Wednesday, November 14, 2012

14 November 1911: Ty Cobb at the Colonial Theatre

On this day in 1911, the Athens Banner published an overview of the previous night's performance of The College Widow at the Colonial Theatre downtown, starring baseball great Ty Cobb.

Many baseball players took work as actors in the off-season, some appearing in serious plays, others in vaudeville theater acts, and still others in goofy silent films. Cobb, however, believed acting would not fit him, turning down the original offer to do the play by saying, "I'd go out there and make a horse's ass of myself."

Eventually, playwright George Ade and vaudevillian Eddie Foy, both friends of Cobb, convinced him to take the part of Billy Bolton, an All-American halfback. He had a three-month contract worth $10,000.00. 

Large crowds turned out to see Cobb more than the play itself, which was a romantic comedy about an attractive young widow luring athletes to her school to play for the football team. The College Widow was made into a silent film in 1927, and later a talkie in 1930 with the title Eleven Men and a Girl and featuring actual members of 1929 All-American football team.

When The College Widow came to the south, Cobb was honored with dinners and presentations in every town. In Athens, "a Dutch dinner" was given at the Elks Club after his performance, and during the repeated encores after the second act of the play, Cobb was presented with a football sweater emblazoned with a Georgia "G" by the Georgia football team captain, "Kid" Woodruff; Cobb wore the sweater during the third act of the play. Cobb's mother and sister were in the audience at the Colonial, travelling from Royston to see him in the performance.

However, Cobb was right that he did not have the temperament for acting. He would drink between acts, and argued with Ade about how few of the comedy's jokes were his lines, causing rewrites as the play toured. After six weeks, Cobb quit the play in Cleveland, and returned to his home in Detroit. 

1911 was one of Ty Cobb's most successful years as a ball player: he hit .420, had 248 hits, scored 147 runs, had 144 runs batted in, stole 83 bases, and lead the league in doubles and triples. Of his brief foray into acting, Cobb later said, "I looked silly as an actor, but the money was right."

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