The emotional story of Rosie O’Donnell in ‘League of Their Own’

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In the sixth episode of Amazon A league apart remake series, we meet an old friend.

Rosie O’Donnell, who starred in the 1992 Penny Marshall film, makes a cameo as the owner and bartender of a queer-friendly speakeasy frequented by some members of the Rockford Peaches. O’Donnell played Doris, Madonna’s brash and cheeky sidekick to glamorous and boy-crazed Mae, in the original film.

If you are a normal person like me, who watched A league apart (movie version) about 63 times and can quote just about every line, you know Doris was the best character. This made her surprise appearance in the new series all the sweeter.

Created by Abbi Jacobson (who also plays Carson) and Will Graham, the series expands on the film’s premise – a professional baseball league in the 1940s recruits women to keep the stands filled while male players were at war – by layering the stories of the marginalized characters more deeply than the film could, including exploring the weirdness of many of the team’s players.

(Maybelle Blair, who starred in the real-life league the film and series are based on and served as a consultant on the show, came out as gay just this year—at age 95!—while her then-girlfriend, Terry Scott and his partner of seven decades are the subject of the Netflix documentary A secret love.)

There is an undeniable emotion in O’Donnell’s guest spot in this particular role; the actress herself came out publicly in 2002, 10 years after the film was made. Here, she plays Vi, who serves as the de facto queer life welcoming committee for Jacobson’s character, Carson. When Carson goes to Vi’s bar for the first time, Vi registers her confused swirl of emotions: disbelief, wonder, and excitement. After their conversation, Carson almost instantly senses that everything will be fine, despite her confusion about her sexuality and her anxiety about what might happen if she speaks about it publicly.

The episode is an outstanding entry into an underrated genre: Rosie O’Donnell is actually a spectacular actress, everyone. (Check out the HBO miniseries I know it’s true as Exhibit A.) And it turns out the cameo was the former talk show host’s idea.

While it was important to Jacobson and Graham to pay a loving tribute to the 1992 film—before his death they obtained Marshall’s blessing to create the series—they were wary of too many references on the nose; primarily, the stunt casting. But, in an interview with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, the pair say that changed when O’Donnell visited the writer’s bedroom during pre-production and pitched the idea for this character.

“I love Rosie in the movie,” Jacobson says. “There’s no overt homosexuality in the movie, even though it was about Rosie, even though she hadn’t even come out at the time. But she is so important in American queer history. We didn’t want to do a lot of cameos, but for her, that was fine. »

Visiting the writer’s room, she introduced the creators to the role of Vi and what she envisioned the role could be, right down to the wardrobe and hairstyle. Things took on a poignant hue, given O’Donnell’s role in the queer community, the role of mentor she willingly took on to the writing staff, and the nature of the character she was to play. .

“It became for me the perfect and most fitting wrap-up of the show,” Graham says. “It’s a team show that’s made by a team.”

The first scene in which Vi appears, in particular, is about creating a safe space. Whether it’s a speakeasy in 1943 or a Hell’s Kitchen hotspot today, gay bars have been and remain a sacred sanctuary for the community. Having O’Donnell portray the origins of this was a moving experience for everyone.

“I love queer bars and queer spaces,” Graham says. “For me personally on this show, having a conversation with your ancestors on the one hand and then your peers on the other about this…it was beautiful. For Carson to step into this space and realize that she is not alone and that she can speak for the first time without worrying about being overheard is an experience that has been described to us by some of the people that we interviewed. It seemed so powerful to me.

“The way she’s revealed on the show is in the middle of Carson’s exposure to this queer community that I don’t think she thought existed,” Jacobson said. “For Rosie to be in that moment was so amazing.”

The episode was all sweet and inspiring, until, at its climax, the bar was raided by cops. Carson and his teammates rush to safety without getting caught – at the time, gay people arrested in common areas had their names printed in the newspaper and ostracized from the community. They hide, of all places, in a movie theater playing The Wizard of Oz. One of the Peaches doesn’t make it. Meanwhile, Vi is violently attacked by an officer and beaten with a truncheon.

It’s a horrible sequence. It’s also very real, an experience that O’Donnell knew and was eager to portray.

“The ending of this episode is devastating and really shows the audience and Carson how dangerous it was to be gay – and how dangerous it still is to be gay in many places,” Jacobson said. “It was a really big part of the queer stories that we were trying to tell, so having Rosie be a part of that was pretty special.”

When Graham was interviewing queer people who were alive at the time the story takes place as part of his research, he says many of them would have a smile on their face even as they recounted the trauma of these raids. Survival is part of the pride, and the totality of their experience is what means something to them. “I think at all times in history we gay people find a space and a way to find joy and celebrate with each other, but there’s, there’s a risk to that. “, said Graham.

One of his favorite stories to tell about the process of bringing A league apart to life as a series is by O’Donnell. She was recounting one of her first encounters with Marshall about the project and pointed out to the director that, very clearly to her, Doris was gay. She then made a perfect impression of Marshall’s blunt and unenthusiastic response, “No.”

The series was a chance to get it right. And it seemed, well, fair for O’Donnell to be a part of it.

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