The numbers are in. Last week’s “Field of Dreams” baseball game, featuring the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and a whole lot of corn, was a smash TV hit. The game drew six million viewers, the largest audience for a regular season baseball game in 16 years.
The Sox and Yankees played a helluva game, but the ballpark, carved out of an Iowa cornfield, was the star of the show, with first Kevin Costner and then the two teams seemingly wandering onto the field through row after row of corn.
It was, in a word, beautiful, and harkened back to the splendid “Field of Dreams” movie, starring Costner, which debuted 32 years ago.
What you might not know is this: Three Mississippians played a huge role in the making of that movie.
You probably know about James Earl Jones, born in the Tate County community of Arkabutla, who plays a most memorable role and lends a most compelling presence — but he is not all. The movie was the brainchild of brothers Lawrence and Charles Gordon, born in Yazoo City and raised in Belzoni, the sons of a Jewish furniture store owner. Larry and Charles Gordon produced Field of Dreams.
Charles Gordon died of cancer last October, but Larry Gordon, 85, is still living and working. And he was watching the evening of Aug. 12 when the first Major League game was played on the same Iowa farm where his iconic movie was shot.
“It was quite something wasn’t it?” Gordon said by phone Tuesday from Los Angeles. “It was a beautiful scene, much like the movie. It was amazing to watch and I think it showed that our movie definitely is still relevant.”
“Field of Dreams” has stood the test of time. It has become almost like our generation’s “It’s a Wonderful World.” Who would have thought that a movie, made in Iowa, about farming, baseball and with so much implausible fantasy mixed in, would become such an American treasure?
Larry Gordon and I first spoke back in 1989 just after Field of Dreams debuted. The beloved Mississippi writer Willie Morris, like the Gordon brothers a Yazoo City native, put us together. Gordon had produced more than 200 films, many highly successful, but said “Dreams” was by far his favorite.
“It’s not about the money,” he told me then. “It’s really not. It’s the way people react to this movie. It touches people.”
Gordon told me about a conversation with Major League pitcher Ron Darling, then with the Mets, who watched the movie one afternoon before pitching that night. “Ron told me he cried like a baby at the end of the movie, and was so inspired that he went out and pitched a shutout that night,” Gordon said.
Recently, Gordon was at dinner in a group with NBA superstar LeBron James. The conversation turned to movies and James said Field of Dreams was his favorite.
Said Gordon, “The Dallas Cowboys might be America’s team, but I often feel like Field of Dreams has become America’s movie.
So much about the movie works: the scenery, the casting, the fantastical story itself. We have author W.P. Kinsella to thank for the story. The movie is based on Kinsella’s book, “Shoeless Joe.”
Larry Gordon read the book and was instantly smitten. “I knew I was gonna make a movie,” he said. It wasn’t that easy. Gordon figures he knocked on more doors than he can count to raise funding for the project.
Phil Alden Robinson, also smitten by the book, wrote the screenplay and directed the film. The obvious story is that Costner’s character risks his farm to build his own baseball field. The underlying story is about the relationships of fathers and sons. Costner’s character longs to mend a fractured relationship with his long-dead father. And that’s where the movie really hits home with Larry Gordon.
You see, Gordon left Belzoni to attend first Tulane and then Ole Miss law school. In 1959, he left for Hollywood where he basically was doing odd jobs, working as an errand boy, eking out a living. His father pleaded with him to come back to the Delta and eventually inherit the furniture store. Gordon had other dreams.
“My father was bitterly disappointed in me,” Gordon said. “He thought what I was doing made no sense.”
A letter his father wrote to a friend in 1959 still hangs, framed, in Gordon’s office. In the letter, his father says Larry needs to learn he searching for something that doesn’t exist, that he needed to return to Mississippi and make something of himself. Shortly after the letter was written, Larry Gordon’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly.
When the letter reached Gordon more than a quarter century later, he was the president of 20th Century Fox.
All that makes Larry Gordon’s answer to one of my questions make all the more sense. What was he thinking as he watched the “Field of Dreams” game last week?
Answered Gordon, “You know, I was wishing my father was watching with me.”