Sunday, December 09, 2007

Larsen’s Feat Lives in Amateur Movies

Al Mengert
Al Mengert focused his 16-millimeter camera,
from a perch between home plate and third, on Don Larsen.
From New York Times

December 9, 2007

Larsen's Feat Lives in Amateur Movies


On Oct. 8, 1956, Saul Terry took his 8-millimeter camera to Yankee Stadium, where he and his wife settled into seats in the right-field bleachers, which would cast occasional clouds of darkness onto his film.

Terry was not the only amateur cinematographer at Game 5 of the World Series. Al Mengert, a nontouring golf pro then at Winged Foot, who finished in a four-way tie for ninth at the 1958 Masters, focused his 16-millimeter camera on the field from between home plate and third base.

Terry and his wife, Elissa, were native New Yorkers at the end of a cross-country trip in their Chevrolet Nomad from their adopted home in Los Angeles. They were not big baseball fans and hoped to see "My Fair Lady," but one of Terry's suppliers in the lighting business could only get them tickets to the game.

Mengert, living in Westfield, N.J., took his wife, Donna, and his father, Otto, who had flown in from Spokane, Wash.

Two men out of 64,519 fans were unknowingly producing the lost films of Don Larsen's perfect game, color home movies that complement the few newsreel clips of the game that are frequently replayed, and the NBC broadcast that has been seen only by small groups since it was carried live.

Whether Terry's and Mengert's films will be seen by fans depends on efforts to sell or license them. Terry rejected a deal with Major League Baseball last year that would have coincided with the perfect game's 50th anniversary.

Terry captured Mickey Mantle's great one-handed catch in left-center off Gil Hodges's bat in the fifth inning; Mengert followed Mantle's trot after his home run in the fourth, but not the swing itself. Duke Snider's tumbling catch in the fourth is in Terry's; Mengert's shows Yogi Berra tossing balls to Bill Dickey, who was hitting pregame fungoes. A few feet away, Sal Maglie, the Dodgers' starting pitcher, warmed up. Terry's film found the Yankees' bullpen with Whitey Ford and, it seemed, Bob Grim warming up.

Mengert easily zoomed in on Larsen's no-windup motion. "I felt like Cecil B. DeMille," he said recently from Scottsdale, Ariz.

Terry was the less-experienced filmmaker, having received his camera as a wedding gift that April. He was sitting far away, underneath a deck, and fired off shots of Hank Bauer's back in right field — and a few too many of the crowd. In a voice-over added to the film, Terry said, "I should have used my telephoto lens more to catch the batter more in the batter's box." The existence of his film was first reported last year.

Despite the history they recorded, Mengert and Terry rarely, if ever, showed their films. Terry kept his in a box marked "New York Trip" for nearly 50 years. "One day," Michael Abramowitz, Terry's son-in-law, recalled Terry telling him, "I was at Larsen's perfect game. If I only knew where I put the film." Terry seemed surprised that anyone would care about it.

Abramowitz added, "He didn't really know how much it was worth." Terry died in May, and Abramowitz said he was trying to interest auction houses, among others, in a sale.

The film's value is restricted by the fact that unlike artifacts like Barry Bonds's 756th home run ball, there is no active market for them. Kirk Kandle said he had never received a blockbuster offer for his great-grandfather's 16-millimeter film of Babe Ruth's called shot in the 1932 World Series, and has instead made various licensing deals for it.

Color home movies shot by players and fans were stitched together to create the "When It Was a Game" documentaries on HBO. George Roy, the co-producer, said: "When somebody has something nobody has seen, it's noteworthy and great to see. Beyond that, I can't tell you what it's worth."

A nearly complete copy of NBC's broadcast of the game was shown to a small audience at the Yogi Berra Museum earlier this year, but its owner, the collector Doak Ewing, has not made a deal for a broader showing.

Berra watched the Terry film at a cocktail party in Florida in late October with numerous other former Yankees, including Larsen, his batterymate in the game. "It was all right, but I liked the other one better," he said in reference to the broadcast.

Like most home movies, the films are personal. Mengert shows his wife and father outside the stadium and on the field afterward. The Terry film begins in Times Square, jumps to the Major Deegan Expressway, where his camera shows the Longines clock outside the Stadium reading 12:56.

"And there it is," Terry said in the narration. "The Yankee Stadium."

Later, he said he knew he didn't have enough shots of the field. "I was looking for friends of mine in the crowd," he said.

Elissa laughed. "You're funny," she said.

Each filmmaker had somewhat similar reactions to the possibility that Larsen would pitch a perfect game. Mengert, now 78, said, "I turned to my dad in the sixth, and said, 'Larsen's got a no-hitter going, and I have to save some film in case it happens.'"

He added: "In the final inning, it was hard to hold the camera steady, but I did. I was excited, but I was more nervous on the first tee with Sam Snead in the final round at Augusta."

Elissa Terry said in an interview from Jupiter, Fla., "There was really nothing happening, but about the seventh, my husband said, 'It looks like it's going to be a no-hitter.' So I woke up and got interested. I didn't realize the enormity of what happened, that it was a rare event."

When Berra leapt into Larsen's arms (the home movies show the moment from different angles and also portray the well-dressed fans who flooded the sun-splashed field), Saul Terry recognized the thrill.

"You didn't have to be a ball fan to know that," he said.

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