Bang the Drum Slowly

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First published in early 1956, Mark Harris's baseball novel Bang the Drum Slowly was swiftly adapted for television; on September 24, 1956, a streamlined 60-minute version of the Harris novel was telecast live on The US Steel Hour. Paul Newman plays Henry Wiggen, a slang-happy, unabashedly self-promotional pitcher for the fictional New York Mammoths. Wiggen spends a great deal of his free time protecting his dimwitted roomate, catcher Bruce Pearson (Albert Salmi), from being dropped from the team. It's not that Henry is overly fond of Bruce; it's simply that he knows (but the rest of the team doesn't) that Bruce is dying of Hodgkin's disease. This TV adaptation remains faithful to the first-person singular style of the novel by having Henry periodically step "out" of the drama to address the audience: this device is most effective at the finale when, after tearfully recalling the "ragging" he often gave his now-deceased teammate, Henry sobs "From here on, I rag nobody." A very young George Peppard appears as Piney Woods, the country-boy ballplayer who sings the ballad from which the drama's title is derived. A kinescoped version of Bang the Drum Slowly was included in the 1981 PBS anthology The Golden Age of Television. Harris' novel was later adapted into a 1973 theatrical feature, starring Michael Moriarty as Henry and Robert De Niro as the "doom-ded" Bruce.


Paul Newman
as Henry Wiggen
Albert Salmi
as Bruce Pearson
George Peppard
as Piney Woods

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