Every year around this time, television usually shows the classic baseball film “Eight Men Out,” which is based on the “Black Sox scandal” where the 1919 Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series with Cincinnati.
The film has a special place in the hearts of two Fort Wayne residents: Greg Jehl and Mark GiaQuinta appeared in the film, which was shot 25 years ago at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis in 1987 and released in September 1988.
Both responded to a local newspaper article asking anyone who wanted to be in a movie to contact the production company in Indianapolis. A representative called them a month later and asked them to come down for the shooting.
Jehl asked if his retired father, Jerry, could come along, and when she told him they were looking for a distinguished older man for a particular part, he assured her his dad was indeed distinguished looking. GiaQuinta said he had actually forgotten about sending in his information, but decided it would be an interesting experience.
Interesting, yes, but … the day, which started at 7 a.m. in costume and makeup and ended around 6 p.m., was rainy and cold, and every scene seemed to take forever. There were reshoots after reshoots with plenty of waiting and standing around in between.
As GiaQuinta remarked, “it was just plain slow and most of the time rather boring.”
Jehl was an extra who appeared in the crowd in the stadium the first day. The old Indianapolis Indians stadium was used because it closely resembled the ballpark in Cincinnati.
“There were only about 200 of us, and they made it look like thousands by moving us around and by inserting cardboard cutouts,” Jehl said. “We were just faces in the crowd. I was a reporter in another scene. In that one, I was right in the front row and thought I'd be seen for sure. I couldn't wait to see myself in the movie and was disappointed to find the scene had been left on the cutting room floor.
“My dad, however, was asked to come back the next day to portray a team owner in a scene where John Anderson, as Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, accepted the job of baseball commissioner,” Jehl recalled. “I always enjoy watching the movie (I have a DVD copy) because I can see dad and remember the great time we had together that day. The morning of the second day, before he reported to the set, he and I toured the Speedway Museum and took a ride around the Indianapolis 500 track. He died 13 years ago.”
GiaQuinta, on the other hand, was a “featured” extra since he had Arena Dinner Theatre and First Presbyterian Theater experience. The difference between extra and featured extra was he had an actual role (reporter), got to eat with the cast and received slightly more money. The extras were paid $20 a day, and he received $80.
“My reporter scene in the locker room involved interviewing 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson, played by D.B. Sweeney,” GiaQuinta said. “I was to ask why he thought the team played so badly. A very intense person, Sweeney took a lot of time to explain just how I should ask my questions so as to appear genuine and not expose my meager reporting skills.
“My second scene was in the press box,” he said. “I sat at the far end of the table, while the others found spots at the opposite end near the camera. In the film, I can just barely make myself out. We were coached to jump up and lean forward when the action got exciting on the field.
“At lunch, I sat down with a couple of friendly guys, and we had a nice conversation about families, Bruce Springsteen's music video and life in general,” GiaQuinta said. “I didn't know then but learned later they were Christopher Lloyd, who played the part of infielder Bill Burns, and James Read, who was “Lefty” Williams, one of the Sox pitchers.
“Read had been in the TV series 'North and South' and was commenting on how difficult it was to land parts when you're over 30,” GiaQuinta added. “Most of the other guys in the movie, including John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Sweeney and most of the others were in their 20s.
“I didn't know much about the story at the time, though the book had been around for many years,” said GiaQuinta. “After seeing the film, it became clear to me that it was more than a sports story. It's also a story of class warfare.
“Set in the 'Gilded Age,' it's about the wealthy controlling everything and taking advantage of the workers. This was evident by how the White Sox owner, Charlie Comiskey, played by Clifton James (Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the James Bond film “Live and Let Die”), was a cheapskate of the first magnitude who would not honor bonuses or grant pay raises.
“The players, viewed by most as the villains, took the bribes in order to have enough money to support their families,” GiaQuinta explained. “In the end, they were found not guilty, but the new baseball commissioner banned them from baseball forever.
“I never regretted taking that day away from my family, my law practice and my responsibilities on the Fort Wayne City Council,” said GiaQuinta, “but I decided right then and there that an acting life was not for me.”