Story first appeared in the Jan. 29 edition of the Spectator.
Many believe their lives are so wild or interesting they could be made into a movie.
For Edinboro’s Director of Athletics, Bruce Baumgartner, a big part of his life and career can now be seen on the big screen.
The Golden Globe nominated film “Foxcatcher,” which chronicles the attempt by John Du Pont to start up a wrestling club on his estate in hopes of winning an Olympic gold medal with the brothers of Mark and Dave Schultz, is a story known very well by Baumgartner.
“I lived that whole era,” Baumgartner said in his office in McComb Fiedlhouse last week. “I wrestled competitively beginning in 1983 and Dave and Mark Schultz were on a lot of the same teams with me. We won our NCAA championships together in 1982 at the same championship. We were friends for a long time with the Schultz family. We were pretty close.”
Those friendships made Baumgartner the best candidate to help with the production of the major motion picture.
“When [Director] Bennett Miller was doing a lot of the research for the movie for the last five or six years he would call me or we would meet at different places,” the four-time Olympic medalist said.
After successful collegiate wrestling careers, the Schultzs and Baumgartner remained friends, but did their business elsewhere. The brothers signed on with “Team Foxcatcher,” while Baumgartner trained with the New York Athletic Club.
Both Baumgartner and Dave won gold medals at the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles.
Once the filming of the movie, which primarily took place in Pittsburgh, began, Baumgartner helped authenticate the flick.
“They invited me down and asked me to bring a lot of my Olympic wrestling gear because unlike ‘Moneyball’ [which Miller also directed], they couldn’t find time appropriate clothing,” the current second Vice President of USA Wrestling said. “I actually brought down about 40 items of clothing I have from the era. They reproduced a lot of them. I think Channing Tatum actually wore one of my exact pieces in the movie.”
Additionally, Baumgartner worked with Tatum, who portrays Mark, and Mark Ruffalo, who portrays Dave.
“I talked quite a bit to Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, mostly to Bennett Miller, about what the mannerisms were like and the timeline of the story, from my perspective.”
Baumgartner, who is arguably the most decorated US wrestler, stepped in front of the camera as well.
“The first scene that I was one, is the second scene of the movie,” he noted. “We spent close to eight hours in front of the camera with Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum and a couple of other actors. That was probably an eight second portion of the film.
“The other scene took about three hours to do, which again was another eight-seconds of the film. It is a phenomenal job those actors do to put that product in front of you. It is crazy the amount of work they do.”
Seeing the finished product and the story re-told took Baumgartner back a bit.
“It was emotional,” he admitted. “My wife and I went to see it in Bennett Miller’s studio in New York City. We saw the three-hour version, before it got cut, and it was really emotional. The acting is phenomenal. Mark Ruffalo really does have Dave Schultz’s down unbelievably. It put chills down my spine when I saw how close Steve Carell to John Du Pont and Mark Ruffalo to Dave Schultz were. Their physical mannerisms, their language, the way they would tilt their heads, they scratch their face, the way John Du Pont always looked up like he was looking out into the sky when he was talking to you. All of that put chills in my spine. We went and saw it again in Erie and it still was very emotional to think that I lived that era and it was fairly accurate.”
The movie is about wrestling, but it isn’t the typical sports plot or movie plot at all, according to Baumgartner.
“The storyline is not for everybody. It is not an entertainment or comedy. It isn’t an action thriller. It really doesn’t portray wrestling in a great light because there are some issues where John Du Pont and Mark Schultz didn’t do the right things. There were some negative scenes for wrestling, but it’s a humanistic view of the struggles that those Olympic champions and their aspiring coach and mentor, John Du Pont, who I never thought was a coach or mentor, but that’s what he wanted to do. He started out trying to help young men wanting to be Olympic and world champions and you’ll see in the movie, just got distorted to the point where in 1996 he shot Dave Schultz. He was probably as crazy as everybody says he was.”