"What?" I cried. "What do you mean, you don't have Goodman? I keep reading about him playing Babe Ruth. What do you mean, you don't have Goodman?"
"We thought we had him," Markowitz said. "Universal is doing a Babe Ruth feature film for the theaters, and Goodman's going to be in that one."
I was shaken. There it goes, right down the toilet. Lyttle told me he had offered Goodman $500,000 to play Babe in the TV movie, but he'd heard Universal had offered him "millions." Goodman took the money and ran. Or waddled.
Markowitz wasn't sure who would be picked to play Ruth in the TV production, so a few days later I phoned him to suggest a couple of possibilities. Markowitz sounded a little tired. "I'm not directing the film," he said.
"What?" I cried. I was running low on whats. I don't know the details, but a younger man named Mark Tinker, who had won an Emmy for directing an episode of St. Elsewhere, took Markowitz's place. It was early spring, and filming was about to start. An actor named Stephen Lang was to play the role of Babe Ruth.
I didn't know who Stephen Lang was, but when I asked around, people kept saying, "Stephen Lang? He's a great actor. He was nominated for a Tony." Someone said Lang was going to play Hamlet on Broadway in 1992.
Oh great, I thought. First we had a fat guy, now we have Hamlet. And I kept hearing about the Goodman version, already shooting scenes in Chicago.
I went to California and met Lyttle. I expected a typecast Hollywood producer, heavy, middle-aged, enigmatic, cigar-smoking (I hadn't yet heard about the Softball game with Tartikoff). But Lyttle turned out to be a trim, energetic, good-looking 42-year-old. If you were casting about for an actor to play Lyttle, you would pick Alan Alda. Sharp, intense face, restless mind, quick reactions.
He drove me out to Ontario, an eastern suburb of Los Angeles, where they were shooting scenes in a local ballpark that resembled the old-fashioned stadiums of the 1920s and 1930s. We parked in a lot behind the third base side of the grandstand in a cluster of film-company trucks and trailers. As we walked toward a gate into the park I heard cheers, baseball cheers, a baseball crowd making noise, and I instinctively hurried my steps, the way you do when you come into a ballpark after a game has begun. I didn't want to miss anything. We came out onto the field near third base, and beyond a big camera crane I could see a pitcher throwing, a catcher, an umpire, a white-shirted crowd cheering and, my God, there was Babe Ruth at bat! I swear, that was my reaction: There's Babe Ruth!
Off camera, Lang, who is 39, looks like an actor made up to play the Babe. In action, he moves like the Babe, stands like the Babe, runs like the Babe, swaggers like the Babe, waves his hat and grins like the Babe. I couldn't help feeling that when people see the theater version they'll say, "There's John Goodman," but when they see Lang on the TV screen they'll react the way I did and say, "There's Babe Ruth!"