How a league of its own team built a baseball empire

This story about the production design of “A League of Their Own” first appeared on the comedy series theme from TheWrap Awards Magazine.

Production designer Victoria Paul knows how much people love Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own,” a film that 31 years later, fans still enjoy quoting, “There’s no crying in baseball!” and “And how about Marla Hooch… what a batter!” So when the production designer (who has worked on everything from “My Cousin Vinny” to “Breakdown” to “Bones”) was hired for the Amazon Prime Video adaptation of the 1992 film, she realized that the The best way forward was to follow the directions in The Marshall Movie. “We were all in awe of the movie,” Paul said. “It’s a classic, and we’re not scared to see how they did it (their sets). We weren’t trying to disassociate ourselves from the movie at all.”

The movie set up camp in Pittsburgh, a city that arguably has a passing interest in sports. “I had never been to Pittsburgh before, and it looked just fabulous,” Paul said. “I’m a Philadelphian by birth and it reminded me of Philadelphia in so many ways: cities built in the late 1800s, bricks and all.” That backdrop worked well for the urban scenes, but not so much for the ball games. All of the ballparks in the area were completely modern, many decades removed from the wooden boards of the 1940s, when both the film and the series are set. “There’s no vintage stadium within arm’s reach,” Paul said. “It’s a baseball show where we had to be on a baseball field for many days. So we realized we would have to build our field.”

The team set up shop in Boyce Park, adjacent to the Community College of Allegheny County. “I had a field and enough space around the field for me to build the infrastructure to build the stadium,” he said. “The biggest mandate was to do it right. Those old wooden ballparks across the country are built the same, they look the same, they have the bench, they’re super iconic. So there’s no reason to mess with that. (With) that kind of iconography, (you have to) do it very, very well. Which is what I hope we’ve achieved.”

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Paul also wanted to incorporate into his design the migration of black families during that time and how the socioeconomic backgrounds of the players differed wildly. For example, the old Victorian house where the Rockford Peaches crew lives contrasts with the house of Chanté Adams’ character, Max, which in turn is larger than the modest home of his friend Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo). Paul said it was about “trying to tell the story through the visual details.”

The speakeasy seen in “A League of Their Own” (Amazon Prime)

The series also explores the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the world of baseball. For this, Paul drew on the story to create a speakeasy where Rosie O’Donnell, who starred in the 1992 film, works as a waitress. The girls’ locker room was built inside a local Pittsburgh studio, designed to look like it was located under the ballpark, as they were in those days. One of the show’s most striking real-life-inspired locations is the aircraft parts factory where Max works, a nod to the Rosie the Riveter assembly line jobs that American women took over during World War II.

A still from “A League of Their Own” (Amazon Prime)

“We did a lot of research on women entering the workforce and found many wonderful photographs, including this series of photographs of women welding on the round fuselage of an airplane with their hair wrapped in little scarves and sparks everywhere,” Paul said. “I knew exactly what this factory should look like at the time, and all the questions were answered in that investigative photo.”

Sadly, Penny Marshall never got to watch the series before she died in 2018. But she was aware and had even given her approval. “The creators (Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson) met with Penny Marshall before her death,” Paul said. “They pitched this project to him, they said what they wanted to do, and they got his blessing.”

Read more of the comedy series edition here.

Cover of the comedy series, Selena Gomez
Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap

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