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Former Terp Elizabeth Schram Recalls Life-Changing Role In 'A League Of Their Own'

December 21, 2018
I don't remember which grade I was in. I don't remember all of the details exactly. 

I remember that I was talking to Scott Tomko. I remember we were doing the same thing we did all the time: quoting lines from the American classic, "A League of Their Own." 

I don't remember why we didn't get in more trouble. But I remember our teacher was less than thrilled when one of us was heard loudly exclaiming the film's iconic, absolute best line. 

"Did anyone ever tell you, you look like a penis with a little hat on?"

That's not the one you were expecting? Well, it's definitely the one. And while we were admonished, our punishment probably could have been worse. 

Like so many of you, I was saddened to hear of actor, director and producer Penny Marshall's death Dec. 17. I can't pretend as though I was a huge "Laverne & Shirley" or "Happy Days" fan (I was too young) or obsessed with "Awakenings." And while I do adore "Big," I was genuinely obsessed with "A League Of Their Own." 

That's why I was so surprised to learn this week that I somehow didn't know one of the stars of "A League Of Their Own" was ... a former University of Maryland athlete. She's someone whose career and life genuinely changed when she got to work with Marshall. And she was partly responsible for that OTHER iconic line, to boot.

Elizabeth Schram is known as "Bitty." Before she was a Golden Globe-nominated star of the show "Monk," she was a kid in New York who wanted to be an actress. So how did she end up in College Park, Md.? 

"I got a tennis scholarship and they took me," Schram told PressBox flatly. "Not that I was really the college type of person; I was not. I don't know if I should have even have gone to college." 

Schram was an accomplished junior player, participating in national and international tournaments. But she admits tennis wasn't much more than a vehicle to a free education. In fact, she doesn't even remember much about her career as a college athlete playing for coach Bobby Goeltz (she did remember his name, for what it's worth) in the late 1980s. 

"We just had a lot of fun on the road trips," Schram said. "That's all I can remember." 

While she played tennis at Maryland, she returned to New York every summer to continue the pursuit of her acting career. Her athletic ability -- she had also played Little League as a kid -- would help as she landed the role of outfielder Evelyn Gardner in the iconic 1992 baseball film. 

"I got 'A League Of Their Own' only being 10 months into the business," Schram said. "I got that within my first year."

The Evelyn character was, of course, on the receiving end of Dugan (Tom Hanks) dressing her down on the field and offering the eternal quip, "There's No Crying In Baseball!" 

Schram had no idea the film or the moment would even be successful, much less such an overwhelming piece of the sports and pop culture zeitgeist. 

"I did not realize that prior at all," Schram said. "I sure as hell didn't think, I don't think any of us did. That's something really hard to predict, too. Every time you think something's going to be a hit, it's a flop. No one knew. I sure as hell didn't know. 

"Knowing that it was going to be what it is -- like a hit or go throughout time, absolutely not. Especially the scene I was in, no! That was the farthest thing from my mind." 

The former Terps tennis player doesn't mind being so closely associated with one particular movie quote to the point that she's been unable to escape it throughout her career.

"Of course, it doesn't bother me at all, not at all," Schram said. "That was my job, thank God I guess I did it well. I wouldn't want to mess it up for anyone. I'm glad I could make it memorable."

Schram actually originally read for another part in the film (humorously, she doesn't remember which one) but was asked to also read for the part as Evelyn while she was at the audition. After reading the Evelyn part, she assumed it would be a better fit for her. But even then, she was later told she had missed out on the part ... only to find out three months later the job would actually be hers. 

That led to her opportunity to work with Marshall, who directed the movie. Schram knew exactly how fortunate she was to collaborate with such an accomplished artist. 

"I watched 'Laverne and Shirley' and I liked it," Schram said. "Oh, I liked it. She wasn't my 'idol,' but I knew who she was and I liked 'Happy Days' and 'Laverne and Shirley' growing up. I was thrilled, especially just being in the business, just starting. I was just ... it was like a dream come true. Not only that, she was already a very accomplished director. She was like the first woman director to be so successful. She was very talented, Penny. I thought she was extremely talented."

Working with Marshall on the set was a joy for the young actress but also difficult at times, particularly for a rather humorous reason. 

"I liked working with her," Schram said. "The personal interactions were just fine. The only issue I had was sometimes it was hard to understand what she was saying because of her accent. She mumbled, she liked to mumble!"

Despite the pressures of a shoot with baseball scenes that required immense detail ("It was so technical, the baseball. You had to get it on the right angle; you had to match the shots. The sun was up, you had to wait for the clouds to move," Schram said), the cast of the film developed a tight-knit relationship while portraying a team, and they stayed close to Marshall for years after the release of the movie. 

And while she's never returned to her alma mater, Schram said her background as an athlete made her that much more grateful to have participated in a project that shined such an awesome spotlight on women's sports -- a project Marshall had to work extremely hard to bring to fruition. Perhaps it isn't coincidence that after such a prominent summer blockbuster was released, the years that followed showed a significant rise in the popularity of women's sports. 

"Everyone had such a positive response -- and throughout generations!" Schram said. "I was so thrilled that it had that response. The fact that we could push kids toward [sports] instead of [something worse], that's great. Penny really fought for this film. I don't know the exact story but I do know she fought for many years to get this made. She had many years of rejection, that I know."

Follow Glenn on Twitter @GlennClarkRadio

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sony Pictures