Fireman, Save My Child was Joe E. Brown’s first baseball film, and the likable story, plus Brown’s natural athletic and baseball talent, not only got great reviews, it kicked off in 1932 what would be a trio of pictures centered on baseball heroes. Brown’s next two baseball sagas were from Ring Lardner’s baseball comedic stories, and they were Joe E.’s ticket to box office stardom once again.
Brown Was Real Life Baseball Player
Elmer the Great (1933) and Alibi Ike (1935) were, along with Fireman, Save My Child, a collective launching pad for Brown to Hollywood fame and beyond. As a youth, Brown chased a baseball playing career. Film won out, however. But Brown used his athletic prowess to good advantage on the big screen and throughout his life.
Some thought of the characters Brown took on as anti-heroes, since they went to the brink of criminal activity. But that could serve as the character’s general message to his audience because he always returned to morality. It was writer Lardner’s intention, one must believe, to let his audience experience the joy of rightness. And this, in turn, appealed to Brown.
Brown conveyed the messages most entertainingly, with comedic routines and first hand baseball playing knowledge, and his lovable, rubber-faced expressions backed up by “well, gosh” attitudes. Everyone approved. In those days, a good, or bad, review could make an audience stay, or stay away, respectively.
It made good sense for Warner Bros. to have Joe E. Brown, an experienced diamond athlete, in a baseball uniform. Brown was to Warner Bros. as Greta Garbo was to MGM (Metro), or as shirley Temple’s value was to the Fox studio.
Invention Centered in Plot
In Fireman, Save My Child, Brown portrayed Smokey Joe Grant, a fireman who had a passion for inventions. His fire extinguisher bomb was a work in progress throughout the film.
Saving children was a real life adventure for Brown. He and his wife, Kathryn, had two adopted children, plus a temporary college teenager, who stayed with them for several years. The adoptees, Mary Elizabeth Ann and Kathryn Frances, became sisters to the Brown biological sons, Donald and Joe, Jr. The UCLA student, Mike Frankovich, finished his college career while living in the Brown household. Joe E. was an avid Bruins fan.
Brown had a straight forward approach to raising children. Be interested in who and what they are, and take part in their lives, he advised.
Real Life Baseball Footage Abounded in Joe E. Films
A Joe E. Brown baseball film always included some real life baseball footage. Plus, Brown organized Hollywood teams to play willing major league clubs in exhibition games.
For Fireman, Save My Child, Brown used a gimmick from real life pitcher George Edward “Rube” Waddell (1876-1914.) Waddell had been known for the habit of following the sound of a siren even while pitching. Brown’s Grant adapted the habit to film.
Child Saving Bomb
Fireman, Save My Child’s plot revolves around Brown’s invention-marketing attempts for his fire extinguishing bomb. He finds time to love and leave a gold-digging babe, return to the familiar arms of his regular girlfriend, Sally, then to win the World Series against the New York Yankees.
At the end, ever the concerned adult where children are involved, he increases the size of his fire bomb from baseball dimensions to something larger and safer, so a baby couldn’t swallow it. He gets a marketer, and wails his way, sirens blazing, to his own wedding to Sally.
Holgate, Ohio, Roots
Joe E. Brown’s love of baseball extended regularly to his roots in Toledo, Ohio, where his family lived during his childhood, and to Holgate, Ohio, where he was born.
He often returned to the little farm town of Holgate to support its high school and American Legion baseball teams, and he played the game with amateurs in Toledo.
Photos of small town baseball fields are from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg