Hano! A Century in the Bleachers hit a home run Wednesday

By ELIZABETH NUTT

When award-winning filmmaker Jon Leonoudakis first sat down in 2013 with Arnold Hano for a three-hour interview at Arnold’s home in Laguna Beach, he had one goal in mind: to travel back in time with a then 91-year-old Arnold—who is sharp and witty—to uncover the compelling story of an incredibly successful sportswriter. 

Minutes into the conversation, however, the enormity of the project at hand became clear to Leonoudakis, who realized that being a witness to some of baseball’s most legendary moments and writing about the sport were but two threads in the fabric of Arnold’s life. 

“Arnold said to me, ‘You’re in trouble! I’ve lived too long and I’ve done too much!’ But I love challenges like that,” explains Leonoudakis of the first of many in-person interview sessions necessary to complete the documentary Hano! A Century in the Bleachers, which premiered in Laguna Beach on Wednesday evening. The screening was hosted by Village Laguna, and was held at [seven+degrees]. 

The film features interviews with well-known sportswriters such as Ray Robinson and Al Silverman, as well as notable former baseball players like Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou. But the winning moments are those candid ones, captured in Arnold’s library at his and Bonnie’s—his wife of 67 years—home, where the oral history was filmed, and not without an endless supply of patience, flexibility, and time from the couple. 

“It’s been an incredible journey,” says Leonoudakis. “Both Arnold and Bonnie were great to work with, and they truly opened their house, and their lives, to me.” 

The film explores four overarching themes of Arnold’s life: Bonnie; writing; baseball; and goodluck. Throughout two years’ worth of interviews and conversations with Arnold, Leonoudakis realized that each of these four elements was essential to the whole understanding of Arnold’s life, and that you couldn’t talk about one without the others. As such, the film is just as much about a devoted husband who’s spent his entire life working to correct the social and environmental injustices he sees as it is about the game of baseball.

Fortunately for Leonoudakis—who was initially faced with a seemingly insurmountable collection of stories and interviews—his subject is a prize-winning journalist, who was more than willing to dole out some advice when it came to tackling the retelling of his story. Arnold relies on what he refers to as a ‘soaking period’ before beginning a story, where he lets his mind marinate in the research, information and ideas that he’s collected. 

Leonoudakis did just that, narrowing down hours’ worth of interviews into a masterfully organized documentary. But more importantly, Leonoudakis let Arnold, who is a storyteller—and a good one—drive the film. And as you listen to him talk on camera about Bonnie, his writing, baseball, and his life and losses, you start to understand that the movie isn’t about what Arnold has seen or done in his life, it’s about the personhe is, and the mark he’s left on those whose paths have intersected his own.

 “It was way better than I thought it’d be, that’s for sure,” said Arnold at the beginning of the post-screening Q&A with Leonoudakis, who laughed heartily, having clearly formed a bond and an understanding with his subject.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photos by Elizabeth Nutt

Filmmaker Jon Leonoudakis (left) and Arnold Hano following the screening

Arnold was surprised, too, by the impressive turnout at the world premiere of the documentary; he had initially told Leonoudakis that the film would be “a waste of time.” An interesting perspective, considering the film touched on Arnold’s significant successes—which include 27 books, an environmental piece that influenced a Supreme Court decision, and a piece on the mistreatment of California migrant workers, which earned him the renowned Sidney Hillman prize. 

“My favorite moment was the part where I was talking about holding Bonnie’s hand in the middle of the night when we were sleeping, and I just woke up and our fingers were intertwined,” says Arnold with a twinkle in his eye, clearly not phased by the buzz of fans and friends in the room, who were lined up to shake his hand and to congratulate him before he went on home.

Arnold will travel to six other California locations—including San Francisco—with Bonnie in tow for the film’s subsequent screenings, and then back to his home state of New York for its final showing. For more information, visit www.hanodoc.com

 

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