Bing Crosby is born in Tacoma, Washington, 1903. The actor, singer and old duffer was also a big fan of horseracing, so much so that he owned several racing steeds and, in 1937, co-founded the Del Mar racetrack with Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, Charles S. Howard and Oliver Hardy. Movie stars made it a hangout from the late 1930s until World War II broke out, at which point the track was closed and used as a training ground for the U.S. Marines as well as a manufacturing center for B-17 parts. When the war ended, the horseracing resumed and, in 1946, the track enjoyed a surge in popularity when a special train from Los Angeles was set up to bring more visitors to the place. That same year, the first Bing Crosby Handicap was held.
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James Cagney dies of a heart attack in Stanfordville, New York, 1986. “My father was totally Irish, and so I went to Ireland once,” said the actor, who many thought was full-blooded Irish. “I found it to be very much like New York, for it was a beautiful country, and both the women and men were good-looking.” Scandinavia also played a part in his lineage: "My mother's father, my Grandpa Nelson, was a Norwegian sea captain, but when I tried to investigate those roots I didn't get very far, for he had apparently changed his name to another one that made it impossible to identify him within the rest of the population." Cagney’s close friends included fellow actors Spencer Tracy, Ralph Bellamy, Frank Morgan, Pat O’Brien and Frank McHugh, a fraternity known casually about Hollywood as the Irish Mafia.
As we lament summer’s end, we focus on the good things about it: better movies slowly start to invade local theaters, hordes of horrid little children return to school, and grown men strap on helmets and shoulder pads to fall all over themselves for six points. Here are a few classic films where gridiron shenanigans drive the plot.
Jim Thorpe — All-American (1951)
An Olympic gold medal winner for pentathalon and decathalon, Jim Thorpe was a Native American athlete who found success in a wide array of sports, including collegiate and professional football. Burt Lancaster plays the man whose athletic achievements duke it out with personal setbacks.
Horse Feathers (1932)
Huxley College president Quincy Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) sets out to recruit a couple of prize football players for an important game against rival Darwin College. He ends up with Harpo and Chico instead.
Paper Lion (1968)
In a true story, Alan Alda stars as George Plimpton, going undercover as a Detroit Lion third-string quarterback to see how an average Joe would fare on an NFL team. It isn’t pretty.
The Freshman (1925)
College kid Harold Lamb (Harold Lloyd), with the help of his friend Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), aims to be popular and finds that being on the school football team is the key.
Knute Rockne All American (1940)
Ronald Reagan plays George Gipp, Notre Dame football player and strep throat victim. Pat O’Brien plays Knute Rockne, inspirational coach and father of the forward pass. A bedridden Reagan delivers the line that became part of our national lexicon: “Ask ‘em to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper.”