August 24, 2019

Bo Belinsky-Livin’ the Life

March 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Perhaps no one got more mileage from a mediocre career than Bo Belinsky. Winning 28 games while losing 51 over an eight-year period (1962-1970) hardly qualifies one for baseball notoriety, even with a no-hitter. It was in his fourth big league appearance that the legend of Robert Belinsky of New York, New York began. On that night of May 2, 1962 at Dodger Stadium, the home grounds of the Los Angeles Angels, Bo twirled a masterpiece against the Baltimore Orioles.

Definitely no one got more mileage out of the Hollywood/baseball connection. Bo’s story was a B-movie script. Slick- backed black hair on top of dark good looks made Belinsky look like a pool hall juvenile delinquent from a 1950’s teen movie. For good reason. While in Trenton, New Jersey, young Bo was, indeed a pool shark, no Fast Eddie Felson, but good enough to make some dough. It was not a life conducive to long-term health and success, so Belinsky packed up his cue and skidaddled. “I was hustling pool and hanging around with bad people,” he said, looking back. 1 Off came the penny loafers, peg trousers, white t-shirt and cardigan sweater, on went a baseball uniform.

The Los Angeles Angels, owned by screen cowboy Gene Autry, debuted in 1961, the first West Coast team in the American League. Though they were dreadful, losing 91 games while finishing in eighth place, the Angels helped set the mold for expansion teams—has-beens, neophytes and no-talents that were the castoffs of other big league clubs. 1962 was different, and the surprising Halos finished third, ten games behind the Yankees. Leading the way was a productive pitching staff led by future Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance, a three time All-Star named Ken McBride, and Bo Belinsky.

The lively lefty hit the party scene almost immediately upon arrival.  Beverly Hills attorney Paul Caruso, who handled many Hollywood contracts was smitten with the talented pitcher, and threw a party in his honor. Stars such as Merle Oberon, Jane Wyman and Maureen O’Hara, as well as countless directors, producers and agents, came to hang with the new star in town. There were other gatherings— parties at Oberon’s, dinner with Doris Duke and tennis with Dinah Shore. Along the way, Bo met up with Walter Winchell, who would take the boy under his wing.

Winchell, credited with inventing that great gift to American culture, the gossip column, was in his fourth decade as a newspaperman, radio commentator and, in 1962, the voice-over for the gangster drama The Untouchables. “Walter was all right. He was a funny old guy and we had a lot of laughs.” 2 Helping Belinsky explode on the LA scene after his no-hitter, Winchell would become Belinsky’s link to both PR men, who wanted their starlets associated with the Angels pitcher, and the girls themselves. Dean Chance felt that Winchell acted as a procurer for Belinsky, a nice way of saying “pimp.” They were often seen together, Walter beating an early exit to leave Bo with the vixens.

Just a few years removed from the dark smoke-filled backrooms of Trenton, Bo Belinsky was now in the bright sunshine of Southern California, a beautiful girl on his arm at all times. There was Kay Stevens, Connie Stevens, Ann-Margret and Tina Louise. Tina was a more serious dalliance. “Bo fell hard for Tina,” said Winchell. 3 These delectable treats were a prelude to the relationship Belinsky is most famous for—his courtship and brief engagement to Mamie van Doren.

Mamie van Doren was the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe. Star of such vehicles as High School Confidential, College Confidential and, presumably after a transfer, Sex Kittens Go to College. With the assistance of bandleader Ray Anthony, Mamie’s ex-husband who was looking to get her married in order to end his alimony payments, Bo and the bombshell hooked up. Of course, Winchell ran a story on their date. The glamorous twosome was fodder for the gossip mongers, but Mamie seemed to genuinely care for Bo and promoted his performing ability. She commented on his fine singing voice and encouraged him to pursue a more active career in show business. It was a tumultuous relationship. You’d think Mamie would be enough for one man, but, in June of 1962, Bo was questioned about his participation in an early morning tussle with Gloria Eves. Seemed Bo and Gloria, while tooling around in Belinsky’s red convertible, got into a spat, which resulted in Miss Eves on the receiving end of a shiner. Antics such as these led to a breakup and van Doren returned her ring after a seven-month engagement. “Mamie’s a good broad. I still think she’s got a little class—very little,” Belinsky shot back. What a guy!

Already by October of 1962, Belinsky was weary of how baseball was interfering with his outside pursuits and considered retirement.  The William Morris Agency showed interest in him as a television and movie actor. Winchell thought Bo would make a good mobster on The Untouchables. Belinsky’s acting career would not begin in a pinstriped suit with matching fedora and machine gun.

Bo’s first appearance would come in February of 1963 on The Lloyd Bridges Show. Not to be confused with the multi-year hit Sea Hunt, Bridges’ underwater adventure series, this show saw Bridges as Bill Wade, freelance journalist who gets engaged in various dramas, past and present. An anthology series of sorts, Bridges did not appear in every episode. Though the series lasted one season, it was long enough to get Bo’s feet wet in an episode entitled “The Skippy Mannox Story.”

Bo and roommate and battery mate Ed Sadowski, appear as themselves as able advisers to a young baseball hopeful, played by Lloyd’s son and future screen star Beau Bridges. It was a thrill for Beau to hang with Bo.   “I remember it being a lot of fun. I played baseball in high school and got a big kick out of meeting Belinsky.” 5 The younger Bridges was a fine athlete and had played baseball at Venice High School with Dick Simpson, then a rookie outfielder with the Angels. Originally called “The Lefty Mannox Story,” the title was changed when an obvious problem arose—Beau Bridges was a righty. Two months later, Bo was just being Bo in “The Left Field Caper” installment of 77 Sunset Strip. Again, Bo is involved in a tale of a youthful ballplayer, this one of the Little League variety, and a murder mystery. While Bo was always playing himself, he was still playing against type. With his lack of devotion to his pitching, coupled with compete dedication to a swinging nightlife, he was hardly the ideal role model to kids.

A move to the silver screen was rumored. Plans were afoot for Bo and Mamie to co-star in Pirate Woman, but their breakup put the kibosh on that endeavor. In 1964, talks were that Bo would team up with Jayne Mansfield, the poor man’s Mamie van Doren (who are these poor men and how do they have such luck!), in an Italian epic. This too was scratched. Other ideas for television, one in which Bo would play himself as a supper club operator in Honolulu, another with Bo as Buddy Solo, a motorcycle driving loner, were pipe dreams. By 1964, Bo was done, for all intents and purposes, as a major league hurler.

He still managed to stay in the spotlight. A cameo came in Paramount’s 1967 teen flick C’Mon Let’s Live a Little, as Bo-Bo (twice as good a role as his previous appearances as just plain Bo), owner of Bo-Bo’s A Go-Go nightclub. This musical extravaganza starred Bobby Vee, a multi-Top 40 singer with such credits as “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” “Devil or Angel” and “Take Good Care of My Baby,” and Jackie DeShannon, a top ten artist herself with “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” Interestingly, another singing icon, Kim Carnes of “Bette Davis Eyes” and “It’s a Heartache” fame appears, but only as an actress. Though the film makes some feeble attempts at relevance to mid-1960’s student protests, the plot circles around small town college life, with barely enough story to get the viewer from tune to tune.

The playboy life was where Belinsky made his next splash, literally. In 1968, while pitching for the minor league Hawaii Islanders, the Chicago White Sox AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, he met and married 1965 Playmate of the Year Jo Collins. The 5’4” Collins, a perfect 36” X 24” X 36”, was Miss December of 1964 and, while one of her turnoffs may have been “phonies,” she was wooed from Packers running back Donny Anderson by the erstwhile pitching star. Slightly rejuvenated by this love match, Bo pitched a bush-league no-hitter in August of that year vs. the Tacoma Cubs, a long way from home at Honolulu Stadium. The marriage would last longer than Bo’s pitching career, a separation coming in the summer of 1972.

After his 10-win rookie year in 1962, Bo would win 18 more games with the Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds as he straggled through to the 1970 season.            A brief reemergence into the news came with a 1975 marriage to Jane Clark Weyerhauser, heiress to the paper and forest fortune. Looking back, where did all of this high living get him?

In his mid-50’s, the aging Lothario conceded that he got more out of 28 victories than any pitcher in history and crowed “gimme Hollywood, bright lights and pretty girls.” 6 Always equating Los Angeles and Hollywood, Bo was adamant—he wouldn’t trade 1962, his year of glory on the mound, for anything. He realized he “could have possibly dedicated himself more” (no kidding!). 7

His last role on screen came in Ron Shelton’s 1999, boxing movie, Play it to the Bone. Bo Belinsky is credited as “Party Guest.” That’s all that he was. Instead of fulfilling his destiny to become a great pitcher, to have made a name for himself through accomplishments on the field, he ended up a transient, a brief showing in baseball, a few years as a TV and movie performer, a few more years as a playboy and swinger. Did his chosen lifestyle open any doors for him? He was asked in 1991. “Not really,” he replied. 8

A career unfulfilled, no lasting connections and memories of past beauties, all fleeting. He died in Las Vegas, the hustler’s mecca, in 2001.

Notes

  1. Jordan, Pat. “Once He Was An Angel.” Sports Illustrated (40). HOF File,.p. 82.
  2. Allen, Maury with the uncensored cooperation of Bo Belinsky. Bo: Pitching and Wooing. New York: The Dial Press, 1973, p. 90.
  3. Ibid., p. 91.
  4. Jordan, p. 76.
  5. Beau Bridges’ email to author.2/7/07.
  6. Belinsky Interview, HOF File, 1991..
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

Bibliography
Jordan, Pat. “Once He Was An Angel.” Sports Illustrated (40). HOF File.

Allen, Maury with the uncensored cooperation of Bo Belinsky. Bo: Pitching and Wooing. New York: The Dial Press, 1973.

Allen, Maury. “Bo Belinsky Reveals: ‘How I Won and Lost Hollywood’s Sexiest Stars.’” Sports Today. October 1973, p. 21.

Cope, Myron. “Bo Belinsky’s Dilemma: Baseball or Dames?” True. October 1962. HOF File

Durslag, Mel. “A Loan Wolf is Back with Angel Band.” BBWAA Scorebook #3, 1964.

“Reformed Bo Still Playing Love Game-Tennis Court.” 2/9/63. HOF File.

Cope, Myron. “A Dialogue Between Baseball’s Big Mouths. True. August 1965 HOF File

Dyer, Braven. “Bo’s Slowdown on Slab Traced to Fast Pace in Night Life Loop.” TSN 6/23/62. HOF File.

http://www.classicthemes.com/50sTVThemes/themePages/lloydBridges.html

Beau Bridges’ email to author 2/7/07. STILL NEED PERMISSION TO USE

AP, “Say It Ain’t So, Bo.” HOF File. (Maybe TSN), 6/24/63.

http://www.briansdriveintheater.com/cmon.html

Douglas, Greg. “Bo ‘n’ Jo Will Be Married Without Spotlight’s Glare.” TSN, 5/25/68, p. 33.

Sorci, Rick. “Much Mileage From 28 Victories.” TSN. 11/16/87, p.57.

http://www.playboy.com/girls/playmates/directory/196412.html

“Weyerhauser scion weds ex-playboy, baseball star.” Tacoma News Tribune, 5/21/75, p. B-2

Belinsky Interview, HOF File, 1991..

Born in Brooklyn, Jeff Katz now writes about music, baseball and whatever else he’s obsessing on from his new home base in Cooperstown, New York. His story about Sandy Koufax was included in the anthology Play It Again, and his latest book, The Kansas City A’s & The Wrong Half of the Yankees was published in 2007. Jeff’s “what if” history of rock and roll, Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue), has garnered worldwide readership, with a new story posted on backbeat Fridays (the 2nd and 4th of every month).

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