Penny Marshall's Negro Leagues Biopic On Hold As Hollywood Shuns Sports Films

Penny MarshallShe directed "A League of Their Own" and she'd like to return to the ballgame, but Penny Marshall says Hollywood isn't hankering for more sports movies right now.

A big sports fan in her own right, MTV News met up with Marshall as she attended NYC's Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation Gala on Friday to see the 1998 World Series Championship team of the New York Yankees re-assembled to benefit Margaret's Place, a school-based initiative to protect victims of domestic violence. Marshall's a huge New York Yankees fan, but she's also got a soft spot for Newark, at least when it comes to a story there about the first woman who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Game: Effa Manley, who co-owned with her husband Abe the Newark Eagles, a team in what was in the 1940s called the Negro Leagues.

Marshall wants to make a film about Effa Manley -- "She's a white woman who married a black man and she was a business person, she built up the town, she was a great woman." Effa, who passed for black, fought for black baseball and tried to protect her players. "She demanded that they get paid," Marshall said, noting that Manley negotiated contracts and fought for fair compensation and reparations when teams were raided.

And with the money she raised, Manley became a civil rights activist. She was the treasurer of the Newark chapter of the NAACP, she organized a boycott of a store in Harlem that refused to hire black salesclerks, and she held an "Anti-Lynching Day." All of this was long before Jackie Robinson broke the color lines in 1946.

Sounds like a great story, right? And Marshall's got some other ones -- about a female basketball team, a female soccer team (some of whose members were also prostitutes, "which is legal in Guatemala where they're from," Marshall stressed), and a male football team called the Pottsville Maroons (who earned and then lost the 1925 NFL Championship over a territorial dispute, a feud which the town carries to this day) -- all of which she says would be great movies.

"But they [meaning Hollywood] don't want them," she said. "I think the stories are universal. I have scripts, I have actors, but they don't want them. The economy is so weird, they only want these big blockbusters that will sell overseas. They don't want anything with substance."

"I think doing 'Pottsville Maroons' lost out because of 'Leatherheads,'" Marshall continued, "because it's the same period, and that didn't do [business]. But it's a true story. I love true stories. Some of them are stranger than fiction. The rest of them are all very good stories, and some of the other ones [I have] don't have anything to do with sports. But the sports ones, football players are not an audience [the studios] can count on. Not even the independent studios. So they're not getting made."