Reflections from the Dome

Reflections from the Dome will feature a historical survey of Notre Dame-themed films: The Spirit of Notre Dame, Knute Rockne All-American, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, and Rudy.


The first two films are The Spirit of Notre Dame and Knute Rockne All-American. The Spirit of Notre Dame commentary is from George Rugg, Curator, Department of Special Collections of Notre Dame's Hesburgh Library.

The years between World Wars I and II witnessed the full emergence of college football as a major American sporting spectacle. This phenomenon was not lost on the major Hollywood studios, who during the era released literally dozens of feature films that take the world of college football as a point of departure. Two of these features deal specifically with football at the University of Notre Dame. The relatively unknown Spirit of Notre Dame (Universal Pictures, 1931), directed by Russell Mack and produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., is a comic melodrama from the early years of talking pictures. Knute Rockne--All-American (Warner Brothers, 1940), directed by Lloyd Bacon and produced by Hal Wallis, is a very different sort of film: it is a biographical picture or "biopic" that (as is typical of its genre) treats the life of its subject as exemplary and elevating. It is, moreover, perhaps the best known of all the college football films of the period (with the possible exception of the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers of 1932) .

The Spirit of Notre Dame

Vintage lobby card with J. Farrell McDonald (as the Coach) Lew Ayres (middle, as Bucky O'Brien) and William Bakewell (as Jim Stewart).


-- The Spirit of Notre Dame had its origins in a Broadway hit entitled Good News --a play which had much to do with college football, but lacked any special reference to Notre Dame. When Universal decided to proceed with a film version of this production, it opened discussions with Notre Dame's Knute Rockne to play the part of a football coach. But tragedy intervened when Rockne was killed in a plane crash while travelling to California to sign a $50,000 contract confirming the deal. The film subsequently took on its Notre Dame slant when Rockne's agent Christy Walsh convinced the studio that the enormous publicity surrounding Rockne's death could only benefit such a film. The University, with considerable reluctance, lent its name to the project. Unlike the later Knute Rockne All-American, The Spirit of Notre Dame is not a biopic; indeed, Rockne's name is invoked only in a dedication, though J. Farrell McDonald's performance as "Coach" is obviously reminiscent of him. The film is essentially a light comedy, whose main narrative traces the fictional Notre Dame football careers of roommates Bucky O'Brien (Lew Ayres, in the film's lead) and Jim Stewart (William Bakewell). In the picture's first half (played largely for laughs) we witness O'Brien's transformation from naive freshman to star running back.

Game action from "The Spirit of Notre Dame."

But problems arise when Coach decides the team will be better served with the previously unheralded Stewart carrying the ball. Stewart's success makes him insufferable, so irritating O'Brien that he deliberately blows his blocking assignments to deflate Stewart's ego.

Jim Stewart accepts the acclaim from his admirers as a dejected Bucky O'Brien looks on.

For this transgression O'Brien is kicked off the team --only to return, chastised, to win the big game against Army; reconciliation with Stewart follows. Woven into this narrative is the story of Truck McCall (Andy Devine), a hapless but likable benchwarmer whose injury prior to the Army game provides the film with its melodrama.

J. Farrell McDonald gives a half-time pep talk to his squad. Frank Carideo, (directly to the right of Coaches face) who was a star quarterback on ND's 1929 and 1930 National Championship squads gives a good portrayal of an intently interested listener.

In an obvious take on the Gipper speech delivered by Rockne at halftime of the 1928 Army game (popularized later in Knute Rockne--All-American), Coach relays encouragement from the seriously ill Truck (he's developed pneumonia from a punctured lung) to stir his players to victory. The Spirit of Notre Dame is a minor film by any standard, though not necessarily an unlikable one. Its attitude towards college athletics is neither critical nor overtly celebratory. It certainly lacks anything like the moralizing agenda of the much more famous Knute Rockne All-American. To followers of Notre Dame football, it has two particular features of more than passing interest. First, the film itself is interspersed with a considerable amount of vintage game footage. And second, the studio sought to enhance the film's appeal by sprinkling the cast with former Notre Dame football players -- including the Four Horsemen (who, as themselves, play the starting backfield in O'Brien's freshman year) and two-time consensus All-American Frank Carideo, who has a substantial speaking part.

From Murray Sperber's Onward To Victory on The Spirit of Notre Dame...

The coach with star Lew Ayers and the famous Four Horsemen: (l-r), Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Don Miller and Elmer Layden.

Harry Stuhldreher, [the quarterback for the Four Horsemen] who had a small part in that picture and was asked to appear in the Warners' one, summed up the general feeling in a letter to the N .D. vice president: "Our experience in the last Notre Dame picture, as Elmer [Layden] will tell you, wasn't any too pleasant. You may remember that [Rockne's agent] Christy Walsh employed sentiment to a great extent to influence us and...we [later] learned that the same Christy was being well taken care of financially whereas the N.D. men involved and the university were exploited."

...and Shake Down The Thunder:

Nor did audiences react enthusiastically to straight "Gee-Whiz" college football movies, including The Spirit of Notre Dame, a primitive forerunner of Knute Rockne All-American. Based loosely on Rockne's life, the coach overcomes various obstacles to lead his players to great football triumphs. Even Notre Dame fans and officials disliked the movie, the president of the school informing the producer that "little of [the real] Notre Dame appeared in the picture."

The Spirit of Notre Dame did employ some of Rockne's former players, including the Four Horsemen, for the football sequences, and according to one film historian, it also contained "a rare scene" for the 1920s and 1930s: "football players actually attending class." The ND administrators had suggested this segment; however, not until Knute Rockne All-American fully established the scholar-athlete trope did a classroom scene become a requirement for college sports movies as well as press profiles of collegiate athletes.

Finally, The Spirit of Notre Dame and similar "Gee-Whiz" college football films failed because of their primitive plots, characterization, and overall implausibility. Early 1930s audiences were more sophisticated than their silent-movie predecessors, and the Depression was "wising them up" on many subjects, including intercollegiate athletics.

Knute Rockne All-American

Rare original lobby card from the 1940 premiere of Knute Rockne All-American.

Murray Sperber's brilliant historical and philosphical analysis of Knute Rockne All-American, from his book Onward to Victory:

    You'll probably argue with me but I think that the most important movie ever made was Knute Rockne AII-American. Certainly in terms of what I love and spent my life doing--college sports. I'm prejudiced, of course, I played for the man and it's about my school.

    But for college sports and American life, it's the most important picture because it set up the ideal for coaches and players. People forget that college sports was in bad shape before that movie came out...

                                                            -Edward "Moose" Krause, former Notre Dame athlete, coach, and athletic director, in a 1991 interview.

Most film critics would give the Greatest Movie Award to a picture made during the same period as Knute Rockne All-American: Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. Without question, from an aesthetic point of view, Citizen Kane is far superior to the football biopic. However, in terms of affecting American culture and leaving a permanent imprint upon an important part of it -intercollegiate athletics-Moose Krause's favorite picture deserves full accolades.

Great films use and illustrate great myths: Citizen Kane, the rise and fall of a monarch; Knute Rockne All-American, the immigrant and Horatio AIger sagas. Unlike most outstanding films, however, Knute Rockne also began a number of important myths and aided the career of a politician who, immersing himself in the old and new myths of the movie, became one of the most popular American presidents of the twentieth century.


    I like what I hear about America. It's a new country, full of new life and opportunities for a working man like me. (He glances toward a small, sturdy four-year-old boy who has sauntered into the open shop, eating an apple.)

    But mainly I want those things for my children.

                                                                        -The opening scene in the shooting script and film, Knute Rockne-All-American, 1940.

The movie begins in Voss, Norway, the country village where the Rockne family lived at the end of the last century. Knute's father, Lars, announces to three village elders that he plans to go to America. They are skeptical, but he articulates the credo of generaqons of immigrants, emphasizing the newness of America -as opposed to the quaint street scenes and cottages of Voss in the old country. Most of all he wants to emigrate for his children. He calls over young Knute: "I want Knute here, and his sisters, to start their lives on an equal basis with all other children, and they can only do that in America."

This scene fades out and, in the script, the direction for the FADE IN reads, "Over a background-effect of the Atlantic Ocean, blending into the skyline of New York, then Chicago, as those cities appeared in the 1895, we superimpose [the following words.]" However, in the actual movie, before the city scenes appear we see a long take of the Statue of Liberty and hear many choruses of" America the Beautiful." Then the message scrolls:


The filmmakers added the extra patriotic touches not from worry that the audience would fail to get the message, but because they enjoyed presenting the national icon and hymn, saw them as crucial to telling the story, and unabashedly celebrated them. In large part because of this film, Knute Rockne's story so came to exemplify the American immigrant saga that Life Magazine in its 1976 "Special Bicentennial Issue" proclaimed him, along with Andrew Carnegie and Albert Einstein, the three most important immigrants in the nation's history.

The opening of the film and every subsequent scene connects directly to the title Knute Rockne All-American. Although referring to Rockne's selection as a player on the 1913 All-America squad (third team), the title's emphasis is less on sports than on the coach's qualities as an All-American, a man for All Americans, representing the country's deepest hopes and dreams. Forties audiences loved the overt patriotism, accepted the portrayal of Rockne's life, and were deeply moved by the film's final scenes of his tragic death and funeral.

Subsequently, Knute Rockne All-American transcended its Hollywood origins and became not only the most important college sports movie in film history but also part of the nation's political mythos; the actor who played Rockne's great halfback, George Gipp, took on the character's nickname and used his cinematic dying words- "Win one for the Gipper" -as his political slogan for successful gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.

Ronald Reagan also added to the myths. After recovering from the assassination attempt in 1981, his first major address was at the University of Notre Dame, and instead of the planned, prepared talk on administration policy, he spoke at length and in his own words about the film, particularly its meaning for him and his vision of America. Some analysts consider this the moment when the public embraced Reagan as an authentically "heroic character," fully fused with the heroic Gipp and Rockne. The president began his talk with the themes that he loved: "First, Knute Rockne as a boy came to America with his parents from Norway. And in the few years it took him to grow up to college age, he became an All-American in a game that is still to this day uniquely American."

Reagan's next line paraphrases one of Rockne's key speeches in the movie and also illustrates how the film helped to raise Rockne's profession, sports coaching, from a sweaty occupation to a Noble Calling: "As a coach, he did more than teach young men how to play a game. He believed truly that the noblest work of man was building the character of man." The film, the first major portrait and glorification of a college coach, deeply influenced public attitudes about this profession in its time and ever since.

In addition, President Reagan discussed the University of Notre Dame, praising its historic independence and religious values. The New York Times noted that "Mr. Reagan's dying words in the film, Win one for the Gipper: provided a political slogan for him, a battle cry for this university, and a strong bond between Notre Dame and Mr. Reagan."

Thus Knute Rockne All-American, a fIlm that is neither great art nor accurate history, became part of the national legend, its importance far transcending its grainy black-and-white images, bad sound, and period acting. Through an amazing process, it fused its biographical subjects and themes with core American myths.

    Rockne stands squarely at the center of America's myth about itself. He deeply believed in that myth, that only in America could an immigrant child     be launched within a life's span into the nation's collective unconscious.

                                                                                                                          -Sports historian Michael Steele, 1983.

Myths are the stories that a society tells itself about itself, helping to unify, celebrate, and distinguish it from neighbors and enemies. Historically, myths were passed on as folktales but, in the age of industrialism, with the population moving from villages like Voss to cities like Chicago, mechanical story-tellers replaced human ones, first with the dime novel, then the movies, radio, and, eventually, television.

At the turn of the century, the Horatio Alger stories dominated popular fiction; Rockne himself later commented, "As a boy I read the Horatio Alger works and found them very interesting. They created a fine impression and stimulated ambition." These stories relate the tale of the poor boy who through pluck and hard work achieves fame and fortune. Generations of young Americans cast themselves in this role, and many immigrants came to America to attempt to live it. Not surprisingly, those who fulfilled the dream often described their lives in terms of the Alger formula, including Knute Rockne.

Knute Rockne in a scene depicting a Chicago post office.

The famous coach frequently pointed to the distance between his hard-scrabble childhood on Logan Square in Chicago and his later prosperity. Knute Rockne All-American plugs him into this paradigm, and one of its earliest scenes shows the young Rockne toiling at the Chicago post office in order to save money for college. The script directions read: "Flashing scenes that convey the busy, swarming atmosphere of a great city's post office at work, and the long hard labor of Rockne's practical education."


 *     *     *     *


    Knute, where have you been and what have you been doing?



    Outside, playing the most wonderful game in the world. It's called football!


    (leans forward)

    Your nose is bleeding!


    (wipes it with a napkin and looks at the blood with interest) Somebody stepped on it. I guess that's part of the game.

    (This is too much for Papa Rockne. He shoves back his chair and bawls Knute out in a torrent of Norwegian, very angry and stern.)


    (when his farther pauses for breath)

    Oh, papa, don't talk Norwegian. Talk American. We're all Americans now.

    (he looks around proudly, his dirty face beaming)

    Specially me. I'm left end.

    (Mother and sisters begin to laugh -then father laughs- then Knute. With the whole family laughing at Knute's earnestness, we [cut to next scene])

                                                                                            -From the shooting script and film, Knute Rockne-All-American, 1940.

This exchange climaxes the movie's second scene. When the parents are not speaking Norwegian, they pronounce English with heavy accents. However, Knute and his sisters already talk Hollywood "American," i.e., neutral middle-class English. The emphasis in the scene is on the "melting-pot" myth, with sports as the means of Knute's integration into American society.

In historical fact, from the nineteenth century on, many immigrants entered the American mainstream through sports, first in boxing with Irish, Jewish, and Italian fighters and champions, then baseball with its legion of ethnic players, and finally, in the first decades of this century, intercollegiate athletics. The epitome of the "melting-pot" dynamic in college sports--one beloved by the media and all immigrant groups -was the University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish football teams, featuring not only players of Irish descent but also many of Polish, Italian, Slavic, and even Jewish heritage. The main promoter of Notre Dame football was the Scandinavian immigrant Knute Rockne, and this movie codified his great acllievement.

The filmmakers plug young Rockne into the athlete-hero paradigm and begin the first sports scene with him watching older boys play sandlot football. He wants to join them, but the largest boy tells him, "Naw, you're too little. ..G'wan, get outta the way!" Knute persists and the script directs the other boys to "look at him again, now very annoyed at the 'runt's' interruption."

Young actor John Sheffield plays Knute at age 7.

The young Knute keeps trying to get into the game but the script directs the other boys to regard him with "disgust for an undersized runt." He is the archetypal underdog. Eventually, because one team is losing by thirty points, its captain allows him to join. On the first play, Knute successfully tackles a bigger boy but is "knocked out cold." The other boys worry that they have seriously injured him, but Knute struggles to his feet, ready for more. With this, he earns the praise of the older boys, their leader telling him, "Kid- you've got spunk, you're all right," and he asks his name. With the reply, "Knute Rockne," we know that our hero has begun to acquire fame and that his life trajectory is moving up.

After Knute Rockne All-American established this scene for the cinema, many sports films used it; indeed, the opening of a 1990s homage to Notre Dame football, Rudy, lovingly replicated the entire sequence, even on a Chicago area sandlot. Another mythic element of the scene that is frequently repeated is the ethnic and racial mix of the sandlot teams. The boys represent various immigrant groups, and the ball carrier whom Knute tackles is African American. By depicting him as an important player, the film gives a positive signal about racial integration in America.

In Knute Rockne-All-American, the sandlot sequence and the family dinner offer the only glimpse of the hero's childhood in America. However, not only is its content crucial for the athlete-hero legend but so is its form. Anthropologists describe myths as "ritual condensations whereby human experience is quite literally condensed into patterns," and this helps explain the simplicity of the film's story line, the quick and easy plot resolutions, and the larger-than-life qualities of the hero and all other characters.

In 1940, movie audiences did not question the exceptional personality of the hero and those around him. Conditioned by a decade of popular bio-graphical films, moviegoers tended to believe that these movies were accurate accounts of their subjects' lives, and that 1930s biopic heroes like Emile Zola and Madame Curie were extraordinary humans, always exhibiting larger-than-life qualities. Knute Rockne All-American benefited from the audience's fondness for the biopic form. Thus, audience approval continued as the happy scenes of Rockne's childhood faded into the next one: a montage of six years of the hero's life in shots of him working at the Chicago post office, accompanied by a loud sound track of "America the Beautiful."

The years pass by on the dates of canceled stamps; the face on all of the stamps is George Washington's. The apparent message: Rockne's story connects to Washington's, and to the most profound myths of the United States of America.

Knute Rockne with President Callahan (Donald Crisp) and an actor portraying Father Nieuwland.


    [the president of Notre Dame turns to the adult Rockne]

    You've made a fine record in the past three years. Honor Man in your class and next fall you'll be captain of the football team.

    ROCKNE: (embarrassed) Thank you, father.


    Doctor Nieuwland here tells me you've got the best brain for chemistry of any man in the class.

                                                                                       -From the shooting script and film of Knute Rockne-All-American, 1940.

This exchange occurs in the first major scene of Rockne at Notre Dame. After leaving Chicago, the film shows its hero arriving on campus, briefly meeting his freshman roommate and stating that his first priority is education -although he might try out for football. Then, the script instructs, "TIME LAPSE DEVICE for passing of 3 years" into the scene at the president's office. Father Callahan (a fictional amalgam of a number of Notre Dame presidents during Rockne's ND career), and Father Nieuwland (a famous chemist at the school) ask Rockne to work as a summer research assistant in chemistry. Nieuwland tells the future coach, "I could make a first-class scientist of you inside of ten years." But Rockne declines, explaining that he plans to spend the summer working as a lifeguard in Cedar Point, Ohio. Father Callallan ends the scene with, "I don't suppose that you and Dorais [Rockne's roommate and the quarterback on the football team] would be taking a football along to Cedar Point, by any chance?"

The placement of the encounter in the president's office -before any scenes of Rockne playing football -underscores the academic aspect of the hero's career. In addition, the scene connects to and reinforces subsequent meetings involving the hero, Callahan, and Nieuwland. The day of Rockne's graduation, the chemist offers him a position as a full-time assistant. The young man agrees but asks if he can also help football coach Jesse Harper with the team; Nieuwland objects vehemently, but Callahan mediates and allows him to take both jobs. Finally, after scenes of Rockne teaching college chemistry and verbally jousting with Nieuwland in the chemistry lab, the hero discusses his future with President Callahan. He tells the Notre Dame administrator that he is "at a crossroads," that he has to decide between chemistry and coaching football, and he leans toward the latter. Callahan assures him that coaching, working with young men, is a high calling.

These scenes are remarkable for a number of reasons: none of them were in the original film script; they generated one of the core myths of modem college sports; and, in terms of the historical facts of Rockne's life, they are total fabrications. The scenes exist thanks to Rockne's widow, Bonnie. During the 1939-40 production of the movie, she demanded that Warner Brothers, the studio making the film, construct a fictitious portrait of her husband's academic career. According to the copyright laws of the era, as Rockne's principal heir, she "owned" his life and had the right to approve or veto all books and films about it. The studio had to comply with her requests.

Bonnie Rockne with Pat O'Brien in his Rockne makeup on the set of Knute Rockne All-American.

Bonnie acted mainly out of personal motives, but her insistence that Rockne be portrayed as a brilliant scholar-athlete both connected to the basic mythology of college sports and created an important innovation. Because she forced the filmmakers to emphasize this aspect of the biography, ironically, Warners made a much more important film than it originally intended. Instead of a standard potboiler about an athlete-hero, the studio produced the first serious cinematic portrait of a scholar-athlete. In so doing, the filmmakers helped imprint this model on the American public and shaped the future of intercollegiate athletics.

The portrait of Knute Rockne as a scholar-athlete originates in a classic maxim of western civilization: mens sana in corpore sano; a sound mind in a sound body. British and American educators in the nineteenth century, with their love of ancient cultures, acted upon this dictum by introducing sports into school curriculums. At that time, when both American higher education and intercollegiate athletics were casual endeavors, actual students played college sports. However, toward the end of the nineteenth century, two con- flicting trends occurred: colleges and universities began to raise their academic standards, and the proponents of college sports increasingly demanded winning teams, athletes who could perform at the highest possible level and beat their opponents. The search for authentic scholar-athletes began.

As the opposing trends accelerated in the early twentieth century, finding young men who combined athletic excellence and academic competence became increasingly difficult, and led many college coaches to include non-students -"ringers" and "tramp. athletes" -on their teams. This situation bothered university authorities, especially faculty at the better academic schools, but it did not deter the promoters of college sports, particularly the popular press.

Sportswriters, as well as authors of sports novels, maintained that scholar-athletes existed; Gilbert Patten, the creator of Frank Merriwell, explained that the stories "give me the opportunity to preach-by [literary] example-the doctrine of a clean mind in a clean and healthy body." Frank Merriwell at prep school and Yale was not an outstanding student-he feared being called a "grind"-but he was a competent one, even able to win academic prizes if the circumstances demanded.

    Now, Mrs. Rockne and myself will never be satisfied with this picture unless you develop the intellectual side of Rockne. If Rockne had not devoted     his life to coaching, wherein he became famous, but had devoted it to chemistry, he would be an equally noted scientist.

                                                 -Vitus Jones, attorney for Bonnie Rockne, to Warner Brothers, 1939.

In 1939, as Warner Brothers sent Bonnie Rockne drafts of the script for approval, she objected to many things, particularly the lack of emphasis on Rockne as a brilliant science student. The studio had to accommodate her demands, and the main scriptwriter, having heard of chemistry professor Nieuwland (the inventor of synthetic rubber), asked Notre Dame for details about his career. With this information, the scriptwriter fabricated the scenes involving Nieuwland as well as the Callahan-Rockne discussions on whether the young man should become a chemist or a football coach.


The historical Rockne, as his voluminous papers reveal, faced no such dilemma: he loved athletics and always wanted to coach them. That he was an extremely bright man and graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame in pharmacy, not chemistry, is indisputable. However, his daily correspondence indicates that sports was the passion of his life, the impetus for his attending Notre Dame-some of his high school track teammates convinced him to join them on the ND track-and-field squad -and the driving force of his college and adult years. In fact, after graduation, Rockne applied for coaching jobs at other schools, and the ND president wrote letters of recommendation for him; in them, the Notre Dame official praised the young man's "qualifications as a foot-ball expert" and his moral character, but never mentioned his potential as a scientist or even a college chemistry teacher.

Part of Bonnie's motives for the academic portrait resulted from the differences in her and Knute's backgrounds: she came from a well-mannered middle-class family, while he hailed from rough-and-tumble Logan Square in Chicago, his college roommate describing him as a "not very genteel character ...a very rugged character." During their first years of marriage, in addition to working at Notre Dame, Rockne also inhabited the violent world of semipro football, practicing during the week and playing on Sundays all over the Midwest. He also hung out in South Bend at Hullie and Mike's pool hall and betting parlor. Bonnie abhorred this part of her husband's life and later tried to expunge it from the historical record, replacing it with, as she insisted to Warners, a portrait of a man of "scholarly attainment. ..a lover of good books. ..a man who loved good pictures, good shows, a scholar." For the film, she demanded and received scenes of his academic career at Notre Dame.

The final word on the accuracy of the film depiction belongs to Jesse Harper, head football coach at Notre Dame when Rockne was captain of the team, and the man for whom Rockne worked as an assistant. In 1940, when informed of the film scenes concerning his protege's hiring, Harper commented: "I do not know whether they [Warners] wish too much accuracy but Rock was hired at Notre Dame primarily as the head track coach and assistant football coach. Father John Cavanaugh,"the ND president at the time, "decided to have him teach chemistry" in the ND prep school, not the college, "because he would not have enough to do assisting in football and coaching track. What a change in "Rockne in the "twenty-seven years" from the actual events to the film's version of them.

Thus from Bonnie Rockne's mix of personal motives and legal power came the legend that her husband would have become a great chemist if he had not chosen to coach football. Most importantly, she sparked a major innovation in the media portrayal of the college sports hero: the great athlete and competent student was no longer sufficient. For true heroism he had to be like Rockne and excel in all activities, be both a superb athlete and a brilliant student. He had to aspire to be Number One across the board.

In his history of sports literature, Michael Oriard explains that the athlete-hero is "more important as an ideal than as an actual person." Thus, the cinematic version of Knute Rockne is far more significant than the actual historical figure-indeed, our interest at the end of the twentieth century in the real person is a result of the power of the ideal version. Moreover, the main reason for comparing the real to the ideal man is to understand the creation of the ideal. To explore the disjunctures between Rockne's actual life (as best we can ascertain it) and the Hollywood version is an attempt to comprehend the power of the ideal, why it has influenced so many people so deeply and for so many years.

In the same way, even though Father Callahan did not exist and the Notre Dame president of the time, Father John W. Cavanaugh, never spoke to Rockne about choosing either chemistry or coaching as his life's work, this scene in the film is exceptionally powerful. The excellent character actor Donald Crisp played the ND president and, in sympathetic but authoritative tones, advised the young man, " Anyone who follows the truth in his heart never makes a mistake." In the land of opportunity, the country of the lone hero, this advice reverberates as ultimate truth. Callahan then says, "I've watched your work with these boys these past few years and I've seen the splendid results." This places coaching on the same level as teaching, the athletic field on a par with the classroom. Finally, the priest sanctifies the coaching profession -"You're helping mankind and anyone who helps mankind helps God" -thus connecting coaching to religion, to the Supreme Being.


Since 1940, many athletic coaches have quoted this speech and pointed to Knute Rockne as their inspiration. Professor Oriard, who played football at Notre Dame and in the National Football League, explains that the "ideal of the athlete-hero is the rationalization for such organizations as the National Collegiate Athletic Association...for the inclusion of athletics in school programs at all levels, and for the hiring of public relations specialists by professional and college athletic teams." He adds, "Perhaps most significant, the athlete-hero is the dominant image in the mind of every father who encourages his son to play." and other collegiate sports.

For a huge number of Americans, this ideal -with Knute Rockne as the historical prototype -remains real to this day; some, like NCAA officials, both believe it and cynically manipulate it, but a majority of sports fans accept it sincerely, treating it as a cultural and even a religious truth. Not surprisingly, in 1994, the National Review placed Knute Rockne All-American on its list of the "Best Conservative Movies" ever made, its criteria for selection being "movies about God and country, tradition and family. ..individual achievement and the American Dream."

For the story of the filming of Knute Rockne All-American see the Campus Life column below. For more on the story of development and production of the film, read "Shake Down The Thunder" by Murray Sperber, chapters 36 and 37.

To order Shake Down The Thunder:

John Goldfarb, Please Come Home

Shirley MacLaine "Gallops 99 yards against Notre Dame" in the cover photo of the July 20, 1964 Sports Illustrated.

From The John Williams Web Pages:

On May 1, 1960, an American U-2 spy plane piloted by CIA operative Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union, sparking an international diplomatic incident. Powers was tried and sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February of 1962 was released in exchange for a Soviet spy. The U-2 affair inspired a number of books and even a 1976 television docudrama starring Lee Majors. Among the more improbable projects to draw inspiration from the episode was a film script by the name of John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!

The author was William Peter Blatty, who a decade later would later become famous as the novelist and screenwriter of The Exorcist. In the early 1960s he was a neighbor of actress Shirley MacLaine and her then-husband, businessman and film producer Steve Parker. One evening they found themselves discussing the Francis Gary Powers incident. "Wouldn't it be a funny movie if you like did something crazy with it," Blatty recalled saying. "Steven said write it, he'd produce it and Shirley would play it. First, I thought make the guy Jewish and the Arabs get him. Then I'm watching one of those old football movies on TV one night and I thought make him a football coach."

Blatty's tale concerned John "Wrong-Way" Goldfarb (Richard Crenna), a former college football star (who once ran 95 yards for a touchdown — in the wrong direction) who is now a U-2 pilot. When his plane malfunctions and he crash lands, he finds himself in the mythical Arab kingdom of Fawzia, rather than the Soviet Union. The country's leader, King Fawz (Peter Ustinov), threatens to turn him over to the Soviets unless he agrees to coach a football squad — an idea sparked by Fawz's son being cut from the Notre Dame football squad.

Meanwhile, Jenny Ericson (Shirley MacLaine), a reporter for Strife magazine (and the writer who made "Wrong-Way" Goldfarb famous), is on an undercover assignment as a member of the King's harem. She has been led to believe that the King is no longer romantically interested in his harem girls; when Jenny discovers otherwise, she turns to Goldfarb to rescue her from the predicament.

Fawz eventually blackmails the United States Department of State into arranging an exhibition football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and his own Arabian squad. The film's final act features a slapstick gridiron encounter between the two teams in which Jenny — having moved from head cheerleader to quarterback — manages to score the winning touchdown for Fawz U.

Publicity shot of a Notre Dame player, Shirley and Leon Shamroy, Director of Photography.

After shopping the screenplay to various Hollywood studios without success, Parker suggested to Blatty that he recast it as a novel, which he did — it was published by Doubleday on July 5, 1963. Eventually, Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the screen rights as a follow-up their most recent Shirley MacLaine comedy, What a Way to Go!

British director J. Lee Thompson had helmed that project and was signed to direct Goldfarb as well. More famous for war pictures (Ice-Cold in Alex, The Guns of Navarone) and epic adventures (Taras Bulba, Kings of the Sun), Thompson had begun his directorial career with low-budget film noir dramas in his native England, a genre he revisited in 1962 with Cape Fear. What a Way to Go! (in which Shirley MacLaine marries a succession of wealthy men, only to see each of them promptly perish) had been his first big-budget comedy.

Assisting Thompson behind the camera on Goldfarb was veteran Fox Director of Photography Leon Shamroy; the famed Edith Head provided Shirley MacLaine's lavish harem garb. Peter Ustinov was cast as the imbecilic King Fawz and Richard Crenna (best known at the time for his roles in the sitcoms Our Miss Brooks and The Real McCoys) was chosen for the title role of John Goldfarb. A slate of well-known character actors (including Harry Morgan, Jim Backus and Richard Deacon) portrayed various United States officials, while the venerable Wilfrid Hyde-White was Fawz's chief of staff, Guz.

Extras portraying members of the Notre Dame team.

Interior filming took place on the Fox backlot (with the sets for the King's palace occupying most of the studio's largest soundstage) but for the climactic football game an outdoor field in the middle of a large desert was required. Thus, a regulation football field was built — at a cost of $12,000 — in the Mojave Desert at Rosamond Dry Lake (near Edwards Air Force Base).

Filming wrapped on May 23, 1964. On June 5, the studio was notified that the University of Notre Dame objected to the portrayal of their school and their football team in the script. By early December — after the film had already been screened for the press and just weeks before its scheduled Christmas Day release date — the university had filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court. Justice Henry Clay Greenberg granted an injunction prohibiting the studio from releasing the film and barring Doubleday and Fawcett from further distribution of Blatty's novel.

While Notre Dame contended that the film disgraced the university and would cause irreparable harm to its reputation, the studio countered that since Notre Dame was a recognized public institution, it could not prevent use of its name in print or film. Calling the film's screenplay "ugly, vulgar and tawdry," Justice Greenberg sided with the university. The studio appealed, but was forced to replace Goldfarb on its holiday release schedule with The Pleasure Seekers, an Ann-Margaret musical comedy.

In early February of 1965, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court overturned Greenberg's original ruling, making a distinction between the artistic merits of the film (on which they offered no comment) and the issue of freedom of expression. Notre Dame immediately appealed to the Court of Appeals in Albany, who screened the film on March 8; a short time later, they upheld the decision of the Appellate Division, clearing the way for the film's release; prints were rushed into theaters across the country. The film opened in New York on March 24 and in Los Angeles on March 31.


Critics were less kind than the judiciary in their assessment of the picture. The mixture of political satire, ethnic caricatures, racy (for the time) dialogue and slapstick was better suited to the printed page than the silver screen; over-the-top performances from MacLaine and Ustinov did not help. In the end, though, the picture simply failed to generate many laughs.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, reviewer Philip K. Scheuer must have thought he had concocted the perfect putdown when he wrote that the film "must certainly be the most flagrant display of bad taste since Dr. Strangelove. It employs the same pounding pace, in both sight and sound, as its predecessor…it goes to the limits of sniggering suggestiveness." While Stanley Kubrick had the last laugh on Mr. Scheuer — Strangelove went on to become a widely acknowledged masterpiece — the intervening years have not been as kind to Goldfarb.




     "You're 5 foot nothin', 100 and nothin', and you have nearly a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football team in the         land for 2 years. And you're getting a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself."

                                                 --Fortune (as played by Charles S. Dutton) in "Rudy."


In twenty seven seconds, Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger became the most famous graduate of the University of Notre Dame. (Sorry, Joe Montana.)

Rudy was born in 1948, the third of 14 children. He always dreamed of playing football at Notre Dame, but his school grades were only average--much like his athletic ability. So after graduating from high school, he served in the Navy and worked at a power plant. But when an industrial accident killed his best friend at the plant, Ruettiger was finally galvanized into pursuing his dream--a pursuit that is the basis of the film, Rudy.


At the age of 23, Ruettiger won admittance to Holy Cross Junior College in South Bend. While attending school he supported himself by working as a groundskeeper at Notre Dame Stadium. For three semesters, Rudy sought admission to Notre Dame as a transfer student, but each time he was rejected. Finally, after tests revealed that he had a mild case of dyslexia, Rudy overcame his disability, passed his tests, and was accepted into the university.


Ruettiger again beat the odds and won a spot as a practice player on the scout team, against which the varsity team ran its plays. Though he was not allowed to suit up for actual games, he was finally part of the team. His goal, however, was to play with the Fighting Irish in a real game.

Rudy (Sean Astin) on the sidelines, awaiting his call to destiny...

Over the next two years, Rudy won the respect of his teammates and of the coaches, and ultimately his dream came true: He was allowed to suit up for the final home game of his college career... and during the last moments of the game, after the chanting of "RU-DY, RU-DY," by teammates and fans, Ruettiger was put in the game and made the one and only tackle of his football career--he sacked the Georgia Tech quarterback. When the game ended, Rudy's teammates carried him off the field. (He is still the only player in the school's history to be carried off the field on teammates' shoulders.) [Editor's note: I think Joey Getherall and Nick Setta have been hoisted on their teammates shoulders but may not have been actually carried off the field.]

In 1976, Rudy received his bachelor's degree in sociology from Notre Dame. After that he worked in a variety of occupations--from insurance sales to owning his own janitorial and real estate title companies--while chasing his next dream: to have his story made into a film. But the road through Hollywood would be a lot more difficult to travel than the road through South Bend. It took 16 years.

Finally, in 1993, TRISTAR Productions immortalized Ruettiger's life story with the film, Rudy, written and produced by Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh, the team behind another classic sports film, Hoosiers. Rudy was played by Sean Astin. On the set every day of production, Ruettiger served as a consultant and appeared in the film as a fan in Notre Dame Stadium.

The film won strong reviews, including "Two Thumbs Up" from Siskel and Ebert. Rudy's story went from being an anecdote for old-time Notre Dame fans to a cherished American fable.

Rudy was once again a celebrity. He even found himself in the White House, watching his movie with President Clinton, Joe Montana and Colin Powell.

"That's pretty exciting," Rudy recently said. "All I did was make a tackle. Think about it, you know? I didn't win any super bowls, I didn't become the president, I didn't win any wars... I never quit."

Shot of Rudy (Sean Astin) on his field of dreams in Notre Dame Stadium


SportsHollywood: What films have inspired you?

RUDY: Rocky, Field of Dreams, Hoosiers, all those movies where the underdog is going against the stream. The characters use their imagination and embody the human spirit. I got inspired by the movie Rocky. I probably ate 100 raw eggs after seeing that movie. Unfortunately I got sick, but it wasn't the eggs that were inspirational, it was his attitude.

SportsHollywood: Do people chant your name a lot on the streets or in supermarkets?

RUDY: You know, I don't really get recognized unless I'm doing an interview or something like that. People don't really know what I look like. Once they do recognize me, then yeah, they will cheer and stuff.

SportsHollywood: What actor did you see playing yourself before Sean Astin was cast? Stallone?

RUDY: It was a very difficult search because we had to find an actor who could not only relate to the audience but win them over. I knew it had to be Sean from the beginning. I had followed his career, I'd seen Goonies, Memphis Belle, and had pictured him in the part as I wrote it. I had the movie planned out in my head before it was even in production. There was no other guy.

SportsHollywood: After Rudy was screened at the White House did President Clinton, Colin Powell and Joe Montana lift you up on their shoulders and chant "Rudy! Rudy"?

RUDY: Uh, I don't think they would do that. They all really liked the movie. It was very exciting to see it with them. The Clintons said that "every kid in America should see this movie." Joe Montana was a teammate of mine, I'm really proud of that.

SportsHollywood: Cast members Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau went on to do Swingers. There seem to be parallels in the two films--a young man following a dream, losing his home and his girlfriend as he follows the dream, but ultimately overcoming adversity to become a better, stronger person. Do you think the films are similar?

RUDY: Yes. Swingers was like Jon's life, bucking the odds to get to Hollywood. Rudy was Jon's first movie, and Vince and he got breaks after it. They wrote the screenplay after being in Rudy, then had the producer help them get it made. There are lots of parallels between John's and my life--taking a challenge and going up against the odds.

SportsHollywood: Bigger challenge: Playing for Notre Dame or developing a movie?

RUDY: The movie was definitely the bigger challenge. You see I always knew I could get into Notre Dame. With Hollywood there was that element of uncertainty. It's a tough business to get a story made, especially your own. It took ten years before it was made.

SportsHollywood: Which was more satisfying: Being carried off the field at Knute Rockne Stadium or getting "Two Thumbs Up" from Siskel and Ebert?

RUDY: Well, both were satisfying for different reasons. In both cases I had faced a challenge, had overcome obstacles. At Notre Dame to be carried off is a real honor, and it was a wonderful feeling to know I accomplished my goal, was a success. In terms of getting two thumbs up it's a totally different thing. There it was an honor too, in the sense that those guys are critical and their support and approval meant acceptance for me and my story. Both meant a lot... but to pick which was better... probably Notre Dame.

SportsHollywood: What's your next goal?

RUDY: Oh, we're accomplishing them as we speak. We have started the foundation, we've got Rudy camps, and we are starting to give out scholarships. We target kids who have the drive and the talent but don't necessarily have the means to accomplish all that they want to. And not all the kids are athletes, these are kids with heart who need a little help to overcome adversity and face the obstacles in front of them.

SportsHollywood: Can you envision Rudy, Part II?

RUDY: No. What would be part 2? That was a true story. That was it. It's not like Rocky where they can create story lines for parts 2,3,4...

SportsHollywood: What athlete playing today reminds you the most of you?

RUDY: Wow. That's a tough one. I have never thought about it in that way, in comparison to me as a person. I view athletes instead in terms of attitude. There are lots of people out there that are Rudys in some way or other. A "Rudy" is someone who is persistent, who has desire, determination. It's how they put the light on the message, how the individual treats adversity. It's the contribution, commitment to their dream. They say today, you know, "Be Like Mike." But I don't pin down stars as mentors like so many people today want to do. Just because they play a sport doesn't mean that they have the rest of themselves together. What if you're 5'4"? You're not going to be like Mike on the courts, but you can be like him in the way he plays with the team, the way he treats his wife, his kids and his fans. That's how you should see athletes, those with heart should be the mentors. I think if there is someone I'd want to hang with, it would be Randall Cunningham. He's a family man, has had adversity, he's a team player, a good guy.


Interview by Alexis Ritchie.


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