The first day Mantle and Maris actually went before the cameras was for publicity shots—trailers, as they're known to movie people—that would be shown to distributors and Columbia salesmen all over the country. Mantle and Maris sat patiently in the third-base dugout as Guy Del Russo, the bearded makeup artist, gave them a glowing artificial tan. Then they went out to home plate, the focus of most of the publicity shots. They delivered their lines, in the various bits developed for them, with surprising ease. In one sequence they worked with Rube Jackter, Columbia vice-president and general sales manager, who was dressed as an umpire. Jackter, who's been doing this sort of thing for years, blew his lines several times, which delighted M & M.
The sequence was an eminently forgettable bit of film footage. Jackter exchanged some snappy dialogue with the ballplayers ("You're out!" "What do you mean, out?" "I said out—you fellows are out to make a great new moneymaking picture for Columbia." "What's the name of the picture?" "Safe at Home! "That's what we said, we were safe at home."), and then, hardly gagging at all, he turned and made a sales-meeting pitch directly into the camera: "I'm talking to you, Milt Goodman...Jerry Safron...Sam Galanty...Ed McLaughlin [he mentioned nearly two dozen names, all belonging to salesmen and distributors]. This is a great box office picture. This is big league. And you're all long-ball hitters, home run hitters! I expect you to do a great gross—for Mickey, for Roger, and for Columbia Pictures!" Jackter had to go through this several times, but when he finished his last take, the good one, he turned to the director and asked, pleased with himself this time, "How was that?" As if on cue, the crowd of Floridians and visitors watching from the stands burst into applause, possibly the first time a commercial has ever been voluntarily cheered.
The crowd cheered again a few days later when Mantle and Maris did their first scenes for the picture itself. The closing scene was being shot. The Little Leaguers burst onto the field, surround Mantle and Maris and then scamper out to their various positions to take lessons from the Yankees while little Hutch introduces his heroes to his father and Johanna: "This is my dad, and maybe my new mom." ("That's the worst line in the whole picture," a newsman said to an assistant director. The assistant director replied patiently, "You know, we don't expect this picture to play the Music Hall or win any Academy Awards. But you know, it's going to make a lot more money than some that do.")
It was a fairly easy sequence, with mostly action and very few lines, but it took all morning to film it, right up to and past the 11:30 deadline the Yankees had set for the movie equipment to be off the training field. A dense fog had settled over Lauderdale during the night (newspapers noted the next day that the area averages only seven days of fog a year, an encouraging statistic but one that failed to impress the movie people), and it didn't burn off completely until almost 11. The sun's fitful attempts to get through the haze caused a constant change in light values, sometimes during the filming of a sequence, so that the takes had to be done over and over. Tom Naud, his face set in a worried scowl, paced back and forth. Ralph Houk, the Yankee manager, had been drafted to play himself. In one scene he has one line, which he delivers to William Frawley, who plays a fictitious Yankee coach, Bill Turner. "Bill," says Houk, pointing to the mob of Little Leaguers surrounding the two Ms, "get out there and take charge of our new farm club." Houk and Frawley walked through the scene two or three times in rehearsal, as the director checked angles and the cameraman checked exposures and had the big spotlights and reflectors shifted to various positions. Then they went through it for real, and it wasn't 100% perfect, so they went through it again, but the light changed, so they went through it again, but the camera's motor reversed and the film began to go backward, so they went through it again, and it wasn't just the thing the director wanted, so they went through it again, and the sound failed for just the briefest part of a moment, so they went through it again.
Houk was magnificent through the whole mess, saying his dozen words perfectly each time the director cued him in, pointing manfully to the Little Leaguers and sending Frawley out from the dugout. But after the fifth or sixth take he began to rebel. "Can you find out if we're finished?" he asked plaintively, "because if we are I want to go get a chaw of tobacco." And, "Can't I get this stuff off my face?" indicating the makeup that had been applied around his cigar in the locker room earlier, as his rookies gathered to grin at him. And as they dragged him back to the camera again he said, "Oh, shoot. What a way to make a living." When finally Director Walter Doniger called, "Cut," and said, "Good for me," his way of indicating a satisfactory take, the crowd broke into loud and somewhat mocking applause, like that in a ball park after the third out of a 10-run inning.
Mantle and Maris, who had been remarkably calm and patient most of the time—as visions of dollars danced in their heads—got just a little tired, too. They took with good-natured grins the broad humor of their confreres in the locker room as they were being made up ("How you like my suntan?" Mantle asked late arrival Bill Stafford), and most of the time on the field they were fine with the Little Leaguers, who had been instructed to inundate the two players with questions. Like all Little Leaguers en masse, they were loud, persistent, repetitive and impossible ("Do you think you're as good as Ted Williams?" "Who's the best player in the league?" "How come you hit 61 home runs?" "Why didn't you hit 61 home runs?" "Do the Yankees own their own airplane?"). It got to be nerve-racking because there was no end to it. After each take, when the others—Houk, for example—could relax for a minute or two, the kids stayed glued to Mantle and Maris, stepping on their feet, pulling their sleeves, firing questions. The kids hardly seemed to notice when they were on camera and when they were not. Earlier, when they had first arrived at the ball park and had been brought into the locker room to meet Mantle and Maris, they had been subdued and polite and, when they were called out onto the field again, had filed past the players as though they were on a receiving line. One kid said, "Goodby, Mr. Maris," and another, furtively touching Roger's biceps as he passed, said quietly, "Wow." But outside they were loud and aggressive, and after an hour of it Mantle finally complained with some anger to an assistant director: "How long do we got to stand here?" Later, in a corner of the field, alone with Maris, he said wonderingly, "I never saw such a business. Seems you stand around all day doing nothing and then do about five minutes of the show."
The kids—Little Leaguers from Lauderdale and Pompano Beach who had been pressed into service as extras—were always eager but never easy to handle. "All right, boys," said one of the assistant directors, herding them into position. "Back here, now. Come on, now. It's hard work, but if you want to be movie stars it takes hard work." One boy, the tinsel dropping from his eyes, muttered, "It sure does." A Lauderdale youngster, a somewhat truculent type, noticed a strange boy in uniform standing next to him. "What's your name?" he said. The stranger, who plays Hutch Lawton's close friend Mike in the film, pretended not to notice. "Hey," said Lauderdale, "what's your name?" "Scott," the Hollywood boy said reluctantly. "Scott what?" There was a pause. "Scott Lane," the boy said. "You a movie star, too?" asked the blunt Lauderdalian. The Hollywood boy looked embarrassed and moved away.
For the beginning of the final sequence—for long shots—the kids were piled back into the tunneled runway under the stands that leads from the locker room to the dugout. On cue they were to pile out of the tunnel, race up the dugout steps, charge across the field and surround Mantle and Maris, yelling all the way. They rehearsed it two or three times, which was something to see, the kids roaring out and racing, yelling, across the grass. "Fellows, take it easy," cried an assistant director. "We don't want to know who's the fastest boy." The effort of getting the Little Leaguers back into the tunnel after each repeat was a tremendous one, like forcing 50 blown-up balloons back into the box they came in. "Back, boys! Back! Back up, now! Boys! Back up there!" "Hit 'em with a bat," a member of the camera crew suggested. "Boys," finally spoke Doniger, the director, a soft-voiced man who seemed the antithesis of the tyrant the director is traditionally supposed to be. "Now, boys," he said like a teacher, "when I talk you have to listen to me." They listened, sort of, and slowly retreated into the tunnel.
"O.K., now," said the first assistant director. "Quiet behind the camera."
"All right, Howard."