The battle over Kevin Costner’s bottom half

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In 1999, an overlooked baseball movie set Kevin Costner and Universal Pictures into conflict.

In the early 1990s, Kevin Costner was – along with Arnold Schwarzenegger – the biggest movie star in the world. His huge career gamble making Dances With Wolves was pivotal to that, earning him a big box office hit, financial independence and some Oscars for his trouble. The year after, he proved his box office credentials again with Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Costner’s naked posterior was a talking point in both Dances and Robin Hood, and if you’re a completist, it’s his real one in the former and a stunt fundament in the latter. Both times, his cheekier scenes slipped past the censors with not a murmur.

But Costner nudity would become more than a little bit of trivia with a film he made at the end of the decade.

For his third foray into the world of baseball movies, Costner signed up for the lead role in For Love Of The Game, the Sam Raimi-directed tale of a veteran pitcher in his final match. The film, based on the novel by Michael Shaara, intersperses his pitching with flashbacks of his life, and it’s a movie I’ve always really rather enjoyed. I rank it behind the peerless Field Of Dreams and the brilliant Bull Durham, but that’s some company it’s in.

However, For Love Of The Game became briefly notable for a reported difference of opinion over Costner’s unclothed bottom half.

When the film was first submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America for it to bestow a rating on it, the movie was awarded an R. For those unfamiliar with the US rating system, this means Restricted, and that those under 17 would have to be accompanied by an adult. Conventional wisdom is that PG-13 is the rating to go for, in order to attract the widest possible audience.

Universal Pictures wasn’t happy. It wanted a slightly shorter movie, and crucially, that commercially more satisfying PG-13 rating. Given that it had final sign-off on the production, that’s what it would duly get. As such, a cut or two was made. That expletives from a pair of scenes in the movie were removed. And – there’s no particularly easy way to say this, so let’s dive in – a Kevin Costner naked shower scene was taken out. A scene that didn’t just show his Bertie Bum, but his Woody Woodpecker too.

A report at the time suggested that test audiences were a little put off by his baseball bat, with New York magazine quoting a studio executive who reported that the audience “giggled” at it, and questions “do we really need to see Kevin Costner’s penis”.

The scene was – ouch – cut.

Upon hearing that the film was being trimmed, Costner wasn’t happy. Unusually for a movie star, he voiced his unhappiness on the eve of the film’s release, pulling right back on press interviews for the production. And when he did talk to the press, he less sold the film as it was, more posited what it could have been.

In an infamous chat with Newsweek, that you can read in full here, Costner railed that for the studio, the movie “has always been about the length and the rating. It’s never been about the content. And you feel a studio would want to release the best version of the movie, not the one they think appeals to the biggest common denominator. Just because you open up the demographic doesn’t mean they will come”.

He revealed that he and Universal weren’t talking at that stage, and he particularly complained that the studio hadn’t even attempted to fight the MPAA on the rating. “They said it wouldn’t do any good”, he argued, adding his belief that in Hollywood, “the love of movies, I believe, is waning”.

He wasn’t done, either. “I think the crime is that executives are not training any young executives under them about what real courage is”, he added. “Ten years from now, when the younger exec is in charge and they have a tough decision, they won’t be able to say, ‘I remember how Arthur Krim behaved with Midnight Cowboy. When they said it was an X, he said, ‘Well, then it’s an X!’”.

Universal wasn’t best pleased with its star. In fact, then-studio boss Stacey Snider fired back that “Kevin’s not the director and it’s not fair for him to hijack a $50m asset”. Although calling the film an asset, from the outside, in part reflected what Costner was getting at.

That said, Universal also argued that “our feeling is that we have backed the filmmaker, and his name is Sam Raimi, not Kevin Costner”.

Raimi, for his part, told the Los Angeles Times around the film’s release that he agreed with his star about the cut scenes, but added “I’m very happy with the film”. He did note that “it’s a very personal film to Kevin. I understand Kevin’s feelings”, and that “I even use home movies of him and his dad in the opening credits – and he doesn’t want it tampered with in any way”.

But it was.

It was the Raimi-backed Universal version that was released, to middling reviews and decent, if unspectacular, box office. At the time, too, there was no prospect of Costner and Universal – who had made films such as Waterworld and Field Of Dreams together – ever joining together on another film. The passage of time softened that, though, and Costner has since made Dragonfly for the studio, just three years after the For Love Of The Game furore.

And in the aftermath of the story, the film itself has become less the focus. 20 years on, perhaps it’s time to remedy that a little. It’s not a perfect movie, certainly, but there’s a lot to like here. And sure, it might be lacking a bit of cussing, and a bit of something else. But that doesn’t mean it’s a movie not worth seeking out.

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