If it wasn't for Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who died recently in Chicago, Robert Redford's The Natural may have never existed.
Steinhagen's actions inspired Bernard Malamud's novel, which was turned into a popular and award-winning film some three decades later.
Her story starts some 60 years ago, when as a girl growing up in Chicago, Steinhagen had a crush on the Cubs handsome first baseman, Eddie Waitkus. Steinhagen was so heartbroken when Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1948 season that she decided her only option was to kill him.
When the Phillies came to Chicago the next year to face the Cubs, the 19-year-old Steinhagen checked into Waitkus' hotel and lured him into her room. There, she took out a rifle from her closet and shot him in the chest. Waitkus nearly died several times during surgery to remove the bullet, but he instead made a full recovery and returned to the diamond the next year.
Waitkus is the inspiration for Roy Hobbs, Redford's character, in The Natural. Steinhagen's character, named Harriet Bird, was portrayed by Barbara Hershey.
Steinhagen never stood trial for the shooting, but she was sentenced to time in a mental institution. Her story became well-known throughout Chicago, and several years later author Bernard Malamud used it as the inspiration for his novel, The Natural. Steinhagen was deemed sane in 1952 and released from the mental institution. She faded into obscurity, and according to the Chicago Tribune, died in Chicago on Dec. 29.
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