Medals ceremony at 1936 Olympics. All heil Hitlers except Jesse Owens, who gives an American salute, and bronze medalist Jajima of Japan, who stands at attention directly in front of Owens.

I was resolved to keep this post short. But then I became interested in the subject. And I researched and researched and researched.

Here’s a podcast coming at you, straight outa Hollywood:


This podcast is from KPCC, Southern California’s Public Radio Station.Here is the description of the podcast, from KPCC’s website:

Reviews of the week’s new movies, interviews with filmmakers, and discussion. Hosted by Larry Mantle.


In the episode I listened to, Larry Mantle talks to KPCC film critics Wade Major and Lael Loewenstein. This is the link to the podcast. (I could tell who was speaking because Lael Loewenstein is a woman and Wade Major is not.)

Plot: A biopic about Jesse Owens, who was able to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany despite being black. At the Berlin Olympics, Owens won four trophies in the track division of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin: in one race he met the world’s record at the time; in the other three races, he set new world records.

Spoilers skimmable? No. They tell you so much it really is impossible to tease out the spoilers from the discussion.

jo winsBottom Line: It’s just OK. Very formulaic. The director missed a chance to tell an inspiring story, laments Loewenstein, who blames the script. Major agrees and points out that the director’s last movie was 2000’s Lost in Space, so he had to catch up with the times because he is still filming like it was the 1990s.

Snob alert! They had to chuckle to that last bit.Ugh. Was that really necessary?

Jason Sudeikis: Major and Lowenstein agree that he is excellent.  But Major observes that “comics like Sudeikis and Will Ferrell have to overcome their’funny faces'” in dramatic roles. Sudeikis plays Owens’ coach.

jo runI don’t know if he meant all comics have to overcome what we have come to expect from them. Probably.

History Lesson? The beginning of the movie dwells too much on Owens’ feelings about competing in the Olympics; both critics agree on that. Major noted that the film did not show the tragic way that Owens was treated when he returned from the US and that he also was penniless, and ended up pumping gas for a living.

Oh man, I felt so sorry for Jesse Owens. Did he really end up penniless?

I headed over to the my go-to website to find out:

History vs. Hollywood (historyvshollywood.com)

Why I like this website: it’s clear, concise and user friendly. For each movie, there are two parts:

First are two columns of photos–a headshot of an actor next to that of the person who he/she portrays. Like this:

Stephan James as Jesse Owens
Stephan James
Born: December 16, 1993
Toronto, Canada
James Cleveland 'Jesse' Owens
Jesse Owens
Born: September 12, 1913
Birthplace: Oakville, Alabama, USA
Death: March 31, 1980, Tucson, Arizona, USA (lung cancer)
Jason Sudeikis as Larry Snyder
Jason Sudeikis
Born: September 18, 1975
Fairfax, Virginia, USA
Lawrence 'Larry' Snyder
Larry Snyder
Born: August 9, 1896
Birthplace: Canton, Ohio, USA
Death: September

The second section is the meat of the comparison, done in Q & A format. The answers are short and sweet, and they usually end with a cite to the source of the info. The Q’s ask whether a specific incident took place or issues that the movie raises like this:

“What happened after the 1936 Olympics?”

My corollary: Did Owens “end up pumping gas,” as Wade Major asserts? I guess it depends on the meaning of “ends up.” It certainly would seem to indicate that he dies penniless. But maybe it refers to just after he returns, for a couple of years.

lucy outside
Comic Relief!

History vs. Film gives a summary of Owens’ life after the Olympics, and his life definitely did NOT end up “tragically.”

I had to dive more deeply into what happened to him after the Olympics because I think it’s interesting.

My research:

Major was was right that in 1936, Jesse Owens returned to America that was too racist to recognize his feats. Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t bother to see Owens in person and shake his hand in congratulations, as he had with the other athletes. Owens was not offered endorsement deals like his fellow athletes.

And he was penniless, as Major asserts, and did take a few jobs, including pumping gas, as Major also claims. To make ends meet, he would race against non-humans–horses, cars and trains. To beat the horses, he told the guy who announced the start of the race to stand up next to one of the horse’s ears.  Then the guy shot a gun in the air to start the race and the horses got spooked!

It is a little confusing, but I think he went penniless again in the 1950’s or 60’s and pumped gas, once again. But then he got back on his feet. Owens was outgoing and comfortable in front of the camera. Ford Motor Co. and the US Olympics Committee (I kid you not) hired him to give speaking engagements across the country about the virtues of hard work, loyalty and religion.

Owens opened up his own PR firm in 1949 and went all over the US with speaking engagements for his own company; his speeches included the importance of establishing an amatuer sports league, a passion of his since he returned from the Olympics.

He worked with nonprofits through most of his post-Olympics life, especially with kids, he wrote his memoir, with questionable politics, but then recanted….

FDR may have shunned  him, but three presidents did not: 

jo and ike

1955: President Dwight D. Eisenhower appoints Owens as Sports Ambassador for the US and sends him to the Olympics in Australia.

shit jo.ford.biggie

1976: Gerald Ford gives him a Medal of Honor, the highest medal awarded to a civilian.

Image: U.S. President Gerald Ford and challenger Gov. Jimmy Carter debate, 1976.
Carter and Ford at an election debate. (Couldn’t find a pic of Carter and Owens together)

1979: Jimmy Carter invites Owens to the White House when he was awarded a  Living Legends Award by the National Caucus on the Black Aged.

Amatuer Athlete Leagues: upon his return from the Olympics Jesse began to advocate establishing an amatuer sports league. A few years before he died, he received the International Trophy for amateur athletes.

In sum: No, Jesse Owens does not “end up” penniless and pumping gas.

PS. Back to Filmweek:

Remember the start of this post, when I reviewed Filmweek’s review of Race?

I continued to listen to the podcast after they reviewed Race. They went on to review Witch.


Plot: A father of a family of three is haunted by the woods that surround their isolated house. It takes place in 17th Century New England and the father is a devout Puritan.

Spoilers: They let out a torrent of spoilers in the first three minutes. I promptly turned the podcast off and took it off my favorites list–right after I had placed it there.


I listen to podcasts on my walks with Lucy.



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