Friday, April 2, 2010

A "New" Role for Mike Donlin

I was watching a Buster Keaton movie the other day when I was somewhat startled to see a former major leaguer make a cameo appearance. The baseball-player-turned-actor was none other than Mike Donlin.

Donlin spent 12 year in the big leagues with six different clubs, but is best known for his time with the New York Giants. For the World Champion 1905 Giants, Donlin was the starting center fielder, pacing the club with a .356 batting average and a league-leading 124 runs scored. Here's a photograph of Donlin at Chicago's West Side Grounds, home of the Cubs prior to their move to Wrigley Field:

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-003778. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

In five seasons during his career, Donlin finished with one of the top three batting averages in his league, and when he finally hung up his spikes following the 1914 season, his lifetime .334 average was in the top 20 all-time.

But back to the movie ...

What startled me was not that Donlin showed up in a movie. Indeed, most baseball historians are familiar with Donlin's Hollywood career. Following his days as a big leaguer, Donlin appeared in numerous motion pictures, most notably in a role as a Union general in Buster Keaton's beloved 1926 film The General. He also made appearances in films such as Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman (1917) featuring Donlin's friend John Barrymore, She Done Him Wrong (1933) starring a very young Cary Grant, and a pair of movies starring Walter Huston scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies on April 6, 2010: The Star Witness (1931) and The Beast of the City (1932). With roles in over 60 movies, Donlin was no stranger to the silver screen.

What startled me was that Donlin was in this particular movie: Spite Marriage (1929). IMDB (the Internet Movie Database) doesn't make note of Donlin's role and neither do any other sources I could track down. Yet, about 50 minutes into the film, there is Donlin, manning a ship's engine room along with Keaton. Here are a few stills from the film showing Donlin:

And here's a close-up of Donlin from this last still:

I've submitted this new information to the folks at IMDB. Here's hoping they add Spite Marriage to Donlin's list of acting "accomplishments."

Update of December 11, 2010:

I just checked and found that IMDB has indeed made the update that Mike Donlin had an uncredited role in "Spite Marriage."

Also, blog reader Meho Midjich commented that Mike Donlin appears in John Ford's "Up the River." Indeed, Meho is correct. Here's a screen shot of Donlin from the movie:

Once again, I've submitted this new information to IMDB.


  1. I've been fascinated by Donlin for as long as I've been researching baseball-on-screen, and occasionally have stumbled onto an uncredited Turkey Mike in Hollywood films of the early 1930s.

    For example, in PICTURE SNATCHER (1933), a James Cagney crime drama, Donlin briefly is seen in a pool hall. He speaks the following words into a telephone: "No, Mr. McLean, he ain't been around here in over a week." After a brief pause, he adds, "Yeah, I'll tell him." (This material is excerpted from my piece, "Turkey Mike Donlin in the Movies," which ran in Issue #30 of "The Baseball Research Journal." I've also traced Donlin's stage roots in "Baseball, Vaudeville, and Mike Donlin," published in the Spring 2008 issue of "Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game."

    Finally, here is a correction. To say that SHE DONE HIM WRONG stars "a very young Cary Grant" is like saying that the leading player in CASABLANCA is Claude Rains. The film's true star is Mae West.

  2. Thanks for the very interesting link. Buster loved baseball. When stuck for an idea, he would often shut down production and play a game with other studio members until he came up with an idea. There was a joke that the job application for the Keaton Studio had two questions: Do you know how to make movies? Can you play baseball? Passing grade 50%.

  3. I'm pretty sure I just saw Turkey Mike in another uncredited role. I watched the first credited movie that Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart appeared in, John Ford's "Up the River". Near the end of the movie, the inmates of two prisons stage a baseball game and the coach of the visiting team looks like Turkey Mike, he picked up a bat left handed and even his voice sounds like Mike's.

  4. My grandmother put a scrapbook together on
    Mike Donlin. I would like to mail it to a family member. It's something that would
    mean something to a family member, I'm sure.
    It's positively a work of art!
    Linda B.

    1. Linda -
      Thanks. Sounds wonderful. Please contact me at "". I may be able to help you out.
      - Tom

  5. Where can I get a copy of 'baseball,vaudeville & Donlin. ?I'm writing a book on baseball and vaudeville. Karl

    1. I'd suggest contacting McFarland Publishers: