For Lori Petty, catching A League of Their Own on cable is like watching old home movies. “It’s like, ‘Oh, remember the summer we did that?’” she says during a phone call from Toronto, where she was filming the HBO miniseries Station Eleven based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 book of the same name.
Back in the summer of 1991, Petty was hanging out in Evansville, Illinois, with Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell, making one of the best sports movies of all time. (It’s also the highest-grossing baseball movie of all time.) The Penny Marshall–directed blockbuster offered a bighearted, mostly fictional take on the early days of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. During World War II, while the boys were away, it was women who kept America’s favorite pastime going — a fact that far too few people knew before the film’s 1992 release.
Petty played Kit, a petulant pitcher who rode her sister Dottie’s coattails into the league only to show her big sis who had game. “I hear from people who think that Kit is awesome. Others think she’s a brat,” she says. “I’m like, Well, maybe she is.” Petty is the eldest of three girls, so she’s never been too worried about the plight of younger siblings. “They say, ‘It’s not fair for us.’ Well, ketchup, mustard,” she cackles.
Still, she has a soft spot for the Rockford Peach turned Racine Belle. “Until the day I die, I’ll be Kit and that’s great,” says Petty, who also starred in Point Break and Orange Is the New Black. She didn’t realize how great it was until the pandemic. For the first time in a long time, no one was coming up and telling her how much they loved her and the movie. “I didn’t think of it as something I depended on in my heart until it was gone,” she says of her daily interactions with fans. “I didn’t know that it lifted me up as much as it lifted them.” (Luckily, she’s on Cameo, where she ends up repeating “I like the high ones” a lot.)
Nearly 30 years later, Petty’s fondest memories of that summer are sharing a makeup trailer with Madonna, laughing at Jon Lovitz, and filming Kit’s iconic inside-the-park home run. She also puts anyone who might believe a certain A League of Their Own theory on notice — including Dottie Hinson herself, Geena Davis.
You’ve said that the film’s auditions brought out every actress in Hollywood, even Donald Trump’s now ex-wife Marla Maples.
I don’t know why I thought that was so funny.
I was going to ask why she stuck out to you.
I think it’s because she was in full glam. It was all that beautiful blonde hair and makeup. I was like, You know we’re playing baseball, right? Everyone wanted to be in the movie because — and it’s still that way — you’re the girlfriend or the mom or the weird auntie. That’s really it. When you see a movie in which all the leads are women and all the men are the supporting parts, of course you want to be in it because you get to be a whole person, not just a type.
Penny Marshall wanted every actor to create a backstory for her character. What was Kit’s?
I was 27 playing 17, so I didn’t have much of a backstory except that Geena Davis is playing my sister. It was pretty easy to be jealous. Here’s a gorgeous, long-legged Academy Award–nominated movie star with beautiful bee-stung lips. I didn’t really have to stretch myself at all.
Debra Winger was originally cast as Dottie. When she left the film you said you were nervous they might recast you.
Of course, because she and I had dark brown hair and sparkly blue eyes. What if I didn’t look like the person they hired next? I was afraid. But then Penny asked if I could have dinner with Geena Davis, and I was like, “Yes, of course I can have dinner with Geena Davis! Yes, ma’am. Where should I go, ma’am?”
What was that dinner like?
I was just like, “Hi, please say I can be your sister.” Like, “What do you want me to do? I can do that.” So I put on a reddish-blondish wig. I think we sold it.
How easy was it to play in those period costumes?
It was horrible. It was so hot. Oh my God. The wig, the hat, the wool socks, and the creepy spiked shoes. Fuck, it was terrible. I slid into home once and my cleat got caught in the rim of the plate. I kept going and my foot stayed there. I broke my foot early on, and if you notice one of my socks is often pushed down lower than the other one. It’s to hide the plastic removable cast that I wore through half the movie.
What was Penny like as a director?
She was really cool. She had been in the business her whole life so she was like, “I’m not doing contracts for everybody and their damn trailers. Everyone comes to work every day at this time and everyone goes home at this time. I’m not dealing with it, it’s not happening.” She really expected you to know your shit. We didn’t spend time messing around, you know?
Everyone always says it was a really fun shoot though.
It was! Back in the ’90s, we got a lot of per diem and we would just throw it in our purses and keep working, but then we got the idea, Why are we in these dumb hotel rooms? Six of us rented a house with a pool that cost us less than a hotel room. Francis Ford Coppola sent us cases of his wine. It was just awesome. We were definitely a family having a gas. We’d find little roadside clubs to go to and we’d play truth or dare in a Denny’s. I dare you to go take one of that man’s French fries. Silly stuff.
I remember one day playing catch with Tom Hanks in Wrigley Field and he’s like, “This isn’t what movies are like. This isn’t what your career is going to be. This is special. Remember that.”
Was he right?
Tank Girl was super-fun, but League was insanely important. There are so many women in the movie who got to work and tell this fantastic story that had people go, Oh shit, that was real? It feels crazy because this is literally the third generation of girls going as me and Geena for Halloween. The grandbabies! I’m like, “Wow. This movie is going to be here forever.”
Now Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson is making a new TV show inspired by it.
I don’t know anything about it, but I’d love to be involved. I’d love to help them, but they don’t seem to want that. But I’m psyched to see it and excited that they were inspired by it.
Is it true that you had to literally bite your tongue to keep from laughing at Jon Lovitz?
Oh yeah. He would just make stuff up and you were just chewing on your tongue. That scene with Lovitz, where he’s talking to me and a cow keeps mooing, he’s like, “Penny, the cow keeps mooing!” She goes, “Tell it to shut up.” In the movie, he goes, “Will you shut up!” He was getting so flustered over that damn cow.
A calf was born while filming that scene, right?
Yeah, it was born 20 feet away from us. The farm hand was like, “We’re going to have a calf in a minute, you might want to take a 15.” They took a picture of me holding the baby.
But Lovitz was hysterical. One time, he was in his trailer, and this sounds like a joke, but he was in the bathroom and they drove away. He opens his door and is yelling, “Stop!” It was so funny. It was just a joy to go to work every day. But we all had to have bodyguards because some man got out of jail and said he was going to do something to Madonna.
Yeah, we all had to have bodyguards all the time. There were posters of this guy up in town: “If you see anybody who looks like him.” It was jacked up.
You shared a makeup trailer with Madonna, at Penny’s request. Do you know why she paired you two up?
This is when Madonna was the most Madonna ever. She was the Madonna-est. Super Madonna. Penny’s like, “You’re going to share a makeup trailer with her.” I said, “Why?” She goes, “‘Cause you can handle her.” [Laughs.]
I didn’t have any problems with her at all. She just wanted to do a good job and prove herself as an actress. She worked her ass off. She gave it a 100 percent every single day.
Is there a scene that you’re especially proud of?
Well, I’m a competitive motherfucker so it’s when I hit the home run, which by the way, I really hit into right field. That was real. I really like them high and outside. I ran the bases perfectly. Your foot is supposed to touch the inside of the bag with your outside foot and I did that with no stutter steps or anything. The third time they shot the home-run scene though, I puked my guts out. Penny’s like, “Do it again.” I’m like, “Penny, I just puked!” She’s like, “I don’t care. Let’s do it again!”
It’s funny, under the uniform’s satin shorts I had on Calvin Klein boxer briefs because you don’t want to get dirt up in there. When I smashed into Geena’s double — and that’s me flying through the air, I didn’t have any doubles, I did everything myself — you can see my Marky Mark underwear, which cracks me up. I’m like, “They didn’t even paint it out? They left it in?”
Of course, this leads us to the theory that Dottie dropped the ball on purpose after you ran into her.
I mean this from my heart — obviously, I smashed her in half and she dropped the ball. Dottie’s such a competitor she would not drop the ball on purpose. Can you imagine giving up the World Series? I don’t even understand that.
During filming, did anyone ever discuss with you what happens on that final play?
Well, if they did, I wouldn’t listen to them. I was like, “I’m going to smash her and she’s going to drop the ball. That’s the end of my story.”
On the 25th anniversary, Geena said she knew what happened at the plate, but she would never say. Have you two ever discussed that scene?
No, I don’t care what she thinks. [Laughs.] She can have her truth, I’ll have mine.
That’s fair. There’s a lot of Kit’s life we don’t get to see. What do you think happened to her in the decades after her World Series win?
I’ve thought about it a lot, but it’s not in the movie so it doesn’t matter, does it? Honestly, I don’t know. A job is a job and I have enough to take care of. I don’t have time to think about that. It ends when I get on the bus and wave good-bye. Kit is the winner, that’s all you need to understand.
It’s such an exciting win, too, to have her pull off the upset.
When I ran back out and waved to the crowd after winning, that wasn’t in the script. I just did that because I was like, “How cool is that? I’m getting cheered for!” I had to go out and get more cheers.
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