The time when Yogi Berra was a movie critic

Leonard Maltin's got nothing on Yogi

May 12th, 2022
Art by Tom Forget

A version of this story originally ran in May 2021.

Yogi Berra knew how to talk, that's for sure. Maybe it wasn't the kind of erudite speech Emily Post might recommend, but considering that every copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations is half-filled with Yogi-isms (I'm guessing), he knew a thing or two about getting people to listen to him.

He knew how to explain popular restaurants better than anyone else, he knew exactly how much of the game is mental, and he even remembered something pretty unique after a dinner with Marilyn Monroe -- turns out, it was the shrimp that made an impact. Yogi simply knew how to enthrall people with everything that came out of his mouth (even if he didn't really say all the things he said).

It's a skill that made him perfect for a role given to only the most gifted of gabbers: Television movie critic. Move over Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel and Gene Shalit, because this was Yogi Berra's time to shine.

"Yogi at the Movies," was the brainchild of Tom Villante, who has a hand in pretty much all of baseball history. He was a Yankees batboy as a child before he became the head of the Dodgers' radio and TV broadcasts in both Brooklyn and L.A. while at the advertising firm BBDO. He's responsible for the first road game radio broadcasts and hired the designer of the MLB logo when he was an executive at Major League Baseball. But those are all stories for another day. Today is about Yogi's dalliance with cinema, and Villante actually got the idea when he was still just a boy working for the Yankees.

"In the fall of 1946, Yogi and Bobby Brown were brought up late in that season," Villante told me in a recent call. "I was in the clubhouse and I saw this crowd around a locker and they were all laughing. I asked [Joe] DiMaggio, I said, 'Joe, what's going on?'"

"He's a very funny guy," DiMaggio said. "He's talking about a movie he saw last night. And he really has a funny way of talking."

Sure enough, that was Yogi. From the very minute he came to the Majors, his mouth made an impact.

So, 42 years later, Villante teamed up with Berra and Stroh's Beer to do the show, which aired on about 65 television stations across the country. At the time, Yogi was a coach in the Astros organization and it took a little cajoling to get him to go along.

Villante went up to Montclair, N.J., to see Berra and his wife, Carmen, to make his pitch. Despite the show being incredibly easy to film -- Yogi wouldn't need a script, he would just have to see the movie -- he wasn't sold.

"When Yogi wanted to put something off, he'd say, 'Well, we'll see.' That was his way of putting it off," Villante said. "He says to me, 'We'll see,' and his wife says, 'What do you mean, we'll see? I need a new kitchen, of course, you're gonna do it.'"

That was enough. With Carmen's persuasion, Yogi agreed to become the host.

“I thought [Villante] was crazy,” Berra told the L.A. Times in 1988. “He said, ‘Let's try it.’ So why not, there’s not much to it, except go to a movie.

“It’s fun and it does pass the time away. If you’re on the road, you go to the movie at 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock. You’re out by 3 and then go to the ballpark instead of laying around like I was today.”

Villante would pick the movies and the two would never discuss them until the cameras were rolling. So, while Yogi sat in frame, Villante stood off camera and peppered him with questions.

"Yogi is only funny in response, he didn't say jokes," Villante said. "He only responds to things. So I would ask him questions. For example, the pilot was 'Fatal Attraction.' And Yogi kept calling Glenn Close, Glen Cove [a suburb on Long Island.] It was perfect. 'Yogi, did you get scared?' 'No, I didn't get scared,' he said. 'I only got scared at the scary parts.'"

Every episode was sure to have a Yogi-ism in it. While that was obviously the point, they simply came naturally to Berra.

He said that Cher received the "Golden Glove" instead of the "Golden Globe" for her performance in "Moonstruck," and he didn't want to see "A Fish Called Wanda" at first because he thought it was about a mermaid.

Here are a few more Yogi-isms that the L.A. Times reported, but whose episodes are now long gone:

-- "Good Morning Vietnam”: “I’ve always been a fan of Roger Williams.” He meant Robin Williams.

--"Three Men and a Baby”: “Proves three men can be just as good as one woman.”

-- "Casual Sex”: “No sex is safe, unless you’re over 85.”

--"Biloxi Blues”: “It reminded me of being in the Army--even though I was in the Navy.”

Thanks to Berra's legendary mouth, he was a perfect fit for the gig.

"Yogi is a pretty honest guy," Villante said. "His opinions were very straightforward, and so it was fun working with him."

And, of course, he couldn't help from giving a quote even when the cameras weren't rolling.

"At one point, he kept wanting to put his glasses on," Villante remembered. "I said, 'Yogi, don't wear your glasses. This show is all yours. You're the reason. It's all ad-libbed."

"That's why I need my glasses," Berra deadpanned. "I've got to read the ad libs."