I imagine few people who watch “The Natural” realize that it was based on a 1952 novel of the same name (and that the novel is way better). And I bet even fewer people realize that the part of the story which kicks off Roy Hobbs’ disappearance into obscurity for so many years — the part in which the woman in black invites Hobbs to her hotel room and shoots him — is based on a true story.
That true story involves the 1949 shooting of Phillies’ first baseman Eddie Waitkus by an obsessed fan. A 19 year-old woman who idolized Waitkus when he played for the Cubs prior to his trade to Philly and decided, when the Phillies came back to Chicago, to kill Waitkus after luring him to her hotel room. She did shoot him, but he thankfully survived and played six more seasons in the bigs. The woman — Ruth Ann Steinhagen — was committed to a mental institution for three years, was released and then faded into obscurity.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Friday that Steinhagen passed away of natural causes on Dec. 29, at the age of 83. First reported by the Chicago Tribune last week, her identity was a surprise even to the morgue employees who knew about the 1984 movie “The Natural,” in which she was portrayed by actress Barbara Hershey.
“She chose to live in the shadows and she did a good job of it,” John Theodore, an author who wrote a 2002 nonfiction book about the crime, wrote in an email Sunday.
Fascinating story. Stranger than fiction.