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BCB After Dark: A Cubs immortal?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if Jon Lester is going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the music, movies and baseball club for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s another week of shows for us here and we’re glad you stopped in. There’s no dress code as long as you keep your camera turned off. We can check anything that you want checked. Just be sure to hang on to your ticket or it will be a mess. There are a few good tables still available. Bring your own beverage.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon. BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

The Cubs had an off-day today after taking two of three from the Cardinals at Busch this weekend. It’s been a miserable season to be a Cubs fan. Believe me, I know. But it always makes things a little better when the Cubs take a series from St. Louis.

Last time I asked you which team you thought the Cubs would send closer David Robertson to. By large plurality of 31 percent, you thought he’d head back to his original team the Yankees, where he won a World Series all the way back in 2009. The Twins got 16 percent of the vote and the Red Sox pulled in 14 percent.

Here’s the part where I write about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

I haven’t had that much vocal jazz in this section. That’s mostly just a result of me being more familiar with instrumental jazz and not any sort of slight on the great jazz vocalists. But I thought I’d try to remedy that somewhat tonight.

Betty Carter was never one of the most-famous jazz singers. She recorded one hit album of duets with Ray Charles in 1960 and then said to herself “OK. That’s enough of that commercial stuff for a lifetime.” (I don’t know that she actually said anything like that, but her career after 1960 mostly lived up to that statement.) That meant that she’s not as well known today as her contemporary vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan or Carmen McRae. Definitely not as well-known as Billie Holiday.

But while the public may not have been that familiar with Carter, she was one of those performers that about whom you could say “She’s your favorite jazz vocalists’ favorite jazz vocalist.” That’s even true today, almost twenty-five years after her passing. Other jazz musicians were in awe of her talents.

Carter was known for her innovative and improvisational scatting, which is on display in the clip provided here. So check her out if you’re not familiar with her work. And if you are, you almost certainly are going to check her out without me telling you.

This is a video of a live performance in Paris in 1968.

The Petrified Forest, the 1936 film starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, is best known today for being Humphrey Bogart’s big break in the role of Duke Mantee. In fact, Bogart’s performance is really the main reason to watch the film. The part of the movie that Bogart is in is terrific. The rest of the movie is OK but can be a bit of a slog.

The Petrified Forest is a version of the Robert Sherwood-written hit Broadway play of the year before. Because of its stage origins, the entire Archie Mayo-directed film looks pretty much like a stage play. Almost the entire film takes place on one set, a remote gas station/restaurant on the edge of Arizona’s Petrified Forest. There are a couple of scenes that take place elsewhere, but either because of the demands of the script, demands of the budget or Mayo’s lack of imagination, the entire film has a very static look to it.

The plot of the film is also very common to anyone familiar with early-modern American Drama. Several people from different parts of society get thrown in a room together and are forced to spill out their life story and in some cases, their philosophy of life. Usually there’s a secret in there somewhere. These plays will star a tortured writer/artist/performer who stands in for the playwright himself. (And they’re all men.) I read several plays of this type when I was studying American drama in college, including ones by Robert Sherwood. Heck, I was actually in a production of a Robert Sherwood play (Idiot’s Delight) that followed the same basic setup.

Leslie Howard stars as Alan Squire, an English novelist who never lived up to his early promise. He’s hitchhiking across the American West in search of . . .something. Inspiration, I guess, but more accurately he’s looking for some sort of purpose to his life.

Co-starring with Howard is Bette Davis as Gabrielle Maple, a waitress and the daughter of the owner of this remote outpost in Arizona. Gabrielle is a dreamer. She reads poetry. She dreams of seeing California and painting. But most of all, Gabrielle dreams of going to France where her war-bride mother returned to after leaving her and her father. (Sherwood didn’t do the math. That would make Gabrielle, at most, 17. Younger when the play debuted.) When she finds out that the penniless Alan had spent eight years in France in a vain attempt to write a second novel, she’s wants to hear all his stories. She’s immediately smitten with this handsome and eloquent stranger.

Howard and Davis had co-starred two years earlier in Of Human Bondage, and Warner Brothers no doubt thought pairing them together again would recreate some of the explosive chemistry of that film. But if you’ve seen Of Human Bondage, and you should because it’s a must-watch film of the thirties, you know that it’s not a love story. It’s the story of a self-loathing man who becomes obsessed with a woman who abuses and despises him. Trying to turn that chemistry into a love story in The Petrified Forest was going to be a tall task, especially since from all accounts, Howard and Davis did not get along well with each other.

And that’s true here. The entire first 35 minutes of the film kind of drags. Alan and Gabrielle talk a lot to each other about their lives and their love of art and literature. A former college football player who works at the gas station gets jealous of Alan and threatens to beat him up if he doesn’t leave Gabrielle alone, which is unreasonable. Also if Alan doesn’t pay his tab, which is kind of is reasonable since Alan doesn’t have any money.

All the while, reports come over the radio that the infamous criminal Duke Mantee is on the run from police and heading their way.

Howard and Davis are both good in this film, as you’d expect actors of their quality to be. But they’re good separately. When they’re together on-screen, the romance seems forced and artificial. In fact, pretty much everything drags until Humphrey Bogart shows up.

A rich couple and their Black chauffeur show up at the station of gas, and Gabrielle talks them into giving Alan a ride, since he’s determined to leave anyway. That where their car gets hijacked by Matee’s gang after their own getaway car broke down on the side of the road. Eventually, all these characters end up back at the rest stop.

Howard starred in The Petrified Forest on Broadway where Bogart, then a young unknown, played Mantee. The part of Duke Mantee was based on the infamous criminal John Dillinger and reportedly Bogart got the part because he resembled Dillinger. Warner Brothers wanted to replace Bogart in the film version with a bigger name such as Edward G. Robinson, but Howard make it clear that if Bogart didn’t play Mantee, he wasn’t going to star in it either. Bogart never forgot this act of kindness and when Lauren Bacall gave birth to a daughter in 1952, they named her Leslie Howard Bogart.

(By the way, Bacall would go on to play the Bette Davis part opposite Henry Fonda in a television production of The Petrified Forest in 1955. Bogart reprised his Duke Mantee role.)

Sure it was an act of kindness, but I have the feeling that Howard also knew that Bogart was the right man for the part. Because from the moment that Bogart appears on screen, all of our eyes are fixated on him. Duke is a coil of seething rage, but also someone with a moral code of his own. He quickly develops a relationship with Alan and Alan likewise admires Duke for his sense of purpose, as twisted as it is. Alan also sees Duke as a man of action, which he, to this point, has not been.

As much as the connection between Davis’ and Howard’s characters is weak in The Petrified Forest, the relationship between Howard and Bogart sizzles. In the end, Alan says that Duke is the only person that really understood him, and that statement is supported by their respective performances.

The part of Duke Mantee was both a blessing and a curse for Humphrey Bogart. It was a blessing in that it received rave reviews and made Bogart a bankable name in Hollywood. But it was a curse in that the studio heads at Warner Brothers began to typecast him as Duke Mantee. For the next five years Bogart worked regularly, but it was always as a tough guy/thug/mobster supporting part. Despite Bogart consistently adding some humanity and depth in to what could be some pretty one-dimensional roles, the studio just didn’t think he had the range to play anything else. It wasn’t until George Raft turned down the role of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon in 1941 (at Bogart’s suggestion) that Bogart got a lead and a chance to play a (mostly) heroic character.

The Petrified Forest is a much-watch for fans of Bogart. Also for fans of Sherwood and early-modern American theater, I’d guess. But for everyone else, it’s worth a look if you can get through the first half-hour of the film. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s got Bogart giving a terrific performance and Howard and Davis doing great work too, at least when they’re playing off Bogart or someone else and not each other.

Here’s a scene in the restaurant. It starts out with Howard talking to the other people in the restaurant, but it finishes between Howard and Bogart. The second half is much better. (Some spoilers, right?)

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

For someone who claims to not care much about the Hall of Fame, I sure know a lot of Cooperstown trivia. For example, did you know that every single World Series Champion had a Hall-of-Fame player until the Dodgers in 1981? Even they had a Hall-of-Fame manager in Tommy Lasorda. There wouldn’t be another World Series victor to not have a Hall-of-Fame player on until the Marlins in 1997, and I continue to believe that Gary Sheffield will get in one day. Maybe even Kevin Brown.

(Note that I have to cheat a bit here. The 1988 Dodgers had Don Sutton on the team, but he was released and then he retired in August.)

In the 21st Century, it hasn’t been quite as sure a thing for a World Series Champion to have a Hall of Famer on the roster. There are some reasons for this. For one, there are a lot more players at anyone one time and Cooperstown isn’t inducting more players than they used to. So the percentage of active Hall-of-Fame ballplayers is down. Two, the expanded playoffs mean that the best teams (who presumably are more likely to have a Hall-of-Famer on the team) don’t win the title as often.

Still, most World Series champions still have a Hall-of-Famer on the roster. But there are a lot more exceptions. The 2002 Angels seem to be certain to join the 1981 Dodgers as Cooperstown-less. The 2003 Marlins are currently without one, but Miguel Cabrera is a cinch to go in. The 2005 White Sox have one if we count Frank Thomas, which I do since he was on the disabled list the second-half of the season.

I can’t predict if Chase Utley is going in, or the 2008 Phillies might be without one. The 2015 Royals seem almost certain to be without one.

You can probably guess where this is going. Was there a Hall of Famer on the 2016 Cubs? At the time we probably thought Kris Bryant had a good chance, but injuries seem to have derailed that. Willson Contreras is a possibility, but his career is too young right now to tell. He’ll have to have several more seasons like this one to be a candidate.

That leaves the man I think is most-likely to get inducted, Jon Lester. I’m not going to go over all of Lester’s accomplishments because I think you’re already familiar with them. But Lester won 200 games and anyone who wins that many games these days at least gets consideration of Cooperstown. He also won three World Series titles, which always carries some weight with the voters.

Bill James’ Hall-of-Fame monitor system seems to indicate that Lester is a solid candidate, scoring a 98 with 100 being an average inductee. Jay Jaffe is more pessimistic on Lester’s credentials. Both men have written books on Cooperstown so . . .who knows?

Tonight I’m going to ask you should Jon Lester be a Hall-of-Famer and will he be one? I have a feeling that the first poll is going to be a bit lopsided, but the second one will be more interesting. But I’ve been wrong predicting these polls before, so let’s see.


Should Jon Lester be inducted into Cooperstown?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (81 votes)
  • 37%
    (49 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now


Will Jon Lester be inducted into Cooperstown?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    (51 votes)
  • 54%
    (61 votes)
112 votes total Vote Now

Thank you again for stopping by. I hope you’ve been able to relax and have a good time. If you need us to call you a ride home, let us know. Get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again next week for another edition of BCB After Dark.