skip navigation
Fear Strikes Out

Fear Strikes Out(1957)

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:
Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (0)

Shop tcm.com

Fear Strikes Out - NOT AVAILABLE

Crying Boy

VOTE FOR THIS TITLE:
Our records indicate this title is not available on Home Video. Vote below for it to be released on DVD.

  1. Total votes: vote now!
  2. Rank: (why vote?)

Articles

powered by AFI

SEE ALL ARTICLES
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

SYNOPSIS

Rising from the sandlots of Waterbury, Connecticut to the Boston Red Sox, baseball player Jimmy Piersall must contend with his domineering father whose fierce ambition drives Piersall to a nervous breakdown. Through psychiatric counseling Jimmy is able to confront the deep-seated reasons for his mental collapse and begin the road to recovery.

Director: Robert Mulligan
Producer: Alan J. Pakula
Screenplay: Ted Berkman, Raphael Blau
Based on a story by James A Piersall and Albert S. Hirshberg
Cinematography: Haskell B. Boggs
Editing: Aaron Stell
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Anthony Perkins (Jimmy Piersall), Karl Malden (John Piersall), Norma Moore (Mary Teevan), Adam Williams (Dr. Brown), Perry Wilson (Mrs. John Piersall), Peter J. Votrian (Jimmy Piersall-as a boy), Dennis McMullen (Phil), Gail Land (Alice), Brian G. Hutton (Bernie Sherwill), Bart Burns (Joe Cronin), Rand Harper (Radio Announcer), Howard Price (Bill Tracy), George Pembroke (Umpire), Morgan Jones (Sandy Allen).
BW100m.

Why FEAR STRIKES OUT is Essential

There are enough films about baseball and famous ballplayers in the American cinema to constitute its own subgenre but Fear Strikes Out (1957) is a special case that stands alone. Based on the autobiography by James A. Piersall, the former outfielder and shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, and Albert S. Hirshberg, the film is less about Jimmy Piersall's brilliant though erratic career and more about his struggle against bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness).

Fear Strikes Out was one of the first films to depict mental illness as something that could strike anyone - even someone as unlikely as an all-American athlete. It was also bold in its portrayal of a father whose ambition was so great that he drove his own son to a mental collapse and stands as a cautionary tale for parents who pressure their children to succeed.

In many ways, Fear Strikes Out is a true reflection of its era where moviegoers' emerging interest in psychology and mental aberrations were being channeled by Hollywood directly to the screen in such movies as Autumn Leaves (1956), The Bad Seed (1956), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Lizzie (1957) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959).

Long before Psycho (1960) linked him forever to Norman Bates, actor Anthony Perkins was being groomed as Paramount's new leading man. Some saw him as a natural successor to James Dean with his brooding intensity and quirky mannerisms and Fear Strikes Out gave Perkins a chance to demonstrate his range as an actor.

The film is equally important as the feature directing debut of Robert Mulligan and the feature producing debut of Alan J. Pakula. It was a collaboration that led to their successful teaming on six more features together including To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) before they both went on to extremely successful solo careers.

by Andrea Passafiume & Jeff Stafford

back to top
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

Jim Piersall, the subject of Fear Strikes Out, was called by New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel "the most natural defensive outfielder" he had ever seen. Piersall won Gold Gloves in 1958 with the Boston Red Sox and in 1961 with the Cleveland Indians. He was selected to the All-Star Team in 1954 and 1956 and named Red Sox Most Valuable Player in 1957-the same year as the film's release.

After retiring from playing baseball, Piersall embarked on a new career as a radio personality, announcing for the Chicago White Sox. Later he served as a minor league coach for the Chicago Cubs organization.

Piersall was known for on-field antics such as running the bases backwards and wearing a Beatles wig for an entire game. In his autobiography he wrote, "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall until that happened?"

Based on the success of his autobiography and the movie, Piersall penned a second book in 1985 called The Truth Hurts, which detailed his ouster from the White Sox organization.

by Andrea Passafiume

back to top
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

The working title for Fear Strikes Out was The Jim Piersall Story.

The real Jim Piersall eventually disowned the movie due to the creative liberties taken with the facts in the film.

Most Hollywood biopics play fast and loose when it comes to the truth and there were plenty of factual errors in Fear Strikes Out such as the presence of Joe Cronin (played by Bart Burns) as the Red Sox's field manager (Mike "Pinky" Higgins was actually field manager when Piersall played; Cronin was the general manager). As recently as 2005, Jimmy Piersall participated in a White House event honoring the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Anthony Perkins followed Fear Strikes Out with two back-to-back westerns, The Lonely Man (1957) co-starring Jack Palance and Anthony Mann's The Tin Star (1957) with Henry Fonda.

Famous Quotes from FEAR STRIKES OUT

"Luck won't do it. You're gonna have to think, you're gonna have to work hard and think for yourself. Remember, no one's gonna be there doing your thinking for you." Karl Malden, as John Piersall talking to his son.

"Well, this is no time to buckle up. You want them to call you yellow? If that's what you want, you're no son of mine." -- Karl Malden, as John Piersall talking to his son.

"He was my father, and I wanted to do good for him. I owe him something, don't I?" Anthony Perkins, as Jim Piersall talking to his psychiatrist, Dr. Brown.

"I love my dad. He's the biggest thing in my life. He taught me and he straightened me out and he kept me in line. If it hadn't been for him standing behind me and pushing me and driving me, I wouldn't be where I am today." -- Anthony Perkins, as Jim Piersall talking to his psychiatrist, Dr. Brown.

"Put your things together and go down there and tell that doc that we gotta get back so we can tell those wiseguys we're not through, we're not washed up." -- Karl Malden, as John Piersall talking to his son.

"All my life I've been splitting my gut to please you, but I never could. No matter what I do, it's not enough. Dad, you're killing me." Anthony Perkins, as Jim Piersall to his father.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

back to top
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

Jim Piersall was a major league baseball player from 1950-1967 who made his mark playing as an outfielder and short stop for the Boston Red Sox. Following a highly publicized mental breakdown, Piersall entered a Massachusetts hospital for treatment in July 1952 and returned to playing baseball the following year.

In 1955, Piersall published his autobiography (written with the help of Al Hirshberg) called Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story. In it, he candidly documented his struggle with mental illness and his breakdown, and the fascinating book became a best seller.

That same year, actor Tab Hunter portrayed Piersall in a well-received live television version of Fear Strikes Out for the dramatic CBS series Climax!. Under contract at Warner Bros., Hunter had high hopes that the studio would snap up the rights to a feature film version with him as the star.

Ironically, not long after his portrayal of Piersall on television, Tab Hunter met Anthony Perkins, who was a newcomer to Hollywood, and the two began a secret affair. Perkins was then under contract to Paramount, and following the death of James Dean, the studio was grooming Perkins to follow in Dean's footsteps as a leading man. In his 2005 autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential, Hunter recalls how he sweated over whether or not Warner Bros. would buy the property for him and poured his heart out to Perkins about it. At the time, it didn't even occur to him that Perkins might want the part also.

While Hunter sweated it out waiting on Warner Bros. to buy the rights, they never did. Some sources claim it was because Jack Warner simply couldn't stand Tab Hunter's agent, Henry Willson, and didn't want to deal with him. Whatever the reason was, it came as quite a shock to Hunter when one day Perkins, with a devilish grin on his face, swept in and announced that Paramount had bought the rights to Fear Strikes Out for him. Hunter felt blindsided, and it was a slap in the face that he never forgot. "Our relationship didn't end after that," said Hunter, "but it definitely changed. We still saw each other, but from then on we weren't nearly as close."

The producer of Fear Strikes Out, Alan J. Pakula, had begun his career at Paramount as an assistant to writer/director/producer Don Hartman. Now the Head of Production at Paramount, Hartman decided to give Pakula his big break by assigning him the job of producing Fear Strikes Out, which would mark Pakula's first feature film assignment. Writer Alvin Sargent, commenting on Pakula's decision to do Fear Strikes Out, said, "Why he did that particular movie, I don't know. I don't think of Alan as a sports fan-not at all. I can't imagine him rooting at a baseball game."

Pakula, it turned out, was more interested in Piersall as a psychological study rather than a baseball hero. "I at one time toyed with the idea of being a psychoanalyst," recalled Pakula in a 1983 interview. "When I read the book about Jimmy's breakdown, what fascinated me was that it dealt with a ballplayer...the all-American figure, and at that time, the fifties, there was much of middle America who thought about mental breakdown and emotional illness in terms of neurasthenic, bohemian, artistic, sensitive types rather than recognizing that it is something that can happen to anyone," said Pakula. "Plus," he continued, "it dealt with a theme that has great interest to me, and that is, somebody trying to live through somebody else."

Pakula knew that the casting of Jim Piersall would be critical to the success or failure of the film. At one point he even considered allowing Jim Piersall to play himself. He had been impressed with Anthony Perkins' complex Oscar®-nominated performance in Friendly Persuasion (1956) the year before. He felt that Perkins had "a kind of mystery and darkness and sensitivity," which would be assets to the intense role of Piersall. With Paramount's support, Perkins was hired for the part.

Meanwhile, a writing team was brought into the studio to begin shaping up a screenplay. Ted Berkman and Raphael Blau, who had previously collaborated on the Ronald Reagan comedy Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), were hired to work on the project. They expanded the role of Jim's father and focused their attention on Piersall's gradual breakdown, which would be the driving force of the whole film.

Writers Berkman and Blau were initially less than impressed with Anthony Perkins as Alan Pakula's choice to play Piersall. Berkman recalled how they were called into a meeting between Pakula and Perkins in order to meet the film's star. "Into the room slouched this tall, skinny guy with long hair falling over his eyes wearing glasses, stooped shouldered and shy," said Berkman. "My first thought was, 'This guy's going to play a sharp, aggressive ballplayer? Al must be out of his mind. There goes the movie."

While Paramount executives had a lot of faith in Pakula as a producer, they weren't ready to let him direct a picture just yet so Pakula set out to find a young director with a similar creative sensibility. He had meetings at Paramount with several potential directors, most of them from the world of television. Robert Mulligan was one of the potential directors he saw during that period and he was already familiar with and admired some of the work Mulligan had done on television. Still, Pakula wasn't ready to make a final decision.

Pakula was also having some doubts about his decision to cast Anthony Perkins. He had started watching some of the young actor's television work, and he became more and more convinced that he had made a terrible mistake in casting Perkins to play Jim Piersall. "I was kind of shattered," said Pakula years later, "because (Perkins) seemed very mannered and very stylized and self-conscious...I really got worried."

One night, however, Pakula happened to catch Perkins starring with actress Kim Stanley on television in a 1951 Goodyear Television Playhouse production of Joey that had been directed by Robert Mulligan, the same one who had recently met with Pakula about directing Fear Strikes Out. Quickly, all of Pakula's doubts about Perkins vanished. "Tony was just marvelous," said Pakula. "I thought it must be on account of the director." The following day, Pakula called Perkins into his office and asked him if he would like to have Mulligan as his director on Fear Strikes Out. In response, Perkins reportedly dropped to his knees and said, "Please, please, please!" Soon afterwards, Pakula flew to New York and offered Mulligan the job.

To round out the cast, Pakula hired veteran actor Karl Malden, who had won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his work in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and had just been nominated for his work in On the Waterfront (1954), as Jim Piersall's demanding father. To play Mary, Piersall's wife, Pakula hired 21-year-old Norma Moore who was primarily a television actress. Fear Strikes Out would mark Moore's feature film debut. Though she and Anthony Perkins were both living at the legendary Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, the two had never met. They met for the first time at Moore's screen test at Paramount where they performed a scene together. Moore liked Perkins immediately. "He was wonderful at the test. He couldn't have been easier to meet and to work with, friendly and jovial and warm. We kidded around. He made it easy."

by Andrea Passafiume

back to top
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

The film version of Fear Strikes Out was budgeted at $924,000, which included the $50,000 Paramount had paid to obtain the book rights. Just before shooting began, director Robert Mulligan had put the actors through an intense month-long rehearsal process where they all performed the entire script from start to finish like a stage play over and over until they were all completely comfortable in their roles. The only scene that was not carefully rehearsed was Piersall's pivotal breakdown on the ball field. That would come later.

While Anthony Perkins had proven that he was more than capable as an actor, he was not quite as convincing as a ball player. This presented a bit of a problem since he was depicting the life of a Major League athlete. "He couldn't throw a ball," recalled co-star Karl Malden. "They had to hire a real pro, Tommy Holmes, to go out there and teach him how to throw, and he still couldn't do it."

There was also another problem: Perkins was left-handed, while Jim Piersall was right-handed. It was a detail that would be hard to ignore for sharp-eyed moviegoers and baseball fans. Ideas were tossed around about how to handle this problem, including talk of flipping the film and printing it backwards, but the complicated logistics of doing such a thing made the studio drop the idea quickly. In the end, Perkins simply worked twice as hard to learn how to throw with his right arm, often practicing in the driveway in front of the Chateau Marmont.

When shooting began, Robert Mulligan barred the real Jim Piersall from visiting the set because he didn't want any of the cast members - especially Perkins - to be influenced by him. Piersall, however, was interested in what they were doing with his story and phoned the set to see how things were going almost every day.

Producer Alan Pakula also kept his distance from the set once the film started shooting because he wanted to give director Mulligan plenty of space to do his job. Pakula wanted to be collaborative without being intrusive. He would meet daily with Mulligan - once early in the morning before shooting began, and once at the end of the day - but that was all. "Alan was never on the set during shooting," said Mulligan. "It was his choice and not something I demanded...From time to time he'd drop by to walk a new set with me or welcome a new actor to the movie...Once the camera was ready to roll, he'd wish me luck and leave. His visits were always calm and positive."

Even though Paramount was positioning Anthony Perkins as a major leading man, Perkins made it clear that he was first and foremost an actor and wasn't interested in a lot of publicity. His intensity made him somewhat aloof from the crew, and his obvious lack of baseball skills made the ultra-serious actor the butt of many jokes. Before long the mood on the set became tense and antagonistic between Perkins and the crew. "Tony became more and more difficult as the film went on," recalled co-star Norma Moore. "By the time we were in the last third or fourth of the shoot, the crew was antagonized by him. They made snide remarks about him, and he just distanced himself."

The whispers about his relationship with actor Tab Hunter, who reportedly frequented the set, didn't help matters. Hunter had recently been outed as a homosexual by Confidential magazine, and Paramount was reportedly uncomfortable with the association between their star and Hunter.

To do damage control and help promote the film, Paramount sent Perkins and his co-star Norma Moore out on several public dates. The two would sometimes even double date in public with Tab Hunter.

Anthony Perkins knew that his big nervous breakdown scene was coming, and he was very apprehensive about it. It hadn't been rehearsed in any detail, and tensions were so high on the set between him and the crew that many thought Perkins was close to breaking down himself. He and director Mulligan knew that the scene would be somewhat improvised and spontaneous, but neither was sure exactly what Perkins would do when the scene needed to be shot.

When Mulligan felt that the time was right to shoot the breakdown, he gave Perkins 24 hours notice for him to prepare. To do a scene in which he was required to rant and rave and be very physical was a challenge for Perkins, who by nature was quiet and introspective. Co-star Karl Malden recalled, "He was afraid of what he had to do, run and physically climb that fence. So he just had to let himself go and what happened, happened. It rubbed him out." The scene turned out to be one of the most powerful in the film, and most certainly in Perkins' career. "Though he didn't know the first thing about the game and had to be taught how to throw a ball from the outfield," said Malden, "he ended up turning in a stunning performance."

Fear Strikes Out was released in early 1957 and was well received by audiences and critics alike. As a result of the film's success, Alan Pakula and Robert Mulligan decided to form a partnership and continue their working relationship. "During Fear Strikes Out," said Mulligan, "we found that we enjoyed working together. We trusted one another. We liked one another. We had become friends...Alan brought up the idea and we shook hands on the spot. No lawyers. No agents. Just our word." The two would collaborate on six more films together including the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) before going on to successful solo careers.

by Andrea Passafiume

back to top
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

"The film so improves upon an original autobiography of Mr. Piersall and a television drama based thereon that it is the initiation of a first-rate psychological film." The New York Times.

"Fear Strikes Out rolls Frank Merriwell and Sigmund Freud into a ball and then lines it out for a solid hit." -- Time.

"Baseball is only a means to an end in this highly effective dramatization of the tragic results that can come from a father pushing his son too hard towards a goal he, himself, was not able to achieve. Anthony Perkins, in the young Jim Piersall role, delivers a remarkably sustained performance of a sensitive young man, pushed too fast to the limits of his ability to cope with life's pressures. It's an exceptional job...Karl Malden...is splendid as the father who gets his own ambitions mixed up with love for his son." -- Variety.

"Interesting but dated...In effect, the film is rooted in the youth-problem pictures of the fifties: it is the reverse of Rebel Without a Cause [1955], in which a troubled boy can't express to his weak father his desperate need to receive some fatherly advice for once...Perkins is ideally cast as the young Piersall. With his display of nervous energy, emotional instability, paranoia, pent-up rage, and, finally, strait-jacketed catatonia, he may well have been using Piersall to prepare himself for Norman Bates." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"Rather flat biopic...well-intentioned and careful in its psychological insights, but too often just plain dull." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

"Fear Strikes Out is a baseball story that spends less than twenty minutes on the field...Mulligan and his producer Alan J. Pakula keep their show as simple as the then-popular television dramas, and use the big screen to amplify the tension without overstating their case...The acting here is phenomenal...Perkins is a marvel at portraying subtle inner discord, and Fear Strikes Out is a powerful companion picture to the colder Psycho [1960]."

"Director Robert Mulligan, who had previously directed only television dramas, doesn't go for subtlety here...Fortunately for Perkins, the film is much more about his emotional difficulties and his relationship with his father than it is about baseball, so his acting makes the melodrama watchable - many of the same shy mannerisms that have become icons in are employed effectively here." - John Nesbit, ToxicUniverse.com

AWARDS AND HONORS

The Directors Guild of America nominated Robert Mulligan for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume & Jeff Stafford

back to top
teaser Fear Strikes Out (1957)

There are enough films about baseball and famous ballplayers in the American cinema to constitute its own subgenre but Fear Strikes Out (1957) is a special case that stands alone. Based on the autobiography by James A. Piersall, the former outfielder and shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, and Albert S. Hirshberg, the film is less about Jimmy Piersall's brilliant though erratic career and more about his struggle against bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness).

In Fear Strikes Out, directed by Robert Mulligan, John Piersall (Karl Malden) is the dominating presence in Jimmy's (Anthony Perkins) life, encouraging his early interest in baseball and then taking an obsessive interest in his son's athletic progress. The film depicts John Piersall as a frustrated blue collar worker with a mentally unstable wife who pins all his hopes on his son as a substitute for his own failed aspirations. No different from a stage mother who relentlessly pushes her child into the spotlight, John Piersall drives Jimmy so hard that his son has a nervous breakdown during a live game and has to be institutionalized. From this point on, Fear Strikes Out follows Jimmy's slow realization of the causes that led to his breakdown - his father - and his recovery. In many ways, the film is a true reflection of its era where moviegoers' emerging interest in psychology and mental aberrations were being channeled by Hollywood directly to the screen in such movies as Autumn Leaves (1956), The Bad Seed (1956), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Lizzie (1957) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959).

The real Jimmy Piersall became a professional baseball player at age eighteen, graduating from the sandlots of Waterbury, Connecticut to his dream team, the Boston Red Sox. One of the youngest players in baseball, Jimmy began to hit his stride in 1952 but his unpredictable personality (a shy, nervous nature combined with a quick temper and raging ego - he liked to refer to himself as "The Waterbury Wizard") constantly aggravated his teammates and management and it finally resulted in a complete mental collapse. He entered the Westborough State Hospital in July 1952 but was sufficiently recovered to return to the Red Sox for the 1953 opening season. After that Piersall was a regular fixture in the starting lineup through 1958, earning numerous accolades and honors including the Red Sox's most valuable player citation for 1957, a Golden Glove Award in 1958 and a lifetime batting average of .272; Casey Stengel, manager of the New York Yankees, called him the most natural defensive outfielder he had ever seen and many considered him equal to Joe DiMaggio in his outfielder skills. Later, Piersall would become a popular radio personality (1977-1981), broadcasting coverage of all Chicago White Sox games with fellow announcer Harry Carey. Although Piersall was eventually fired from his announcer job due to excessive on-air criticism of the team's management, he still hosts a sports radio show in Chicago (on WSCR) and as recently as 2005, he participated in a White House event honoring the 2004 World Champions Boston Red Sox. However, when most baseball fans think of Piersall, they remember his crazy antics during games - running backwards around the bases for his 100th home run, wearing a Beatles wig for a game, leading cheers for himself in the outfield. As Piersall himself observed in his own biography, "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?"

Producer Alan J. Pakula was not a huge baseball fan but when he read Piersall's biography he became convinced it would make a compelling film. It had already been adapted in 1955 for television in an episode for the dramatic anthology Climax with Tab Hunter as Piersall and Mona Freeman as his wife. "....What fascinated me was that it dealt with a ballplayer," Pakula recalled (in Jared Brown's biography Alan J. Pakula: His Films and His Life), "...the all-American figure, and at that time, the fifties, there was much of middle America who thought about mental breakdown and emotional illness in terms of neurasthenic, bohemian, artistic, sensitive types rather than recognizing that it is something that can happen to anyone...Plus, it dealt with a theme that has great interest to me, and that is, somebody trying to live through somebody else; in this case it was the father trying to live through the son, and it was a theme that fascinated me."

Pakula entrusted the direction of Fear Strikes Out to Robert Mulligan, a television director with several successful TV dramas to his credit. It would mark the beginning of a long and successful collaboration between the two men that included To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and culminated with The Stalking Moon (1968). For the lead, Pakula had been impressed with Anthony Perkins' work on television as well and chose him to play Jimmy Piersall (it was his first starring role after supporting parts in The Actress (1953) and Friendly Persuasion, 1956).

Perkins was relieved to know that Mulligan was directing Fear Strikes Out since he had worked well with him previously on a television drama but he still faced numerous challenges for his first major role. Many felt he was completely miscast for the part, even Pakula had second thoughts after casting him. Screenwriter Ted Berkman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Raphael Blau, recalled meeting Perkins for the first time (in Anthony Perkins: Split Image by Charles Winecoff); "Into the room slouched this tall, skinny guy with long hair falling over his eyes, wearing glasses, stooped shoulders and shy...My first thought was, 'This guy's going to play a sharp, aggressive ballplayer, Al must be out of his mind. There goes the movie.'"

After shooting began, problems began to develop. "Tony wasn't an athlete," Karl Malden remembers. "He couldn't throw a ball. They had to hire a real pro, Tommy Holmes, to go out there and teach him how to throw, and he still couldn't do it. There's a scene where we're pitching the ball back and forth in the backyard. We were told to throw it pretty hard, to be mean with each other, really vicious. And Tony gave up. He did it a couple of times and said, 'I can't. That's enough.'" It didn't help that Perkins actually hated baseball but worse was the fact that he was left-handed playing a famous right-handed ballplayer. To compensate for this problem, the producer actually considered flipping the film and printing it backward so the images of Perkins would be reversed. This presented a whole new set of problems so the idea was dropped and Perkins was forced to learn how to throw with his right arm.

Adding to the tension on the set was Perkins' friendship with Tab Hunter. The blonde actor's sexual preference was well known within Hollywood circles and he had recently been the subject of a gay smear campaign by Confidential magazine. As a result, Perkins was often subjected to snide remarks and taunts from hostile crew members during production about his relationship with Hunter. The situation was further aggravated by Hunter's visit to the set one day. Hunter, who was crushed when he wasn't considered for the lead in Fear Strikes Out despite the fact that he had previously played Piersall on television, swallowed his pride and rallied to support Perkins. "Any animosity I felt should have been directed toward Warner Bros. for not snapping up the property when it had the chance," he stated in his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential (co-written with Eddie Muller). "That wasn't Tony's fault. I may not have completely trusted him, but I didn't want lingering hard feelings to ruin our friendship. To show my support and appease my own curiosity, I visited Tony on the Paramount lot. That was a mistake. There was already a lot of tension on the set, and my being there only made it worse. I couldn't tell whether Tony's anxiety was due to my looking over his shoulder or to his being so deeply "in character". There was, however, no way to misread the chilly reception I got from others."

As for the real Jimmy Piersall, he was barred from the set during filming (for fear of influencing the cast members) but he still called in every day to see how the film was progressing. Possibly angry that he wasn't cast to play himself on the screen, he later disowned Fear Strikes Out upon its release saying it distorted the facts. Of course, most Hollywood biopics play fast and loose when it comes to the truth and there were plenty of factual errors in Fear Strikes Out such as the presence of Joe Cronin (played by Bart Burns) as the Red Sox's field manager (Mike "Pinky" Higgins was actually field manager when Piersall played; Cronin was the general manager). Yet, despite Piersall's negative reaction, Fear Strikes Out scored high among the nation's leading film critics. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote that the film "so improves upon an original autobiography of Mr. Piersall and a television drama based thereon that it is the initiation of a first-rate psychological film." The review in Time magazine stated "Fear Strikes Out rolls Frank Merriwell and Sigmund Freud into a ball and then lines it up for a solid hit...it does not attempt to acquaint the mind with theories and statistics but to educate the heart with compassion and understanding."

Despite the critical acclaim, Fear Strikes Out was ignored during the 1957 Oscar® race. At the very least, it should have garnered a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Karl Malden's performance as Piersall's driven father but the film did score a Directors Guild nomination for first time director Robert Mulligan. Though somewhat dated in its depiction of psychiatric techniques and methods, Fear Strikes Out still works on a purely dramatic level and anyone who has seen the film won't easily forgot Perkins's major breakdown scene; frantically climbing the wire mesh fence behind home plate, he screams at his father, "Was I good enough? Answer me, Pop, did I show 'em? Was I good enough for you?" The father-son conflict is the core of the film and it's undeniably powerful. Perkins later said, "I have a feeling that Paramount was trying to re-create the kind of conflict that existed between Jimmy Dean and Raymond Massey in East of Eden [1955]...I think they were just trying to give it that kind of flare and feeling." The comparison is apt but Fear Strikes Out still stands alone as a one-of-a-kind baseball picture.

Producer: Alan J. Pakula
Director: Robert Mulligan
Screenplay: Ted Berkman, Raphael Blau, Al Hirshberg, Jimmy Piersall (book)
Cinematography: Haskell B. Boggs
Film Editing: Aaron Stell
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Anthony Perkins (Jimmy Piersall), Karl Malden (John Piersall), Norma Moore (Mary Piersall), Adam Williams (Doctor Brown), Perry Wilson (Mrs. Piersall), Peter J. Votrian (young Jimmy).
BW-100m.

by Jeff Stafford

back to top