In 1938, Lou Gehrig began his sixteenth season as the New York Yankees’ first baseman. He continued building toward his legendary record of playing 2,130 consecutive games. His batting average held at a respectable .295, though down from the scorching .351 of the year before. And, during the preseason, Gehrig crossed over to Hollywood and starred in Rawhide, a Western film shot during an era when Westerns were a staple of American filmgoers. (John Wayne starred in more than 40 Westerns during the 1930s, and you can watch many of them online here.)
The plot of Rawhide is implausible, to say the least. The film starts with Gehrig playing himself, telling reporters at Grand Central station:
I am through with baseball… I got what I want. My sister and I bought a swell ranch in a peaceful valley. I am going to wallow in peace and quiet for the rest of my life. I am going to hang up my spikes for a swell old pair of carpet slippers.
Of course, things don’t turn out to be very peaceful or quiet in the town of Rawhide. And the 58 minute drama unfolds from there. This being a no-spoiler zone, we won’t tell you the rest.
The next year, the unthinkable happened. The Iron Horse was afflicted by ALS. His batting average plummeted to .145, and soon enough, Gehrig delivered his “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech and left baseball. Years later, neurologists looked back at Rawhide to see if Gehrig displayed any visible signs of the motor neuron disease in early 1938. But none could be detected.
Rawhide appears in the “Westerns” section of our growing collection of Free Movies Online, along with The Pride of the Yankees, a Lou Gehrig biopic filmed in 1942. It starred Gary Cooper was nominated for a number of Academy awards.