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ONCE HE WE WAS AN ANGEL
BO BELINSKY AND MAMIE VAN DOREN

a treatment of the screenplay

 

When Bo Belinsky, a playboy baseball player, bon vivant and man about town, rises to great fame in 1960s Hollywood, he is unable to handle success, fails in his career and marriage, then rises from the depths of depression and substance abuse to achieve a lasting sense of his true self, at the same time inspiring others.

 

            It is May 4, 1962, and 25-year old Bo Belinsky, a rookie left-handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, enters the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, a swinging bar on the Sunset Strip.  At six-feet, two inches tall, 185 pounds, Bo is handsome in the style of a Valentino.  He has terrific charisma, and sports a sexy scar on his left cheek, just under the eye, right where Central Casting would have wanted it.  Bo drinks whiskey, a cigarette dangles loosely out of the side of his mouth.  He wears a sports coat with an open-necked shirt.  The bar is wild.  Pretty girls are everywhere.  Loud rock music pounds.

Everybody in the bar seems to know him, since he is an emerging sports celebrity in L.A.  The attractive women at the Whiskey all want him to pay attention to them, but Bo is nothing if not cool.  This is not a desperate guy.

He sees a tall, beautiful, young brunette and decides she is the one.  At first she plays hard to get.  Bo’s easygoing charm, cool and unhurried way, his winning smile and seductive bedroom eyes are a combination too hard to resist.  After a brief conversation, they go to her nearby pad for a night of wild sex.  Afterward, he invites her to Dodger Stadium for a game he is scheduled to pitch, but she cannot make it.  He asks her for another date, and she assures him they will hook up again, probably at the Whiskey.  When asked her name, she tells Bo to simply think of her as his Lucky Charm.

            That night, Belinsky throws a no-hit game for the Angels against the Baltimore Orioles, an event that immortalizes the young lady forever in his mind as his Lucky Charm.

            “I never did find my Lucky Charm,” he tells a sportswriter years later. 

            The interview takes place in bizarre surroundings.  It is the morning after a big party in a Hollywood Hills mansion.  Bo is wearing cream-colored swim trunks with the initials “BB” on them, has put on about 10 pounds and his hair is longer, shaggy, in the hippy style of the day.  He remains darkly handsome and the added flesh, the lines and tiny stubble of beard somehow make him look better than he did in 1962.  He looks truer, more substantial, as if the lines and the added pounds had forced upon him dimensions and substance he did not have then.  He no longer possesses that pampered, self-satisfied look that gave one the impression that if you grabbed hold of him, your hands would slip off from the grease.

            The room is occupied by eight people in various states of leisure, all quiet, as if thee room were a Universe and each was a separate planet.  A definite contrast exists between the men and the women in the room.  A painter in overalls is brushing a wall next to a window, which overlooks a pool.  He appears completely distanced from his work and his gaze is instead upon two incredibly gorgeous, tanned, topless young girls sunning themselves next to the pool below the window.  Aside from Bo, the other men in the room are distinguishable by the fact they are all the kind of middle aged men who have long hair to try to cover up bald spots, muttonchop sideburns, hungover expression and garish clothes.

            Aside from the sunbathing beauties, there are two other women in the room.  Linda is thirtyish and fleshy but sexy as hell in her bikini.  She has red hair and large, mouth-watering breasts.  Bonnie is 18, wearing a flowered bikini, tall and slender and beautiful, a stray pick-up from the night before when Bo and his party toured the Sunzet Strip and ended up at the mansion of Bo’s old friend Hugh Hefner.

            Now, it is morning.  “Beautiful Loser” by Bob Seger gently plays, and Bo ruminates about the loss of his Lucky Charm as a metaphor for his failed career. “Maybe if I’d found her, thing would have been different.”

            Belinsky’s no-hitter had propelled him to dizzying heights if fame, and made him the darling of the Los Angeles sporting press.  Despite all the hoopla surrounding his performance on and off the field, Belinsky remains ambivalent about his notoriety.

            “What was I thinking then?” he says.  “I was thinking, man, a no-hitter, that’s nice!  I wonder what happens next.”

            Bo Belinsky was a pool hustler from Trenton, New Jersey who never played high school ball.  He played sandlot ball for kicks, and when the cops were turning up the heat on racketeering in his neighborhood, Bo decided to lay low for awhile, taking an offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates to play on their lowest minor league team. 

            From 1956-61, Belinsky played in a lot of bush league towns, infuriating every manager he had along the way.  He also became notorious for his womanizing, his wild ways, his devil-may-care attitude.  All the while, he displayed ability as a pitcher, which proved frustrating to the team’s he played for, because he never took the game seriously. 

            When Bo is accused by an underage girl of statutory rape, he is shipped off to Aberdeen, South Dakota to pitch for Earl Weaver.

            In Spring Training in Miami, 1961, Bo gets in trouble when his next door neighbor turns out to be the reigning Miss World.  His teammates drill holes in the wall to “peep” at the beauty, and of course Belinsky gets blamed.

            In Little Rock, Arkansas, Bo has a whirlwind romance with the woman he claims to be the widow of a wealthy industrialist.  They live high on the hog, until she disappears.  She turns out to the wife of a jilted Army general who meets Bo by chance in a bar.  Bo, ever the slick talker, charms his way out of trouble.

            In Mexico he is slipped a Mickey Finn and goes on a one-week drunk.  His team went one way, he went the other/

            “It was always like that with me,” he recalls, sipping his vodka and puffing on the cigarette.  “I don’t feel sorry for myself.  I knew sooner or later I’d have to pay the piper.  You can’t beat the piper, babe; I never thought I could.   But I’ll tell you who I do feel sorry for – all those guys who never heard the music.”

            In 1962, Belinsky is on the roster of the expansion Angels.  On a slow news day, LA. Herald-Express sportswriter Bud Furillo hears about this unknown rookie holding out for an extra thousand bucks, so he calls him in Trenton and asks what he is doing.

        “I’m shooting a lot of pool and laying a lot of broads,” Bo tells him.

            The next days’ headline: “Angels find a devil.”

            Belinsky keeps holding out, and the press picks up on the quote and the story.  By the time he reports to Palm Springs, he is national news, and the Angels must hold a special poolside press conference, complete with cocktails and bikini-clad local talent, to accommodate the press.

            Bo is given little chance to make the squad, but in an effort to attract (mostly) female fans, they bring him to L.A. to begin the season, and when given the chance, he[pitches well.

            Then, he pitches a no-hitter.  A star is born.

            Belinsky is befriended by Walter Winchell, Frank Sinatra, and J.

Edhgar Hoover.

            He dates Ann-Margert, Connie Stevens and Mamie Van Doren.

            Every move is chronicled in the press, courtesy of Winchell.  He purchases a “lipstick red” Cadiillac convertible and moves into a bachelor pad in the Hollywood Hills, but his off-field antics are too much for his manager, Bill Rigney.  They are too much for Bo, whose effectiveness on the mound eventually decreases.  He is arrested on Sunset Boulevard at 5 AM when he tries to push a too-amorous female admirer out of his car.

            Belinsky is the most publicized athlete in America from 1962-64, a period in which Willie Mays, Johnny Unitas, Mickey Mantle and other stars grace the scene.

            He becomes engaged to Mamie Van Doren, and in 1964 pitches well enough to be considered for the All-Star Game.

            In Boston, Bo misses curfew but is caught only because his team’s hotel burns down.

            “Boys,” he tells the writers, “you know you’re going good when you beat a bed check and your hotel burns down.”

            Shortly thereafter, it all comes crashing down when he slugs elderly L.A. Times sportswriter Braven Dyer in a Washington, D.C. hotel room.

            “It’s no fun knowing that in every home in America your birthday is celebrated as a day of infamy,” Belinsky exaggerates to the writer, years later.

            Still, Belinsky made one last hurrah.  Towards the end of his career, he married Playboy Playmate of the Year Jo Collins, and the nuptials made enormous headlines. However, Jo’s involvement with Hefner and the magazine caused terrible jealousy, and after a car accident and a dangerous night of Russian roulette, the bottom finally has fallen out for Bo Belinsky’s marriage and career.,

            “Baseball’s a beautiful thing,” he reminisces to the writer.  “It’s clean.  It stays the same.  It’s an equalizer.  It moves slowly around us when everything is rushing like mad…I just never knew how to express myself, that’s all.  I loved the game, but I loved it my way, not the way people told me to love it.  It kept me straight.  Who knows what I might have been without it?  Baseball was the one big thing in my life – if my life contained any big thing…I don’t like to see people hurt.  When I sense things are falling apart – I have this radar – I snap alert, and I’m gone.  I hate it, this way I am.  But who chooses to be what he is, huh?  It’s in the stars, babe, in the stars.  You can shave all the fur off a leopard, but afterward its still got all its spots, right?

            “The age of chivalry is dead, babe.  There are no more heroes.”

            Linda pours Bo some more Vodka.

            “This conversation’s getting a little heavy.  Too heavy.”

            Bo “retired” from baseball in 1970.  He lives with living with a hooker in Malibu, and gets heavily into drugs and alcohol.  At one point he is virtually homeless.

            He moves to Hawaii to be a suf bum, and only the largesse of women and “friends” keeps him going.

            One day, Bo sees an attractive young woman struggling in the surf.  He wades into the choppy water, the swift-moving tode pulling his tired body, but the old athlete still has the strength to pull the girl to safety.

            She turns out to be Jane Weyerhauser, heiress to the Weyerhauser aluminum fortune.  They get married. But the relationship has little chance of surviving Bo’s substance abuse problem.

            Finally, two things save Bo Belinsly: Jesus Christ and Alcoholics Anonymous. 

            On an airplane, Bo meets a troubled young man, and he holds the young man and his father spellbound with stories of his own troubles.

            Later, when the man and his son return home and begin the road to resolving their differences, the man writes Bo a thank you letter, telling him that he has helped make a difference.

            Bo is like that.  He will tell you about his life if you ask him, and he has the ability to make a difference.

            “Let me tell you a story of a guy who had everything, man,” he will begin.  “Do you have a few minutes?”

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