first wife. Chuck and Glennis Yeager were married from 1945 until, sadly, she passed away of ovarian cancer in 1990. That’s a 45-year marriage. Chuck remarried in 2003 to a woman named Victoria D’Angelo and they remained married until Chuck Yeager died in 2020—but we’re getting outside the scope of this week in history.
What of the idea of Chuck Yeager breaking his rib after riding a horse before the flight?
Well, let’s turn this over to Chuck himself because even though he’s no longer with us, in 2015, he tweeted a few fun facts near the anniversary of his historic flight…and these are all things that happened this week in history that we don’t see in the movie.
Oh, and speaking of, Chuck mentions the name “Ridley” – we mentioned Jack Ridley before but just to clarify that’s the guy we see getting the broom handle and also flying the B-29 along with Yeager in the movie. Okay, here are Chuck Yeager’s tweets from October of 2015:
Oct 9, 1947: Lost control as I approached transsonic region.The shockwave laid down on horizontal stabilizer.I told Ridley, We got a problem
Oct 10,1944:Ridley figured out-I should use jackscrew 2 manually change horizontal stabilizer.Next flight I try it:”Ridley, we got it made!”
Let me hop back in here real quick to point out that Chuck Yeager did say the date of October 10, 1944 in his tweet, but I think he really meant 1947…that’s what the rest of his tweets say, this one just says 1944 in what I’m assuming is a simple typo.
Oct 12, 1947: At Pancho’s, Glennis challenged me 2 a horse race.Someone had closed the gate.My horse pulled 3 G’s & I flew over fence-Ouch.
Oct 13, 1947.Went to a vet. Couldn’t go to base doc- he would’ve grounded me! Vet taped up my broken ribs & said, Don’t do nothin’ strenuous
Oct 13,1947:Told Ridley I didn’t know if I could close hatch on X-1.Ridley pondered this.We were scheduled to try 2 fly MACH 1 the next day!
Then, on October 14th, 2015, Chuck Yeager tweeted a few more facts on the anniversary of the event we’re talking about today:
Today, 68 years ago, at 10:24am,I broke the sound barrier w/ only 1.5 minutes of fuel. I told Ridley: Something wrong with this Mach meter
To close hatch on X-1, hindered by my broken ribs, Ridley sawed off a broomstick, gave me a piece.It worked. Then, I broke the sound barrier
Did you catch the things Chuck Yeager talked about that we see in the movie The Right Stuff? I’ll walk through what I caught and let’s see if we got the same things.
First, in the movie, it sure seems like Chuck and Glennis are riding their horses right before the historic flight on October 14th. So, I would’ve assumed maybe it’s the early morning of October 14th or possibly October 13th. The movie doesn’t specifically say, but we can tell from what Chuck Yeager himself said on Twitter—well, it’s called X now, but back in 2015 of course it was still Twitter so I’ll keep calling it that.
Anyway, Chuck tweeted that it was October 12th when he and Glennis had the horse race where he flew over a fence. So, that’s the first difference—the date.
Another difference is that the movie also doesn’t show a fence—Sam Shepard’s version of Chuck runs into a tree. So, that’s a slight difference.
But, he did seem to break his ribs. Something we don’t see in the movie at all is Chuck Yeager’s visit to the vet, since he couldn’t go see the doctor on the base.
And just like we see in the movie, Ridley did saw off a broomstick for Chuck Yeager to be able to close the hatch on the X-1.
Then, moments later, Chuck Yeager made history as the first person to break the sound barrier.
To get there, the X-1’s rocket engine didn’t use regular fuel. That’s why we see the fueling in the movie showing vapors and freezing ice around the X-1’s body as it’s being filled up. Earlier during the movie, I had mentioned it reminded me of liquid nitrogen, and while it does remind me of that—that’s not what quite the X-1 used. It was liquid oxygen the X-1 used. After all, it was a rocket. It was designed to go fast. Very fast.
The speeds we hear mentioned in the movie is “Mach” when we hear Sam Shepard’s version of Chuck Yeager relaying his speed as Mach .91, .92, Mach .95, and all the way until he hits Mach 1.0.
“Mach” is a unit of measurement that correlates to a moving object in relation to the speed of sound. The reason for that is because the exact speed that takes to break the speed of sound is a moving target—the speed of sound varies depending on the temperature and substance you’re referring to. For example, the speed of sound through water is different than it is through air. The speed of sound through air at freezing temperatures is different than it is in warmer temperatures.
So, using a relative unit of measurement makes it a little easier to track. Mach 1.0 is the speed of sound, and that day Chuck Yeager went a little beyond that to Mach 1.06. That’s 700 mph, or 1,127 km/h.
Oh, and here’s something else the movie doesn’t show: Exactly 50 years later, on October 14th, 1997, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier on the anniversary of his historic event. That time, though, he wasn’t flying the X-1. He flew an F-15 which he nicknamed Glamourous Glennis III.
Speaking of things the movie doesn’t show, Chuck Yeager made history this week in 1944 as well. As a World War II pilot, Yeager became the first pilot to shoot down five enemy airplanes in a single day. Five confirmed kills is what makes a pilot an “ace”, so the term for doing it in a single day is “ace in a day,” and Chuck Yeager did that on October 12th, 1944.
Of course, the movie isn’t a biopic about Chuck Yeager. But, as you can tell, he did have quite an amazing career. If you want to watch a reinterpretation of him breaking the sound barrier that happened this week in history, check out the 1983 movie called The Right Stuff. We started our segment today about 14 minutes into the movie.
We covered that movie here on the podcast back in episode #75. And, if I may offer my own little bit of history involving Chuck Yeager, that episode of Based on a True Story came out for the 70th anniversary of the X-1 flight in 2017. Chuck Yeager was 94 years old at the time, and although I hadn’t done any interviews on the podcast at that time, I still extended the invitation for him to come on the podcast to talk about The Right Stuff.
He was very respectful in his reply, but he declined—so, among the many momentous things to remember about Chuck Yeager, for me personally, always remember him as the first person to decline an invitation for Based on a True Story. He did recommend that I pick up his autobiography and use that for the episode, though, so I’ll make sure to include a link in the show notes for this episode so you can grab his autobiography and learn more about him.