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Leo Durocher, Larraine Day and a Turbulent Time

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  • Leo Durocher, Larraine Day and a Turbulent Time

    Rumors were flying after actress Lorraine (Johnson) Day ( filed for divorce (citing the usual ‘mental cruelty’ charge) from her husband in November 1946 after being seen numerous times in the company of famed Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher.

    Day and Durocher had first met in 1945 at a party at the Stork Club, though they initially didn’t connect. They didn’t meet again for another year until running into each other on a plane headed for Chicago. By chance, they also were on the same return flight.

    The 21-year-old Day had married Ray Hendricks, a Spokane, Washington native and an Army air instructor stationed in Phoenix on May 16, 1942. Day maintained a home in the Westwood Hills in Hollywood. By 1946, Hendricks was the field manager of Edgar Bergen’s airport in Montebello, California.

    In response to the divorce petition, Hendricks charged that Durocher stole his wife while posing as a family friend and further accused the baseball manager of “dishonorable and ungentlemanly conduct” with his wife. He also charged that Durocher, “clandestinely pursued the love” of his wife under his very roof and in the presence of himself and their adopted children.” To quote:

    She told me in front of Durocher that she was in love with him. And he said he was in love with her and wanted to marry her. The rapidity and shock of these events completely humiliated and overwhelmed me. In my opinion Leo Burocher is not a fit or proper person for her to associate with. She’s only a young girl, 26 years old. Durocher is over twice her age. (He was actually 41.)
    Hendricks asked the courts to deny the divorce petition. Day retorted that all his charges were “deliberate and malicious lies.”

    On December 23, 1946 Commissioner Happy Chandler revealed that he had questioned Durocher about reports of large-stake dice games being played in his apartment (Leo wasn’t present at the time in question). Durocher had also been seen around New York gamblers.

    Day’s divorce petition was granted in California on January 20, 1947 with the stipulation that she not marry until the interlocutory decree became final in one year. The next day, Day and Durocher went to Juarez, Mexico where she obtained a Mexican divorce and later that day they were married in El Paso, Texas.

    Judge George A. Dockweiler, who granted the California divorce, was greatly displeased with Day’s actions. He spoke of setting aside her decree, voiding her divorce. The judge then ordered her to show cause why he shouldn’t set the ruling aside.

    At this, Durocher called the judge a couple of times to make sure it was all right for Day to reenter California. The judge said that she could return to California if she did not reside with Durocher there (at this point Day lived with her mother in Santa Monica). The judge lamented that Durocher was, “a very facile talker but this is one umpire he will have a hard time convincing.” Durocher moved into a Santa Monica hotel.

    On February 28 the Catholic Youth Organization withdrew its support for Brooklyn Dodgers' Knothole Gang. Reverand Vincent J. Powell also withdrew from its board of directors. The CYO further threatened to advise its members to boycott the team if something wasn’t done about the scandalous Durocher.

    It must be noted that at least publicly Branch Rickey supported his manager. At spring training in Havana Durocher began popping off about Yankee President Larry MacPhail who Durocher claimed was sitting next to gamblers. Durocher had been called on the carpet for such and wondered why others weren't. Durocher also ghostwrote a piece that was critical of MacPhail.

    Rickey also chimed in on the charges against MacPhail, siding with Durocher. Rickey was further upset that Charlie Dressen jumped the Dodgers and signed as a coach with the Yankees.

    MacPhail ran to Chandler red hot about Durocher. Chandler told MacPhail to cool off and then come back to him with written charges if he so desired. MacPhail brought a formal charge of defamation against Durocher on March 15. Chandler held hearings through March 24.

    On April 9 Chandler issued his ruling that suspended Durocher for the year and fined the Yankees and Dodgers $2,000 each. Burt Shooton became the Brooklyn manager.

    On May 9 Day’s divorce in California was upheld in Superior Court. The California court still did not recognize the Texas marriage. The couple was married again on February 15, 1948 in a Mormon ceremony at Day's residence in California.

    On December 6, 1947 Durocher was reinstated as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

    On July 16, 1948 Durocher resigned from the Dodgers. In New York Mel Ott did likewise, clearing the way for Durocher to assume control of the Giants. Horace Stoneman's negotiations with Durocher were aboveboad and held with the consent of the Dodgers and National League president Ford Frick. Ott, whose contract ran through 1950, was granted a vacation and promised a spot in the organization. Shotton eas re-named Dodgers manager.

    Giants' shortstop Buddy Kerr spoke for many when informed of the startling changes - he exclaimed in shock, "Durocher?!"

    A note on the effect on Larraine Day’s career:

    The publicity man in the studio or in his own agency is quick to exploit anything that has a news or story angle from the actual life of the actor. Larraine Day, before her divorce and marriage to Leo Durocher, had never been able to get good publicity, because she was regarded as a "cold personality without sex appeal," "too nice," "too conventional"-in other words, a dud from the publicity angle.

    Then she became notorious and front-page news as a possible bigamist in 1947 when she flew down to Mexico to marry Leo (The Lip) Durocher. She had obtained a California divorce from her husband, Mr. Hendricks, with the usual legal stipulation requiring a year's wait before she was free to marry again.

    But the next day she flew to Mexico, obtained a second divorce, and married "Lippy" there. Now the "cold" personality became "hot." She had thrown over husband and children and risked a charge of bigamy, all for love!

    Newspapers and fan magazines clamored for interviews. Typical of the way the movie columnists in the newspapers handled the actress's difficulties was the following: "Larraine Day in the seventh heaven of bliss because Leo Durocher is flying all the way from Havana on Wednesday, to fly back with her on Friday to Havana for her two weeks visit with him! If ever I saw love, this is it." 1 Earlier the same columnist wrote:

    Larraine Day's telephone bill to Leo Durocher in Havana, and Leo's to her, are reaching an all-time fabulous high. "Leo's bill for 10 days," says Larraine dreamily on the set of Tycoon, "was $600! And I expect mine to be even higher." Love is an expensive commodity.

    But was it really so expensive? Net gains were high even after the reported $600 phone bill. A trade paper had the following item in its gossip column:

    . . . You're off the beam if you think that Larraine Day has been the butt of bad publicity in her current legal marital difficulties. She's combing magazine interviews out of her hair - and her price for an outside picture [off the RKO lot] has gone to $150,000.2

    At her own studio, her price per picture was said to have gone from $50,000-$60,000 to $100,000. Nor was the actress the only one to benefit. The studio immediately planned to release her latest picture, The Locket, ahead of its scheduled date to cash in on the publicity, and one executive is reported to have said, "It should increase the picture's box office take by $200,000." 3 A Brooklyn theater running a previous picture, Mr. Lucky, changed its billing to read, "Starring Mrs. Leo Durocher and Cary Grant." The studio even considered reissuing a two-year-old movie, Bride by Mistake, in which she had been featured. The Hollywood proverb that "The only bad publicity is no publicity" would seem to have considerable truth behind it, even if publicity alone is not generally sufficient to make a star.

  • #2
    The Durocher suspension was the result of a long time feud between Branch Rickey and Larry MacPhail, which probably started in the early 30s when both were affiliated with the Cardinals.

    MacPhail took over control of the Yankees shortly after WWII ended when the Yankees fortunes were on the decline. After the 1946 season the Yankees hired Charlie Dressen, a coach under Durocher, as a coach, and rumors were being heard that MacPhail wanted to hire Durocher to manage the Yankees in 1947. After decades of managerial stability, the Yankees had three managers in 1946 and MacPhail was said to want a strong figure to manage the '47 Yankees whose pennant prospects looked pretty dim. The Dodger brass thought that MacPhail's attacks on Rickey and Durocher were just his way to drum up attention for the Yankees season.

    Durocher decided to stay with the Dodgers and in Spring Training was called on the carpet by Chandler and suspended. It should be added that MacPahil had been the owner who had entered Chandler's name for consideration as a possible Commissioner, and was Chandler's strongest supporter.

    When the story about Durocher and Laraine Day was made public, syndicated coulmnist Westbrook Pegler began attacking Durocher in print as both a moral degerate and a tool of gamblers. In the immediate post-war sports world the attacks about gambling were serious stuff. There had been gambling scandals in college sports, Minor League baseball and gamblers had alledgedly tried to fix the 1946 NFL championship game.

    The moral decline symbolised by Durocher and Day's relationship brought public attacks from the Brooklyn CYU (and a Catholic Supreme Court Justice who was a supporter of the CYO) and political figures such as Jim Farley who was eyeing a bid for the White House in 1948. Ironically, Farley had been a strong contender to replace Judge Landis as Commissioner.

    The irony of Durocher's suspension was that it turn MacPhail and Walter O'Malley against Chandler. MacPhail's real target to antagonise was Rickey. The loss of O'Malley's support helped lead O'Malley's man to be named the next Commissioner.


    • #3
      Durocher was a great Manager, but as a person he was a total snake, a complete self-centered opportunist.

      In the Walter O'Malley website, which is a tribute put together on O'M and an attempt to exonerate O'M for his sin of removing the Dodgers from Brooklyn, they have a letter from Leo to Walter in 1956, where Leo mentions what a wonderful place LA would be for him to bring a MLB franchise. Since Leo lived there year round, I'm sure he thought the he would be the logical choice to manage the LA version of the Dodgers, since he was well known in the Hollywood community, which by and large was a bunch of arrogant egotistical jerks like Durocher. For Leo to backstab the NL baseball fans in NY and Brooklyn, who had idiolized Leo and helped make him not only the most famous manager in baseball, but one of the best known personalities in the country at that time, is unforgivable.

      He also tried to double-cross Walter Alston, when he was the 3rd base coach in LA and the Dodgers blew the 62 playoff with SF in the 9th, similar to the 51 series. Leo was happy to tell the media after the game how he wouldn't have blown it if he had been managing the Dodgers. Of course, Leo was pretty quiet after the Cubs blew a big lead in 69 to the Mets.

      Laraine Day was a doll though. Don't know what in the world she saw in Durocher.
      Last edited by 64Cards; 11-23-2007, 08:13 AM. Reason: spelling
      It Might Be? It Could Be?? It Is!


      • #4
        Originally posted by 64Cards View Post
        Durocher was a great Manager, but as a person he was a total snake, a complete self-centered opportunist.
        I'm sure you're aware of the most famous quote of his,

        "Nice guys finish last."


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